Living with Vitality column: Do you have the guts to be healthy? |

Living with Vitality column: Do you have the guts to be healthy?

Penny Wilson
Living with Vitality
Penny Wilson.
Jay Rush |

Last night, you had plans to go out. Just as you were about to walk out the door, you felt that twinge — that gurgle. You knew you’d have to call and make up an excuse to cancel. Your stomach was acting up. Again. You don’t know why this happens. You can’t figure it out.

Yesterday, you planned a full day. After lunch, your stomach blew up and you looked nine months pregnant. You ended up spending the rest of the day on the couch and in the bathroom. You never know what you can and can’t eat to keep this from happening.

Do either of these scenarios sound familiar? Do you experience bouts of gas, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea? Do you get full after only taking a few bites? Or, do you feel like you have sand in your stomach after eating?

All of these are symptoms of digestive issues. Your body is having problems processing the food you eat.

We talk about cardiovascular health, brain health, overall health, but we seem to neglect our digestive tract. If your digestive tract isn’t healthy, you won’t digest and absorb the food you are eating.

HOW Digestion WORKS

To figure out what’s causing your symptoms, a basic understanding of how your body digests and absorbs food can help. Your digestive tract is a long tube — 22 to 30 feet long. Once we figure out what part of the digestive tract is having problems, then we can address it.

The process of digestion — breaking down the food you eat into smaller and smaller pieces — begins as soon as you start thinking about food: Your mouth starts to water releasing saliva that contains digestive enzymes; our stomach starts producing extra stomach acid; and your pancreas releases insulin to prepare for the increase in blood sugar that comes with eating.

The mouth starts digesting the food you eat when you chew, mixing food with saliva. Some absorption — molecules from food — happens in the mouth. After you swallow, the food moves down the esophagus and into the stomach.

The stomach is like a washing machine for food, continuing the process of digestion. It mixes up the food with hydrochloric acid and other digestive enzymes, breaking the food into smaller pieces.

Next, the food moves into your small intestine where more digestive enzymes break the food into still smaller pieces. Absorption mainly happens here. What isn’t absorbed moves into the large intestine.

In your large intestine are microbiome, about 5 pounds of good bacteria that digest some of what’s left, and produce short chain fatty acids that help keep your digestive tract healthy. Your large intestine then absorbs these beneficial bacterial outputs and some water. Finally, the food leaves your body through your rectum and anus.


In general, digestive issues manifest as ongoing diarrhea, constipation, gas and/or bloating. As we get less young, our digestive tract changes.

You may also find that foods you used to eat don’t agree with you now. Food intolerances can develop over time and show up as any of the issues mentioned previously or as vague symptoms such as joint aches, fatigue, brain fog, headaches or allergies, among other things.

Many things can cause digestive issues to develop, from aging to illness to stress. If you have ongoing digestive issues or think you may have food intolerances, consider seeing a medical professional who specializes in digestive issues.


Or join me for new monthly Digestive Wellness Retreats in Vail starting in June. Attendees participate in education sessions about the digestive tract, understanding symptoms and how gentle exercise, emotional intelligence and mindfulness can help them better cope with symptoms and contribute to healing.

They will learn how to confidently order food in restaurants based on their particular needs. The retreat will be a safe and nurturing space to begin a journey to healing. Learn more at

Penny Wilson is a registered dietitian nutritionist based at the Vail Vitality Center at Vail Mountain Lodge. Wilson has a Ph.D. in kinesiology and has advanced training in integrative and functional nutrition, allowing her to take a holistic approach to nutritional wellness and overall health. She has irritable bowel syndrome and is finally symptom free.

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