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The Ingenious Way This Naturopathic Doctor Protects Her Gut Health

October 2, 2019

“By default, so many people talk about planning, logistics, finances, and to-do lists over dinner,” says Dr. Sara DeFrancesco, a naturopathic doctor living in Portland, Oregon. But in her mind, that’s actually the worst time to do it.

The reason for her strong stance on dinner table topics isn’t about table manners, it’s about digestion. “Even if it’s not an extremely stressful conversation, when you’re thinking about what you have to get done your body goes into fight or flight mode and your nervous system literally shuts down digestion to funnel resources elsewhere,” she explains. Even if you don’t notice digestive problems now, she says this stress can lead to issues like leaky gut and dysbiosis down the road.

digestion Sara DeFrancesco

Your Digestion Deserves Some Peace and Quiet

According to DeFrancesco, many people underestimate the effort it takes the body to digest food in the first place. The process actually starts in the mouth, where saliva starts the breakdown of food, and also requires stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes later on. You need to allow the body the time and space to digest to get the full benefits of your food. Or, as she puts it: “What’s the point of buying organic and taking the time to cook if you can’t extract the nutrients correctly?”

In DeFrancesco’s home, dinner is the time to be grateful and totally relax, which also means no TV. Instead, she takes nine deep breaths before she starts eating, which helps activate her body’s parasympathetic nervous system (aka, your “rest and digest” system).

If not around the dinner table, when does she talk logistics and finances? For DeFrancesco and her fiancé, it’s a weekly family meeting. On Sunday at 11 a.m., they meet to discuss the schedule for the week, including who’s cooking and cleaning, what their goals are, and when they’re scheduling in time for self-care and fun. For DeFrancesco, that means horseback riding. “If I don’t go at least once a week, I’m not a very fun person,” she jokes.


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