Reader's Digest-ion, Part 1 of 2

We’re smack dab in the middle of holiday season! One of the things most of us can expect no matter which holiday we’re celebrating or not, is that food will abound in many directions in enormous quantities. Besides the obvious discussion regarding increased calories and weight gain that go hand-in-hand with overeating, I wanted to look at things from a slightly different the angle, and that is the angle of our digestion.

So, what do I mean when I mention ‘digestion’? Clearly eating huge amounts will make us full and add to gut stress. But, for the purposes of this article, I want to focus on our digestion and how we feel day-in-and-day out. Do you experience or suffer from heartburn, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, (IBS), Irritable Bowel Disease, (IBD), indigestion, upset stomach, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, excess gas, etc.?  If so, you’re absolutely not alone. Studies show that 20% of people experience heartburn or GERD while 60% of the population complain about indigestion and/or stomach-ache. This is nothing new. In the 1960s, Alka-Seltzer came up with their catchy TV commercial jingle, “Plop Plop, Fizz, Fizz, oh what a relief it is!” They then outdid themselves with their even more popular 1969 ad, “That’s some spicy meatball”. Clearly, we need help.

If I wanted to stick with giving out info that most others provide during this holiday season, I would take this route, (as per the Today Show on 11/23):

To avoid holiday overeating and weight gain consider:

• Serving 1 course at a time buffet style on a serving table rather than placing all food simultaneously on the dining table. (Great idea if you have 2 tables and if everyone is mobile).

• Make the first course consist of salads, all non-starchy vegetables, and munchies like celery, radishes, pickles, etc., so people can start to fill up before diving into the main course starches. (Another good idea though I like to eat my veggies with protein. This technique will work best if people take their time eating their salads and greens! Up to 20 minutes works best – this timeframe piece is my take.)

• Use blue dishes to plate food as studies indicate that if you eat light-colored food, (mashed potatoes, mac-n’-cheese, etc.) off a dark blue plate, you will probably eat less than if you eat pasta or whatever off a white dish. (Light-colored foods stand out more on a dark plate and thus portions look larger than they would on a white plate where the food and plate blend. This seems to encourage people to eat less.)

• Drink red wine versus white. The logic is similar to the above-mentioned dark, blue plate theory. Red wine is darker and contrasts more with a clear glass or goblet. Consequently, it gives the impression that we’re drinking more when we have red wine vs. white. The result is when drinking wine, people tend to drink more white than red. (The suggestion sounds okay to me as long as one enjoys red wine! If you only drink white and have no interest in drinking red wine, then by all means stick with white wine. We certainly don’t want to bring on the stress response by giving up something we like for something we dislike because we feel we should. Also, whether red or white wine, if you’re okay with a dryer, non-sweet version, that will help prevent your insulin hormones from jumping too high, and thus discourage fat storage.)

Let me be clear, I’m not against the above suggestions. I just want to note though that they are all external tactics to control weight that have nothing to do with our relationship with our personal digestion. That’s what is rarely, if ever addressed. That’s what I’m writing about here in this digestive series. By the way and just to be clear, in over 75% of digestive cases nothing is actually wrong with digestion per se. Our digestion actually is telling us what’s up with us and our life. It’s giving us feedback about how/what we are eating and it’s asking us to consciously participate in our nutritive process.

In short, challenges with the digestion of life can lead to digestive disturbances. It’s not that difficult to imagine actually. Unassimilated life events, emotions, challenges or experiences will place us in the stress mode. When we’re emotionally stressed, our digestion becomes distressed and shuts down. (This can lead directly to heartburn, indigestion, bloating, heaviness, gas, fatigue and more.) On the other hand, the more we digest/absorb all of our life experiences both good and bad, the more empowered and efficient our digestive metabolism can be.

In this light, digestive ailments can be viewed as “place-holders” for difficult life experiences that can’t be easily digested. These events may include divorce, death, betrayal, abuse, financial loss, business failure and others. Until we deal with the emotional upheaval of these kind of events, our digestion holds a place for us to come back to the discussion when we are ready. The important thing is to come back so we can metabolize our wounds.

So, let’s get started with some very relevant questions for us all to consider with regard to our personal digestion and relative relationship.

  • What are your thoughts about digestion? Do you suffer from digestive ailments? Do you pay attention to how you feel? How effective is your digestion and could it be better? When is your digestion better and/or worse?

  • How do you relate to your belly? It’s size, shape, roundness, flatness, fatness, softness, hardness and its overall look and feel? Based upon how you’ve answered, in your opinion, does your relationship with the look and feel of your belly in anyway influence its power to digest and assimilate? Are you nice to your belly? Mean? Demanding? Ignoring?

  • What foods make your digestion feel better? Worse? Which people, places and things make your belly and digestion feel better or worse?

Now, picture this:

  • Close your eyes and come up with an image of what your digestion looks like – (perhaps a furnace, lion, factory, flame, etc.) Once you have that picture in your mind, close your eyes again. What image would your digestion imagine about you? Take your time with this exercise and write down your responses.

These are just some of the possible questions and exercises to help us become acquainted with and connected to our gut, digestion and why we may suffer from gastric distress. The idea here is to become re-embodied and mindful about us, our lives and what our digestion is conveying. Enough for now though. I don’t want Part 1 of this article to become too lengthy a read and thereby too much to digest.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll look at the enteric nervous system – what it is and what it does. We’ll also look at other factors which assault our digestion as well as key tools for enhancing digestive outcomes.

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding this article and/or your own digestive woes, please feel free to leave your comment(s) below.

Also, if you liked this article, please feel free to share it with your family and friends! Thanks!