How to Eat for Better Digestion
Much of the discussion around digestive issues are centered around food.
And for good reason! The research on FODMAPs has been groundbreaking for the treatment and understanding of various digestive disorders. In fact, the low FODMAP diet is a pillar of the Clairity Digestive Program and it has helped so many people find lasting relief, myself included.
But focusing exclusively on food—and more specifically, on what we’re eating—only takes us so far. The reality is that food is only one piece of the very complex puzzle that is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). By focusing only on what is on our plate, we fail to address the full scope of how digestive symptoms manifest in the body and we continue to experience discomfort.
In today’s blog post, we are shifting focus away from what we are eating and toward how we are consuming it. We are sharing three easy, evidence-based strategies to change your eating behaviors for better gut health. And the best part is that these simple tactics require zero preparation, so you can start reducing your symptoms right away.
Strategy 1: Leave 3-4 hours between meals
The digestive tract is made up of smooth muscle that moves food through the body in a unique way. After we consume a meal, our digestive system contracts in waves in a movement called, ‘the migrating motor complex’. This is important to understand because the migrating motor complex operates best in times of fasting (when we are not eating).
What this means for those of us with digestive issues is that we need sufficient time between meals to feel our best. More specifically, we should leave about 3-4 hours calorie-free between meals so that the migrating motor complex can operate properly. That means no coffee with milk, no juice, so small snacks… nothing! When we eat too frequently, we aggravate the gut and subject ourselves to uncomfortable symptoms.
Relief Tip: If this is a big change for you, start small! Begin by leaving 2 hours between eating and work your way up. And don’t forget to fill up on sufficient and satisfying meals so that you don’t get hungry while you wait.
Strategy 2: Keep air out
A common sign of digestive distress is excess gas in the form of flatulence and abdominal pain. For those of us with IBS, this is something we deal with regularly… So it’s important to take steps to minimize it!
One of the easiest ways to do so is by reducing everyday eating behaviors that introduce excess air into the digestive system. This includes consuming carbonated beverages, sipping through a straw, and even chewing gum! These seem so simple, but don’t overlook them! These small actions add up throughout the day and can lead to serious discomfort.
Relief tip: Again, feel free to start small here! Eliminating just one of these behaviors can make a huge difference, and you can always add on over time.
Strategy 3: Eat slowly
This is one of the most difficult but most rewarding eating techniques for better digestion. But I’ll be the first to admit that it’s no easy feat. We live in a fast-paced society and we all lead incredibly busy lives! Guzzling down meals in the car or at our desk is the norm. But, eating too quickly does not foster great digestion. It is a major culprit for introducing air into the digestive tract (see strategy 2) and it makes it difficult to thoroughly chew food. Not to mention, it’s difficult to enjoy a meal when we are distracted with other tasks.
How can you learn to eat more slowly? Start with limiting your distractions during mealtime. Put away the phone, computer or book. Sit at a table. Focus on your meal as much as possible. Of course, you may have things that divert your attention (kids, dog, mailman, coworkers, you name it), but try your best. Then, focus on slowing down. Take small bites, chew thoroughly and make sure you are breathing between bites. Try to manifest calm energy.
Relief tip: Becoming a mindful eater is a process that takes time. Start with some simple self-monitoring. Notice how quickly you eat meals or what distracts you. You may be surprised by what you learn about your current habits!
Do the best you can
We have shared a lot of information and it may feel like a lot to take in! Know that it is okay to take things slow. The goal is to create long-lasting habits so that you can improve your digestion for life, so there’s no need to rush the process. Pick one strategy that feels right to you, and start there. As each technique feels like an effortless new habit, add a new one.
And remember, you will likely experience relief from these tactics but your issues may not get resolved completely. Please don’t let this get you down. IBS is complex and there are other factors at play. The eating behaviors we have suggested are meant to complement a whole host of other strategies that address diet, FODMAPs, stress management, movement, food records, probiotics, and more. We are here to help you bring it all together. Our digestive program is designed to guide you toward relief through an evidence-based lens, touching on every factor that may be contributing to your symptoms.
You can do this, and we are always here to help. Reach out anytime if you want our support.
Wishing you well,
Digestive Nutrition Educator