Willow: Digestive happiness – how, why and what to eat

OPINION – One of the most common set of complaints I see relate to digestion: bloating, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain and fatigue after meals.

Optimizing our digestive system requires understanding its needs and changing our lifestyle accordingly—which explains why digestive complaints can take so long to conquer. Often it is not enough to take enzymes, hydrochloric acid (see previous blog), probiotics, digestive bitters or gut-healing supplements.

Let’s look at some deceptively easy-looking eating habits that can help improve our relationship with digestion.

The most important thing we can do is to relax before meals. Because stress shuts down digestion, eating under stress will be less than optimal and can lead to cramping, gas, inflammation and decreased absorption of nutrients.

But have you ever tried to practice calming down when you are in a stressful phase of your life?? It’s almost impossible, at least at first. When we are stressed our nervous system thinks it’s dangerous to let down our guard. And eating is often a relief from stress for many of us and not easily postponed.

This leads into a whole level of treatment before we can even begin to eat properly: identifying our stress—current or chronic, resolving/accepting our issues, learning ways to calm our thoughts and body, assessing our lifestyle for ways to slow down so we are not always eating in a hurry. As you can see, this is not a quick fix and can take years to cultivate, a very worthwhile goal as a healthy digestive system can add those same years back to our life, years free of pain and symptoms.

Other eating habits that have a positive effect on our digestion include chewing well, sipping up to ½ cup warm water or herbal tea with meals (no ice or large amounts of fluid that dilute our digestive enzymes), eating at a moderate pace—not too fast or slow, stopping before you are full, keeping meals simple and eating at the best time of day—before 8am, at noon and as early as possible in the evening. Not snacking is a common wisdom but some people need to lead up to that with carefully planned snacks between meals.

In parallel to learning how to eat is the confusing issue of figuring out what to eat amidst the variety of diet tips to which we are exposed.

The answer to what is the best diet is totally individual and depends on your genetics or body type, blood type, condition, occupation, climate and pocketbook. Here are some general guidelines and resources to discover your optimal diet. I call it our “home base”, the diet that we can keep coming back to after inevitably straying.

Start with your condition or illness. This will determine first what your body needs to help you recover from or manage an imbalance. Obviously, I can’t go into the hundreds of conditions here, but an example would be a diabetic diet that minimizes simple sugars and refined carbs. Another would be to avoid one’s allergies or food sensitivities until they are healed (yes, that is possible).

Next, consider taking a short quiz to determine your body type. This originates from the ancient Ayurvedic medical system in India and is uncannily accurate in determining not only what each type needs to eat to be happy, but the amount of sleep, type and amount of exercise, best career and even the optimal amount of physical intimacy! You can find quizzes online (Banyan Botanicals is a good website), good books (Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra is my favourite and we have many at the clinic) or we can send you a questionnaire for free if you contact us before the end of August.

Eating for your blood type was in my last blog, access it in the index and we’ll still send you a diet sheet until the end of July.

Occupational influence on diet is pretty common sense: eat lighter if you are sitting at a desk all day and more if you are out burning calories.

Climate is not as intuitive and warrants another blog. I’ll write one on that topic another time.

Finally, our pocketbook. For many that will be the first factor in what we can afford to eat and I think that would be a great topic for a blog as well. In fact, let’s tackle that one next time—see you then!

Katherine Willow practices naturopathic medicine at the Carp Ridge EcoWellness Centre, just north of the village of Carp.  She is a fourth-generation naturopathic doctor via her family in Germany and has been practicing for 35 years.  Her specialties are fatigue, allergies, children’s conditions, women’s health and cancer, although most conditions can benefit from naturopathic medicine. She will be writing a regular column on her experience, knowledge and education related to naturopathy.