Updated: Jun 6, 2021
Samantha Thorburn I 29 April 2021
We all know that stress affects our health and wellbeing, and it would be an understatement to say that the past year has been stressful for everyone. It can also contribute to a variety of gut issues like bloating, acid reflux, constipation, diarrhoea or even that feeling of being too full after meals.
How stress can affect your digestion
When you are stressed your body is in a primal ‘fight or flight’ mode, alert and ready to run from that sabre toothed tiger. However, our bodies haven’t evolved enough to know the difference between a sabre-toothed tiger and your grumpy boss, relationship troubles or dealing with your children’s squabbles. Your body processes those daily stresses by remaining in that fight or flight mode, meaning it takes the focus away from the digestion process leaving you with uncomfortable gut issues. You need to be relaxed and ‘at rest’ in order to digest.
We often eat without thinking about what we’re doing, and this can also influence how our body digests food: your stomach is ‘unprepared’ for the arrival of food, so hasn’t produced enough acid to help break it down. It can feel like food sits in your stomach like a lead balloon, you feel overly full quickly or you get the burning of acid reflux.
5 Ways to Help Your Digestion
We cannot avoid stress, but there are things you can do to feel better by helping your body be ready to digest your meals:
1. Take deep breaths before you eat to ‘switch’ your body into the ‘rest and digest’ mode. Count to 4 as you inhale, hold for 7 and breathe out for 8, repeat 5 times.
2. Eat bitter foods first to start off the digestion process, such as rocket, radish, chicory, kale and dandelion leaves. Bitter foods stimulate the release of stomach acid and bile which helps break down your food.
3. Take time to eat mindfully. This sounds more simple that you think - how many times do you squeeze in a trip to the shops in your lunch break, take your breakfast with you in the car or eat your meal in front of your computer screen? Set aside 20 minutes to sit down and eat your food. Take time to see, smell, taste and chew your food. Engaging in your food will allow your body to prepare to digest it by producing stomach acid and digestive enzymes, which will in turn allow you to absorb more of the nutrients.
4. Say no to that take away sandwich. Don’t eat (or drink) on the run or standing up; your body is not in a relaxed state if you are moving. Try not to get up and down during a meal, aim to sit for 15-20 mins to help your body digest.
5. Chew! Chewing physically breaks down food into more manageable size for your stomach, enabling more of it to be coated by stomach acid and broken down before it reaches your small intestine. Ideally each mouthful should be chewed until the food is an unrecognisable paste. Chewing also stimulates the release of acid and enzymes and is one of the most important things you can do to help beat bloating and gut discomfort.
by Samantha Thorburn, Registered Nutritional Therapist, mBANT
Sam specialises in helping busy, bloated and hormonal women to feel free to live their best and healthiest life.
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