Do you know what is happening on January 1, 2020?
Absolutely nothing. Maybe you’re going shopping or watching football with a favorite game day appetizer dip and some chips.
Maybe you’re kicking off a new exercise routine after some holiday indulging.
But me? I’m doing nothing. (Well, at least that’s the plan in my head.)
That is when my in-laws are leaving after I host the whole relation (which includes ten kids, ages 1 – 11) for several days for Christmas. So on January 1, I plan to let my body rest and relax. We’ll eat leftovers, play with Christmas presents, and try to get outside for some fresh air.
That may sound reasonable, but it will actually be a big challenge. Unfortunately relaxing is not my nature at all. I am the kind of person that never rests. I work seven days a week, 365 days a year. I don’t give myself breaks. I like to get things done! Even on vacation, my husband has to tell me to relax.
But my go-go mentality has done a number on my health, specifically my digestion.
In fact, I don’t expect that I’ll be able to eat much the whole time my relatives are with us because I won’t be able to relax, so this year I’m not making any New Year’s resolutions to do more.
I’m setting a goal of resting more to help my digestive system and my overall health.
Does Stress Make You Gain Weight?
Do you struggle with the “keep going and keep doing” mindset too? Has it impaired your digestive system? Do you struggle with maintaining a certain weight? Did you even know they were related?
Stress, digestion, and weight are intimately connected, and the holidays really exacerbate the problem.
I’m going to explain exactly how they are related and what you can do to help them all (without dieting or crazy exercise).
I’ll also teach you why you can’t even think about weight management without addressing digestion first.
This year DON’T make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight.
Set a goal to improve digestion! The results might surprise you.
RELATED: If your tummy hasn’t been the same after pregnancy, you may have diastasis recti.
Where Does Digestion Start?
I am currently studying to become a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. When studying the digestive system there was a key point that stood out to me…
Digestion starts in your brain!
I have been a real food blogger for over ten years, and my main focus has always been food. If anyone is having health struggles, my mantra has been “food first,” but over the past few months I have started to change the way I think.
Food is so important, but food is not the first step towards better health. The brain is.
I’m so passionate about this that I’ve even created an entire Eating Style guide to help you understand HOW your kids (and you!) eat before you worry about WHAT you are serving them.
Digestion is a north to south process. It starts in the brain. Before you even look at food, you have to get your nervous system into the parasympathetic state. The “rest and digest” state.
In other words – you have to relax!
We are bombarded with stress every day. There are a lot of things the body perceives as stress. They include:
- being too hot or too cold
- lack of sleep
- poor posture
- inflammatory foods
- house clutter
- crabby kids
- financial struggles
- lack of fresh air and sunshine
- nutrient deficiencies
- sedentary life
- lack of interaction with and connection to friends and family
This doesn’t even include the daily to-do list and figuring out what to eat! That’s a lot of stress. It’s a wonder anybody can get into parasympathetic mode these days.
Why Chewing is So Important
The next step in the digestive process happens in your mouth, and it includes salivating and chewing. You have to get the food ready for the stomach.
Do you chew your food enough? Do you think about what’s in your mouth? If not, you should!
Sadly it is commonplace today to eat meals in the car, in front of the computer (guilty!), or in a big rush to get to the next activity. With all of these distractions, we aren’t able to take the time to chew each bite properly. You should chew a bite at least fifteen times, or more.
The more you break it down in your mouth, the easier it is for the stomach to handle.
It’s not just parents that eat quickly either. Kids only get 15-20 minutes to eat lunch at school. They’re running from one sport to the next, eating in the car, or maybe they are Active Eaters like my son that have a hard time slowing down.
It all leads to stomach aches and poor digestion.
Why Stomach Acid is Good For You
After the brain and the mouth, food finally gets to your stomach. OK, now things are on autopilot, right? Sort of, but a lot can still go wrong.
Unfortunately most people suffer from low stomach acid. Without enough acid at the proper pH the stomach can’t break down the food sufficiently. Foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria are also not destroyed. Letting germs and large food particles through the stomach leads to a host of problems including leaky gut, inflammation, and illness.
In other words, stomach acid is a critical part of the digestion process. Low stomach acid can be caused by a poor diet, too much stress, allergies, alcohol, and excess carbohydrates. On top of that many people are either taking OTC antacids or prescription acid blockers. Both will impair digestion up front and lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Too little stomach acid allows yeast, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and more to take up residence in your digestive system. Sufficient stomach acid kills them and uses them as food.
Insufficient stomach acid may also prevent the Lower Esophageal Sphincter from fully closing, leading to the all too common reflux. A very acidic environment in the stomach actually signals the sphincter to close. It also signals the pancreas to neutralize acid as it leaves the stomach. Sufficient stomach acid is so important as the food both enters and exits the stomach.
All total, lack of stomach acid leads to the following:
- Carbohydrates ferment.
- Proteins putrefy.
- Fats rancidify.
Hopefully you are starting to see how easily digestion can go wrong before food even gets past the stomach!
How to Quickly Improve Digestion
Before you get too overwhelmed, I’ll stop at the stomach. We can talk intestines and adrenals another day (I do love to talk about intestines!).
There are some simple ways to improve digestion, starting with the brain. Set a goal to work on these three steps at each meal and see how much better you feel!
- Brain: Take some deep breaths to put yourself in parasympathetic mode before a meal. Eat in a relaxed environment (that means no screens, no work, and no shouting at the kids). Finally, give yourself adequate time.
- Mouth: Chew each bite thoroughly, until it is fully broken down. As you chew really think about the food – how it tastes, how it feels. Finally, eat with gratitude. Being aware of and thankful for each bite will go a long way.
- Stomach: Drink lemon water or apple cider vinegar 20 – 30 minutes before a meal to stimulate acid production. Taking digestive bitters before a meal is also a time-tested method for promoting stomach acid. On top of that you can take digestive enzymes to help break down the food as it exits the stomach. Once you have restored stomach acid production you won’t need to supplement enzymes anymore. But for short-term it can really help.
Once you’ve got the brain, mouth, and stomach working happily, it’s finally time to focus on the food!
What are the Easiest Foods to Digest?
One of the things I teach my clients is that you have to BE healthy to EAT healthy food. That may sound odd, but it’s true.
Someone with a healthy digestive system can eat pretty much any food without ill effects. But if your digestion is impaired in any way, there may be some foods that you just don’t tolerate, even if they are healthy, whole foods! So before you jump head first into eating whatever you want, let’s think about what works best.
In general, well-cooked, soft foods are going to be easier on the stomach. Things like bone broth, soup, roasted vegetables, and slow-cooked meats are ideal. You also need to consider nutrients. Aim for a variety of micro-nutrients and a good balance of macro-nutrients.
There is an emphasis on plant-based diets these days. But remember that we are omnivores. We NEED meat. Make sure your diet includes animal protein! Vitamin B12 (found almost exclusively in animal products) and all of the essential amino acids play a big role in both mental and physical health.
Oddly enough, one of the foods that first comes to mind when talking about a healthy diet is actually really hard to digest – salad!
But if you are like me, and love salads, you don’t want to have to give them up. So I created a tummy-friendly, kid-friendly winter salad that tastes amazing and won’t leave your stomach in knots. (Well, as long as you slow down and chew it well.)
Squash, Beet, and Avocado Salad with Creamy Pea-sto Dressing
This salad provides a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. The beets help support your liver and detoxification (and if you think you don’t like beets you’ve probably never tried golden beets – they are so sweet!). The avocado adds healthy fat. The squash provides a bit of sweetness that kids love.
Take note that the salad uses very soft greens. While kale and spinach are popular choices for greens, they are hard to break down. Using soft lettuces like butter crunch and bib will be easier on the tummy and more appealing to kids.
If you are particularly sensitive to fiber you can lightly steam the greens first for a warm salad. Or you can leave out the lettuce altogether! Nobody says a salad has to have lettuce. My five-year-old couldn’t get enough of her salad made with just the toppings and dressing.
The dressing adds a fun pop of green and a hint of sweetness because it’s made with peas. One bag of frozen organic peas transforms into an amazing dressing or dip in minutes! My kids will eat it on anything.Print
A fun winter salad that is easy on the tummy and appeals to kids!
- 6 cups soft greens (i.e. buttercrunch, Bibb lettuce)
- 1 cup peeled, cubed, and roasted squash
- 1 medium golden beet, roasted, peeled, and sliced
- 1 ripe avocado, cubed or sliced
- 1 English cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 cup peeled, cubed, and roasted rutabaga (optional)
- 1/2 cup chopped or pumpkin seeds (optional)
- 1/2 cup chickpeas
- Prep the roasted veggies (can be done up to 3 days in advance) – peel and cube the squash and rutabaga. Coat with olive oil or avocado oil and salt and roast at 400 degrees F for about 1 hour on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Scrub beets and roast whole, on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 400 degrees F for about 1 hour. Peel and slice when cool enough to handle.
- In a large bowl toss the greens and half of the dressing.
- Add the squash, beets, avocado, rutabaga, cucumber, chickpeas, and nuts/seeds.
- Top with remaining dressing and serve immediately.
- Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smooth.
- Use or refrigerate for up to four days.
- The greens can be lightly steamed first for a warm salad that is easier to digest.
- Use caution with the nuts/seeds if you are already dealing with intestinal inflammation.
- Kids may prefer the salad without the greens.
- Serving Size: 1/6 of recipe
- Calories: 112
- Sugar: 2.1g
- Sodium: 91mg
- Fat: 7.55g
- Carbohydrates: 9.46g
- Fiber: 3.2g
- Protein: 3.04g
- Cholesterol: 1mg
Keywords: digestion, easy to digest, salad
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Why Digestion is More Important Than Weight Loss
Eating with your nervous system in parasympathetic mode and chewing your food well is a great way to get a happy tummy. This, combined with sufficient stomach acid, leads to proper nutrient assimilation and absorption.
When your body is getting the nutrients it needs it will be satisfied, function properly, and maintain a healthy weight without effort.
As you can see, there is a lot of work to do on your stress levels and digestion before you ever consider weight management. In fact, your weight should be the last thing on your mind. Health comes first!
You can find great health at any size. We are all created so uniquely.
Focus on feeling good and nourishing your body – that is a great goal to have not only as you start a new year, but for life!
And if you reaaally like to set some intentions for the new year, try these New Year’s goals everyone should have!