Bellingham Athletic Club

Stress & Digestion

Fall has arrived! Though this time of year is often joyous and fun, it can also be the source of tension and stress. As we become overwhelmed with social obligations or work, it may be tempting to wolf down meals quickly or turn to sweets for comfort… only to feel lethargic and less-than-best later. Below is some information about how digestion works and tips to keep you feeling good all holiday season long!

Did you know that digestion starts in the brain? Before you eat, the brain signals for the production of digestive enzymes and juices, but this only really works if the parasympathetic (“rest and digest”) system is activated!
– Before eating anything, stop whatever else you’re doing and focus on your food! Don’t drive, don’t watch TV or look at your phone — simply stop. Take a few deep breaths and relax to allow your body to switch from the active “fight or flight” mode to the necessary “rest and digest.” It helps to smell and think about your food too!

Next digestion moves to the mouth where food is mechanically and chemically broken down. How well are you chewing your food? Are you giving your body time to produce saliva? The goal of digestion is to break down food into particles so small that the nutrients can be absorbed and used by the cells of the body. Our stomachs don’t have teeth, so it?s important to chew well!
– Next time you eat, try setting your utensil (or the food itself) down between bites. Let yourself taste and enjoy each bite! Not only will eating slower encourage more chewing, but this stimulates more saliva production which is important for breaking down food!

The stomach is where we imagine most of digestion happens — and that’s mostly true! Acid in the stomach breaks down proteins, and churning helps to break down the particles so they’re small enough to absorb. Stress can affect acid production and
make it harder to break down food particles. This can lead to discomforts like heartburn and bloating!
– If you’re experiencing discomfort from eating, but you’ve already mastered eating slowly and mindfully, enjoying something bitter before a meal (arugula is wonderful!) or something acidic (like water with lemon juice or a small splash of apple cider vinegar) can help boost stomach acid production and prevent some of those discomforts.

For more information please visit my website and blog at or email me at! I’d love to help you!
Shelby O’Hagan
Nutrition Consultant