Why do we eat food?
Food tastes really good – warm chocolate chip cookies… but only once a year right 🙂
Food provides nutrients and energy – broccoli, blueberries, wild salmon
Food helps us achieve our fitness and physique goals- protein drinks
But what do you do when food, even healthy food, is difficult to digest? The healthiest foods are useless if your body is not adequately absorbing all the vital minerals and nutrients. Four years ago I realized the importance of proper absorption and digestion when I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis – a chronic type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – that affects the colon and/or large intestines. The innermost lining of the intestine becomes inflamed and develops tiny open sores. Proper digestion and nutrient absorption were severely compromised and my body was unable to accept any food or water without pain and digestive difficulties. In six weeks I lost 50lbs!
From “The IBD Fitness Solution”
The immune system protects against pathogens, tumor cells, and other foreign invaders. The digestive system is made up of your mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, and the organs associated with digestion including the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, etc. This system breaks down and absorbs nutrients from food and drink. Within the digestive system we find the gastrointestinal (GI) tract – the long tube through the body composed of stomach and intestines – which functions as a management and coordination system that allows beneficial substances into the body while keeping harmful things out. The digestive system is actually 25 feet in length and is made up of strong muscular tubes lined with thick and specialized cells. These tubes act as an important connection to (and barrier between) the external environment.
All of the digestive processes have one goal: to deliver nutrients into the bloodstream for use in our cells. The major area of nutrient absorption is the small intestines, which contains the largest surface area in the digestive system and has as many neurons as the spinal cord. If laid out flat this surface would be the size of a tennis court, but it is only one cell layer thick! When this delicate surface is damaged, inflammation spreads throughout the brain and body. Our digestive enzymes reside on this delicate one cell layer of intestinal cells. When it is damaged we cannot digest our food properly. Suddenly we have partially digested food particles from normally innocuous foods ”leaking” into our bloodstream through the leaky gut.
Since 60 percent of our immune system is located right under that one cell layer of intestinal cells lining our digestive tract, our bodies react by increasing our immune response and generating inflammation. Our immune system, normally used to seeing fully digested foods (like proteins broken down to amino acids, fats broken down to fatty acids, and carbohydrates broken down to simple sugars), suddenly “sees” foreign (meaning partially digested) proteins.
So the immune response does what it is designed to do – attack and defend. Those with ulcerative colitis have abnormalities of the immune system, but whether these problems are a cause or a result of the disease is still unclear. The immune system protects from infection by identifying and destroying bacteria, viruses, and other potentially harmful foreign substances. With ulcerative colitis, the body’s immune system is believed to react abnormally to bacteria in the digestive tract.
So what does my IBD experience have to do with you and your fitness goals? In a word, everything! Having gone through such an extreme situation and ultimately finding my way back to health I learned many valuable lessons. One of those is the importance of proper food absorption.
Health and optimal fitness are not truly achieved until we are eating and properly absorbing great, healthy foods.
Follow these tips to help improve your digestion and nutrient absorption. You will begin to feel better, enjoy food again, and be able to drop those 5-10lbs of body fat in time for summer!
- Drink a glass of warm/hot water with organic lemon juice 15-20 minutes before eating meals to naturally boost your levels of hydrochloric acid (HCL) and improve your gut’s ability to breakdown and digest foods.
- Supplement with a probiotic and digestive enzyme with each meal. Probiotics, in Latin meaning “for life”, are types of beneficial and healthy living bacteria located in the gastrointestinal tract that can enhance immune system response, increase ability to digest food, increase the ability to assimilate the nutrients from food, and increase the ability to synthesize and absorb vitamins and minerals. Digestive enzymes also help to contribute to overall gut health through their ability to breakdown nutrients and ultimately help the body absorb foods.
- Chew slower. Digestion begins in your mouth. The more you chew your food and liquids the longer you allow for proper digestion and the better your body can absorb and use healthy minerals and nutrients.
- Eat organic fruits and vegetables along with healthy fats like grass-fed beef and Omega 3 fish oils.
- Eliminate most grains, sugar, corn, pasteurized dairy, soy and legumes from your diet.
- Reduce stress and enjoy eating healthy, nutritious foods. Stress – whether from poor food or life situations – leads to inflammation inside the body. The better we can combat inflammation the better our bodies absorb food. The better we absorb food the better we feel, move, and perform.
I hope that my experience with IBD has helped to shed some light on the importance of proper digestion and absorption. Whether you are simply trying to eat solid foods again or working to be in the best shape of your life the importance of digestion cannot be understated. Follow the above tips and I believe you will be on your way to finding optimal health, increased fitness, and an improved physique this summer!
~With Strength & Nutrition