Gut Health Week 1: Digestion 101

Welcome to my Gut Health Series! For the next five weeks I’m going to be talking all things digestion and gut health. You’ll learn about the importance of digestion and how to eat right for a balanced gut. But I’m also going to dive into the not-so-pretty side of things and talk about poop, because that’s an important part of it! Believe it or not, we can actually tell a lot about what’s going on inside your body from what comes out the other end. In this series I’m also going to cover information about probiotics and supplementation for gut health. The world of probiotics and our microbiome can be a confusing one, but I’m going to break it down for you and fill you in on why it’s so important and what you can do to build a healthy gut!

I wanted to create this series because I am a gut health nerd and I love talking about digestion and how important it is for our health. I also wanted to do an educational series on it because I find so many people have questions about digestion (and poop for that matter). I know how important this topic is because I see digestive complaints in virtually every client that I see. I have yet to see a client with perfect digestion!

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The gut and digestion: the root of good health

If you take anything away from this post, it should be that your digestion and your gut is the basis of your health. Our digestive system is responsible for breaking down our food and absorbing the nutrients from it. If digestion isn’t functioning optimally, then the other systems in the body will be affected. The body as a whole benefits from how our digestive system operates.

“Normal” digestion & elimination

I wrote “normal” as it’s really one of those terms that can be difficult to define. With digestion, it’s hard to achieve absolute perfection but we can get pretty close. No one is going to have perfect digestion all the time, but the goal is to get the body balanced and supported so that it is able to digest normally most of the time.

Digestion actually begins in the mouth where we have salivary enzymes that begin the breakdown of carbohydrates in our food. Food continues down the digestion chain into the esophagus, then stomach and into the small intestine and large intestine where it is finally eliminated.

Normal transit time for digestion from start to finish is 24-72 hours, according to Mayo Clinic. The exact time will vary based on the foods that you’ve eaten, but that’s the general transit time for a healthy digestive system.

If digestion is working properly, there shouldn’t be any feeling to it (aside from the occasional happy gurgle). But you shouldn’t be feeling uncomfortable with any bloating or cramping. Elimination should follow within that 24 hour window and it shouldn’t be difficult or painful to do.

There’s actually a whole system to evaluating your poop and there’s a way that practitioners can tell what’s going on inside the body based on what comes out. But I’ll go into the elimination side of things in more detail in the coming weeks!

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Not so “normal” digestion & elimination

If you’re dealing with digestive issues, there can be a number of things that are insufficient and imbalanced. For example, you may be lacking the right amount of stomach acid required for digestion. Or maybe your body isn’t producing enzymes to properly breakdown your food. Digestion could be working fine but if your elimination habits are less than perfect, that’s another sign that something is imbalanced. With digestive concerns, the only way we will start to see changes is if we identify the root cause. Once we know what is causing the problem, we can then begin to implement changes that will result in positive outcomes. Band-aid solutions like certain medications or over-the-counter remedies that only address the symptoms will not yield long-term results and only further the imbalance in the body.

One thing I have learned in my practice is to ensure my clients and I are on the same page when we’re talking about their “normal” digestion. Normal digestion tends to be defined differently for each individual. I’ve had clients tell me proudly that they have “normal” bowel movements and they explain to me that normal means one bowel movement every three days. I’ve had other clients that have been dealing with bloating and indigestion for so long that they’ve just assumed that was their normal. But neither of these outcomes are “normal” and neither of them indicate a healthy digestive system.

We’ve all been there and have experienced less than perfect digestion. When your gut isn’t happy it can be incredibly uncomfortable and can really ruin your day. Bloating, cramping, acid reflux, diarrhea, and constipation are some of the most common digestive complaints. These are all examples of some kind of imbalance in the gut that needs to be addressed.

I find the biggest issue is that most people fail to be mindful of their body’s signals. Rather than just brushing over that bloated feeling next time it happens, start paying attention to it. Listening to your body’s cues is the best way for you to begin uncovering what could be causing them.

Get started

If you are just starting out in your journey to living healthy and getting down to the nitty gritty of your health concerns, I would encourage you to start with the gut. When you’re experiencing multiple issues and concerns, the best place to start is to balance your digestion.

Start with being more mindful with your body and the signals it’s sending you. If you experience digestive issues after eating, keep a journal to track things. Eventually you’ll be able to start identifying those triggers or foods that aren’t working for you. You’ll experience so many positive changes in the body simply by getting your gut working properly.

Coming up next week, I’m diving deeper into the foods you should include or remove for proper digestion. I’ll also get into the best practices you can follow to help support your body.