Digestion certainly is not the most elegant topic to discuss, yet discussion becomes necessary and warranted when we consider that digestive health plays a major role in body composition, overall health, whether you are prone to be overweight, and even if you are having difficulty losing fat in “problem areas” like the hips, thighs and glutes.
Once we get over the “that’s a weird topic” vibe, digestion is actually quite cool.
We tend not to think too much about digestion until something goes wrong with it or it begins impacting out goals. I want to outline several scenarios and their potential solutions/things to consider.
Your body is only as healthy and strong as your digestive system is: Period.
One of the major jobs of the gastrointestinal tract is the breakdown, absorption, assimilation and elimination of food and all of the macro and micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and so on that your food contains. If one of these links in the chain becomes broken or impaired, the rest of the chain suffers and thus the health of the entire body. Even if you are eating the very best nutrition you possibly can, if you cannot digest, absorb and assimilate that nutrition, you are missing out and your health and body composition will not be as good as it can be.
What does normal digestion look like?
Warning: I’m gonna talk about poop here for a second. Ideally you will be moving your bowels at least once per day. Your poop should be well formed and easy to pass, without blood, mucous or undigested food in it. You should not feel bloated or overly gassy, you should not experience reflux, indigestion, pain or cramping on a regular basis. If you are, something is amiss.
Basics of digestive health
Digestive health is the result of your nutrition being appropriate for you, that is, identifying and avoiding food sensitivities for YOU. Beneficial bacteria – about 4 lbs of them – live in our guts and execute a myriad of functions for us related to digestion. Interestingly, our gut bacteria even play a role in our body composition! Some strains of bacteria predispose us to be more overweight. Isn’t that so unfair? Digestive enzymes, bile, and stomach acid should all be present in enough quantity to be able to break down macronutrients into small enough pieces to be assimilated. The lining of the gut should be strong, have good integrity, and not be a source of inflammation. The nervous system of the brain – the enteric nervous system or “second brain” – should be functioning smoothly to promote optimal and timely elimination. All of these pieces working in sync help your body metabolize and use the nutrition from your food to help you look and feel your best.
Let’s face it, it happens. For optimal fat loss, constipation absolutely should be addressed. For targeting trouble areas, tackling constipation is a must. I’ll back up a few steps. The liver filters your blood, removing things like cholesterol particles, compounds of metabolism, inflammatory molecules – and spent hormones. It is the job of the liver to filter out hormones like estrogen, package them up to be excreted, and then send them to the GI tract so we can poop them out. Guess what? Our colon (affectionately called the large intestine) has a blood supply. So, if you are not pooping every day, and your stool is just sitting there in your colon, all of those hormones get re-absorbed back into general circulation. Then, it ends back at the liver. The liver, meanwhile, is dealing with today’s estrogens and other spent hormones and inflammatory compounds. Now, it has to deal again with the stuff it dealt with yesterday or the day before.
So, when the bowel becomes constipated, the liver becomes constipated, and your estrogenic burden goes up. The fat receptors on all of our troublesome womanly areas – butt, hips, thighs – are highly sensitive to estrogen. Estrogen stimulates them and helps them hold on to fat. What this means is that when we are not pooping daily, we are more estrogenic, and our trouble areas, not to mention overall fat loss, become resistant to change.
Solution: Ensure that you are eating adequate healthy fats, fibrous veggies and are hydrated. You want to aim for at least 3L of water daily. Avoid foods that are inherently constipating, such as gluten, cow dairy, grains and bananas. Consider taking a probiotic daily.
Chronic dieters, cardio queens and junkies and those prone to bad sleep and high stress can get metabolic damage. People with metabolic damage are more prone to things like IBS, which can manifest as alternating loose stool and constipation, stomach pain and bloating. As dysfunction in the gut ensues, optimal assimilation and processing of nutrients is impaired, making it even harder to repair metabolic damage.
Solution: A gut restoration program is at the foundation of any metabolic damage protocol. This entails finding and eliminating foods you are sensitive to, and also making sure you do not have candida, bacterial or parasitic infection; bumping up your beneficial gut flora by taking a probiotic daily, taking a plant digestive enzyme with meals, and considering a glutamine-based product to heal the lining of the gut.
Are food allergies making you fat?
They sure could be. Eating foods that are not ideal for our body create inflammation, which brings water (read: bloating) to the belly area, disrupts hormonal signaling, irritates the gut lining making absorption of nutrients difficult and can even down-regulate our fat-burning hormonal machinery.
Solution: Find and eliminate food allergies if you suspect they may be impairing your fat-loss efforts. This can be done through an elimination/challenge diet, or through a blood test. Most common food allergies include gluten, cow dairy, tree nuts, citrus, strawberries, soy and eggs.