Monthly Archives: August 2012

Belly brain: Why you should be eating mindfully

I recently reblogged a post by life coach Marie, having to do with eating mindfully. It is a concept that many of us have heard of before. What she had to say was important, most certainly, but I recently read something that goes so much deeper. It really hit home for me while reading a fabulous book about our digestive tract called “The Inside Tract” by Mullin and Swift. Mullin is a doctor who specializes in gastro-intestinal health. He had some problems of his own, so when he writes, he writes from both sides of the coin. Mullin talks about mindful eating from a biological basis and why we really need to take it into consideration. Let me break it down for you.

The autonomic nervous system (the one that we don’t consciously control) is broken up into three different subsystems: the sympathetic, the parasympathetic and the enteric.

Your parasympathetic nervous system is where your digestion comes into play, along with other ‘relaxed’ processes. Your sympathetic nervous system is what is activated when you encounter stress, basically it is your ‘fight or flight’ response. The unfortunate thing is, the sympathetic nervous system is on overdrive for many people in North American society. In a time where we’re eating from the drive thru, chewing and chugging while we drive to work, school or other events, the sympathetic nervous system is turned on for most of our day. When this happens, your digestive system is told to shut down. Why? You are in a time of stress, your body is making sure that your blood is ready to pump if you need to fight or flee. So if you are in a rush, or not eating mindfully, your body will not activate your digestive tract properly. That is why it is so crucial that when you sit down for a meal, you take the time to breathe in the smells. Turn off that tv, take a few moments to relax and don’t talk about anything “heavy” at the table. Do you ever feel sick when you are nervous? This is part of the reason why! Your body is diverting its energies to help you deal with the crisis at hand. If you are always in crisis, your digestive system can really take the toll. Stress is linked to many gastrointestinal issues from heart burn to irritable bowel.

The enteric nervous system is where the ‘belly brain’ portion of my post title comes from. Half of all the nerve cells in your body are actually contained within your gut. Most people think of the brain as the master and commander of the human body, but although they are in constant contact, your gut can actually function separately from your brain. It can perceive when you are in times of stress, depression or a state of happiness. I know personally, if I’m really nervous about something, my digestion can be thrown for days afterwards. Just as many neurotransmitters live in your gut as there are in your brain, and the variety is the same as well. Astounding! The next time someone tells you to go with your gut, you know that may be the best thing to do with all those neurons and no ego to get in the way! German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer called it, “the intelligence of the unconscious”. I couldn’t agree more.

Now that you have all this information in your head brain, let’s help out your belly brain!

Try a few of these things to make your digestive tract’s job a little easier.

Happy Tummies at Stack 'Em High

(Photo credit: ljfullofgrace)

1. Don’t eat anywhere but a table.

Eating on the run, in your car or on your couch is not conducive to helping your digestive system work at optimum levels.

2. Stop and smell your food.

Take a few seconds to sniff your food, a few deep breaths in, begin your meal in a relaxed state of mind. Many studies show that digestion begins before you even place any food in your mouth. Your brain(s) are getting ready for the food that is about to be eaten.

3. Choose to Chew!

I know I’ve mentioned this a few times, but chewing is so very important! It helps you to start your digestion off right.

4. No negativity at the table.

Try not to have any stressful conversations before, during or after your meals. It slows or halts your digestive process. Also, don’t have any negative thoughts towards your food. What do I mean by that? I mean if you’ve decided to eat that piece of cheese cake, don’t hate yourself for doing it. If you can’t eat something without feeling guilty about it, then don’t eat it. If you think, I shouldn’t have something but decide to any way, at least ENJOY IT and don’t guilt yourself for hours afterwards. Your gut can sense that and do you really think it will digest that piece of cake in a healthy, optimal way? I don’t think so!

I have started to do these things whenever I can and I have noticed a difference in my digestive health. Foods that I usually have a problem with don’t seem to bother me as much. My digestion seems to be smoother as well. I am combining these things with more fiber and a probiotic, but since I’ve read this information, I have noticed an even greater improvement.

Anyone else have some tips for ways to eat mindfully? Please share them, I’d love to hear what other people do.


5 easy ways to bring fiber into your diet

English: fresh fruit salad

English: fresh fruit salad (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fiber, or ‘roughage, is a buzz word for many people. We all know we need it, but not everyone knows why. Fiber is made up of the part of plant foods that are indigestible. Well, if it’s indigestible, then why on earth would we want to eat it? Fiber has an important role to play in our digestive tract. It helps to feed you gut flora, which promotes healthy bowel movements. Fiber also helps to maintain good movement, or ‘peristalsis’ in your gut. If you remember earlier I spoke of the problems that happen when your poop doesn’t get out of your system fast enough. We don’t want any fecal stagnation to occur! Without enough fiber, we are constipated and become at risk for all sorts of gut related diseases. Sadly, with the diet that most North Americans consume, we are lacking in fiber quite frequently.

Fiber is traditionally put into two categories: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber means fiber that can be broken down by the gut to a certain extent. It ferments and feeds the flora in your system. Insoluble fiber is just as important. Although it isn’t broken down, it still moves along your digestive tract, absorbing water as it passes and cleaning your ‘walls’, making it easier for you when you head to the washroom. Both are present in plants, though one is usually more present than the other.

Now that you know what fiber is and why it is important, you know that you NEED to incorporate more into your diet if you can. The daily recommendation for fiber is 25 grams for women under 50 and 38 grams for men under 50, so it isn’t too hard to incorporate. Here are some helpful and easy ways to do so!

1. Have a fruit salad for dessert

When I think dessert, I think sugar and chocolate, but I also think sweet. Fruit salad is a great way to subdue that sweet craving and get a lot more fiber into your diet. Fruits like apples and pears are loaded with soluble fiber, while the skins have insoluble. I’m talking fresh fruit salad, with the skins of the fruits on. A half cup of fruit salad can get you anywhere from 2-4 grams, so dig in!

2. Go green!

Among the vegetables with the highest amounts of fiber are spinach (8g for 10 oz.) , brocoli (5.1 g for 1 cup ) and avocadoes with a whopping  10-13 g per medium sized veggie. Just one serving of ‘green’ can make up over a fifth of your daily fiber intake.

3. A serving of raspberries a day keeps the doctor away

Raspberries are the fruit with the highest amount of fiber, 11 grams per serving!  They might not keep all doctors away, but they might help you to keep the GI specialist away!

4. Get on the ‘Bran-wagon’

Bran is incredibly rich in fiber, it is the main ingredient in those fiber one bars you see advertised. There are different ways to incorporate bran into your diet, so you can pick the one that suits you most.

5. Go nuts!

Nuts and seeds often have quite a bit of fiber, especially almonds (4g per 1 oz.) and flaxseeds (8g per 1 oz.). I already snack on almonds frequently, they are delicious! You can also sprinkle flax into your salads, baking, cereals and more.

There are many other ways to add fiber into your diet. Many people choose to take a fiber supplement as well, but I think if you can get it from the source, you are much better off. On a personal, caveat note, I would suggest that if you are already constipated, drink lots and lots of water before you start to add more fiber to your diet. Otherwise, you will just end up constipating yourself even further.

What are some of your favourite ways to add fiber to your diet?

Using the ‘stool’ stool and proper poop posture

Every time I say I’m going to use a ‘stool’ stool for my Year of the Detox, I hear the question “Is that a stool to display your poop on?” , followed by some light chuckling. No, that is not what my stool stool is for. Rather it is for the act of producing stool in an efficient and more natural manner. (It makes me feel better to talk about this using bigger words. He he he) Evolutionarily speaking, we as humans were built to do our ‘business’ from a squatting position. For our lucky male counterparts, they can do some of it standing up as well. But the bulkier of the business was meant to be done from a squatting stance.

Toilets have been around in one form or another since the Ancient Egyptian times. Because our fecal waste can quickly become hazardous to our health, we’ve invented ways to get it out of our sight as quickly as possible. Egyptians, Romans and other civilizations created means to get waste away from citizens as best they could. The first version of the flush toilet appeared in 1596 and was invented by John Harrington. Many people credit the invention to Thomas Crapper in the early 1800s, but he didn’t invent it. Crapper just happened to be in the plumbing business when the popularity of flush toilets was spreading, and unfortunately for him, going to the ‘Crapper’ or ‘taking a crap’ became a popular saying.  In many countries, people use standing toilets have lower instances of colorectal issues and there’s good reason. Several actually!

1. Going into a squatting stance relaxes the puborectalis muscle, allowing for easier passage because the rectum is straighter. This muscle is the one that you tense up if you wait too long before getting to a toilet.

2. The position allows you to go faster and empty your bowels more completely. This is important because your colon walls are all about absorption. Once you get the urge to go, the faster you can get it out, the better. If you don’t evacuate on urge, a phenomenon called fecal stagnation occurs, which is a prime factor in many different colon related diseases and issues. You can’t really see the words on the diagram below, but the last gray area is near the exit point and is where the majority of cancers appear, likely due to fecal stagnation.

3. Squatting protects the nerves for bladder control from being stretched or damaged.

4. Your thighs give your colon muscles help to prevent strains, similar to how they protect your back when lifting something heavy.

5. Squatting prevents your ileocecal valve from leaking while you go. This valve connects your small intestine to your large one, and the leak contaminates backwards into your small intestine. You want that valve to be exit only!

There has also been evidence to indicate that squatting helps relieve the strain that cause hemorrhoids and aids pregnant women to avoid pressure on the uterus. If a woman is looking to have a more natural delivery, squatting is also great preparation!

Now, I’m not about to go around squatting on toilet seats. I would likely fall and be very embarrassed explaining to whomever found me, what I was doing. Great Scott, It’s not like I have the ‘Doc Brown’ excuse and can wear my forehead bruise proudly. The closest that I can do for now is to use my stool stool. I bought a small step stool from the dollar store to use on the occasions when I am home and am struck for the need to visit my facilities. Honestly, it is taking some getting used to. Nearly thirty years of poor, poop posture training has my body not entirely sure what to do. I find myself having to start in the old posture and finish in the new, or I can’t get the job done. I certainly do recommend trying it if you can though. You may have a much more pleasant experience and in the long run, your colon will thank you for it.
A few words of caution though, before you try your very own stool stool. You need to try and get as close to the actual squatting position as possible, or it’s all for not.
For example, the following diagram shows how ‘not’ to use your stool stool. It needs to be higher and closer to the toilet. The website that I’ve obtained much of this information from, does not advocate step stools, but some of the suggestions would not be possible for me personally. I have knee and back issues that would make it dangerous to go in their suggested manner. If you are interested, I suggest you go take a look. Me? I’m going to work with my stool stool to the best of my ability. Would it be weird to end this blog with, “Happy Pooping everyone!”? Too late.


I’ve mentioned the mechanics of chewing 20 times at each bite, but there’s so much more to it! Eating in a mindful manner and enjoying every mouthful may help you get to that twentieth bite and beyond in a much more ‘delicious’ way. Here’s an excellent post by life coach Marie Wetmore on just that, eating mindfully. I’d like to share it with all of you.
Happy chewing!

Bowel transit time and the ‘scoop’ on poop

Festive Winter Greetings

Meet Mr. Hanky, he is the optimum colour for your poo!

The movements of my bowels and this entire subject in general is not something I love to discuss. When I was in high school, I went through an eight month period where I dreaded the days I would have to go for the secondary function bathroom visit. They were often painful, or loud, which was even worse. When you are in high school and in a vulnerable place mentally, the thought of someone catching you in the midst of this everyday but embarrassing happening is more than one can bear. I was going through a digestive issue where I had heartburn 24/7 and problem stools…yet, no one could figure out what was wrong. Looking back, it was also a time where I was heavily bullied, so it is highly likely that this was my body manifesting that major stressor. Luckily for me, I had keys to the theatre a few days of the week, so I could duck in there and use the washroom at my convenience on those occasions. Another reason why I was so glad to be a drama geek. Now, with my once again undiagnosable, colon issues, it’s back to thinking about my poop. Sigh. At least this time I get to help others with information I discover and hopefully help someone else in the process.

So what is bowel transit time? Basically, it is the time your food (or whatever else you are ingesting) takes to get from your mouth to that porcelain bowl. There are a lot of steps that your food has to go through. Rather than write them all out, I’d like to share an informative, if somewhat strange video I found on You Tube. It made me laugh, but it’s hard to hear what they are saying, so be ready to read the subtitles.


Other than them showing the picture of the large intestines while talking about the small and the fact that it is pronounced ‘si-row-sis’, I think they did a pretty decent job explaining the process.

I’ve been trying to find a clear opinion on what the ‘optimum’ amount of bowel transit time should be but no one seems to agree. The general consensus is somewhere between 12-24 hours. Now, this of course depends on what you are eating. Some foods digest more quickly than others, while others are slower. There is a test that you can take involving the swallowing of two pills that you then have x-rayed to see how quickly you pass them. I wanted to have an idea of my personal bowel transit time, so I tried a more creative method. One morning, I had a ‘red sunrise’ from Booster Juice with my bagel. The ‘red sunrise’ has the juice of carrots, apples and beets. The last being the most integral part of my plan. I then check my movements to see the red from the beets. Perhaps not THE most scientific of methods, but at least it’s something. I ate my bagel at 10 am in the morning and I…ahem, saw red, at 4 p.m. that afternoon. That means I am looking at a bowel transit time of six hours. It seems to me that it was a bit fast, considering the experts are saying that the average is more like 12, but who knows. Maybe I have sped up my transit with the detoxing that I have done so far. I used to only have one movement every two days. Some doctors will tell you that is normal and it is just your ‘rhythm’, but I have to disagree. I’ve spoken with many holistic practitioners on the subject and most of them say that you should have at least one movement a day. Now that I’ve been taking better care of my body, drinking more water and watching what I eat, I tend to have one or more movements a day for the most part. I find if I have less, it is a time when I am stressed out or I psychologically know that there will not be any bathrooms readily available to me for most of the day. My intestines are quite smart that way.

If you are going less that once every twenty four hours, it is my personal opinion that you are constipated, but I’m not a trained medical professional. Others say the rule is less than once every thirty six hours, while others still say it is every seventy-two.  If you feel at all bloated and if you have painful, hard movements on a frequent basis, then you are probably constipated, no matter what the ‘time lines’ say.

If the above describes you, try the following to help you have a more pleasant experience:

1. Drink more water

I know I sound like a broken record on this one, but it really REALLY does make a difference. I noticed it the first week of my detox.

2. Get some exercise

Ever noticed after a long walk, you have to go? Exercise massages your organs and gets things moving. Whenever I feel that it’s been too long since my last visit, I go for a walk.

3. Add a probiotic to your routine

Probiotics really stimulate bowel function for me, but if they are making your stools too loose, talk to your doctor or another health expert.

* At this point, a lot of doctors will tell you to take some fiber. It has been my personal experience that if you are already constipated, it may be because you are dehydrated. If you add more fiber to that mix, you will feel even worse. I’m not saying to stop listening to your doctor, but try to significantly up your water intake for a week first. If that doesn’t help, then at least you will be primed for the added fiber intake.

Now that you know what to do to up that bowel transit time, let’s take a look at some other warning signs your poop may be sending you. If you have noticed any of these colours in your bowl during a visit to the loo, get it checked out.

  • Pale stools – sometimes described as ‘clay coloured’, these stools could be the result of a lack of bile salts. Bile salts are what turns your poop that brownish colour. If you’ve been eating too many antacids, that may be the culprit. However, there can be other factors, such as hepatitis.
  • Greenish stools – Though common in newborns, green stools in an adult can be the result of food dyes, iron supplements or decreased transit time. If you notice some green after St. Patty’s day celebrations, I wouldn’t fret.
  • Red or maroon stools – Unless you’ve eaten something that would contribute to a red stool, like beets, this could be a warning sign for diseases from IBS to colon cancer. Keep checking those poops!
  • Black stools – black, tar like stools are usually caused by iron supplements or eating certain foods. I’ve also experienced them in relation to Pepto-bismol. However, they can also be a sign of bleeding in your upper digestive tract. I would consult a doctor if you are at all worried.
  • Blood – blood is not normal, it can be a sign of an infection or worse. Go see your doctor immediately if you noticed actual blood in your stool.

Basically you want your stools to be soft, easily passed and a medium to light brown.

Fewf! I’m glad that is over with. Anyone have any bowel transit times they’d like to share? How about ways you got your time to move more quickly? In the meantime, keep an eye out for potentially problematic poops!

Month 8: Be kind to your digestive system

29. colon-cancer-symtoms

Happy tummy! Hopefully mine will look as good as this by the end 🙂


And so begins Month 8 of my Year of the Detox. I’ve already talked about and done a lot as far as helping my digestive system, but the things I’ve done have been to better overall health. This month the things I’ll be doing focus specifically on the health of my digestive tract…from start to finish.

Drinking lots of water helps your digestive system, as does eating foods with lots of enzymes. Exercise helps to massage the organs and I had already added a probiotic course in month 4, but it is worth doing again. As you can see, I’ve already been nice to my digestive tract, but I can do much better.

The rules for this month are:

1. Chew every mouthful at LEAST 20 times before swallowing.

Digestion starts in the mouth with the enzymes that breakdown your food in preparation for the stomach. The more you chew, the easier you make it on your digestive system.

2. Take a probiotic every day.

Good intestinal flora is essential to your gut health, so I will help mine along.

3. Add fiber to your diet, every day.

This can be a tricky one. Everyone already tells you to add fiber to your diet, but if you are constipated already, this will make it worse. I’m going to be tracking my bowel transit at the beginning and end of the month, I suggest you do the same. (More on that, and other semi-gross things to come!)

4. Follow the ‘poop rules’:
– Go as soon as nature calls you
– don’t treat your bathroom like a public library
– use a ‘stool’ stool to get in optimum position to go

So, you may be confused by what a ‘stool’ stool is. Humans were designed to squat when we go and our modern toilets don’t exactly have that as an option. By putting a little stool to raise up our legs a few inches, we help our bowels release as they were meant to.

What do you think? Are these rules doable for the month?

I’ve also planned on getting a colonics session done this month, closer to the end. I didn’t make that a rule because I know that colonics is not in everyone’s comfort zone. I’ve had it done before…it IS uncomfortable, but so is a facial or a bikini wax. I’d rather look great on the inside and outside than just the latter. Wish me luck!