You’re eating a clean paleo diet. But, you are still battling some annoying digestive symptoms. You were hoping switching to this way of life would take care of those issues. Maybe resolve your sleep and energy issues too. But, after eating a beautiful, nutrient-dense Paleo diet for a time some things have gotten better, but not everything. Not fair. What next?
When working to heal digestion, one of the core components is to remove many, if not all, of the offending foods. The Paleo diet does this by eliminating many of the top allergens right away. This is a fantastic first step! The next step is to essentially hit the reset button by becoming very conscious of how you interact with the food you are eating. Here are my first places to start:
Digestive Healing: Hitting the Reset Button
Digestion is a parasympathetic process, meaning you need to be in a relaxed state for it to happen. If you are cramming food down between meetings or worried about a deadline or a certain kid is really pushing your buttons today, then digestion might not be optimized. In fact, I guarantee it isn’t. Let’s discuss further:
The main nerve involved in the Parasympathetic System is the vagus nerve. This nerve is the largest in the body and it travels from the brain to the gut and back. The vagus nerve is responsible for hunger, elimination, pancreatic enzyme release, stimulates bile release and intestinal blood flow. It is a critical component to healthy digestion. The biggest stimulator of the vagus nerve is the emotion compassion, whereas fear and anxiety suppress it.
To support the role of the vagus nerve at mealtime and move into a parasympathetic state, remove all electronic devices from the table. Take a few deep breaths before taking that first bite. Say a few words of gratitude or a positive affirmation to yourself about the meal. Help yourself switch from go-go-go mode, to rest and digest mode.
Chew, chew, chew your food, And then chew some more
The mechanical breakdown of your food begins in the mouth. This action is a very important step in easing the load on every action in the digestive tract that follows the mouth. The longer you chew your food, the more enzymes and HCl are secreted downstream to further facilitate breakdown.
Taking time to focus on chewing your food thoroughly has far-reaching benefits. This step alone can help eliminate gas and bloating. This can be the missing link in aiding weight loss. And, this can also give you more overall energy in your day as you have taken some of the burden off your digestive system (which is the biggest energy sucker in your body). Next time you sit down at a meal, see if you can make each bite stay in your mouth until it is almost a tasteless paste. How long does it take to do that? How conscious do you have to be of your chewing to keep it in your mouth longer than 3-4 chews?
Supplement with Hydrochloric Acid (HCl) and Pepsin
The stomach is your digestion powerhouse where the majority of the food is broken down and the pathogens are eliminated. But, this only happens when you have sufficient levels of HCl.
Unfortunately, your HCl levels aren’t guaranteed. As I mentioned above, digestion is a high-energy activity in the body. If your body needs to conserve some energy for another purpose, digestion is going to take a hit. This can happen if you are healing from an injury or dealing with a chronic illness. HCl will also decrease during a high-refined carbohydrate diet, or a very low protein diet, or if food is frequently eaten in a rush, or in the presence of certain nutrient deficiencies, particularly zinc.
One simple way to reinstate HCl levels in your stomach is to supplement with HCl and pepsin. HCl works on a negative feedback loop and by adding HCl back into the system you essentially remind your body that it is needed. To do this, take HCl with pepsin with meals that contain protein and slowly dose up your HCl levels over several days to find your personal dose. (When you get a light warming sensation in your gut, you’ve hit your max.) Then, you will find that as your body heals, you will be able to decrease and possibly eliminate supplementing with HCl.
For those who are more sensitive or need more healing to occur before taking HCl, start with lemon juice in water, raw apple cider vinegar in water or with some digestive bitters. Each of these methods help to ‘prime the pump’ so to speak, to get your own gastric juices flowing again. Getting your digestion back on track does take some trial and error, but the time spent discovering what works for you is worth it.
A perfect, clean diet is only beneficial if you are able to fully digest and assimilate it. While you invest in eating Paleo, also invest the time to savor your meals and enjoy each bite. Your digestive system will thank you.