There is a hidden secret to digestive wellness, and it’s not what you might think. It’s not a food you need to eat, or a supplement you need to take. It actually involves activating your parasympathetic nervous system!

Do you wonder what it would be like to just turn your digestion on and off? What if you could control your body’s ability to digest the food you ate, and you didn’t have to stress so much about being bloated and constipated?

There is a system in your body that turns your digestion “on” and “off!” It’s called your central nervous system. Depending on how this system is responding to your environment, it determines how well (or poorly) you will digest your food. 

Let’s break down this system further. 

The central nervous system consists of two branches: 

  1. The sympathetic nervous system: your “fight or flight” response
  2. Your parasympathetic nervous system: your “rest and digest” response

Both of these systems are essential to your survival. If you are being chased by a bear, you need your sympathetic nervous system. The reality is, though, that most individuals operate in their sympathetic system all too much. Any time there is a real (or perceived) threat, this system activates. That meal that you are worried about eating due to bloat? That is a perceived threat. Judging yourself for what you did or didn’t eat? That is a perceived threat as well. 

When your body senses a threat, it immediately shuttles blood flow to your muscles to prepare to run away from this proverbial bear. This moves blood away from your digestive organs (because why would you need to digest a meal if there is a bear chasing you?)

The harsh reality of this is that our stress response controls our digestion. That’s why this is one of the key principles I teach in gutTogether. Taking time to eat a meal, relax before a meal, and work on your stress response is critical to your long-term digestive relief. 

The great news is that this IS something that you can control. You can feel empowered with the ability to turn this “rest and digest” switch on every time you sit down for a meal. 

If you struggle with being in a state of fight-or-flight and therefore struggle with constipation, bloat, acid reflux, or any digestive trouble, you are not alone. Practicing “turning on” this system can improve your symptoms, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. 

Here are three tips you can incorporate daily to get your body into a parasympathetic state. 

  • Practice box breathing before meals (see this Instagram post) for more information 
    • Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, breathe out for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds (repeat 3-4 times)
  • Start each meal with gratitude: a great way to shift your nervous system is to focus on gratitude. Whether you say a prayer or just give thanks for your food, shifting from thoughts of, “I wonder if I will be bloated,” to, “I am so grateful for the food I am about to enjoy,” can calm your nervous system.
  • Listen to music: another way to calm your nervous system is to listen to music you love. An added benefit is if you sing, you will also activate your vagus nerve which activates your parasympathetic nervous system and rest-and-digest as well!

In order to find long-term relief from your bloat or constipation, it is important to know the underlying triggers which held you back in the past. Focusing on nourishing your body, taking deep breaths, and ultimately getting out of a “fight-or-flight” state will improve your overall health and digestive function. 

If you’re ready to get started on your gut health journey, download our free guide “10 Ways to Improve Digestion Now:”

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