Within my practice, I always start with digestion. You are not what you eat; you are what you digest. And as it so happens, most people are not digesting most of their food. With food that merely passes through the body, not giving any nutritional benefits, it's no wonder that so many are so sick!
Digestion begins in the brain. We think of our upcoming dinner, or smell the wafts from the kitchen, Yum - food is on the way! and the brain signals to the digestive organs to turn on. However, sometimes it doesn't. High stress and anxiety will keep the body in a sympathetic state: basically, fight or flight mode. It doesn't matter if it's running from a sabertooth tiger or paying your bills, the human body sees stress as stress as stress. And absolutely no human's brain would allow the body to relax and kick it with a gourmet feast while being chased by a predator.
This is why it is absolutely crucial to make sure you come to the meal in a parasympathetic state - rest and digest mode. Without this, the body hardly absorbs anything. Take several deep breaths before eating; pray; laugh; enjoy time spent with loved ones around the table. Do not have the TV on, do not scroll through your phone, but focus on the priority of the moment: eating with intention and celebrating the food you're about to consume.
Chew your food. Start to take note of how many times you chew each bite. Even better, start to watch others. It's not many, isn't it? Some take two bites before swallowing. Without chewing our food thoroughly, a few problems arise: first, we do not produce enough salivary amylase to break down our carbohydrates. We need to make sure our saliva coats our food well, because once it's in the stomach there are no more enzymes to break down the starches. Secondly, when we chew rapidly, we don't send the proper signals to our stomachs indicating that food is on its way. Without these signals, the stomach does not produce enough hydrochloric acid (HCL), nor HCL that is acidic enough. Our food sits and waits to become digested. With enough time passed, proteins begin to putrify, fats begin to rancidify, carbohydrates begin to ferment. This is a disaster for the rest of the system - and we've still got a ways to go.
Aim to chew each bite of food at least 30-50 times. Yes, that many. Some more, some less, depending on what you're eating. Turn that food into complete mush! And while you're at it, chew your liquids, too - soup needs the amylase, as well.
Absorbing the nutrients. Once the HCL gets to a ph of between 1.5 and 3, the food (called chyme at this point) passes through to the duodenum - the beginning of the small intestine. Here is where fats are broken down even further with bile, and where the chyme alkalizes. However, if the stomach never got a chance to get acidic enough before more food entered the system, the gallbladder will not have received a signal to send out any bile; bile will sit in storage, unused. This leads to bile that becomes viscous and hardened, leading to gallstones.
As the chyme moves through the small intestine, nutrients are absorbed. But if foods have not been broken down - meaning, undigested food bits - your small intestines are going to receive a beating. Large pieces of food traveling through the one-cell-thick (yes, only one cell thick!) small intestine is akin to taking a hammer to your walls for demolition: slowly, but surely, you'll get those walls down. Little holes permeate the intestines, allowing bits of food to seep through and travel elsewhere in the body. Your immune system does not like invaders, and will target these food particles as threats. This is how we begin the downward spiral into food allergies.
Getting rid of the burden. Once the remains make it to the large intestine the whole system is exhausted. Without nutrients digested, our microflora diminishes. In the place of good bacteria come the bad, and the yeasts that flourish on putrified food. IBS, irregular bowel movements, the works; the large intestine wants to either get rid of the junk as fast as possible (diarrhea), or desperately cling on to it (constipation), hoping to pull at least some nutrients out in a last ditch effort.
All of this is just a sampling of what can go wrong from the start, if we don't prepare ourselves to eat consciously! Ironically, so many health issues stem from this simple, oh-so-easy process. Rest, be calm, chew your food well - your digestion depends on it.