Tired of bellyaches and bloat? Try these 8 mealtime habits to improve digestion and start feeling better today
This post is sponsored by our friends at Simple Mills
Tired of crappy digestion?
Sorry to be crude about it, but that’s kind of the nature of the beast when your digestion isn’t in tip top shape. Well, that and heart burn, excess gas, bloating, a feeling of fullness…you get the idea.
Better digestion isn’t something that just happens or you can remedy with a pill or potion. If it were, we’d all feel fabulous. But it isn’t hard to fix some of those annoying things – it just requires you to turn your focus to your food and start practicing the art of eating mindfully.
Yes, the art. Not the science. Sure there’s some science to it all but because what works for one person might not work for another. And what works for you today might not work next year. And then there’s the part of actually doing it -committing to a few small changes and keeping at them until they become habit or second nature.
Before you hit the ‘back’ button on your browser, hear me out. The list of habits that can improve your digestion is pretty short – just 8 things – and you can start all of them right now. So, whaddya say we do this?
8 Mealtime Habits to Improve Digestion
1. Chew your food: Digestion begins with the act of chewing to mechanically break food into smaller pieces that are easier to digest. As you chew, glands in your mouth secrete saliva that coats the food to make it easier to swallow. This saliva also includes digestive enzymes (amylase and lipase) which begin the breakdown of food right in your mouth. Chewing also signals the stomach to begin making stomach acid and for the pancreas to begin producing digestive enzymes. The primary reason for chewing your food well (other than to prevent choking) is that digestive enzymes really only work on the surface of the food you swallow so the more you chew, the more surface area there is for the enzymes to do their job. To put it in perspective, if you swallow a chunk of apple, only the outer portion of the apple will have access to your digestive enzymes and stomach acid and you’ll see bits of undigested food in your stool. When you see this, it’s time to start chewing more thoroughly so you don’t miss out on all the nutrients in the food you’re eating.
- Try chewing each bite of food to the point that it’s nearly unrecognizable on your tongue, then swallow
2. Drink less water with meals: You’ll often hear us say ‘drink enough water’ because being hydrated is essential for life – and for a healthy body. What you might not have heard us say is this: Just don’t drink too much at your meals. Why? Drinking fluids at meals actually dilutes your stomach acid which, right there, throws a wrench in your digestion.
- Limit your intake of fluid at mealtimes to 8 ounces or less (even less if heartburn or reflux is your main complaint)
- Focus more on hydrating between meals – so carry a water bottle with you wherever you go and try to stop drinking about 30 minutes before your next meal
3. Pause between bites: Often a big culprit of bloating and excess gas is eating too quickly. When we eat quickly we end up gulping air as we work to eat and breathe simultaneously.
- Put your fork down between bites to slow the pace of your eating
- If you have a fast eater in your family remind them to also pause between bites because whether you know it or not, their pace will influence yours
4. Free yourself from mealtime distractions: I know you’ve heard this a million times before but it’s so important that it’s worth repeating one. more. time.
- Put away your phone, turn off the television or computer or tablet, close the book/magazine/newspaper in front of you and just sit down and eat (no standing over the sink, please)
- As you eat, notice if you’re chewing enough and take the time to appreciate the smells, texture and flavors of your food and let go of stressors as you are able to
- Try not to eat when you are upset or in a bad mood. Your brain and your digestive tract are interconnected so these feelings can impact the effectiveness of your digestive system
I get that life is hectic and stressful and that your to-do is a mile long – mine is too. But let’s be honest, how many other things do you do in the course of the day that are just for you? Probably none to very few. So take advantage of this time to unplug, let go and be in the present. You mind and your belly will thank you.
5. Be grateful and pause to give thanks: We often forget to take time to pause and give thanks for our meal or note the things in our life that we are grateful. Stopping to give thanks helps you shift your focus from immediate life stressors and the fires you need to put out to something bigger. Pausing before you begin to eat also helps prime your digestion – just seeing and smelling the food starts the production of saliva in the mouth which then signals to the stomach that food is on it’s way.
- Take a moment before you eat to visualize 3 things you are grateful for in your life. You don’t have to say them aloud, just take note of them in your head
- Give thanks for the food on your plate and the farmers, growers, Mother Nature and everyone else who made it possible – from the sun to the chef, offer up a silent “Thank you” to honor their work
6. Minimize eating while on-the-go: By on-the-go I literally mean ‘on-the-go’. Like while walking or driving your car. When you’re involved in other things that require your attention you’re not able to focus on eating. Failure to pay attention to what you’re eating (and the fact that you’re eating) can cause you to forget that you’ve actually eaten. Take for example that Hershey’s Kiss you grabbed from your coworkers desk as you walked by. And the one you grabbed the second time you walked by… because you weren’t giving your full attention to eating your brain didn’t register that you’d eaten those kisses.
So I bet you’re wondering what to do if you’re one of the unlucky ones who always seems to be rushing out the door or barely making it across town to appointments and practices. (That’s my life too somedays.)
- Do your best to be present and focus on what you’re eating. Waiting until you reach your destination and taking a few extra minutes to eat before moving onto the next activity might be the best you can do in that moment
- Plan ahead to give yourself more time before heading out the door each morning. One way you can do that is by setting aside time on the weekends to prep a few meals and snacks ahead of time. This is a great time to make our Grain-free Banana Coconut Muffins because they come together quickly with just a few simple ingredients and they freeze beautifully!
7. Wait to eat after a hard workout: Sports nutrition gurus will tell you that consuming a small snack that contains protein and carbohydrates immediately after a hard workout will help your body refuel and rebuild. We agree however, eating too soon after an intense workout can cause serious digestive upset in some because until you’ve had time to get your heart rate down and rest for a bit, your body is still in ‘flight or flight’ mode – and it’s not going to be focused on digesting food.
- To optimize your digestion, you ideally want to be in ‘rest and digest’ mode. And this applies to all meals and snacks, not just those that happen post-workout. The best advice we can give you is to listen to your own body. If eating right away after exercise causes stomach cramping, diarrhea or nausea then it’s best to wait awhile longer before you refuel
8. Choose foods that nourish: We’re huge fans of sauerkraut and bone broth for their gut-healing properties and these are foods that you can easily add to your regular diet. But before you get too carried away with what else you can add let’s talk first about what might need to take out to optimize your digestion:
- Gluten – Gluten, found in wheat, spelt, barley and rye, is a common allergen and gut irritant. Even those who aren’t allergic to these grains find that they feel better when they avoid them because gluten can cause (or exacerbate) ‘leaky gut’ and systemic inflammation in those with even a mild (and often undiagnosed) gluten sensitivity
- Dairy – In the list of Top 8 Allergens, dairy tops the list. Even if you’re not allergic to dairy you may find that removing it from your diet can decrease or alleviate symptoms such as gas, bloating, acne, sinus issues and even skin rashes
- Soy – Processed soy, found in many convenience foods, can leach nutrients from the body, interfere with nutrient absorption and disrupt hormone balance plus it’s also one of the Top 8 Allergens
- Artificial anything – This probably goes without saying but artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, additives, fillers and synthetic ingredients have no place in a healthy, real food diet
Ultimately, what it comes down to is whether or not the foods you choose to put into your body are going to nourish you and support optimal health.
Thankfully you can find plenty of recipes right here on our website that are free of gluten, dairy, soy and anything artificial and by implementing these 8 mealtime habits to improve digestion you’re #winning.
But what happens when you’re short on time or don’t have the time or energy to make everything from scratch?
Believe it or not, we have those days/weeks/months, too. And that’s when we turn to the mixes and ready-to-eat snacks from Simple Mills. Made only with simple, whole food ingredients your body will love – like almonds, sunflower seeds, coconut sugar and flax seeds. Simple Mills products are ones that we can feel good about eating and when we ask ourselves “Will this food nourish my body?” it’s a resounding ‘yes!’ And best of all, they’re grain-free, paleo-friendly and delicious!
And let’s not forget about stress. Stress may be one of the biggest causes of poor digestion for many. Too much stress can mean skipping meals, eating too quickly or making poor food choices. Yet another reason we love the ease and convenience of the entire line of Simple Mills products make mornings easier, dinners more delicious and snacking more fun.
What habits or hacks do you have for improving digestion? We’d love to hear them – Share in the comments below!
This post was made possible by our friends at Simple Mills. Though we received compensation for this post, the opinions expressed here are – as always -100% our own. Thank you for supporting the great companies we work with thereby allowing us to continue creating great recipes and content for you.
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