The Big Picture of Digestion

There’s a lot of information out there about “good” nutrition. “Eat this”. “Don’t eat that”. “Our way is right”. “Their Way is wrong”. You know what I mean. Well, I’m not going to add to that conversation, not in this post anyhow. What I do want to address is that old saying, “You are what you eat”. I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but what does it mean?

The simplest way to talk about this is through digestion. Everything that goes into your body becomes a part of your body until it leaves again. It becomes a part of your cells, your tissues, even your structure. You truly are what you eat.

Digestion includes the process of eating and drinking. It involves using the ingested nutrients for energy and building materials. It also includes the elimination of waste when you go to the bathroom.

I call this the Top to Bottom process. Generally speaking, nutrients enter your body through the top of your body (e.g. your mouth). Once your body assimilates what it needs from your food or drink, it ends up at the bottom (e.g. in the toilet). Here’s the big picture:

It’s a pretty simple process, really. Just put food in your mouth and get the benefits out of it, right? Wrong!! Over the next few posts, I’ll be giving you ways to optimize your digestion through wise, informed choices. This is information you must understand if you want to develop a stronger, healthier body to last a long time.

So, let’s dive in!

The first phase of digestion is INGESTION. This is the process by which food enters your body. It’s this part here:


Your brain actually kicks-off the digestion process. You get a whiff of something cooking that smells good; you see a delicious-looking plate of food pass you by; or maybe you hear someone tell of an amazing meal they had. You start to realize that you’re hungry. Your stomach rumbles as the brain tells it that food is on the horizon. It triggers down-stream processes within the body that are only used for the digestion of food.

Your mouth starts to salivate at the thought of food. One component of the saliva is called salivary amylase, the first of many digestive enzymes to break down your food. This one happens to begin the chemical breakdown of carbohydrates (starches and sugars).

The food is further broken down through the mechanical process of chewing. Afterward, your food continues its path south.  

That’s it – that’s the first phase of the Top to Bottom Digestion Process. Now – let’s look at some places where this process can go wrong.

1.  You don’t make time for meals. Or rather, you fit eating into the nooks and crannies of your day and don’t give yourself time to slow down and digest. You see, you need to be in a parasympathetic state (i.e. not stressed) in order to digest your food.

  • TAKE-AWAY 1 – Make sure you have time for meals during your day. Sit down, relax, and enjoy your food!
  • TAKE-AWAY 2 – If you can – prepare your own food. According to, this is why it’s important to get to know your food, or at least be closer to it.

2.  You don’t chew your food thoroughly enough to break it down sufficiently. If you don’t take the time to chew your food, your brain doesn’t get the message to trigger the complete digestive process. The production of saliva is also not complete as you gulp down your food.

  • TAKE-AWAY – Chew your food (~30 seconds is recommended at each bite). This could mean putting your fork down between bites.

That’s it for INGESTION. Next time we’ll look at the second phase of digestion—ASSIMILATION.