Updated: Jun 2, 2021
Gas, bloating, distention, feeling overly full after a meal, belching, mild reflux…. Not fun.
Some of my clients do indeed have major GI dysfunction which requires in-depth intervention. In many cases, however, my clients find MAJOR relief by simply adopting a few principles of what I call Eating Hygiene. Today, I’m giving away some of my most helpful tips, and I hope you use them to get rid of your own GI frustrations. Don’t be fooled by how simple these ideas seem at first; they are powerful!
Slow Down. Yes, I know: easier said than done at times. Especially if you were raised in a big family and couldn’t have seconds (or dessert) until you inhaled what was on your plate. But digestion takes time. And digestive secretions such as stomach acid, bile, and pancreatic enzymes need time to be fully secreted.
If you wolf down your meal in a hurry, a very full stomach has trouble mixing acid and enzymes well with your food. Think of trying to blend a batch of stir-fry in a coffee cup. There’s not enough room! When it “spills over”, you belch and burp and may have reflux.
It also takes about 20 minutes for your gut to signal to your brain that you’re full and reduce your sense of hunger (courtesy of a hormone called CCK or cholecystokinin). Gulp down your food in 10 minutes? You’re much more likely to overeat and end up feeling bloating 20 minutes later. (As an aside: looking to lose weight? CCK is released much more quickly in response to a high-fat meal. Yes! Just make sure it’s healthy fat such as avocado, salmon, coconut, almond butter, organic olive oil, and grass-fed butter)
Need help getting started? Get in the habit of putting down your knife and fork and sitting back in your chair in between each bite of food. Heck, spice it up and have a little conversation without food in your mouth. ♥ After you swallow, take at least one full, cleansing breath before you pick up your utensils and enjoy another bite.
Chew. I’ve written about this before. On average we chew a bite of food 6-8 times before we swallow (gulp!). Chewing is the only part of the digestive process that is voluntary – that we control.
The less we chew our food, the harder our GI tract has to work. This creates post-meal fatigue. Ideally we chew our food until it’s almost liquid before swallowing. This can reduce gas and increase post-meal energy.
When we swallow chunks of food (vs. tiny, mostly liquefied bits), it’s harder for digestive enzymes in the intestines to do their job. When carbohydrate foods hang around too long, the bacteria in our guts feast too heartily and create gas build-up as a metabolic byproduct. The result? Distention, bloating, flatulence. (Hint: if you Chew thoroughly, it’s also much easier to Slow Down.)
Need help getting started? Count your chews. Literally. Chew every bite at least 30 times, except salad where I would aim for 15. If you feel a strong impetus to swallow beforehand, just move the food to the side of your mouth, swallow saliva, and keep chewing (think of what you automatically do with gum). Here is a helpful client handout that you can print out and have handy as a reminder on your dining table .
Prioritize Eating. Many people feel that eating is somehow a waste of time unless it’s done while multitasking. A fascinating choice when you consider that eating is the one thing we do which literally creates our future body! We get in the habit of eating “on the go” e.g. in the car rushing to a meeting, while walking to another building, or standing up at the counter while preparing your kids’ food. All of these are a recipes for Indigestion. A high-impact way to live on purpose is to treat a meal as a special, singular event.
Sit down. When we eat in a way that doesn’t allow our nervous system to fully relax and move into parasympathetic mode, we literally put out less digestive fluids. It’s part of the body’s survival mechanism. We either ask the body to focus and rush and perform (e.g. “fight or flight”). Or we ask it to take a break and build strength and energy for the future via eating (e.g. “rest and digest”). The body cannot do both at once. Witness the diarrhea or nausea many people feel in a stressful situation!
Breathe. The body needs oxygen to properly digest. Help calm your body and support digestion by taking a few, slow, calming breaths when you sit down to a meal – before you start eating.
Relax and Savor. Try to learn to just be in the moment with your food. Colors, textures, aromas, flavors… Most of us are mentally “elsewhere” while we eat. The result? The brain tends to miss out on the entertainment, and we are much more likely to overeat. Distraction increases food intake. Postpone stressful discussions, replying to tense emails, or paying bills until later.
Need help getting started? Plan your meals. For many people, it helps to put them literally in your daily appointment/commitment calendar. This ensures the time is truly “set aside” to care for yourself via mindful eating.
Don’t Drink too much during meals. Yes, we need to be hydrated and focus on plain, clean water intake. However, the best time to hydrate is in between meals. When you consume large amounts of water during a meal, you dilute the acidity of your stomach acid and slow digestion. Depending on your sensitivity, this can cause an early sense of fullness and belching and long-term can cause malnutrition (especially low Vitamin B12, magnesium or iron). If it’s near meal-time and you feel very thirsty, make a point of drinking a large glass of water right away and wait 20 min. before eating. This allows the water to clear your stomach before its digestive duty begins. Ideally, get in the habit of carrying a water glass or bottle around with you throughout the day and sip on it regularly.
These are indeed simple solutions! Given our stress-crazed, achievement-obsessed, go-go-go society, however, it can be hard to implement these principles consistently. But you can do it. It just has to be a priority. I recommend printing out a copy of this article and keeping it on your dining table. Repetition and persistence can create Big Change and long-term relief.
It’s important you know that this blog post is for informational and educational purposes. It’s not meant to treat any health condition or to be prescriptive for anyone.
Always be sure to work with your healthcare practitioner. I highly recommend trying all new recommendations and/or supplements slowly to make sure they are ok for you.