- How Ayurveda Inspires Mindful Eating
- Ayurvedic Nutrition: The Ancient Recipe of Happiness
- The Loving Embrace of Snehana for the Fall
- 4 Everyday Recipes to Strengthen Your Kitchen’s Ayurvedic Power
- Understanding Gluten and How to Digest It
- Three Pranayamas and their Ayurvedic / Psychological Effects
- Seasonal Bloom: Vata
- Your Ayurvedic Kitchen: Everyday Basics
- Drop the Utensils and Eat with Your Hands!
- Ayurvedic Approach to Arthritis
Surprising Symptoms of Poor Digestion
Reprinted with permission from Dr. John Douillard, DC © December 9th, 2009
In this series of newsletters on stubborn weight loss I am addressing poor digestion, which is another cause of weight gain.
This article is geared to those of you who once digested well but started struggling with weight gain or digestive issues. Are you now eliminating foods, taking digestive enzymes or exercising like crazy to shave off extra pounds and digest your food well? If so, you may have a weak digestive furnace.
Do you have any of these Symptoms which may be due to a Weak Digestive Furnace?
- Rectal itching
- Weak, cracked finger nails
- Iron deficiency
- Food allergies
- Gallbladder disease
- B12 deficiency
Surprising Symptoms Linked to Poor Digestion
How You Eat is More Important Than When or What You Eat
In my book, The 3-Season Diet I discuss the three major contributing factors of weight gain, in order of importance: how, when and what you eat. The state of one’s mind while eating (how you eat), even from the youngest age, may be one of the most important factors in our digestive strength. The how, when and what you eat will be a topic in a future newsletter.
Eliminating Foods Is Not the Solution to Poor Digestion
There is no doubt that there is a small percentage of folks who simply do not have the genetics to digest wheat or dairy. Some kids just start out with food allergies and need to eliminate certain foods. For many others, eliminating foods has become a popular – though not necessary – way to help lose weight and cover up symptoms of poor digestion. A life sentence of no wheat or dairy is a tough pill to swallow. What if there is a better way?
“When I Was Younger I Could Eat Anything”
When I ask patients, “How is your digestion?” I often here the same comments.
Do any of these sound like you?:
- “Wow, when I was a teenager I could eat anything.”
- “I used to have a cast iron stomach.”
- “My digestion is nothing like it used to be.”
- “I really struggled with my digestion my entire life until I gave up wheat and dairy.”
- “I avoid heavy and fatty food because it either just sits there, I bloat, get heart burn or get nauseous.”
Many of Us Only Treat the Symptoms of Poor Digestion
I see that many people have slowly altered their diet over the years to help them digest and feel better. For many, those once easy to digest comfort foods just don’t digest like they used to. It is as if someone turned down the digestive furnace. When this starts, we begin to notice some extra pounds, a brewing belly and those irresistible love handles. Though we start exercising more, take yoga classes or join a health club, the pounds don’t budge.
Naturally we start changing our diet. We take out the fat and avoid fried food. We cut out the hard to digest foods like wheat, dairy, sugar, salt, soy, nuts, corn, breads, baked goods, fast foods and, yes, those delectable comfort foods as well. With lots of discipline, exercise and dieting, we attempt to fight the battle of the bulge.
Restrictive Diets Aren’t the Solution
Soon the weight starts creeping back in, the skin starts sagging and we make some more dramatic shifts to the diet. In addition to taking the bad foods out, we start eating more healthy foods like green salads, veggies, whole grains and lean meats. While we have always known that these are the healthy foods, many of us finally make the decision to eat healthy because we feel so lousy when we don’t. For some, they don’t really feel better until they become a vegetarian, vegan or raw foodist.
I am not suggesting that these diets are flawed in any way. I am suggesting that many of us have become attracted to more restrictive diets because they make us feel better. An underlying digestive imbalance may be hiding behind the new diet.
Avoiding Certain Foods Doesn’t Solve the Problem
For example, if you stop eating wheat and the tired heavy feeling you had for years goes away, it is natural to blame the wheat. My question is: if you take away the wheat and feel better, does that mean we have solved the problem? Are you digesting everything else perfectly? Perhaps when you were a kid you seemed to digest wheat fine and now it just doesn’t agree with you. Perhaps somewhere along the way your digestive furnace was dialed down and you lost the ability to break down those hard to digest foods.
Why, when and how did that happen and – most importantly – how do we turn that furnace back on? Could we start eating all those rich and “allergenic” foods again? With a strong system we wouldn’t find ourselves becoming dependent on restrictive diets, enzymes or herbal laxatives. With a strong digestive system, you can be free of digestive pills and powders, food allergies and a host of other related imbalances. (See the Symptoms of a Weak Digestive Furnace list above.)
What is Optimal Digestion?
When the digestive fire is low, we may crave carbs, breads and heavy food or we don’t feel satisfied. When the digestive furnace is turned back up to 100%, you will find that you may not crave those heavy foods. While you can digest them, you may find yourself very satisfied with a more vegetable based, green, fresh and raw fruit diet.
While eating such a diet may make you feel better now – and I encourage that – one of the keys to staying healthy for years to come is to be able to digest anything if you need to, and not feel terrible after eating harder to digest food.
Compared to when you were young – at what percent is your digestive furnace set at today? 20, 30 or 50%? Lets fire it up to 100% and metabolize that food the way we were intended to. Oh, by the way, this works for all ages…..
According to Ayurveda, there are two common reasons why the digestive strength becomes weaker over time:
thick bile and dehydration.
Is Your Bile Too Thick?
Thick bile is one of the most common reasons for the digestive furnace to be turned off:
- The bile is produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder.
- When we digest a fatty meal, the gallbladder squirts bile into the small intestine where it breaks down fats and neutralizes stomach acids (like HCL) as they leave the stomach.
- If the bile is thick because of a congested liver, there will not be enough bile to neutralize the HCL that is entering the small intestine.
- The un-neutralized HCL acid may irritate the villi of the small intestine.
- This may cause heart burn, bloating, indigestion, fullness, loose stools and nausea – to name a few.
- The now scorched small intestine sends an angry memo to the stomach to stop producing so much acid.
- The digestive furnace in the stomach is dialed down to match the low level of bile flow so the un-neutralized acid doesn’t irritate the intestinal lining.
- For awhile, the digestive symptoms go away and we slowly adapt to a furnace that is firing at, say, 50% of maximum. We eat less, eliminate fats and hard to digest foods, exercise more and practice stress reduction. But soon the digestive symptoms and excess fat return.
- At this point we can either eat an even more restricted diet or we can turn the furnace back on.
How to Turn Up the Digestive Furnace
STEP 1: Thin Bile = Thin You & Good Digestion
Before we can turn the furnace back on, we better be sure we fixed the reason why it was turned off in the first place. In this case we need to thin the bile because thick bile is a sign of a congested liver and slows down digestion.
Eat Beets for Healthy Bile
The best food to thin the bile is beets. If you can eat one beet a day for 3 months, you will help cleanse your liver, thin your bile and allow your stomach to fire up that furnace.
Beets are best if eaten raw and grated with lemon juice and a little flax seed oil. Eat like a salad with lunch or dinner.
STEP 2: Hydrate!
One of the biggest causes of poor digestion is dehydration! Yup, many of us don’t drink enough water to allow the stomach to produce the needed amount of digestive acid. Underneath the lining of the stomach is a water-dependant, alkaline, bicarbonate layer that neutralizes the stomachs acids. Simply put, if there is not enough water in the body, this bicarbonate layer becomes thin and the hydrochloric acid (HCL) in the stomach could burn a hole in the stomach wall. As this is obviously unacceptable, the stomach lining inhibits the production of HCL during times of dehydration to avoid an ulcer.
When the HCL of the stomach is inhibited due to dehydration, the strength of the digestive furnace is dialed down to save the lining of the stomach, and hard to digest foods enter the small intestine undigested. This may lead to the symptoms listed above.
- To pre-hydrate the stomach, drink 12oz of water 15 minutes before you eat food.
- If you are dehydrated it is recommended that you drink one-half your body weight in ounces for 6 weeks. For example, if you weight 130 lbs, drink 65 ounces per day (about 8 cups).
- An easy Ayurvedic technique for treating dehydration and flushing your lymphatic system is to sip plain hot water every 10-15 minutes throughout the day for two weeks.
STEP 3: Turn the Furnace Back ON!
An effective way to turn the furnace back on is with Trikatu, an herbal formula made with ginger, black pepper and long pepper. The goal is to increase the production of HCL in your stomach and thin your bile so you digest your food better. If you already have symptoms of heartburn, ulcers or reflux you may need to increase your HCL production as these are a sign of low acid levels.
SUMMARY: You will take increasing doses of Trikatu until you feel warmth around your belly before, during or after the meal. Then you will slowly decrease the Trikatu while maintaining the warmth around your belly. This protocol will take 1-2 weeks based on the current level of your digestive furnace.
Continue with the Step 3 Trikatu Protocol only after you have accomplished the following goals for at least 2-3 weeks and are able to tolerate foods that are typically hard for you to digest (such as fatty or fried foods, gluten or dairy). If you cannot tolerate these foods after 2-3 weeks of the below protocol, consider scheduling a consult with Dr. Douillard for a customized plan to strengthen your digestion:
- Take Liver Repair: 1-2 capsules, 2 times per day after food.
- Eat one raw beet per day.
- Eat 3 meals per day without snacking. >>>Learn More.
- You may do this Trikatu Protocol 2 – 3 times per year, as needed.
How to Maintain a Strong Digestive Furnace
- Eat 3 meals a day without snacking.
- My 4-Step Weight Loss is also a plan for healthy digestion.
- Learn about the hidden dangers of digestive enzymes and how to avoid them..
- Eat with the seasons. Read Grocery List.