Many people experience gas, bloating, distention, fullness, belching, and reflux after a meal. These can be the result of some major GI conditions, but for many people, these symptoms can easily be relieved by incorporating some basic principles we call eating hygiene. Read on to learn more about the power of eating hygiene how you can improve your GI discomfort through a few powerful habits.
The Power of Eating Hygiene
Slow Down. Digestion is a slow process, and your body needs time to secrete digestive products such as stomach acid, bile, and pancreatic enzymes. If you are too full, your stomach will not be able to effectively mix these acids and enzymes with food, leading to indigestion. Think of trying to blend a batch of stir-fry in a coffee cup. There’s just not enough room. When the products “spill over,” you may experience bloating, belching, and acid reflux. It also takes around 20 minutes for your gut to signal fullness to your brain. If you’re eating too fast, you might not register the fact that you’re full until after your meal and end up feeling bloated. One tip to help you slow down is to put down your knife and fork and sit back for a second between every bite. Take a deep breath before picking up your utensils again and enjoying your next bite.
Chew Your Food. Chewing is the one part of the digestive process that we have complete control over. When we swallow large chunks of food, it makes it more difficult for digestive enzymes to work. Distention, bloating, and gas can occur when carbohydrates sit in the gut too long and the bacteria that feed on carbs create a gassy byproduct. To make sure your food is broken down to the best of your ability, try counting your chews, aiming for 20-30 times per bite.
Prioritize Eating. We are always multitasking these days, and many people seem to view eating as a waste of time if not accompanied by some other task. You may notice yourself constantly eating “on the go,” which creates a perfect storm for indigestion. Instead, treat each meal as a special event, and make eating purposefully a priority.
Sit Down. It’s important for our nervous system to be totally relaxed so it can move into parasympathetic mode, ideal for digestion. Ever wonder why people experience diarrhea or constipation in a stressful situation? When we activate the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight” mode), our bodies don’t have time to take a break and build strength and energy. Show your body that it’s safe to relax by taking a seat at the table for every meal.
Breathe. Oxygen is necessary for optimal digestion. Taking several deep, cleansing breaths before sitting down to a meal helps calm you down and gets your GI tract ready for digestion.
Relax and Savor. Learn how to be in the moment with your food by taking note of the colors, textures, aromas, and flavors of your meal. Many times, we find ourselves somewhere else mentally while eating. When we are distracted, we actually tend to eat more and come away feeling full and bloated. To help with this, try scheduling your meals into your daily calendar. Setting aside this time to relax and savor your food helps you practice mindful eating and brings us back to the first principle: slow down.
Don’t Drink Too Much During Meals. Hydration is essential for overall wellness, but the best time to drink water is actually between meals. Drinking large amounts of water during a meal dilutes the acidity of your stomach acid and can slow digestion. Short-term, this can lead to early satiety and belching, and in the long-term can even cause malnutrition. To avoid drinking during a meal, try carrying a glass or bottle of water around with you throughout the day and hydrate regularly between meals.
Though these solutions may seem simple, they hold a lot of power for many of our clients. However, given our high-stress, go-go-go society, it can be a challenge to consistently implement these principles of eating hygiene. Like anything else you want to achieve, practicing eating hygiene has to be a priority. Repetition and persistence can lead to big changes and long-term relief.
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