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A Pelvic Health Perspective on the Dining Experience

By Dr. Sarah Ellison, PT

Having constipation, bloating, or diarrhea symptoms can be incredibly frustrating. While there are often many factors (diet, GI conditions, etc) that can affect these symptoms, there are also many simple and empowering steps that a person can take to address the muscular contributors to these symptoms. 

Yes, our musculoskeletal system can be impacting our bowels! Simply put, increased pelvic floor muscle tension can lead to difficulty completing a bowel movement. Abdominal tension can impact abdominal bloating.  Muscle weakness and coordination of the pelvic floor muscles can also be affecting bowel symptoms. Working with a pelvic health therapist can help a person identify the specific muscular issues contributing to their symptoms and the strategies to solve them! 

You may have heard about our “rest and digest system.” This is another name for our parasympathetic nervous system. When we engage this portion of our nervous system, gut functioning tends to improve, just as the name suggests. Parasympathetic activation can optimize muscular functioning for gut health as well by helping to relax unnecessary and unhelpful muscle tension.

There can be a lot of points of intervention for better connection to the parasympathetic nervous system and reduced muscle tension, even as early as the meal time itself. With these goals in mind, here is some “food for thought” below:

Setting a relaxing tone

There can be many ways to connect to that parasympathetic nervous system, and each individual will likely have different strategies that work for them. Creating a calming space can be incredibly helpful to set up for success. Playing calm music, sitting down in a relaxing space, and enjoying a meal with loved ones are only a few options.

Mindful movement and posture

There are also mechanical ways to use posture for optimal digestion. Sitting upright for meals, rather than hunched forward closer to a plate of food, can help set the body up for easier digestion. Some gentle stretches and diaphragmatic breathing may not only help someone connect more to the parasympathetic state, but these strategies can also help the body move in a way that maximizes digestive and muscular function. A pelvic health therapist can review some general options as well as options that are catered to an individual’s own body and movement preferences.

Slowed eating

When taking a step back, does scarfing down an entire meal between meetings sound restful to you? You may have even noticed that your gut symptoms improve after long, slow meals compared to quick, rushed meal breaks. Studies have also shown that increased chewing, which is enabled through slowed eating, optimizes digestion.

Enjoyed experience

At the end of the day, it is important to recognize the simple benefit of enjoying a meal! Being in a parasympathetic state can be incredibly helpful on many levels for optimal digestion and bowel function. There is so much power in the small but simple concept. So, sit down, relax and enjoy!


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