Our diet has changed rapidly over the last 50-100 years, moving from a simple diet of fruit, seeds, meat, nuts and wild greens to one of high fat, high sugar and processed foods. Our biochemisty has not had time to evolve and adapt to this new food, resulting in a lot of digestive discomfort. In this rapidly changing and constantly moving world, here are a few simple measures we can take to make sure our digestive system is getting the support it needs.
The Digestive System begins with the mouth and includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, large intestine and rectum. It is responsible for two opposing actions: assimilation (of nutrients) and elimination (of waste). The health and well-being of every single cell in our body depends on the nutrients assimilated into our body by the digestive system. If out of whack, our cells run the risk of not functioning properly and causing chaos whether mentally, physically or both.
Know that everyone's body is different; there is no "cure-all" diet for everyone to use.
Use diet systems and programs as mere suggestions and do what feels best for your body.
Here are a few simple measures you can take to keep your guts (and you!) feeling happy:
-Slow Down! Give yourself time to eat; do not rush. Gobbling down big bites at a rapid rate will leave your stomach working overtime trying to break things down. No matter how good something tastes and how hungry you may be, SLOW DOWN!
-Don't over-eat. Stop eating before you feel too full. Again, don't overwork the stomach.
-Eat foods as close to their natural state as possible--try your best to avoid processed foods. The closer your food is to its natural state, the easier it will be for your body to digest. This includes trying to eat locally and seasonally.
-Chew! This may seem like a no-brainer, but too often we swallow our food before it is fully chewed leaving our digestive system working over-time. Try to chew at least ten times before swallowing.
-Avoid distractions. It can be easy in our highly stimulating world to eat in front of a screen whether it be a computer or phone or tv. It can also be easy for us to eat while we work or while we're on the go. Eating while distracted can make us eat too much, too fast. Again, slow down and give yourself time to eat and try to focus on each bite.
If you would really like to work on re-connecting with how you eat, an eating meditation can be a rewarding experience. Here is an example of one below. If you averse to raisins, substitute it with something you enjoy eating.
Eating One Raisin: A First Taste of Mindfulness
First, take a raisin and hold it in the palm of your hand or between your finger and thumb.
Focusing on it, imagine that you’ve just dropped in from Mars and have never seen an object like this before in your life.
Take time to really see it; gaze at the raisin with care and full attention.
Let your eyes explore every part of it, examining the highlights where the light shines, the darker hollows, the folds and ridges, and any asymmetries or unique features.
Turn the raisin over between your fingers, exploring its texture, maybe with your eyes closed if that enhances your sense of touch.
Holding the raisin beneath your nose, with each inhalation drink in any smell, aroma, or fragrance that may arise, noticing as you do this anything interesting that may be happening in your mouth or stomach.
Now slowly bring the raisin up to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know exactly how and where to position it. Gently place the object in the mouth, without chewing, noticing how it gets into the mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments exploring the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.
When you are ready, prepare to chew the raisin, noticing how and where it needs to be for chewing. Then, very consciously, take one or two bites ito it and notice what happens in the aftermath, experiencing any waves of taste that emanate from it as you continue chewing. Without swallowing yet, notice the bare sensations of taste and texture in the mouth and how these may change over time, moment by moment, as well as any changes in the object itself.
When you feel ready to swallow the raisin, see if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that even this is experienced consciously before you actually swallow the raisin.
Finally, see if you can feel what is left of the raisin moving down into your stomach, and sense how the body as a whole is feeling after completing this exercise in mindful eating.1
1 Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn (2007). The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. New York: Guilford Press.
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