In the SIBO world, habits and rituals get lost in the sauce. At the beginning of my SIBO journey, I was too busy researching the latest flashy SIBO supplement or consistently cutting foods out of my diet. But, these strategies have limited effects if you don’t incorporate other lifestyle habits/rituals.
I underestimated the powerful gut boosting effects that simple habits and rituals can have on digestion. Many of my new clients have failed to see the power of rituals.
You might be wondering…what the heck does she mean by rituals? I like this definition of a ritual: an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner. In simple terms, rituals are a habit that you do at a set time and place.
For those with digestive issues, rituals can be incredibly powerful before meals. Repeated rituals before a meal can prime digestion. By performing that ritual, your body knows food is coming and can upregulate digestion accordingly.
Rituals can also put you into a rest and digest state. Everyone living in 2020 is prone to being stuck in fight or flight. Rituals will help you reset to better digest your meals.
By boosting digestion with rituals, I often see symptom reduction in my clients from just a simple premeal exercise. And it is free and can take 5 minutes or less. You can’t beat that!
In this post, I want to share with you some of my favorite premeal rituals. I like to give options so that you can find the right fit for you. There is not one right answer when it comes to premeal rituals but experimenting can help you find the one that works the best for you.
Lets dive into it!
Breathing exercises can be especially helpful as a premeal exercise. Controlled breathing has been shown to be especially helpful at activating the vagus nerve and the parasympathetic nervous system. As I have written before, the vagus nerve is what activates your rest and digest response. This special nerve bridges the communication of the brain to the gut to perform digestion automatically.
In many SIBO and IBS sufferers, vagal tone can be low (aka a weak nerve). Low tone will hinder the brains ability to activate digestion. Low tone can also keep you more locked in fight or flight which will shut down digestion.
Doing breath work before meals can activate the vagus nerve before you eat which will boost digestion. There are different breathing exercises, but there are a few methods that I like a lot.
Breathing patterns that extend the exhale have been shown to activate the vagus nerve. Breathing in for 4 seconds through your nose and exhaling for 8 seconds out the nose has been shown to activate the vagus nerve. Doing this for 2-5 minutes before a meal is all you need to get your body in a better state to digest. Once you get the 4-8 pattern down, you can add a 7 second hold in between to boost the benefits.
I also really like Buteyko Breathing exercises. The theory behind this approach is lowering the frequency of the breathing puts your body into a more rest and digest state. Patrick Mckeown has some great resources on this. Here is a video with a little exercise that might help.
All you songbirds out their will love this practice. All of these exercises, like breath work, can activate your vagus nerve before you eat. Plus, you can sing/hum while you cook.
Gargling is my favorite vagal stimulating practice as it seems to be the most powerful (versus singing/humming). Usually that means that you don’t have to do it as long to get the benefit. Usually I recommend people gargle for 2-3 minutes before meals.
For the singing and humming, I usually recommend 4-5 minutes before meals or 2 songs. So, get your playlist ready to sing some tunes.
Did you know that even thinking about what you are grateful for changes your body’s physiology? Gratitude can be a simple practice that doesn’t take much more than 2 minutes out of your day. A simple exercise you could use is to think about 3 blessings you are thankful for before each meal. Making sure to spend some time really feeling the gratitude for each person, place, item, event etc.
Prayer is also a great option for my religious clients. A popular and traditional prayer before meals is to say grace. So a premeal ritual can be as simple as making sure to bless your food by saying grace.
Mantras have a couple different meanings so I do want to clarify what I mean by mantras. Mantras can be used to aid in meditation practices, but for a premeal ritual I am referring to any “statement or slogan repeated frequently.”
Mantras can be especially helpful when you struggle with food fears or negative beliefs around food. If you have developed some food fears (as many with SIBO do including myself), you can try out these mantras:
“This food will nourish my body”
“I will digest and absorb this food well”
“I will tolerate these foods”
“I will beat SIBO”
“I will conquer my bloating”
Or you can also make a mantra that is more specific to you. There are not rules, but mantras are especially helpful to change limiting beliefs that may be holding you back.
I have been leaning on this one more recently with my clients, especially in cases with mental barriers. If you have been struggling with SIBO for awhile, it can be easy to fall into a chronic negative mindset. Visualization can be really powerful if you are having thoughts like:
- I will never beat SIBO
- I will always react to this food
- I will always be battling this bloat
- Nothing is helping with my symptoms
- I will never be able to comfortably eat at a restaurant
- I am afraid of eating that food
This type of thinking is super common and I have been there myself. If you don’t believe gut repair is possible, then it won’t be. Progress takes belief. Visualizations can fuel belief.
Pre meal visualizations are especially helpful for overcoming food fears. Diversifying food options after being on a restrictive diet can be really challenging. Visualizations can help you mentally experience eating the food before you try it in real life.
Visualizing yourself eating a food, digesting it well and feeling fueled by the food can help you stay in rest and digest when trying new foods (not in the fearful state). The key to visualization is to be thorough and to experience an elevated emotion.
Think through in detail what you are going to eat, imagine the smells texture and tastes of eating that food. Visualize your digestion working well with no symptoms. And it can even be helpful to visualize your day following the meal—such as you being energized and functioning optimally.
Like I mentioned above, once you have worked through a mental picture of yourself tolerating a meal or food well. You should tap into how you would feel if this visualization actually happened. Emotional tapping can take visualizations to a whole new level.
These elevated emotions can be gratitude, joy, happiness, freedom, excitement and more. The key is to feel this emotion through out the visualization exercise.
Doing visualization for 2-3 minutes before a meal can really set your mind and body up for success.
Visualizations can also be used in a more general sense. If you are in a negative mindset, you can visualize yourself in the future beyond SIBO. What are you doing? Who are you with? Where are you? This practice can have big changes on physiology.
For more info on visualizations, I would look into Joe Dispenza. His work is heavily focused on visualization practices.
Meditation is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it has been incredibly powerful in my own SIBO journey. Meditation is great for vagal stimulation and putting you into a rest and digest state before eating.
There are lots of different meditation options. There are apps and books with different methods. Don’t be afraid to experiment with meditation to find what works well for you. For me, mantra based methods work the best.
If you are new to meditation, I would check out the book, Stress Less, Accomplish More by Emily Fletcher. It is a good overview of the benefits how to do mantra based meditation.
Walking is a great pre-meal ritual because it has been shown to prime digestion. If you think about our ancestors who didn’t have food at their finger tips, they had to go and forage and hunt for food. Therefore, you evolved to move for your supper.
In one study, 30 minutes of movement increases bile flow ten fold!! Bile flow critical for digestion and it helps to keep microbes in check in the small intestines. It’s your own anti-SIBO defense.
Movement also is essential for motility. Getting your legs moving can lead to BMs which can make you more comfortable to eat your next meal.
Antectdotally, many of my clients get big benefits from walking 20-30 minutes before eating. I would highly recommend walking before your biggest meal of the day to see if you see benefit.
Pre-meal strategies are powerful gut boosters. They are a free and easy way to get your body into rest and digest before a meal.