Improve Your Digestion

By Jennie Hastings
[Savvy Self-Care]

When I was growing up, I remember a public service announcement called “Time for Timer” that would come on during Saturday morning cartoons. In it, a skinny-legged cartoon cowboy reported from inside the digestive system. He talked about carbohydrates, fats, and protein, and sang, “You are what you eat, from your head down to your feet.”
This seemed like good information. It made sense that what we ate turned into the building material for our physical bodies. However, as time has gone by, and the experiences of life have begun to accumulate, I would adjust Timer’s saying to “you are what you can digest.” Unfortunately, it is possible to eat healthy food and completely miss the benefits because the digestive system cannot assimilate it.
Attention to Nutrition
After a traumatic experience in my early 20s, I began to recognize how important a healthy diet was for my overall well-being. At that time, it became obvious that what I took into my body had everything to do with how I felt emotionally, mentally, and physically, so I started to pay more attention to my nutrition.
I began to carefully craft my meals. I started drinking smoothies in the morning, learned to eat kale, began using healthy fats, and added superfoods like goji berries and hemp protein to my diet. I was spending a lot of time and energy—not to mention money—on my food. Between shopping, preparation, eating, and cleaning up, food was a big deal in my life.
However, I wasn’t really getting the full benefit of the food. I noticed how at the end of a long day of careful dietary measures, I would inevitably find myself raiding my housemate’s ice cream stash or gorging on sugar. The skin on my hands began to break out in itchy eczema spots (and as a massage therapist, it was very embarrassing to have a rash on my hands). Fortunately, my clients understood that it was not contagious and allowed me to touch them, but it was a difficult time in my life to understand what was going on and what I could do about it.
This went on for a couple of years. One day, I was at a yoga retreat, and there was a woman there who had suffered from terrible eczema at points in her life, too. Our yoga instructor asked her to tell me anything she could about eczema. I remember her saying, “Eczema is about not being able to fully digest what life has given you.” Over time, I began to realize that she meant this not only in the literal sense of physical digestion, but also the digestion of emotions, images, sounds, and thoughts—basically all of life’s experience.
Good Digestion = Good Health
Eventually, I met a nutritional therapist who worked with me on my digestion. With a few key supplements (beet extract, to name one) to stimulate bile production in my gallbladder, my body was able to break down the fat I was eating and feed it to my skin. As quickly as I’d lost my skin to the itchy rash, my skin repaired itself. It felt like a miracle.
Since then, I have learned that digestion is the most important part of eating. When I was 20 years old and still blissfully unblemished by some of life’s more brutal realities, I could eat a Snickers bar and processed cheese and turn it into vital life energy because my digestive fire was high and could burn through anything. After the trauma I experienced, I could eat organic steamed kale drenched in olive oil with pumpkin seeds and not derive what I needed from it.
Good digestion is vital to good health. Signs that your digestive system could use support include bloating after eating, erratic bowel movements, and lack of energy. If you are eating healthy food and still feel undernourished or have cravings, it might be time to care more directly for your digestive system. I know people who have eliminated practically every kind of food from their diet and still experience dietary woes. If this sounds like you, please understand that it might not be the food itself that is not working, but the process of breaking it down.
Beyond just what we eat, how we eat and the way we feel about ourselves and our lives affects our ability to digest. Modern life requires us to digest much more than food. All the information we come into contact with every day through technology needs to be processed and metabolized.
Learning to care for and support our digestive systems is a valuable investment in life energy. If you’re having problems with your digestive system, seek help from a nutritional therapist or ayurvedic counselor. Educate yourself. The return will be a lifetime of good energy. What could be better than that?

Jennie Hastings is a board-certified massage therapist, writer, and teacher. She is the creator of The Blossom Method and author of The Inspired Massage Therapist (Massage Blossom Books, 2012). She wants to be your friend on Facebook. Sign up for her monthly newsletter and check out her blog at