We are always hearing about WHAT we should be eating, but many of us still struggle with HOW we should be eating. As a WILDFIT® Master Coach, I’ve had hundreds of clients who were focused on what foods to add in and what to take a break from. Once they were eating better foods, even still sometimes they weren’t feeling better, and many asked which foods might be causing symptoms of poor digestion, lethargy, and brain fog. We tend to forget that eating better also includes how we deliver those foods to our systems. The root cause of the discomfort can be daily habits that we’re not even aware of! Follow the steps below to ensure that each day you are optimizing your energy levels, mood, digestion, and vitality with these eating habits:
- Sip water slowly and consistently
Hydration is important to overall health and good digestion in particular. Water ensures the proper absorption of nutrients and that food keeps moving through the intestines. If you don’t have enough water in your body, water is reabsorbed from the colon which can lead to hard stools and constipation.
We all know this, so when we remember we haven’t had water in a while we gulp down as much as we can handle in case we forget later as well! The trouble with drinking water this way is that your body cannot assimilate large amounts of it all at once, so it ends up passing right through you before it can do its job. All the fluids in the cells of your body exist in a delicate balance, so the flow of that liquid needs to be slow and steady to maintain that balance. To support this flow, sip water continuously throughout the day, 2-3 ounces at a time, from when you wake until one hour before you go to sleep. You will notice less bathroom urgency, fewer trips in general, more clear steady energy and focus and less bloating.
- Ensure you slow down and chew your food properly
It’s interesting: we spend so much of our time thinking about food, and yet when it comes time to eat it is like we are racing to the bottom of our plates so we can move on to thinking about the next meal. We miss the experience by washing down each bite with a lot of liquid, not chewing properly and eating too quickly, and these habits can all create continual digestive discomfort down the line.
Many people don’t realize that digestion actually starts in our mouths and is one of the most important parts of our digestive system. The teeth tear our food into smaller pieces, the tongue moving it around back into the teeth to achieve even smaller pieces, and then each tiny morsel can be mixed with the enzymes of the saliva. If you skip this crucial process you are guaranteed a food baby will be showing up about an hour after meal time.
Experiment with taking smaller bites of food and chewing each bite at least 30 times, until your mouthful of food is liquefied or lost all of its texture, then swallow. Don’t take another small bite until you have swallowed, and enjoy sips of water apart from your mouthfuls of food. Sound boring? The payoff won’t be. Research shows that slowing down your eating will result in feeling more satisfied with your meal, eating less overall for the same satisfaction level, and better overall energy and alertness after a meal. You will also receive more nourishment from your food, and suffer far less gas and bloating.
- Eating should be our primary focus, rather than a secondary activity
The healthiest cultures in the world also share the beautiful tradition of ceremonial eating. A meal begins with a silent moment of prayer, is enjoyed around a table, and the food is largely the main topic of conversation. This may sound old fashioned, but research shows it is still by far the best way to eat.
In order to properly digest and assimilate your food you need to be in a rest and digest state of being, with your parasympathetic nervous system fully functioning and the bulk of your blood in your core, rather than the extremities. When we eat while on the move, while driving, or watching emotionally intense media we are likely in high alert mode and therefore not properly digesting that meal. In the modern world we are encouraged to always be rushing and multitasking is a huge part of that. However that busy-ness comes at the cost of doing anything really well.
If you want better digestion and energy. Experiment with sitting down to eat your meal, apart from any distractions. Take a moment to just look at and smell your food, appreciating it and saying a word of gratitude for having it, and what it took to get to you. Then proceed to eat your meal slowly, enjoying gentle conversation or music. We love the opportunity to do this in restaurants, so let’s bring a bit of that ambiance into our everyday meals. This might not always be possible, but plan ahead and when you do need to eat on the go, drink an Alkagizer or slowly sip down a creamy soup to help facilitate the best digestion possible.
- Learn to eat foods in the correct combinations
If you were to imagine for a moment that you were a bushman and you were eating: what would you be eating? Likely it would be something like a handful of berries, or a nest full of eggs, a couple tubers, or a fish. You would not be having a fish with a side of potatoes in a cream sauce and raspberry coulis for dessert. The reason this is important is it highlights what our digestive system is made for versus what we use it for.
Your digestive system likes to be streamlined, taking in one macro group of nutrients at a time so that it can produce a lot of specific digestive enzymes and juices at once, rather than small quantities of all of them. Digestion is kind of like laundry- everything comes out cleaner and better when you separate your whites from your colors from your towels. It is not always possible to eat only one food at a time, but you can make a big improvement by simplifying your meals as much as possible.
Eat fruit on it’s own, and have vegetables with either a starch or a protein but not both. Your body requires an acid base to digest proteins and an alkaline base to digest starches, so it is not a good idea to eat them together. Fats and oils combine best with protein and generally should be used in limited amounts if combined with other foods because while they won’t stop digestion, they will slow it down significantly. Start your day with a protein centered meal that has some fat. This communicates to the body that these nutrients are abundant, and therefore be less likely to store meals as fat for later use.
- Honor your biology
Your body has created this beautiful superhighway through the bloodstream which moves along units of sugar and fat, our main sources of fuel. These units eventually need to go through a toll station into your cells’ mitochondria to create energy for functioning. In nature, the sugar units would have come along quite quickly and been through the toll station long before the fat units. Fat and sugar rarely exist in unison in nature; you just don’t often kill an antelope under a marula tree.
In the modern diet though, we tend to combine refined sugar with processed fat in many highly palatable foods (think french fries, hamburgers, pizza, doughnuts). This clogs up the superhighway and creates major slowdowns at the mitochondrial toll booths as both units try to move through at once. This is a big part of why we become so sleepy and lethargic after eating these kinds of foods: our bodies just can’t use those food products efficiently for fuel.
Food is relatively rare in nature because it takes time to gather, hunt and fish for it. If you were a bushman you would likely be eating two or three times a day, in much smaller, more nutrient dense meals. To truly optimize your digestion this biological fact needs to be acknowledged; most of us simply eat too much and too often. Fruit ought to take up to two hours alone in your stomach to digest, starches need three hours and proteins and fats need four. By giving your body more time to complete the digestion cycle (rather than interrupting the cycle with snacks between meals) your body can smoothly assimilate the nutrients in your food. In the beginning use your WILDFIT® Six Human Hungers to recognize when you want to eat for fun rather than function so you can do something else.
Finally, understand that we need a huge variety of plant and animal foods to be in optimal health, and sometimes even “healthy” foods are not the right foods for us. By slowing down and eating consciously, you will be better able to use your Food Timeline to recognize when you are facing a food sensitivity and be able to take a break from that food.
Have a go at one of these tips at a time, starting from the top and just watch how your digestion and therefore overall health starts to improve! Did these tips help you? Share your comments below!