Health Wellness

Improving digestion

Did you try the stomach acid challenge test? Did it take a few tries until you felt a warming sensation in your stomach? If it did, don’t worry. I’m going to share three of my favourite tips to improve digestion and naturally boost stomach acid production. You’ll be amazed at how these three little changes will have such an impact on your energy, focus, productivity, and even weight loss.

Digestion tips

The time where you will notice the impact from these tips the most is probably the lunch hour. Indigestion is notorious for causing bloating and fatigue that hamper our productivity for the afternoon. So let’s start at lunch time.

Mood for food

Before you eat, do a mental body scan and check to see how you are feeling. Do you feel stressed? Do you have tension in your body? Are you pressed for time and in a hurry? All of these things are going to impact your digestion so before you even begin eating we need to engage your digestive process. If you can, go to a quiet place away from the busyness of the office, or close your office door. A park setting is a perfect place to have lunch as research shows that simply being in nature instantly lowers your stress response and relaxes your body. Once you are settled in, get your food out and place it in front of you so you can smell it. Now place your hand on your stomach, close your eyes and inhale for 5 seconds. Then exhale for 5 seconds, slowly counting each breath. Continue this for 2 minutes. Each time you inhale you may smell your lunch which is going to start your digestive process.

When we are on the run, bogged down with work, or dealing with a stressful matter, our body triggers our fight or flight stress response. In order to provide the body with enough energy to fight or flee the stressor, the body temporarily suppresses functions such as digestion and making stomach acid (HCl). So in order to prepare our digestive system for a meal we need to come out of stress mode and relax. Taking a few minutes before your meal to relax and smell your food is one of the best ways to start our digestive process.

Biting off only what you can chew

Now that you have engaged your digestive system and are feeling more relaxed, you can start eating. Take one bite of your food and chew it very well. We often forget that our teeth are an important part of our digestive process. By chewing our food up very well there is less work for our stomach to do, which means the body can put more energy towards your afternoon activities, and less towards digesting a big meal. This is especially important if you have low stomach acid. Protein needs an acidic environment for digestion, so the smaller the pieces of protein, the easier it is for your HCl to digest it.

Another important reason to chew your food thoroughly is that digestive enzymes are released in our mouth that help breakdown carbohydrates. Ideally, carbohydrate foods should mostly be digested (and broken down by chewing) before you swallow them down to your stomach. When I talk to patients about this I usually get asked how long they should chew for before they swallow. I recommend aiming for 20-30 chews before you swallow. This can be a challenge in itself. Try counting your chews and see how many you can do before you feel the urge to swallow. And make sure you chew your food slowly. This needs to be a relaxing and enjoyable process – trying to eat fast will only engage your stress response which will start to supress your digestive process.

Full stop

As much as possible it is best for you to focus only on eating without any distractions such a reading a book, newspaper, watching tv, surfing the net, or having a conversation. Any activity we do while eating distracts us from paying attention to the messages our body sends. This is one of the reasons that people tend to eat more food than what their body needs. It is only later when we get that full, bloated feeling that we realized we may have eaten too much. As soon as you feel full it is important to stop eating. Even if you have some food leftover, just put it aside until you feel hungry again. This full feeling is a sign from the body that you’ve met your food requirements for lunch. Eating past this full feeling is when our body feels it needs to over compensate with HCl production, giving us that sensation of heartburn or acid reflux later on.

By making sure you chew your food slowly and thoroughly before, and stopping as soon as you start to feel full, the stomach acid your body has made will be able to digest the food more efficiently without having to overcompensate later. This also means that your body will require less energy to digest your meal so you won’t experience a dip in energy after your meal. You will also notice your concentration and focus are better now that you aren’t experiencing that full, bloated, uncomfortable feeling. By practicing these three tips with each meal on a daily basis you should experience less heartburn and acid reflux, and notice more efficient digestion.


About the author

Michelle Heighington

I am a registered holistic nutritionist (RNCP and ROHP) who also holds a degree in medical anthropology. Having worked in the legal industry for 15 years I became familiar with the corporate lifestyle and culture, and how the dedication to work – and the addiction to caffeine and sugar cravings that come with it – can get in the way of achieving a desired work/life balance. Through corporate workshops, articles and providing customized nutrition advice tailored to busy lifestyles, I help people to stay healthy at work without losing billable hours or precious time after work. You can reach me at or visit my website

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