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Episode 68: 5 Ways to Balance Your Digestion

From around the age of 16 to 30 years old, I had digestive problems every single day. I went from feeling hopeless and thinking there was nothing that could be done to now, living a life free from constant digestive discomfort and feelings of shame and embarrassment from trying to hide it. Along the way, I’ve discovered there is a strong connection between the gut and the brain and also the importance of digestive health through my qualifications in Ayurveda.

It's quite common for people experiencing anxiety to also experience some digestive concerns. If you're currently living with these symptoms, please know that you're not alone. In the height of my digestive problems I spent everyday feeling physically and mentally exhausted. Whilst I tried various medications, undertook numerus hospital visits, examinations and tried several elimination meal plans, I didn't seem to be getting any closer to an answer. When I finally managed to get my anxiety under control, it was amazing how much my digestion began to improve too.

I then began to tweak my lifestyle habits and ways of eating following Ayurveda's principles and I'm so excited to say my digestion is rarely a concern these days. I no longer spend my time worrying where the closest bathroom is! I also speak more about some of my experiences in BB podcast episode 46- My Recovery from a Chronic Bowel Condition, which you can listen to by clicking here.

When it comes to anxiety and stress, I've discovered there is a strong connection between our gut and our brain. There is also scientific evidence that suggests that the brain communicates with the gut, but also that the gut is able to communicate itself with the brain. This 2 way communication is known as the 'gut brain axis'. Therefore, it's very important to ensure our gut health is well looked after, along with our mental health to have the best chance of lowering anxiety levels and feeling our best. We are able to tune into this gut brain communication for ourselves without the need for any scientific experiments. You may well recall a time where you have felt slow and sluggish in your digestion, as well as in your mind, perhaps the way you think and behave were impacted at this time. You may be nervous, or apprehensive and experience butterflies in your stomach. Also, some of us may ignore it, but we often have gut feelings about certain things, which can often play out to be true- if only we had listened!

I know personally, when my digestion is off I can feel very unsettled in my mind. The gut brain axis is linked with the vegas nerve, this runs from the brain to the colon. The vegas nerve is the main highway for the parasitic nervous system, which is our rest and digest function or also known as the relaxion response. Notice there is the word 'digest' in rest and digest response, this is because when we are in a relaxed state our bodies can spend its effort and energy on key functions such as digestion and reducing the heart rate, rather than focusing on protection or managing our fight or flight response.

Ayurveda, the science of life and the sister science to Yoga places a strong emphasis on digestive health. It says that a poor digestive fire can create toxins, which intern creates disease. It is believed that a personalised approach is key, to create a balance in digestion, body and mind whilst also allowing us to live a long and healthy life. Along with personalizing what you eat, Ayurveda also places attention on how we eat, the amounts we eat, the attentions we take in whilst we're eating and our levels of stress while we eat. This leads me to my first tip for balancing your digestion..

  1. Eat in a relaxed environment..

For example, if we eat whilst watching the 6.00pm news full of stressful images and information we are not supporting our bodies to digest food well. Or if we sit and eat at our desks we may feel stressed about work. When we don't create boundaries and have emotional or negative conversations whilst we eat it can impact us as well. By creating a space away from stresses and taking a few moments to take longer breaths you are helping to create an environment for your food to be digested more effectively and promoting physiological conditions in the body that support digestion. This will also allow you to benefit more from the nutrients and energy that your food contains. What sort of environment do you eat in?

2. Think about the temperature of your food..

Another way to support our digestion is to think about the temperature of the food we are eating. Following Ayurvedic principle's it is commonly advised to eat mostly warm foods. If we imagine a wood burning stove, we want to give it just the right amount of fuel to keep it burning brightly- but not too much where we cause it to explode. When we eat cold foods and eat whilst also consuming cold drinks this can weaken the digestive fire and then impact our digestive system. A strong digestive fire helps to support our metabolism, and the levels we are able to intake the nutrients of food to support our mind, body and soul. Warm foods also start to be broken down quicker making them easier for our bodies to digest.

3. Wait until your previous meal is digested to eat again..

If you're feeling anxious you may find yourself craving sweet foods to soothe you. If you're a snacker, be mindful if you are giving your digestive system a break or if you're constantly giving it more to break down. Overloading the digestive system can cause the digestive fire to weaken. According to Ayurveda there are 6 stages of digestion, from chewing our food all the way to the end process for that food to be released. I remember previously finding that I was either really hungry, or I'd be worrying about not eating and getting headaches- I was a real snacker! Since leaving larger gaps between my food and slowing down my chewing and eating process I've noticed a real improvement. However, I know that when I am feeling anxious, my mind is fast, my movements also tend to be fast and I really have to consciously remind myself to slow down! Otherwise, my meal is gone within seconds!

4. Combining foods for optimal digestive health..

In Ayurveda, it works a lot with opposite qualities and combinations to create balance. For example- banana's and milk have very different qualities. Post digestion, banana's are sour and milk is sweet. Milk is heavy and takes longer to digest than a banana would. This can cause confusion in our digestion and cause overload on our digestive fire, leading to indigestion, decay or a build up of toxins. Milk and bananas ate separately can have a positive effect, helping to stimulate the digestive fire and be well digested effectively. Whilst Ayurveda has a lot of food pairings to experiment with, a common pairing is eating banana with dairy yogurt. If you regularly eat this and feel good, you may be able to tolerate this, however for others if your digestion is feeling off after eating something like this- it may be something you want to think about and experiment with some new food combinations.

5. Support the body to switch into the rest and digest mode..

We can support our gut brain axis to help the body to switch to the rest and digest mode by toning the vegas nerve. We can follow simple methods to do this, such as breathing techniques, humming, chanting, cold water exposure, as well as ear and neck massages and Yoga. By toning the vegas nerve this can enable us to return to a relaxed stage more easily after experiencing stresses. How amazing is it that we have the capacity to train our body to relax more easily?!

Ayurveda also gives a unique perspective on the different stages of digestion and how food affects all the different tissue levels of the body. It offers a perspective to how food affects our emotions too, food is so important and we really are what we eat! Having the right conditions to support our digestion really can be in our hands!

If you would like to listen in to the 15 minute podcast episode around this topic, you can click here. You can also take my free quiz to Discover Your Anxiety Profile and get personalised tips on how to start to curb anxiety by clicking here.

I hope you have enjoyed reading and I invite you to reflect on your digestive habits. I hope these tips may be useful,

Love, Sam x


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