If you’re anything like me, you are familiar with feeling bloated. Stomach bloating is extremely common these days for many reasons – from one’s diet, to stressors in our environment, to our mental state while we’re eating.
Essentially, bloating is a result of built-up gas in the abdomen/digestive tract that distends your stomach outwards. Some people, myself included, can even look like their pregnant if their very bloated. While it’s a little funny looking, it can be quite painful and incredibly uncomfortable.
A bloated stomach can happen due to a variety of factors, including improper diet, food sensitivities, hormonal imbalances, poor gut health or poor digestion. While it can be very hard to narrow down exactly what might be causing your bloating, we often jump to conclusions about imbalances in our diet or intolerances to foods before considering the basic practices for healthy digestion.
Of course, allergies and/or intolerances are becoming more and more prevalent. There are a number of theories why, but because of this, it’s easy to jump to conclusions and discount the fact that bloating might just be a symptom of improper digestion! If you’re eating a healthy diet and find that you’re still bloated, take a look at how you’re eating rather than what you’re eating.
Seriously, it could be that simple.
There are a number of ways that poor digestion can be causing bloating, and I want to talk about a few big ones today. In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives and on-the-go snacks and meals, many of us aren’t considering the environment that we’re eating in. We’re rushed, not chewing fully, and constantly stressed out (meaning less energy for digestion).
Luckily, we can make some easy and simple changes.
Beat the Bloat with these Six Practices for Healthy Digestion:
1. Practice mindfulness at the table.
One of the most important things we can do to set our body up for proper digestion is to practice mindfulness just before digging into our meals. Here’s an example of how you can practice mindfulness next time you eat:
Take a moment before eating to centre yourself. Take 2-3 deep breaths and focus on your meal. Doesn’t it look inviting, tasty and nourishing? Allow yourself to feel gratitude for being blessed to enjoy such a wonderful meal.
The practice of mindfulness removes us from our current environment and puts our body into “digestion” mode. Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system, which is our fight or flight response. When we are stressed out, our body takes the energy we would normally use for digestion and redirects it to our muscles in preparation of “fighting” our stressor. Even if this stressor is as minor as being late for work. Yep.
Eating in a stressful environment means our food doesn’t digest properly because our body is focusing its energy on other, more “time-sensitive” activities.
Taking a few moments to centre yourself and prepare your body for food allows you to activate your parasympathetic nervous system – the one that allows you to rest and digest. Your energy is focused on properly digesting your meal rather than fighting an external stimulus. Remove the stress from your environment, eat in a calm, peaceful setting, and be mindful of your meal.
2. Chew thoroughly.
Didn’t your mother ever tell you to chew your food? Well, she wasn’t wrong. Chew, chew chew, and then chew some more! And there’s good reason for this advice.
What many people don’t realize is that saliva contains important enzymes that help break down our foods. An enzyme called salivary amylase helps us break down carbohydrates before they reach our stomach and our intestines.
Fun fact – your stomach doesn’t break down carbohydrates. Your saliva’s enzymes stop working in the stomach’s acidic environment, and new enzymes start working once the food reaches your intestines!
If you’re someone who chews 5-6 times and then swallows, how well was your food broken down in your mouth? Consider the excess stress that you’re putting on your digestive system if you skip the very first step of the process!
How many times should you chew each bite before you swallow? A good rule of thumb is 20-30 bites, but this can depend upon how large or small of a bite you take. To be sure you’re truly chewing enough, chew your food until it becomes a paste. Then you know that you’ve broken it down enough for your stomach and small intestines to continue their jobs!
Don’t forget – liquid foods like smoothies and soups should still be chewed! Don’t just chug a smoothie or drink your soup – really swish it around your mouth and let it mix with your saliva. A little tip: adding “solids” to your liquid foods can help add a bit of texture for you to crunch on. For example, add granola, chia seeds or hemp hearts to a smoothie, or leave some solid veggies, grains or beans/lentils in your soup.
3. Don’t chase every bite with a drink.
At first I was surprised when I learned that liquids should not be drunk with a meal, because I grew up with milk at every meal. It was normal for me to chase down my food with milk or water, but it turns out that it doesn’t do your digestion any favours.
Drinking liquid with your meals can dilute your stomach acid, making it less effective at breaking down the food in your stomach. Many of us have low stomach acid to begin with, so diluting it puts even more strain on your digestion. If your food isn’t chewed properly, and you’re stomach isn’t doing its job properly, you can imagine how hard your small intestine needs to work to do its job properly.
If you are finding it hard to kick the habit, or like to have something to drink, try to sip on warm water throughout your meal.
4. Turn off the TV and keep the phone off the table.
This goes back to being mindful while eating – remove distractions from your environment! It’s easy to begin your meal feeling mindful, chewing thoroughly and eating slowly, but then old habits kick in and you turn on the TV or start scrolling through Facebook. Next thing you know, your meal is done and you have a belly ache because you forgot to chew and savour your meal.
I’m guilty of doing this. I will be honest and say that my worst habit is keeping my phone with me during breakfast, and Mike and I will often turn on the TV while we’re cooking and leave it on through dinner. It’s a habit that we have to change, but as I’ve always said – one step at a time. Baby steps lead to the biggest changes!
5. Don’t overeat.
This can be a deeply ingrained habit if you’ve been overeating your whole life. You’re not used to listening to your body’s signals that tell you when it’s full, and you can’t remember what fullness actually feels like.
Overeating puts added strain on your digestive system. More food requires more enzymes and stomach acid to properly break down. If your stomach is full, the muscles have to work harder to churn and combine your food.
Did you know that it can take you up to 20 minutes to “feel full”? Your body needs time to release the hormone leptin, which tells your brain that you’re full and satisfied from your meal.
What can you do to avoid overeating? Practicing the above tips will help. Chew thoroughly, spend at least 20-30 minutes enjoying your food. Do not eat in a stressful environment and eat slowly. Part of mindfulness during your meal is checking in with yourself and asking: do I feel satisfied? And don’t try to clear off your plate if you’re full! This is particularly hard and goes against everything we were taught.
6. Drink ginger tea before a meal
Ginger is a very well-studied herb and has a number of amazing health benefits. Ginger is a digestive stimulator and can help trigger your system to get moving. Studies show that it helps accelerate the rate of stomach emptying, making room for new food. Some who struggle with indigestion experience delayed emptying of stomach contents, and ginger can be a big help.
Drinking a ginger tea about half an hour before a meal (some even suggest sipping on it with a meal) can help improve your digestion if you find that it’s slow or sluggish.
How to make ginger tea: grate about 1 tsp of ginger and steep it in a cup of hot water for about 10-15 minutes. Drink it before meals, or throughout the day to improve digestion.
Bloating isn’t always about what you eat, but about how you eat. This is just one of a few different things to consider if you find that you’re struggling with bloating or digestion. As mentioned before, the issue could be due to a number of factors including allergies, intolerances and more. However, it’s important not to forget the simple changes we can make to ensure that we’re giving our body the best environment to work its magic. Even if you don’t experience bloating, these six practices can help anyone support optimal digestion.
A quick note: A bloated stomach alone may be nothing more than uncomfortable, but if it happens frequently or if you experience any other symptoms at the same time, seek the advice of a medical professional.