It’s been said time and time again that all good health or disease starts in the gut. For me, this couldn’t be more true.
What you might not realise is that our digestive systems do more than just digest (or in-digest) the food we eat. Our digestive systems also digests every aspect of our lives and assimilates into the body everything that happens to us: thoughts, feelings, emotions and how we react to life around us all play a role in how well our digestion is working and consequently our good health.
As someone who has struggled with indigestion, chronic reflux and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) since my teenage years, I have learnt many techniques for keeping my digestive health as balanced as possible. Some of this is food related for sure, avoid certain foods, add in other beneficial ones.
But my digestion really started to improve and incidentally my health and energy levels alongside, when I took note of how the rest of my world was affecting my digestive capacity also.
Hashimoto’s, my auto-immune thyroid condition, has it’s role to play here and my digestion is often a little indicator light on how well my thyroid is functioning. Most people with thyroid problems have gut problems of some kind (because all disease or good health starts in the gut!) so I’m hoping any other thyroidy types or those with auto-immune disease might find some of these ideas below beneficial.
6 ways to kick-start your digestion in the morning
One of the easiest ways I’ve found to improve digestion is by how we approach our mornings. It literally sets up the tone of your day. Our body is hopefully refreshed from a good night’s sleep, the cells have been recovering and our body has been healing over night. I have found, with any sort of digestive problems, it mostly gets worse across the day i.e. bloating, cramping so there is nothing like a fresh start of day and a less inflamed tummy to start off on the right track.
So, I wanted to share 6 simple ways to kick-start your digestion in the morning. These are all kind, gentle and beneficial techniques for both body and mind. If in the very least you feel calmer to start your day like this, you are doing a huge favour to yourself.
1. Set the alarm 10 minutes earlier
Less sleep you say, how is that helpful? Not rushing in the morning or leaving everything to the last minute is really helpful in encouraging a calm digestive start to the day and keeping everything running smoothly so to speak. If you’re like me and the shock of the alarm causes a mild panic, then this is a really good one for you.
Take 10 deep breaths before you even move in bed and if you are feeling anxious already, visualise letting that tension go. If you have your daily to-do list rushing around your head, it most definitely can wait. Use this time when you first wake up to ease into the day rather than plan yourself in to your day.
Tip: A gentle Body Scan or Mindfulness practice before you have even arisen from bed a nice way to start the day ‘in your body’ so to speak – notice your body and how it’s feeling, locate the areas of tension and let them go.
We all hold tension in our stomachs and digestive tracts when we are nervous, worried, scared, anxious or angry. This sends all the blood away from our digestive organs and some of us live in this state for most of the day. Your digestion will seriously thank you for starting the day calmly.
2. Tummy massage
Roll onto your back, take some deep breaths and using one of your fists or hands start massaging your tummy starting just inside your right hip bone, up in a straight line to under your right ribs, across under your ribs and down vertically on your left side to inside you left hip bone. Repeat for a few mins or at least 5 rounds. Start gently and breathe calmly as you do this, and if you feel any blockages spend a little longer on those spots.
Tip: Always start inside the right hip bone and end at the left equivalent – this mimics the pathway of things moving through your large intestine and is a gentle reminder for things to keep moving that way and gently encourages elimination.
3. Warm Lemon Water
Squeeze 1/4 or 1/2 a lemon into a glass, half fill with a combo of room temperature and freshly boiled water so it’s not scalding and also so it doesn’t degrade the precious Vitamin C in the lemon.
Lemon water gives your liver a gentle kickstart, which stimulates your digestion and hydrates you after your sleep. You might find after having your lemon water you might get some gentle signals to be heading for the bathroom, which is a good thing. Our morning bathroom routine should be running almost on clockwork so anything that helps this process is really beneficial.
Tip: Add some grated ginger root or even powder for an extra kick. Or if you’re feeling particularly out of sorts, blocked up, under the weather, digestively-challenged exchange the lemon for a splash of Apple Cider Vinegar.
4. A Balanced Breakfast
Fibre can be a tricky one to get right. Most people are told to eat more fibre but when doing so, they find their bloating gets worse. Usually, this is because we don’t drink enough fluids throughout the day and the fibre ends up absorbing too much of the liquid in our tummies meaning rebound constipation! Porridge made with any rolled grain like oats, millet, rice, barley etc makes a great base for breakfast.
Add some frozen or fresh berries, sliced almonds, a spoon of nut butter, cacao powder, spices like cinnamon or cardamom, pepitas or any type of seed. Soak over night in milk of choice or water for extra digestibility – the grains are pre-digested for you in the milk which means less work for your tummy but more nutrients.
Enjoy your food mindfully, without distraction. Put the phone away, close your Facebook and just focus on the food you are eating taking care to chew properly. I promise it won’t take any longer to eat mindfully but your digestion will love you for it.
Tip: Make a batch of porridge to serve you 2-3 days and add different add-ins each day to keep it interesting while saving time in preparation. If I have a bowl of porridge already in the fridge on a work day, I’m less likely to grab something quick and less fibre-rich to fill my tummy.
Special note for the toast lovers like me:
While it’s not a good idea to guzzle water with our meals as it depletes our digestive power, if you are having quite a dry breakfast (toast for example) ensure there has been some liquid consumed with your meal. Wait half an hour and enjoy another big glass of water for example.
Likewise as you increase your fibre gradually, be mindful of adding more water to your day – water is necessary for fibre to do it’s job to get things moving.
5. Flaxseed oil
This stuff is amazing, literally lubricating your digestive system. Remember our gut ideally works like a well oiled machine. Also high in Omega 3 fatty acids and a great vegetarian substitute for Fish Oils – calms inflammation, great for skin and hair and good brain food.
Start with 1 Tablespoon on your breakfast and take note over a few days any differences.
Or try flaxseeds (also called linseeds) themselves pre-ground in a mixture from the supermarket, chemist or health food store called LSA. It stands for Linseed, Sunflower Seed and Almonds that have been ground. These little seeds are high in soluble fibre which moves things along smoothly in your GI tract – smoothly being the word here!
Start with 1/2 tablespoon and work up to 2-4 tablespoons depending on your tolerance.
Tip: Flaxseed oil and any of their seed products needs to be kept refrigerated as they can go rancid over time. You will know when flaxseed products go bad by the smell. Just to be clear while the oil itself is high in omega 3’s it doesn’t contain the soluble fibre that the ground seeds do themselves.
6. Bathroom time
Yes, this is the part where we talk about poo. There I said it, poo, bowel movements, motions, etc. It’s awkward for lots of people, but the reality is we all do it and for good reason. Having regular bowel movements is a very good indicator of your digestive health and how you feel in general. They are one and the same.
Females are often particularly awkward about how often they are having a good bowel movement, it’s just not lady like you know. Ballet dancers in particular are so used to holding tension in our tummies, often nervously awaiting a big rehearsal or performance and very much aware of any tiny amount of bloating. I know what it’s like to go through the day without feeling like I took a proper breath or holding your tummy in all day in pain. Unpleasant.
So, taking the time to listen to nature’s call in the morning is really important to keep your digestion in good nick. It’s a routine that your body becomes accustomed too and we are capable of helping this routine become a more or less regular feature, depending on your constitution.
As your digestion improves, you will notice this all becomes just a small but important part of your day. Don’t rush out of the house because something else is more pressing. Feeling good is more important.
Tip: A small step, box or pile of old telephone books in the bathroom can make a huge difference to your bathroom routine. Raising your feet in this way, gets your body in to a much more natural position to allow nature to do it’s thing. And relax.
Believe it or not, our digestion should work effectively in the background without us having to think twice about it. Unfortunately, poor diet and a hectic lifestyle interrupts this process which leads to the digestion problems we all seem to have and think it’s normal to suffer from.
Remember, just because digestive problems are common it does not make them normal. Do yourself a favour and let your digestion lead you to even better health!