When we talk about a healthy lifestyle, we typically think of eating nutritious, clean foods and exercising. However, nutrition and exercise aren't always enough for optimal results. If your digestive system is out of whack from years of abuse (and possibly damage you didn't even realize you were doing), it can sabotage your efforts and leave you feeling less than accomplished -- even after all that thoughtful grocery shopping and food prep.
So how do you know if your digestion is out of whack? Your body will tell you. After you eat one of your carefully thought-out meals, do you feel like your food is just sitting in your stomach for hours afterwards? Or, is the opposite happening, and you are running to the bathroom before you've even finished your meal? These are telltale signs that something is off inside your tummy.
If this sounds like you, you are not alone, and there are things you can do improve the situation. Here are 10 steps to get things moving properly through your gut:
1. Combine foods properly.
When foods are combined properly, they do not sit in your stomach and rot. That rotting food feeds the bad bacteria and yeast that we all have residing in our digestive tracts. To combine food the right way, eat protein with vegetables or grains with vegetables, but not proteins with grains. Also, fruits should be eaten alone on an empty stomach to avoid fermentation and bloating.
2. Eat fermented foods.
Speaking of fermentation, there are naturally-fermented foods, such as kefir, sauerkraut and pickles that, when eaten, will feed the good bacteria in your gut and balance your inner ecology.
3. Consider enzymes and probiotics.
I recommend taking digestive enzymes and probiotics to help with food digestion and to build up immunity. When our digestive systems have been taxed from years of improper food combining or processed foods, those digestive enzymes need a boost.
4. Time your water intake strategically.
We all know we need to drink plenty of water, but I suggest also drinking a glass 15 minutes before each meal. This habit will get your digestive juices flowing and help your food settle.
5. Follow the 80/20 rule.
Eat until you are 80 percent full. That leaves 20 percent of the room left in your stomach for your digestion to work. Think of it like a paper shredder: If you try to cram too many pages into a paper shredder, it backs up, doesn't shred and can be a real pain to un-jam. However, if you feed it just a few at a time, without overload, it shreds up your pages quickly and efficiently. Your digestive tract works the same way.
6. Eat loads of fiber.
Your body needs fiber to carry out toxins, excess hormones and junk. Eating lots of water-soluble fiber, found in veggies, will ensure that you get plenty of fiber. Just don't forget step No. 4! Drink lots of water, too, so that you don't end up with bulky stool. Too much fiber without water can lead to constipation.
7. Try short fasting periods.
I'm not suggesting that you don't eat for a day. What I'm suggesting is that you take some time between meals. Give your system about three or four hours to let the food get assimilated. When your belly is constantly bombarded by food all day long, it gets confused and doesn't work properly. Give it some time to work on that last meal before you head to the kitchen for a snack.
8. Cut sugar and white carbohydrates.
This isn't just good for digestion, but for your blood sugar, fat loss and general well-being. These foods will feed the bad guys in your gut. Avoid them to negate the damaging insulin spike and (bonus!) for less gas and bloating.
9. Eliminate gluten -- at least temporarily.
You may be gluten-intolerant and not know it. Try going without it for a week and see if your digestion works any better. Then re-introduce it, paying special attention to how you feel.
10. Drink bone broth.
In my opinion, the No. 1 most soothing and healing drink you can give your body is homemade bone broth. This magic potion contains nutrients that can help heal your gut if it is leaky and also provides the minerals you need for strong bones. It's a win-win, must-have food!
If you incorporate some or all of these tips, you will ease into better digestion and your tummy troubles will likely start to disappear. When your digestive system is working at optimum level, it will allow you to take in all the nutrients from your clean eating habits, give you more energy and start showing some of those results you've been working so hard for. My health coaching company, Whole Green You, offers a 30-minute complimentary strategy session to get you on the right track.
Sarah Haskins is the founder of Whole Green You, a holistic health coaching practice that specializes in helping busy men and women around the country increase their energy, improve their relationship to food, lose weight, deconstruct and control cravings, and reduce their toxic load. As a U.S. Army veteran with 11 years of active duty service to her country, Haskins' holistic nutritional approach has been implemented with many U.S. Army soldiers to enhance their focus, energy and athletic ability both on and off the battlefield.