Digestion is the great secret of happy and healthy life
Do you feel tired after eating a lot? Does your body feel tired after eating a large meal? Do you feel tired and unproductive during the afternoon at work, or do you feel like taking a nap or watching television after a good home-cooked dinner?
Feeling tired, or having difficulty concentrating, after a meal is relatively common. You may feel particularly tired, depending on what, when, and how much you ate.
All of your body’s energy is being used by your digestive system – your digestive organs, especially your large and small intestines, require a large amount of energy to work effectively and function properly. After a big food challenge meal, your body is going crazy trying to digest and process the thousands of calories you just quickly consumed. To do this, your brain diverts most of your body’s energy and focus towards digestion. This sends red blood cells over to help break down the food and carry the nutrients throughout the rest of your body.
The following strategies can help prevent tiredness after a meal:
- Eat little and often. Rather than eating big meals, eat smaller meals and snacks every few hours to keep up energy levels. A piece of fruit or a handful of nuts should be enough to cure an energy dip.
- Get good-quality sleep. A person who gets enough sleep at night is less likely to experience a significant post-lunch energy dip.
- Go for a walk. Getting light exercise during the day, especially after eating, can help people feel less tired.
- Take a short nap during the day if possible.
- Try bright-light therapy. Authors of a 2015 study found that exposing people to bright light after lunch reduced tiredness.
- Avoid drinking alcohol with meals. Alcohol can make people feel more tired.
Your body needs energy to function—not just to run after your dog or put in time at the gym—but to breathe and simply exist. We get this energy from our food.
Food is broken down into fuel (glucose) by our digestive system. Macronutrients such as protein then provide calories (energy) to our bodies. More than just changing food into energy, our digestive cycle triggers all kinds of responses within our body.
Hormones such as cholecystokinin (CCK), glucagon, and amylin are released to increase a feeling of fullness (satiety), blood sugar rises, and insulin is produced to allow this sugar to go from the blood and into the cells, where it’s used for energy.
Interestingly, there are also hormones that can lead to drowsiness if increased levels are found in the brain. One such hormone is serotonin. The other hormone that induces sleep, melatonin, isn’t released in response to eating. However, food can influence melatonin production.
The digestive process:
- Phase one: begins in the mouth via chewing, saliva and enzymes
- Phase two: food travels to the stomach via the oesophagus
- Phase three: enters the stomach, where acids begin to break down food
- Phase four: food enters the small intestine, where it is further broken down and many nutrients are absorbed
- Phase five: passes through to large intestine, where other nutrients are absorbed, with the remaining solids finally making their way to the colon
- Phase six: solid waste is stored in the rectum and egested
It normally takes 6-8 hours for food to pass through your stomach and small intestine, and to enter the large intestine, where it becomes fully digested.
From there onward, it takes 40 hours for the waste to actually be excreted. It is a bit of a process, so what you’re eating for breakfast today isn’t going to be fully digested until the end of the day. What you eat for dinner is being digested overnight while you’re asleep.
The exact time it takes for food to be digested depends on which nutrients the food contains and the quantity of the meal.
Plant-based foods such as fruit and vegetables will usually move through more quickly than high-protein or fatty foods. Fat actually slows down digestion, so if the meal is higher in fat (whether it’s healthy or unhealthy fats) it will take longer to digest. Really high-fibre meals take a bit longer to digest, as well, as the fibre is bulking everything out and slowing the transit time down.
Tips for better digestion:
To keep food moving smoothly through your digestive system and prevent issues like diarrhoea and constipation, try these tips:
Eat more greens, fruit, and whole grains – Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are all rich sources of fibre. Fibre helps food move through your digestive system more easily and completely.
Limit red meat and processed foods – Studies show red meat produces chemicals that are linked to heart disease.
Add probiotics to your diet – These beneficial bacteria help crowd out the harmful bugs in your digestive tract. You’ll find them in foods like Greek yogurt and kefir, and in supplements.
Exercise daily – Moving your body keeps your digestive tract moving, too. Taking a walk after meals can prevent gas and bloating. Exercise also keeps your weight in check, which lowers your risk for certain cancers and other diseases of the digestive system.
Get plenty of sleep – A lack of sleep is linked to obesity, which can contribute to problems with your digestive system.
Manage stress – Excess stress can worsen digestive conditions like heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome. Stress-relieving techniques such as meditation and yoga can help calm your mind.
If you are unable to digest the food you are eating this will not only cause digestive issues, it will also mean you get a lot less nutrients and therefore less energy, so make sure you follow the suggested tips for better digestion.