It’s official, winter weather has arrived in a big way, which means many of us are resisting the urge to hibernate indoors with Netflix for the next 2 months surrounded by all our favorite comfort foods. To some extent, these are natural, even necessary inclinations. We should all be listening to our bodies – and in the winter this often means slowing down a little and eating more calorically dense meals. However, eating more (of the wrong types of foods) and moving less can lead to more than just a few extra pounds come spring time – these habits may also put a burden on our digestive systems leading to indigestion and tummy bloat.
Gut health is the cornerstone of overall wellness. From hormones, the health and appearance of our skin, our mood, our metabolism, our immunity, and nutrient absorption, gut health plays a critical role in all of it. Not only that but when our digestion is on point, we also feel and look better.
So give your gut some love this winter with these 10 tips to support healthy digestion (and a svelte looking mid-section) all winter long.
1. Hydrate your body
This simple tip will improve every facet of your health, digestion included. Our cells are made of mostly water, and when we don’t get enough – every process in our body suffers. Have trouble remembering to drink water this time of year? Invest in a good glass or stainless steel water bottle and aim to drink a certain number per day. Make it a habit. Add things like fresh fruit slices (always organic – no pesticides please!), fresh herbs and/or therapeutic grade essential oils to your water to help make it more enticing to sip on. When we’re adequately hydrated our body can flush out toxins and eliminate waste more efficiently.
2. Take a probiotic daily (and eat cultured foods!)
Probiotics are one of our best allies when it comes to better digestion and banishing bloat. Probiotic bacteria help break down our food more fully, synthesize important nutrients like B12, and make up around 80% of our immune system. When our microflora is out of balance it can result in poor digestion, low immunity, and even heightened inflammation. A healthy, balanced gut microbiome is home to trillions of probiotic bacteria! And we need to replenish them on the daily. Consume a high-quality food based probiotic with prebiotics supplement (such as Sunbiotics brand) on the daily, and make sure cultured foods are included in your meals and snacks. Things like non-dairy kefir drinks, plant-based yoghurt, cultured nut cheeses (we love Myokos!) sauerkraut, kimchi, unpasteurized miso, and kombucha are great options.
3. Juice (and eat!) your greens
Low sugar green juice helps immediately boost hydration, floods the body with vitamins, minerals, and trace nutrients, and helps us to stay alkaline – a critical aspect of overall health and disease prevention. Greens are also loaded with the mineral salts needed by our stomach in order to produce adequate hydrochloric acid for optimal digestion. When juicing reach for dark greens of all kinds, sprouts, celery and cucumber, and add a squeeze of lemon to help balance any bitterness. Use a green apple or a few carrots for a touch of sweet if needed. Beyond juicing, make sure to eat plenty of greens as well. Dark leafy greens like kale, charge, collards, and bok choy are readily available all year round (and if you garden, can even winter over!) and are packed full of fiber to help keep things regular. Speaking of which….
4. Embrace the squat
Whether you own a contraption made for this use (they do exist), or have a stool you can volunteer for the job, the goal is to get the right alignment while taking care of your bathroom business. Why exactly? Squatting aligns the transverse colon in an optimal way, it is actually how our bodies were designed. This easy step will help your body eliminate waste more completely and efficiently with less “effort”. The result is less gas, less bloating, and a way happier tummy. To try is to believe.
5. Practice abdominal massage
Massage is not only a great way to practice a little self love, it also helps improve digestion by stimulating blood circulation and stagnant lymphatic fluid. This can help aid in detoxification and help bring energy back to a sluggish digestive system. Do this by massaging the colon (lower abdomen) in a big, circular, clockwise motion, with particular emphasis on the left side as you massage downward. This is where the descending colon is located. You can google an anatomical map of the digestive system to get a visual for where things are located. You may also choose to incorporate an essential oil blend formulated to help support digestive health (such as DiGize by Young Living).
6. Prioritize daily movement
Getting that blood pumping and the oxygen circulating is good for your entire body, your digestive system included. If you struggle with sluggish digestion, exercise, specifically cardio, is critical in order get things moving along. However, it’s winter, and outdoor exercises like running or cycling may not be the best (or even safest!) options. Getting a gym membership is an easy solution, but if the gym isn’t your thing there are other options. Look into a new fitness class (e.g. spin, pilates, barre, boxing, yoga, etc – there are so many these days!) or simply have a 30-minute dance party 3-4 days per week In your own living room followed by some stretching. If you prefer working out solo there are also plenty of amazing workouts on Youtube that are easy to follow, fun, and free.
7. Make a daily digestive tonic
When life gives you lemons, make a killer digestive tonic! Try starting the day with a fresh lemon juice tonic on an empty stomach. As a general recipe start with 8 oz of purified water and ½ of a (preferably organic) lemon. This simple recipe helps to kick-start digestion, gives the immune system a boost of Vitamin C, helps stimulate and cleanse the liver, and can help bring the body into a more alkaline state. You may also find that it gives you a kick of energy sans caffeine. You can keep the recipe as simple as the above, or add a splash of raw apple cider vinegar (try the Bragg brand) for additional probiotic love. Follow up with you daily probiotic supplement.
8. Ditch the gluten
While not everyone suffers from Celiac disease (a true gluten intolerance), many find that they feel better, are more clear-headed, have better digestion, and have more energy when they avoid this infamous protein found in wheat. Gluten can be a chronic irritant to the gut lining and can increase overall inflammation in the body. Gluten and wheat products may also play a role in IBS symptoms, food allergies, and leaky gut syndrome in some individuals. See how you feel if you go gluten free for 2-4 weeks.
9. Enjoy an early dinner
When we stop eating earlier in the evening this gives the digestive system a chance to catch up, digest everything fully, and increases the likelihood of a more complete elimination the day after. Our body does a lot of repair and healing work while we sleep, but these critical processes get put on the back burner if our organs are busy digesting a large meal. Give it a try! You will likely be far less bloated if you stop eating by 7 than if you were to eat dinner at 9 or 10 (or midnight). You’ll also wake up with more energy!
10. Listen to your body
Ultimately, there is no one size fits all diet or wellness strategy for everyone. We are all unique beings. For instance, something completely healthy (e.g brassica veggies) may be the best thing for one person, and for someone else may cause lots of uncomfortable tummy bloat. Learn to listen up, tune in, and trust the signals you are getting from your own unique body. Don’t be afraid to adjust what you’re eating and doing, even if it goes against the grain. Your body is wise.
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