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  • Dr Thor Conner

Improve your digestive health naturally with Dining Hygiene

In my naturopathic practice, two of the most common complaints that patients initially present with are heartburn and Irritable bowel symptoms. There are a lot of things we can do to address these symptoms, depending on how they present. There are botanical medicines like DGL and marshmallow, enzymes to help with digestion and specialized diets to eliminate problem causing foods. But the first step I like to take is the simplest, easiest, and least expensive-- control HOW you eat.

The process is referred to as Dining Hygiene, and much like sleep hygiene, involve habit as an intervention before moving on to higher force intervention like herbs and drugs. Meal Hygiene is actually pretty simple but can have profound effect on digestive complaints. Here’s basic areas to work on to improve how you eat.

Slow down you move too fast, got to make a good thing last.

The simplest rule of meal hygiene is to simply slow down. Prioritize mealtime, eat on a regular schedule. Try planning meals ahead of time, then a proper mix of foods can be assured, and planning will help us to not overeat. The secretory process begins with smell, but takes a little time. So, savoring the meal, taking a moment to slow down from your day and eat, is important. Not only does it take time to secrete bile, acid and enzymes, but the mechanism that controls satiety (fullness) takes about 20 minutes to work.

Focus. Try not to multi-task, put your device down, turn off the video. It's even rumored that enjoying a conversation over food will strengthen social bonding and encourage emotional health. Try leaning back from the table, and even putting down utensils between bites to slow your progress. Take a deep, cleansing breath after you swallow. Not only will you savor the meal better, but you will have time to chew.

Chewing is the one part of digestion that we have direct control over, so take advantage of that control. The average a person chews a mouthful of food is about SIX times before they swallow. Then, large chunks of food go into the stomach, and usually too much at once. This means that the over full stomach can’t mix the food well and that the juices can’t do their job. This distention can also directly cause esophageal reflux (heartburn).

Chew 20 to 30 times per mouthful, until the food is mostly liquid and ready to be swallowed. If you feel the urge to swallow too soon, move the bolus into your cheek and swallow saliva, just like you would do to avoid swallowing gum.

Portion control. Remember that there is a limited amount of space in the stomach, no matter how much you chew, so size each meal appropriately. Too much volume in the stomach will prevent proper mixing and churning, which will delay gastric emptying and allow for esophageal reflux to occur.

Water intake is important, both to get enough water in your day and to have enough to keep your food in suspension. The trick with meal hygiene is to not have so much water that you dilute acid and enzyme, but enough to facilitate digestion.

We do go on and on about the importance of proper hydration, but we should hydrate between meals and not during them.

Exercise. Taking regular exercise will help move digestion and encourage circulation. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, nor right after meals, but some movement will aid digestion and reduce feelings of stress, sluggishness and bloating. Walking is one of the best things to do, especially post meal, the physical action of walking helps in the movement of food through the gut and even the churning that helps the stomach’s mixing action.

These simple first steps that anyone can do, you can be on your way to controlling your uncomfortable symptoms before you even engage in higher force intervention or intrusive diets which may be more suited for one ailment than others. If you find you are having issues, or even to prevent issues around eating, try these steps first. If you continue to be uncomfortable, seek out additional help. Digestive issues can be complicated and it can be hard to find solutions but fortunately, naturopathic medicine offers excellent ways to address your GI issues. We are here with the expert guidance needed to get to the root of the problem and help you to restore yourself to better health. Sign up for a free 15-minute consult to go further in improving your digestive health.