The smelly side of yachting

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Behind the glamurous scenes of yachting, probably all stewardesses and engineers know that toilets can be no fun. The substantial amount of toilet paper that lands in the drains poses a question: why so much? Ideally, there should be no or little need for tissue but bowel habits can be far from perfect.

Digestion is the primary area of dysfunction in the body that impacts all areas of health, even when no apparent digestive symptoms are present. In my experience, other ongoing issues often resolve themselves once the gastro-intestinal tract has been appropriately addressed. After all, we’re not so much what we eat but rather what we can break down and absorb. This is why people who ‘eat well’ can still look and feel unhealthy.

Why does it matter in the yachting industry? Because the level to which food is digested and absorbed dictates energy levels, overall health status and mental wellbeing.

What is digestion?

It is the process of mechanical, chemical and microbial breakdown of food, extraction, production and absorption of nutrients, and removal of waste. We do not absorb food as such but the extracted vitamins, minerals, amino acids, glucose and fatty acids. We then utilise them to regenerate, produce new cells, hormones,neurotransmitters, etc.

Digestion works in a cascade order, meaning one disrupted process will result in the impairment of all consecutive steps. The brain plays the important role of a command centre, and it can take as little as looking at the phone while eating to maldigest.

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Most common reasons for impaired digestion:

  • processed diet

  • stress of any sort

  • burning the candle at both ends

  • mindless eating

  • stimulants

  • not chewing food properly, eating fast

  • microbial imbalance

  • lack of animal protein

  • low fat diet

  • coeliac disease, gluten intolerance

  • nutrient deficiencies

  • too much grains (baked goods, cereal, pasta, rice, etc)

  • drinking while eating, especially cold beverages

Immediate signs:

  • feeling of fullness after a small amount of food

  • bloating, passing smelly wind or too much wind in general

  • belching

  • indigestion

  • heartburn / acid reflux

  • light coloured / floating stools

  • pain / cramping in the abdomen

  • constipation / diarrhoea

  • sticky stool, the need to wipe with multiple pieces of paper

Long-term signs:

  • nutrient deficiencies (zinc, calcium, iron, B12, folate, vit A, D, K2)

  • inability to build muscle

  • high cholesterol

  • poor energy

  • slow metabolism

  • allergies and intolerances

  • anaemia

  • osteoporosis

  • loss of smell / taste

  • no desire for meat

  • recurring infections

  • dry / itchy skin / rosacea / acne

  • mental issues, hormonal imbalances, cancer, autoimmunity and all other chronic health conditions

Due to the nature of work, stress levels and insufficient expertise in nutrition, diet and digestion on yachts leave a lot to be desired. Indeed, it can be tricky for chefs to cater for individual needs but it’s no coincidence that bathrooms can be smelly. Pasta, pizza, cereal, bread and sweets may be convenient fillers but ongoing indulgence can result in a post-season burnout. A number of chefs and stewardesses saw me after the season to help them bounce back. All of them had digestive symptoms.

What to do

  • Look at your poop and have a think about the smell - much as it may seem gross, it’s an important ‘test’ that will tell you a lot about your health, for free. My next post will help you interpret your waste

  • Squatty-Potty or just an Ikea foot stool is a great aid that can be kept in the toilet and used by everyone. It forces gentle squatting, imitating the way humans used to evacuate and making bowel movements easier

  • Have a shot of water with lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar (e.g. this brand) before each meal

  • If salad is available, have it before rather than with the main meal, and dress it with olive oil and vinegar

  • Eat slowly and mindfully - the stomach doesn’t have teeth. Chew well and put cutlery down each time you take a bite. Leave all phones in a designated place before sitting at the table. Tune into YOUR body and how YOU react to the various foods

  • Add quality salt to your food (e.g. sea, Himalayan or Celtic) as it enhances digestion of protein

  • Try not to combine animal protein with starches, e.g. steak and fries or spaghetti Bolognaise. Have the meat or ragu with vegetables instead and increase the portion if possible. Do not add fresh fruit to cereal, granola or porridge except for ripe banana

  • Drink plain hot water during breaks. If available, add a bit of fresh ginger

  • Manage stress, e.g. Headspace app, brief workout (especially stretching combined with diaphragmatic breathing), few deep breaths, book, even just a page a day. It is important to have a think about your possible stressors as these go beyond the emotional aspects, e.g. food intolerances or spinal misalignment

  • Sleep whenever you can

How I can support you further

During consultations, I analyse the function of the entire digestive tract which includes the state of the gut in terms of dysbiosis, infections, leakiness, inflammation and oral tolerance to foods. All aspects of restoring digestive balance depend on individual factors and medical examination is often invaluable. I can also offer advanced functional testing, with testing kits delivered to your preferred location.

Outside the clinic, I support chefs in developing health oriented menus not only for crews but also guests who may have specific health ailments, with the main focus on digestion. I also help my clients organise their kitchen, pantry, and we go food shopping together.

 Article published in The Islander, November’18 edition

Article published in The Islander, November’18 edition