Contrary to popular belief, bloating throughout the day is not normal and we have the power to engage in activities and restructure our eating schedule to help banish the bloat!
First, it is important to understand that our digestive process is not triggered only when we begin eating. Our digestive systems start firing before the point when we put food into our mouths. Can you remember a time when you smelled a delicious meal cooking and your mouth began to water? Saliva production helps prepare our mouths with the enzymes needed to begin the digestive process (digestion actually begins in the mouth, but we will talk more about that later).
We (I use this term loosely – I do not remember this) use to live in a world where convenience foods were not an option and meals took time to prepare and had to be prepared from scratch. Seeing and smelling food cooking gets the body ready to eat and acts as a signal that a meal is coming. Unfortunately, many of the meals we consume can be ready in an instant – from takeout options to microwave dinners. When we consume these types of meals, we don’t get the same “warm up” before the meal as we do when we prepare our own meals.
I totally understand that it is not always possible for us to prepare our meals from scratch three times per day (plus, I usually recommend that my clients batch prepare meals). What I would suggest if all you need to do is heat up a meal before eating would be either to reheat your meal in the oven rather than the microwave (this takes a little more time and it allows the aroma of the food to flood the house) and/or take a few minutes before beginning the meal to
In order to properly digest your food, you must be in a parasympathetic state (think: rest and digest) rather than a sympathetic state (think: fight or flight). How many times have you scarfed down your lunch at your desk before a meeting? This is a perfect example of eating in a sympathetic or stressed state. Eating while in a sympathetic state makes it much more difficult for the body to begin properly digesting our food, making it much more likely that we end up with digestive issues such as bloating or indigestion.
So how can we avoid this? It may sound obvious but taking time (20 minutes or more) to enjoy your meal away from distractions such as your phone, computer or television is a great start!
Tied in with the last point - taking time to eat your meals is important. Next time you eat a meal, I want you to look at the clock prior to beginning your meal and directly following as well. Believe it or not, for optimal digestion (and feeling of satisfaction) it should take you at least 20 minutes from start to finish.
Chewing our food is the first step in the digestion process. So often we eat far too quickly and only chew each mouthful a few times before swallowing. When we swallow food that is not adequately broken down by chewing, it places more stress on the rest of our digestion system to properly breakdown the food to get it ready for absorption and elimination.
Improperly chewing our food is one of the major causes of bloating and by simply focusing on chewing 20-30 times before swallowing often makes a huge difference in whether or not we experience bloating after a meal.
Listen, this is coming from a recovering gum chewing addict (anyone close to me can attest to this) – chewing gum is not something I recommend if you’re struggling with any digestive issues. Not only do you swallow a significant amount of air when chewing gum but most conventional gum also contains artificial sweeteners, such as sugar alcohols, which can cause gastrointestinal upset when consumed in excess (10 grams per day usually causes unwanted symptoms).
For clients reporting bloating and digestive issues I typically recommend avoiding consuming liquid (yes, even water) with meals. Although a lot of this evidence is anecdotal in nature, I find it can be extremely helpful for some of my clients. The idea is that when we consume too much liquid during mealtime we can dilute our gastric juices making it more difficult to properly digest our food. If you typically drink with your meals but struggle with digestive issues, I suggest avoiding water 30 minutes before a meal and 30 minutes after a meal.
Do you have a history of popping TUMS on a semi-regular basis? Do you have uncontrollable and unexplained heartburn? Believe it or not, heartburn is often caused by lack of stomach acid rather than too much stomach acid. Let’s bring back a little high school chemistry – our ideal stomach pH range is 1-3 but when we take antacids we can raise our stomach pH to 4-5. Not only does raising our stomach pH put us at risk for getting ill (the acidity in our stomach kills a lot of bacteria and parasites, which keeps us healthy) but it also hinders our digestive process. The acidity in our stomach plays a major role in the breakdown of protein (called denaturation) and when the pH of our stomach is not within the ideal range our digestion is impaired and we can experience side effects such as bloating.
If you suspect that you’re dealing with low stomach acid, the first thing I would suggest is an apple cider vinegar drink. Start with mixing 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar with 8 ounces of water and drinking it three times each day before meals. Make sure you’re consistent with this practice to see maximum results.
If the apple cider vinegar drink helps but not quite enough, a digestive enzyme containing betaine HCl may do the trick. I don’t recommend supplementing with this on your own without the advice of your personal health practitioner.
If you try all of the above recommendations and still struggle with bloating, I suggest working with your personal health care provider (integrative physician or dietitian) on a supplement protocol including a good quality probiotic, digestive enzyme containing HCl and ruling out a candida albicans overgrowth.
Hopefully these tips will help you battle the bloat and rid post-meal discomfort and the need for Joey's "Thanksgiving pants".
Do you still have questions about digestion? Submit your questions in the comments below or through the Ask the RD form here.
Yours in Health,