feel like crap digestion

For years I suffered from the BLAHs – I was bloated, had low energy, embarrassing acne and horrid daily headaches. Once I figured out which foods were the cause and eliminated them using an Elimination Diet and smoothies I knew I had to share my system with anyone who’s felt like crap for years and couldn’t figure out why.

If you suffer from the BLAHs, feel vaguely unwell, or just know something is off even without a diagnosis from your doctor, then I know how crappy you feel. I also know how drained you feel trying to find the solution.

I gathered these reasons (lessons, really) why you still feel like crap from my own experience in the hopes of saving you years of wasted time, energy and money on searching for answers. Each and every one of them has helped me live a life with less pain, discomfort and BLAH.

1. You aren’t chewing your food

We are really bad chewers. I still need to constantly remind myself to chew. Chewing your food adequately is one of the most overlooked things you can do to prevent gas and bloating. Instead of getting caught up in counting your chews, chew your food into a smooth paste with each mouthful.

Remember that your teeth are in your mouth, not you stomach, so use them! Chewing allows you to make better use of all that beautiful, real food you bought yourself by making the vitamins and minerals easier to access and use so that you don’t feel bloated or tired.

Chewing adequately makes your digestion more efficient by releasing enzymes in your saliva to help break down food and triggering other important biochemical reactions in the body. It also decreases the chances of fermentation of larger pieces of food, which creates cramping, gas and bloating.

Completely chewing your food forces you to slow down and bring mindfulness to your meals, and we all know we could use a little (or a lot) of mindfulness in our lives. This generally causes us to eat less, which may lead to weight loss or at least avoid weight gain. Chewing is basically a built in portion control mechanism, so make use of it!

Did you know it takes 20 minutes for the brain to catch up to the stomach that it is full? That’s why when we scarf down those big holiday meals, it comes as a surprise when soon after we’re done eating we feel so incredibly and overly satiated. I know my eyes can be bigger than my stomach. Or is it my brain that’s bigger than my stomach? Either way, get chewing so that your brain and stomach can be on the same page.

2. You aren’t drinking enough water or you’re drinking it at the wrong time

Headaches and fatigue are often a symptom of dehydration and we tend to forget to drink water. If you feel thirsty you are actually already dehydrated.

So how much? Take half of your weight in ounces and drink that throughout the day. For example: a 140lb women would drink 70oz. All the beverages you drink (coffee, pop, alcohol) are water plus other stuff. Focus the majority of your drinking requirements to pure water.

We are made up of at least 60% water. Water is the primary component of all the bodily fluids – which includes blood, lymph, digestive juices, urine, tears and sweat. It is involved in almost every bodily function – circulation, digestion, absorption and elimination. Water is very healing physically and emotionally. We can think of hot tubs and hydrotherapy for their physical effect and the sound of ocean waves to calm us emotionally to fall asleep.

Proper hydration is required for maintaining healthy blood flow and proper kidney function, electrolyte balance and digestive function. When you are hydrated you prevent or decrease the appearance of wrinkles, your skin is not dry and you have a fresh glow about you. Hydration is also important for the health of you joints because water is a component of synovial fluid. With less water, there is less synovial fluid available to protect your joints. Your brain is composed of about 75% water. This means your hydration status has a huge effect on your memory, concentration and mood.

Water is required to properly breakdown our food. It also reduces constipation. We need as much as 12 cups of water to properly digest solid foods and distribute nutrients efficiently. That’s a lot! We can make it easier on our hardworking digestive systems by supplying it with the water it needs. Drinking enough water also helps the body excrete any waste products once they are metabolized.

When you drink may be just as important as how much you drink. Even though we need to have water in our system to properly digest our food, drinking too close to meals can actually dilute your digestive juices. This makes digestion less effective and can leave you feeling crappy. Keep your drinking to 30 minutes before a meal and 60 minutes after, with a focus on at least one full glass upon waking.

3. You haven’t checked for food sensitivities

Most food sensitivities are hidden, meaning you don’t even realize you have them. When you eat these foods, they trigger an inflammatory response in your digestive system that can translate to you feeling BLAH. You may also not realize that an offending food is creating an allergy response in your digestive tract when you don’t experience traditional digestive symptoms.

We love fitting ourselves into perfectly detailed labels so that we feel included and in control, but these labels were not meant for you. They should be considered guidelines, not laws or scripture. No two diets should or need to look the same. Use the Elimination Diet to build yourself a custom diet to banish the bloat for good. Hint: start by eliminating gluten, dairy, and sugar.

Even if you have already had allergy testing, you’ll likely benefit from an Elimination Diet if you still feel like crap and can’t figure out why. Because you may not have a true allergy yet, it is very common for results to come up negative and yet still experience symptoms.

Uncovering food sensitivities with the Elimination Diet, while freeing yourself from restrictive labels is incredibly rewarding. When sticking to a predetermined ideal of “healthy,” you may use your head to make decisions and ignore your body when it tells you a food or style of eating is not working. This can also feel too much like rules, which feel restrictive and can lead to bingeing or self-judgment, guilt and shame if you “break the rules.”

If you’ve felt like crap for a while and still feel lost on the solution, checking for food sensitivities using an Elimination Diet is the number one place you should start.

4. You forget to start with protein

Starting your morning with protein at breakfast fills you up and prevents cravings and overeating from happening later on in the day. Hellooo late-night chips and cookies. Protein performs a wider range of functions than any other bodily component and cannot be stored up for use later.

After a full night’s sleep, you need a top up! Protein is the best way to break your overnight fast. Protein also plays a big role in your immune health so you can fight off that office cold better.

Not only should you start your entire day with protein but you should also be starting each meal with protein. It’s easy to forget about protein. You’re either trying to eat less by eating salads and end up feeling hungry quickly or you are overeating with carb-centric meals like pizza or pasta and feeling super tired afterwards.

Pick from the following animal and plant-based proteins. Try including more plant-based proteins even if you aren’t a vegetarian. The body uses less energy to process (digest) plant-based proteins, which leaves you with more energy. Most plant-based proteins are alkalizing whereas meat is very acidic. An alkaline state will help you better ward off disease. Plant-based proteins contain a greater and broader amount of nutrients than animal proteins and without hormones, antibiotics, or saturated fat. Not that all saturated fat is bad (see reason 6.)

Animal proteins: wild fish, grass fed and finished beef, organic and pastured poultry.

Plant-based proteins: hemp hearts, beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat, chia, and quinoa.

5. You never eat mindfully

Instead we eat mindlessly. Mindless eating is too much, too fast, full of distractions and often leaves you feeling guilty or shameful.

This is what the majority of us are currently doing and it stems from an abundance of food in a diet-obsessed world. We are an overfed society, yet we are malnourished. This is crazy!

You want more whole foods in your life, so you are becoming mindful of your food choices. Go you! But what about when it comes to the moment you sit down to eat? How mindful are you then? In fact, do you even sit down to eat? Don’t worry, change takes time. I have come a long way myself, but am still working on my mindful eating practice.

With mindful eating, you are tuned into your food and your body. You will appreciate your food more and you won’t overeat. You won’t be rushed or stressed because you are eating in a calm and relaxed state. This helps for better absorption of nutrients from the food you are eating. It also decreases digestive disturbances like bloating, gas or cramping.

Eating this way takes longer and is a new habit, so you can introduce mindful eating for a meal here and there. It is unlikely that 100% of your meals will be 100% mindful but the end goal is to bring some level of mindfulness to as many meals as possible.

Remember to play and be kind to yourself. If all you can muster is a deep, centering breath before each meal, you are doing a great thing for yourself. Use these steps to fully step into your mindful eating practice:

  • Sit down at a table with a plate and cutlery.
  • Look at your food and think to yourself, is this food for self hate and punishment or self love, care and nourishment?
  • Assess your feelings and thoughts around what you are about to eat. Was it triggered by sadness, loneliness, boredom, a special occasion, or a reward for something like finishing work or going to the gym? Don’t judge yourself, just become aware of what physical or emotional triggers prompt you to eat.
  • Take in the look and smell of the food before eating.
  • Do not engage in anything other than eating.
  • Savour each bite. Chew!
  • Put your fork (or the food) down between mouthfuls.
  • Enjoy the flavour and texture of the food.

6. You are eating the wrong fats or not enough quality fats

Most packaged foods contain refined, hydrogenated or vegetable oils and these don’t do you any good. Vegetable oils are used in packaged foods because they are easy to chemically manipulate (for taste and stability) and they are cheap, much like plastic. Mmm, plastic.

Vegetable oils contain mostly polyunsaturated fats that when heated, turn into toxic compounds such as trans fats because they are heat sensitive. When you cook with vegetable oils, you generate many free radicals, which are electrons involved in every disease that scorches anything they touch (your body or food.) So while your food becomes crispy so do your arteries. In fact, they generate inflammation all over your body. Cooking with vegetable oil destroys complex nutrients like phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

That being said, do not avoid fats and oils completely. As always, it’s about quality. We have a lot of fear surrounding fat, mostly because we fear getting fat. It’s an unfortunate misnomer in the English language that a dietary macromolecule and body weight were given the same word for they are not the same thing. This is one of the main reasons fat fear runs so deep.

Include omega-3s (nuts, seeds, fish), monounsaturated fats (olives, avocadoes) and saturated fats (coconut oil, grassfed butter and meat) in generous amounts. Your body requires fat to make cell membranes and hormones, to support brain health and absorb minerals and fat-soluble vitamins.

It’s no coincidence that as we have cut fat out of our diet, our sugar intake has increased to the shocking amount of 26 teaspoons or 88 pounds of sugar per year. Keep in mind that we are aiming for 6 teaspoons per day. A fat-free diet is almost always a sugar-full diet.

And guess what makes you fat? Sugar, not fat.

When you eat more carbs and therefore sugar, they become your main source of fuel. But when you increase the amount of quality fats that you eat, fat becomes your main source of fuel. When fat is your primary source of fuel, you are using the dietary fat that you eat as your energy source and you feel fuller for longer. And while weight loss should not be your main goal on your journey to stop feeling like crap, it will occur when you increase dietary fat and make it your main energy source.

One last, but important, note on fat. I strongly encourage you to buy organic fats and oils even though they often come with a steep price tag because toxins are stored in fat. When you buy non-organic sources of fat, you are consuming concentrated toxins (especially for butter), which has the opposite effect on your body than intended.

7. You are eating foods which are considered “healthy”

Unfortunately, some foods have a cultural status of health but, in truth, aren’t all that healthy and could be the cause of a lot of your symptoms.

I am totally cheering for you as you make an effort to be healthier btw. Where I get frustrated and annoyed is with misinformation. Whether it comes from media sources such as magazines, commercials or Internet ads or from big food corporations who infiltrate their misinformed message into you minds.

As you reach for that delicious looking food on the shelf, you are probably drawn to health claims on the front of the package. (Still cheering over here.) Natural, sugar-free, high in fiber are common claims that sound great.

But honestly, the only place I suggest you spend any time is reading the ingredients list. All of the truth lies in this list and everything else is deceptive or distracting.

The ingredient list should be short and sweet (ok, not too sweet!) You should be able to read everything in the list or buy each ingredient yourself for that matter. Do not automatically assume something is healthy, just because the labels states that it is organic or gluten free or vegan. Again, the ingredient list will tell the truth.

Watch out for the obvious additives, preservatives and anything artificial as well as multiple sources of sugar, refined grains and hydrogenated oils. These ingredients are highly inflammatory and will do nothing except continue to make you feel like crap, both physically and mentally, especially because you think you are doing the right thing.

8. You are eating too many grains (refined or whole)

When grains (carbohydrates) become your main source of food, you are likely riding the infamous blood sugar rollercoaster, which leaves you feeling tired and craving ALL the things.

If you find yourself anxious, irritable or jittery after 3 hours without eating, you are riding the rollercoaster. Follow the solution in reason 6 to get off the ride.

The obvious but oft eaten form of grain to avoid is the refined version. Refined grains such as enriched wheat flour strip away all of the nutrition of the grain and are then “enriched” through the addition of vitamins and minerals. But not nearly all of the vitamins and minerals are added back in and those that are added in are done so as synthetic versions in lesser quantities.

Refined grains have an inflammatory and acidic effect on your body. They are also very addictive, which makes them hard to avoid even when you know you should. Use an Elimination Diet to battle these addictions and consider L-glutamine to deal with cravings as it supports the regeneration and repair of intestinal cells.

According to government recommendations, you need 5-7 servings of whole grains to be healthy. A serving size equals ½ cup grains or pasta or 1 slice bread. ALL grains can elevate your levels of insulin (glucose regulating hormone) and leptin (hunger off-switch hormone), even whole grains and organic varieties, which increase your risk of chronic disease.

They are difficult to digest due to phytates (anti-nutrients), which inhibit absorption of nutrients within the grain as well as foods you eat with the grain. Many whole grains also contain gluten and as you know, can be a major contributor to your BLAHs.

The majority, if not all, of your carbs should be from vegetables, which leads me to your final reason that you feel like crap and can’t figure out why.

9. You aren’t eating enough veggies

I saved this for last because everyone knows it but doesn’t want to hear it. Yet, in my experience, eating veggies has had the quickest and most profound effect on my health. Cravings were almost entirely gone and increased energy pulled me out of an uncomfortable fog. Once I flipped my mindset around vegetables, everything changed.

We eat the way we were raised or the way our current social circle eats and since most of us (easily less than 50%) are not eating the recommended daily amount of vegetables, this perpetuates nobody eating vegetables.

Our society is starchy carb and sugar focused (see previous reason). We are bombarded with messaging and options that continue to focus on these foods. It is everywhere: commercials, Internet ads, restaurants, grocery stores, and billboards. This gives you the false illusion that this is the only easy way to eat.

Because of these two points, actually eating the recommended intake of veggies becomes a very large change to make. You must change your mindset, your emotional thoughts about vegetables to encourage the physical act of actually eating them. You may find yourself hating or gagging on vegetables. Stay open to trying different veggies and different ways of preparing them until you find what you like best. People are even proud of not eating vegetables, I think this is a defense mechanism because they know they should but they are not.

The best way to change your mindset is to motivate yourself through compelling information or easy ways to make change so it doesn’t feel hard or overwhelming.

Vegetables are the main way we get phytonutrients – plant nutrients or vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Yes, we can get them from fruit but there is more sugar and yes, we can get them from grains and legumes but those are harder to digest and contain phytates and fewer nutrients.

Vegetables are incredibly nutrient dense. They contain many water soluble vitamins in plants that we need, which means we need them every day because they can’t be stored, either fully or only in small amounts. Your body cannot make vitamins on its own; you must get them from food. Increased vegetable intake is scientifically proven, many times over, to reduce risk of disease such as cardiovascular, diabetes, and cancer due to these nutrients and high fiber. 

Which reason is holding you back from your health the most? Let me know in the comments below and get started on it!