7 easy steps to beat the bloat!
Rich food and overeating can play havoc with your digestion, leaving you bloated and uncomfortable. Some of us are still feeling the effect of indulging during the festive period and some have descended into a not so virtuous cycle of working, sleeping and eating as there's not much else to do anyway at this time of the year! Christmas might be over but the winter tiredness and sluggishness are still here, party or not, and they push us to overeat.
There are a variety of reasons why comfort eating creates tummy troubles: You eat more than you usually would, putting pressure on the digestive system. You might be drinking more when you eat – and this dilutes stomach acid, making it harder to properly digest your food.
Rich, creamy comfort foods can trigger heartburn or reflux or else make IBS symptoms worse. So here're my tips to trouble-proof your tummy this winter.
USE YOUR SENSES The first step in the digestive process is often overlooked, but it’s a really important one. Known as the cephalic phase, it’s triggered when you see or smell food. You are literally whetting your appetite.
When you start thinking about the lovely meal you are going to prepare, you are getting your digestive juices flowing. The enzymes in your saliva help you break down your food more easily, so, when the time comes, your body is actually ready to start digesting food before you have even cut the first slice – never mind actually put anything in your mouth. It may sound an incredibly simple step – and it is – but these days we are often so busy that we don’t make the time to think about our food in this way. If you find you’re always eating on the go, throwing a sandwich down your neck at your desk or having a TV dinner, this is a vital step you are missing out on. One trick is to be mindful and try and spend a few minutes thinking about your tasty lunch before you eat it to get the digestive juices going.
CHEW YOUR FOOD Chewing your food (the second phase of digestion) is key when it comes to good gut health. With proper chewing, you are mechanically breaking down the food into smaller pieces, so that there’s a greater surface area and the digestive enzymes can get to work more easily, doing their job.
And the bad news? If you’re not chewing properly, it’s highly likely that you’re not digesting your food properly. And that means you won’t be absorbing the vital nutrients either. Not chewing also means the food you eat takes much longer to break down, and, as it hangs around in your digestive system, it can start to ferment, causing uncomfortable wind, gas and bloating.
Don’t worry about chewing a certain number of times – that all depends on what you are eating and various other factors. Instead try this test: chew your food enough so that if someone asked you to spit it out, they wouldn’t know what you had been eating. Another sign you need to chew more is if you start to see undigested food in your stools.
BALANCE YOUR STOMACH ACID Sales for heartburn tablets are skyrocketing because so many people wrongly assume that their digestive troubles are because of too much stomach acid. What nutritionists like me find more frequently in clinic is the total opposite! Getting older, stress and some over-the-counter medications can make your stomach acid levels drop to the extent that you don’t produce enough to digest food sufficiently.
Why is this important? The stomach acid you produce not only kills any bacteria in the food you are eating, it also breaks down the protein in your meal. If you’re not properly digesting the protein element in food, it can start to ferment, creating gases that force up the esophageal sphincter muscle (a type of muscle flap) and what little stomach acid there is can escape. So the burning feeling, especially if accompanied by smelly gas, can be a sign your digestion isn’t working as well as it should be.
One solution is to have a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar before each main meal. It’s important you choose apple cider vinegar with ‘mother’, rather than one you can buy in the supermarket (that’s for your chips).
There are people who genuinely produce too much stomach acid and, if you try the apple cider vinegar trick and it seems to make things worse, you can neutralise the acid by taking a little bicarbonate of soda.
TAKE A DIGESTIVE ENZYME SUPPLEMENT Digestive enzymes break down our food into nutrients so our bodies can absorb them. But as we age, we naturally produce fewer of these helpful enzymes. You can counteract this by increasing your intake of foods that are higher in them – eating pineapple or papaya before a meal can help.
If you aren’t a fan of these fruits, instead try a digestive enzyme capsule (available from health food shops), which will give your system a gentle boost to help it do its job properly.
TIME OUT It’s important to space out your meals so the digestive system actually gets a chance to rest. This might require some self-discipline, if your house is routinely full of bowls of nuts or naughty treats. Eating every 3-4 hours is a good benchmark to aim for, and gives the body enough time to completely digest the previous meal and have a break before you put it to work again. Of course there will be days when your eating routine falls out of whack, but don’t beat yourself up. Just try and get back on track the following day.
Now, this a very important point.
You may have heard about the 16:8 diet, or time-restricted diet. In a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Healthy Aging, when obese people structured their schedule so that they fasted for 16 hours a day, but were free to eat whatever they wanted in the other eight hours, they lost weight and lowered their blood pressure after only 12 weeks on the regimen. The participants ended up eating 350 fewer calories a day compared to a control group just because they couldn’t squeeze in their normal food intake between 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., the prescribed eating window. And apparently, hunger was not an issue.
Other studies have shown that intermittent fasting diets are effective at lowering weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and body fat. Especially if associated with being mindful during your eating window, which means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables whole grains and high quality fats.
Intermitting fasting has often proven very useful in beating the bloat because you are giving your digestive system a break and a chance to become more regular. You may fast between dinner and breakfast the next day, a period of approximately 12-14 hours. You choose the hours that best fit your schedule but essentially this is done during and around sleeping hours. In that sense, fasting should be considered a part of everyday life but few of us manage to be consistently off food for a sufficiently long period of time EVERY DAY.
Give it a try, see the results and my bet that is you will not want to go back to your previous "normal".
WALK IT OFF When you walk shortly after you’ve eaten, magic starts to happen. To start, a gentle walk lowers your blood sugar levels, so your body makes less insulin. As insulin is the fat-storage hormone, taking a gentle stroll for 15 minutes makes you less likely to store fat and gain weight. Walking can also help you digest your food better, according to research. This is because a gentle walk increases the speed at which the food moves through the digestive system.
Go ahead - try these tips out for yourself this February and see if any of your symptoms improve. If you have been struggling with digestive problems for a while, let’s book in a consultation call. I can help you understand what might be going on in your gut and take greater steps towards a resolution.