Recently I've received quite a few messages / emails from my lovely readers requesting tips to help digestion, and what to do for sad bellies. I have spent many many hours over the last 8 years reading about this topic, and I feel like I have an inside poop...err...scoop on sad bellies.
You see, I dealt with one for quite a few years, and tried pretty much everything you can think of to make it feel better. I saw doctors, specialists, naturopaths, you name it. Not much helped, until I took matters into my own hands.
From Sad to Happy: The Story of my Belly
As a child, I always had a bit of a sensitive stomach, but nothing too alarming or annoying to live with. I think I just became used to it and never really noticed it much. Things changed later on though, when my stomach problems were brought to my unavoidable attention in my early twenties, after a half year trek through South & Central America.
The traveling was amazing (of course!), but also intense: over 6 months, I ended up getting multiple parasites / viruses / infections (including cholera & salmonella - despite never drinking or brushing my teeth with tap water once!). And so, of course, I was prescribed multiple medicines to get rid of them. The medicines worked; the bugs were destroyed. But I believe that they also destroyed all my good belly bacteria. And, long story short, that was the breaking point for my belly; the medicines were responsible for shutting down my already weak digestive system.
If you're experiencing bloating, please hear me when I say "I can feel your pain." There were points when my stomach was so bad, that after eating something extremely simple, such as an apple, or a bowl of rice, my abdomen would literally swell up so much that you would think I was 9 months pregnant. You may think I'm exaggerating...but i'm not. I even brought photos showing this to my doctor once, and his jaw actually dropped.
So, I dug deep (hi google!), and tried every thing known to the universe to help a gal out, and I managed to have quite a bit of success. Not all right away or at once, and not so simply, but I learned much along the way, and my hope is that if you're having similar problems, you don't have to try as many things as I did, to help your belly out.
Macro Monday: Helpful Tips & Tricks for Great Digestion
- Chew your food. No...I mean, REALLY chew it. Not once or twice. Try for at least 15 chews, working up to 30 or more per mouthful.
- This is something I often forget to be amazing at...but it's always at the back of my mind. Some days I remember better than others. Just do your best, and give it a go.
- Drink water at the right times. That means, do not drink water while you are eating (gasp!). Do not drink water for at least 30 minutes before, or 1 hour after a meal. Drinking water too soon to eating, will dilute your stomach acid & digestive enzymes, making it more difficult to break down your meal.
- Drink cool or room temperature water, not ice cold water. Ice cold water literally shocks & freezes up your digestive system. Think of an engine seizing up in Edmonton winters. That's what I'm talking about. Drinking ice cold water, and drinking water too close to your meals, reduce your digestive fire. Fire = good digestion.
- But, during a meal, a small cup of warm tea or soup can assist digestion...so if you're thirsty, act like the Japanese and have a delicious cup of green tea or soup such as miso, with your meal.
- This was HUGE for me.
- All the medicine and bugs had wiped out my good bacteria. So, I needed some help. This was the first thing I tried that gave me some hope.
- Invest in a good quality probiotic or acidophilus pill. Heads up: you may feel worse for a few days as your digestive system adapts, but then you should notice some results. If you don't find them helping, then perhaps try a different brand. Each kind is quite different, and will work better on different people.
Eating Schedule / Routine
- You will feel better if you eat your meals around the same time each day. Your body craves rhythm.
- If you eat your meals & snacks at the same time, your body will actually begin to prepare for it. You'll get regular hunger signals at that time, & your body will start releasing enyzmes, and will get ready to expect food.
- Do you like carbonated beverages? You probably do. I sure did. But my belly did not.
- Carbonated drinks, even carbonated mineral water, can really affect the acidity in your stomach, and cause you digestive discomfort.
Check in with your sleeping
- If you aren't sleeping well, or for long enough, it's very likely that your stomach isn't feeling the best.
- We need quality rest every night so our body can do its thing and the organs can be cleaned and restored and ready to go.
- I'm talking about real, live, fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, & other pickles that use the magic of time rather than vinegar or chemicals to ferment.
- This one can be a bit tricky though...depending on what's causing your digestive issues, fermented foods could make them worse at first, as the good bacteria in there battles the yeasts or bad bacteria in your gut.
- Take it slow, and if you notice an adverse reaction, back off for a bit...I didn't eat any of this kind of stuff for quite awhile, as they bugged my stomach. Now though, I find that they help my belly!
- If you're making miso soup, you could always let the miso cook in for longer if you're new to fermented food, as this will lower it's potency, which may be a good thing if you're finding it difficult to process.
Food Combinations - let's talk about fruit
- If your stomach is doing fine, don't worry so much here. This is literally super fine-tuning and only something to think about if you're really having problems and nothing else is working.
- Here's the scoop on FRUIT: Ideally it's best eaten alone, or with other fruits. The reason, is that fruit is digested MUCH quicker than most other foods. So, if you eat a regular meal, it'll probably take between 3-4 hours to leave your stomach. Fruit however, passes through in 20-40 minutes, depending on the type. But it can't leave your stomach so quickly if there are a bunch of other foods blocking its path. So potentially, it can just sit there and ferment, and make you bloated and gassy.
- If you have strong digestion, fruit may pose no problem for you at all, and in my experience it wasn't the tip that made the most difference for me, that's for sure. I can combine apples, apricots, peaches and berries with oatmeal etc. no problem (yay for breakfast!).
- If you are going to combine fruits with other foods, again, CHEWING here will greatly help. Also, cooking fruit, including in baked goods, also makes it much easier to digest.
- Also, if you're planning to have it for a snack or dessert, even just waiting 20 minutes after your meal helps, so that your meal can get a head start on digesting.
Eating in a relaxed state
- If you're really upset about something...hold off on the food. When your stress response is on, your digestion is off. That's a fact. Don't eat when your digestion is turned off.
- Try not to have those "BIG" conversations over your meal...interesting chats & light conversation is great; the "is now the time to sell our house?" conversation isn't...save that for whiskey time.
After a Meal
- It's best to just sit and relax for at least 10 minutes after you're done eating, to let your body do it's work.
- You can even try laying on your left side (opposite of what you'd do after coming out of savasana at the end of yoga), for a few minutes after eating to help give your belly some room to digest.
Some Magical Helpers
- Ginger - eat it, drink it as tea, put it in your meals. It's wonderful, and stimulates your digestive fire
- Flax - it tastes awesome, and is great sprinkled on pretty much anything. It's full of good stuff, and plenty of fibre, so eat up.
- Magnesium - if you have the problem of things backing up and not moving along, magnesium can be a wonderful tool in your happy belly toolkit. Not only is it a very important mineral, it helps reduce stress too. I recommend this one.
And remember, enjoying your food, with no guilt or stress, no matter what you're eating, is the #1 step to easily digesting any meal!
Okay pals, I sincerely hope that you and your belly have a great week.
I'd love to hear from you, about any tips or tricks or stories you have for helping out a sad belly.