With increasing workloads and the pressure to meet deadlines, more office workers are now eating meals at their desk, making ‘desktop dining’ a common scenario in the workplace.
This can also extend to a similar phenomenon in the home. For example, perhaps you eat in front of the computer whilst working, or maybe you eat while watching TV?
However, this way of eating hampers our digestive process and can lead to a myriad of health issues. You may have heard of ‘mindful eating’, but perhaps you don’t know what this is or why it’s necessary.
Firstly, it’s essential to understand the basics of how the digestive process works. It involves a series of biochemical processes in multiple body systems that prepare, and break down for absorption, the food we eat. This in turn provides the energy to power our cells.
The Digestive Process In 5 Stages
1. Digestion starts when we anticipate or smell food. At this point, the brain triggers the release of enzymes into your saliva – and also into the stomach – in preparation for digestion. It also releases chemical messages which start the muscular activity that acts to propel food along the gastrointestinal tract.
2. When we ingest food, carbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth. When food reaches the stomach, protein digestion begins, and the food then moves on to the small intestine.
3. Fats are broken down in the small intestine due to the release of bile from the liver and gallbladder.
4. At each stage of digestion, nutrients are released from the breakdown of food. These nutrients then cross into the bloodstream so they can be transported throughout our body and fuel our cells.
5. Any remaining products will move through to the large intestine for final absorption, before the waste is then eliminated from our body.
How We Harm Our Digestion
If we eat on the go, at our desk, or in front of a screen, the digestive process is hampered from the very start. Without the anticipation of food and the thought of eating it, without taking in the sight of food, and without being mindful of each mouthful, the senses that tell the brain to release the chemical messages which trigger the digestive process, are inhibited.
This results in the food we eat not being broken down sufficiently, meaning nutrient absorption is limited. Hunger hormones are also affected, as we decrease the body’s ability to detect hunger and satiety (i.e. the feeling of fullness) – this can often lead to mindless eating and subsequent weight gain.
I often see clients who are stressed, eat on the go, or in front of a screen – whether it’s at home or at work – and who don’t chew their food thoroughly. This can play havoc with their digestion, leading to problems with absorbing nutrients and causing gut symptoms that are often unpleasant and uncomfortable.
These can range from indigestion, bloating, stomach pains and cramps, through to diarrhoea, constipation, and undigested food in the stool. It can even affect other body systems and cause fatigue, headaches, and issues with mood and mind, to name but a few.
Poor digestion can also be associated with an alteration of stomach acid levels, imbalance of the bacteria in the gut, raised levels of inflammation, a ‘leaky’ gut lining, and malnutrition – all of which may precede more serious health issues further down the line.
Increasingly, I see clients presenting with debilitating bloating, discomfort, and irregular bowel habits.
Eighty per cent of people diagnosed with, or labelled as suffering from, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) have a condition called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO often goes undiagnosed, and the individual is left thinking they will have to put up with their symptoms for the rest of their life, but this isn’t necessarily the case.
SIBO is a serious condition affecting the small intestine which occurs when bacteria – often the healthy types – that normally grow in other parts of the gut start to grow in the small intestine as well. These bacteria then ferment in the wrong place, causing bloating (particularly straight after meals), discomfort, and other symptoms.
As a SIBO-Doctor-Approved Practitioner, I specialise in supporting clients with trying to eradicate the bacteria from the small intestine and restoring the health of the gut. A simple breath test can be performed in the comfort of your own home to determine which type of SIBO you have, and a treatment strategy is provided based on the results.
The treatment can involve antimicrobial therapy and up to 12 weeks of a specific SIBO diet, along with addressing the underlying factors that may have led to the SIBO originally developing, so that the risk of relapse is decreased. One of these underlying factors may well be poor digestion – which can be resolved through mindful eating – although many other contributory factors may also need assessment.
How To Optimise Your Digestion
Take time to prepare your food, and use your senses to think about, smell, then taste every mouthful of food.
By taking time away from work and eating at a table – away from screens – and by chewing your food well, you can optimise your body’s ability to digest and absorb all the nutrients from the food you’re eating.
If you’re feeling stressed, make sure you take a few deep breaths before eating, as this will calm the stress response in the body – meaning you’ll be better prepared for digestion.
By not taking the time to relax before eating if you’re feeling stressed or anxious, you may remain in ‘fight or flight’ mode, which will cause your body to ‘switch off’ the digestive process.
To find out more about how to optimise your digestive health, or if you suspect you may have SIBO, contact Mel at Foreshore Nutrition by emailing email@example.com or visit www.foreshorenutrition.co.uk
I offer free, no-obligation phone calls to discover how nutritional therapy can support your individual needs!