In order for digestion to work properly our brain has to be calm and focused on eating in order to tell our body to get ready to digest. The fancy term for this is “parasympathetic” or “rest and digest”.

Most of us who are working full time jobs with long commutes and jam packed schedules, are rushing out the door and not really focusing on sitting down to actually relax until we go to bed at night. This puts our body into “sympathetic” mode or “fight or flight”.

The busy go-go-go lifestyles that most modern career women lead doesn’t really give much room for digestion to be working as optimally as it should be because they’re in that “fight or flight” stressed out state all day, every day. You could be eating the most healthy, nutrient dense diet ever, but if you aren’t able to digest and break down the food, you aren’t really absorbing those nutrients.

This is really important because it can lead to leaky gut and since every cell in your body relies on nutrients, bigger problems can arise. Digestive issues don’t always show up as stomach pains, bloating or bathroom issues, they can also manifest as skin issues or chronic disease.

If you are suffering from digestive issues like I mentioned above, please work with a professional to get to the root cause (I cannot diagnose you).

Here are some ways busy people can improve their digestion:

Take deep breaths before you start eating. I like to use the 4-7-8 method and do about 4 or 5 rounds of that before you even start eating. Deep belly breaths bring our blood pressure down and let our brain know that we’re calming down and that we need to enter that “rest and digest” mode. You’ll start to notice that you’re relaxing and your mouth may begin to water which is a sign that you’re body knows it is meal time.

Chew each bite slowly. This one is hard but it’s so necessary. Food enters our mouth, which should have worked up some saliva, and our teeth are meant to mechanically break down each bite of food as much as possible so that there is less work for the stomach to do when the food gets there. So, take a bite of food, put your fork down and chew for 20-30 times before you swallow.

Sip on warm water while eating. Guzzling down liquids, especially soda, is putting your body back into the “fight or flight” state and digestion will stop immediately. Lots of liquid is also going to wash away all of the digestive juices your stomach is producing to help break down your food. Limit drinking any kind of liquid while eating your meal to only taking sips of warm water when you need it. Stick to drinking water and tea between your meals.

Turn off all distractions. This is another hard one especially when we have so many distractions around us like our phone, computer, TV, coworkers, demanding clients, children, the list goes on and on. Just do your best here to find a calm spot that is away from as many distractions as possible where you can focus on one thing: eating. If you’re eating dinner as a family, sit down together at the table without phones or TV’s in the background and focus on conversation and enjoying the food.

Avoid snacking while doing other things like driving or answering emails/phone calls. This one is similar to eliminating as many distractions as possible and can be hard when you’re busy. Sometimes it’s more convenient to eat in the car while you’re driving or at your desk while you’re answering emails. And we wonder why we get headaches, stomach aches, gas and heartburn at the end of the day. Snacking mindlessly and shoveling food in your mouth without even chewing or paying attention is not good. Again, just do your best to eliminate as many distractions as possible. If you have to eat while sitting at your desk, then don’t answer emails or calls from angry clients, try doing another type of work that is a little less stressful. If you’re driving, try waiting until your car is parked and before you get out, take 15 minutes to sit there, breathe and then eat your meal.

Try digestive enzymes. When you absolutely have to multitask while you’re eating then taking a good digestive enzyme can help you break down your food. These are the ones that I like to use and it depends on the person if they help or not. Working with a professional can help you determine what supplements will support you based on your body’s own specific needs.

Try digestive bitters. Taking a tincture of some bitters about 20 minutes before meal time can help prep your body for digestion and start producing the digestive juices that it needs. You can also try incorporate bitter foods to your meals to help such as dandelion greens, arugula, chicory or burdock. Making a dandelion tea to sip on before meal time is another option.

Ginger, lemon and peppermint. Jump starting your digestion first thing in the morning by drinking warm lemon water is a pretty easy habit to develop. Not only are you hydrating yourself first thing in the morning which is good, but the lemon also helps the stomach produce the acid needed for digestion. Drinking ginger tea or peppermint tea or including it into your meals throughout the day is also helpful in digestion. I like to end the day with some ginger or mint tea to help settle the tummy.

Collagen peptides or gelatin. I’ve talked about the benefits of collagen before and how easy it is to incorporate them into your day. Adding collagen to smoothies, tea or coffee every day can help heal the lining of your gut. Gelatin does the same thing and you can try making gummies or puddings as a digestion friendly snack

Probiotic rich food. Incorporating more fermented foods into your meals can also help build the good bacteria in your gut. Saurkraut and kimchi are a couple of fermented foods that are easy to add a spoonful here or there with your meals. Of course you can also take a probiotic supplement. Eating prebiotic rich foods to help feed the probiotic bacteria in your gut is also a good idea. Prebiotics are found in cooked, then cooled potatoes, green plantains and green bananas.