Last week we discussed how low stomach acid, dehydration and gut overgrowths/carbohydrate malabsorption contribute to acid reflux/GERD symptoms. This week we will continue the conversation and explain ways in which how we eat also contribute to these medical complaints.
Stress reduces gastric acid production and impairs GI motility. Can you recall what your body senses are when you eat during a state of anxiety or stress? Most people report such symptoms of heartburn, cramping, gas, digestive pains, belching, intense hunger and minimal satisfaction from the meal. During stress, the body automatically shifts into the classic fight-or-flight response. Blood flow is rerouted away from the intestines and go to the head for quick thinking and limbs for fast movement and the power to fight. Most importantly, the digestive system shuts down. Biologically, you don't need to waste energy digesting food when you’re fighting for survival. This feature of the central nervous system is a brilliant safety mechanism that supported us during life-threatening events - confronting hostile attackers, experiencing natural disasters and quickly evading or forcibly overcoming anyone or anything.
However, in our modern-day world characterized by 24/7 stress, lowered gastric acid production can make heartburn a chronic condition. You can even eat the healthiest meal on earth, but if you eat it in an anxious state, your digestion is dramatically diminished. A chronic insufficiency of gastric acid allows a larger quantity of ingested bacteria to pass through the stomach unchallenged and enter the small intestine, where they can proliferate, causing gas and heartburn. Another problem is impaired GI motility allows food to stagnate in the small intestine, where it creates a breeding ground for bacterial overgrowth and again, gas and acid reflux/GERD. Stress is a 2-fold problem!
What We Do: We help clients shift away from the fight-or-flight response (sympathetic nervous system dominance), and activate the parasympathetic nervous system or rest-digest-detox-repair mode. We help them assess where in their life they are experiencing stress and set goals to mitigate it. For example - if stress is work related, can you make time to take a 5 minute walk outside or do 60 seconds of belly breathing (one of the quickest ways to activate relaxation)? If you feel overwhelmed by your to-do list, write out your top 3-5 things you want to accomplish each day. If rush hour makes you mad, is there a scenic back road you can meander through instead of being bumper-to-bumper on the highway? Or maybe you can explore podcasts that make you lose track of time. These are just a few examples on what some of our clients have found work for them.
However, one of the best places to start is to start relaxing around meal time. Relaxing around the meal is a great way to ensure better digestion. Increase your meal time by 5 minute increments and work your way up to spending 20 minutes with each meal. Instead of eating on the couch watching a suspenseful show or depressing news, move to the dining table with your loved one and catch up. Opt for outside instead of eating at your work desk. Use gentle, fuller breathing as a natural pause during meals. Deep breathe 3 times at each pause.
Falling Asleep at the Plate/Distracted Eating
When is the last time you ate a meal and don't remember tasting your food? Digestion begins in the mind. Cephalic phase digestive response, “CPDR” (cephalic means “of the head”) describes the pleasures of taste, aroma, satisfaction and visual stimulation of a meal. As much at 30-40% of the total digestive response to any meal is due to cephalic phase digestive response - our full awareness of what we are eating.
Digestion quite literally begins in the head as chemical and mechanical receptors on the tongue and the oral and nasal cavities are stimulated by smelling food, tasting it, chewing it and noticing it. A hearty awareness of our meal initiates the secretion of saliva, gastric acid and enzymes, gut-associated neuropeptides and production of the full range of pancreatic enzymes, including trypsin, chymotrypsin, pancreatic amylase and lipase. It also causes the blood to rush to the digestive organs, the stomach and intestines to rhythmically contract and electrolyte concentrations throughout the digestive tract to shift in preparation for incoming food. If you “fall asleep at the plate” then we are metabolizing the meal at only 60-70% efficiency and we can overeat, contributing to heartburn.
What We Do: Our clients work on developing a sense of awareness around meals; instead of eating until they are stuffed, we teach them how to eat to the point of energy. The yogis of ancient India described a special point in any meal whereupon, if you stopped eating at that time, you’d walk away from the table with more prana - more energy or life force- than when you sat down. Finding this “point of energy” takes some experimentation. Ask your gut: “How do I feel? How is my energy level? Do I still feel light? Am I starting to feel heavy?” Estimate the point at which you feel filled with energy yet not filled with food. Your belly will feel light; you’ll feel slightly “up”; you will still be a little hungry yet you’ll translate that hunger and desire for more food into the next thing you do after your meal. Conversely, when you eat even one bite past the point of energy, you’ll start to feel heavier.
We can help you with your heartburn or other digestive concerns!