• Melanie Dixon DipION mBANT CNHC

Do you eat lunch at your desk or in front of the TV?

A Nutritional Therapist's guide to how this affects your health including top tips to improve your digestion...

With ever increasing workloads and pressure to meet deadlines, more and more office workers are now eating meals at their desk, making ‘desktop dining’ a common scenario in the workplace. This can also extend to a similar phenomenon in the home, eating in front of the computer whilst working from home or perhaps in front of the TV or whilst on the phone interacting on social media.

This way of eating hampers our digestive process and can lead to a myriad of health issues. You may have heard of ‘mindful eating’ but perhaps you don’t know exactly what this is or why it’s necessary?

Firstly it’s essential to understand the very basics of how the digestive process works…it involves a series of biochemical processes in multiple body systems to prepare and breakdown the food we eat for absorption which provides energy to fuel all of our body cells.

  • Digestion starts when we anticipate or smell food…the brain signals the release of enzymes in the saliva in the mouth and also in the stomach in preparation for digestion, along with chemical messages which start the muscular activity which acts to propel food along the gastrointestinal tract.

  • When we ingest food, carbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth ready for swallowing where it then moves into the stomach. Protein digestion of food begins in the stomach before moving on to the small intestine.

  • Fats are broken down with the release of bile from the liver and gallbladder in the small intestine.

  • At each stage of digestion, nutrients are released from the breakdown of food and cross into the bloodstream for transport throughout the whole body to fuel our body cells.

  • Any remaining products will move through to the large intestine for final absorption and then elimination of waste from the body.

If we eat on the go, at our desk or in front of a screen, the digestive process is hampered from the very start. Without the anticipation and thought of food, taking in the sight of food or being mindful of each mouthful, the senses are inhibited which signal the brain to release chemical messages to trigger the digestive process. This results in the food we eat not being broken down sufficiently and nutrient absorption is limited. Hunger hormones are also affected as we decrease the body’s ability to detect hunger and satiety (feeling of fullness) and this can often lead to mindless eating and subsequent weight gain.

OK, but how do I know this is affecting my health?

I often see clients in clinic who are stressed, eat on the go or in front of a screen, whether at work or home and don’t chew their food thoroughly. This can play havoc with digestion, leading to problems with absorbing nutrients and often unpleasant and uncomfortable gut symptoms. These can range from indigestion, bloating, stomach pains and cramps through to diarrhoea, constipation or undigested food in the stool. It can even affect other body systems and cause fatigue, headaches, mood and mind issues to name but a few. Poor digestion can be associated with an alteration of stomach acid levels, imbalance of the bacteria in the gut, cause inflammation, a ‘leaky’ gut lining and malnutrition, all of which may precede more serious health issues further down-the-line.

More and more often I see clients presenting with debilitating bloating, discomfort and irregular bowel habits. 80% of people diagnosed or labelled as suffering from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) have a condition called SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). SIBO often goes undiagnosed and the individual is left thinking that they just have to put up with their symptoms lifelong but this isn’t necessarily the case.

SIBO is a serious condition affecting the small intestine which occurs when bacteria (often healthy ones) that normally grow in other parts of the gut start to grow in the small intestine. They ferment in the wrong place which is what causes the bloating (particularly straight after meals), discomfort and other symptoms.

As a SIBO-Doctor-Approved Practitioner, I specialise in supporting clients in trying to eradicate the bacteria from the small intestine and restore the health of the gut. A simple breath test can be performed in the comfort of your own home to determine which type of SIBO you have (methane or hydrogen producing bacteria) and a treatment strategy is provided based on the results. This can involve up to 12 weeks of a specific SIBO diet and antimicrobial therapy, along with addressing the underlying factors that may have led to SIBO so that the risk of relapse is decreased. One of the underlying factors may well be poor digestion which can be resolved through mindful eating, although there are many other contributory factors which may also need assessment.

TOP TIPS on how to optimise your digestion...

Take time to prepare your food, using your senses to think about, smell and then taste every mouthful of food. By taking time away from work, eating at a table, away from screens and chewing your food well you can optimise your ability to digest and absorb all the nutrients from the food you are eating. If you are stressed, taking a few deep breaths before eating calms the stress response in the body to prepare for digestion…if you are in ‘fight or flight’ mode when stressed or anxious, the body switches off the digestive process. And if you are an employer, ensure your staff take designated breaks for lunch!

To find out more about how to optimise your digestive health, or if you suspect you may have SIBO, contact Mel at Foreshore Nutrition at foreshorenutrition@outlook.com or visit I offer free, no-obligation www.foreshorenutrition.co.uk phone calls to find out how nutritional therapy can support your individual needs.