Dealing with Digestive Issues
Most of us are very familiar with digestive problems and have experienced them at some point in our lives. Whether it's bloating, stomach pains, reflux, you name it. They aren't much fun at all.
Due to my past of a severe eating disorder, I've had really poor digestion during numerous stages of both illness and recovery (think not going to the bathroom in WEEKS - just keep in' it real!). It's painful, makes you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious, and makes eating unenjoyable. If you're in recovery, unfortunately bloating and other digestive problems is something you will just have to go through and deal with for a period of time, while your body heals and gets back to it's optimal function. But I promise you, it does get better!
Of course, one thing that helps digestion immensely is eating the foods that our bodies were designed to eat - that is plant foods! For me personally, going vegan did wonders for my poor digestion, and every single person I have spoken to has said the same. This is because plant foods are rich in fibre and water, as well as other essential nutrients, making them easy to digest for our bodies, without the strain of the animal proteins and fats. Eating a high fibre diet when you first go vegan may take some getting used to at first, but stick with it (and make sure you're drinking plenty of water along with it) to let your body adjust and reap the benefits - again, with time and consistency this will get better!
Overall, digestion is a really complex and tricky thing and doesn't necessarily have to do with only food either. There is a strong connection between the gut and mind, which means mood has a huge impact too on your digestive health. I thought I'd make a list of all of the things I have found that affect digestion and what you can do to improve it!
- Stress - stress plays a huge part because it puts your body into 'fight or flight' mode, meaning less energy is going to the body functions that aren't essential for immediate survival when you're in danger, such as digestion. Reducing stress often does wonders, not just for your digestion, but pretty much every thing else too!
- Hydration - make sure you're drinking enough water and staying hydrated throughout the day. Almost all body functions need water to take place, and staying hydrated can really help both digestion and elimination. Starting your day with a big glass of water can help get your digestion going too (added bonus with some lemon juice or apple cider vinegar squeezed in to get those digestive enzymes going!), however some people find drinking water with their meals makes them more bloated. Try it out and see what makes you feel best.
- Chew your food - this is really important! The digestive process starts in the mouth with our salivary enzymes, while chewing increases the surface area of our food by breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces, giving the digestive enzymes more area to work on. Eating too quickly and not chewing your food properly makes it harder for our bodies to digest, so make sure you are chewing well and eating mindfully.
- Probiotics - our gut bacteria also play a big role in digestion, absorption and overall gut health. Imbalances in our gut flora can cause bloating, constipation, poor digestion, malabsorption and more, so it's important to keep the little critters living in your gut well nourished and happy. Fibre is great fuel for our gut bacteria and taking probiotics or probiotic-rich foods (such as raw sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh, apple cider vinegar or vegan yoghurts) can be really beneficial in balancing them out and help keep your gut healthy.
- Exercise - exercise helps get your digestion working well and also helps reduce stress, which alone improves digestion. Find something you enjoy and move your body regularly, even just some walking, stretching or yoga can do wonders!
- Fibre - make sure you're eating plenty of it by basing your diet around whole plant foods like fruit, veggies, grains, legumes and nuts/seeds. Again, water is also really important to allow fibre to digest well. If you're not used to a high fibre diet and are new to the plant based lifestyle, you may like to gradually increase the amount of fibre if you're finding you're having trouble digesting. Going for some more lower fibre foods (slightly more processed) for a while may be helpful while your body adjusts. And don't forget to always rinse your beans well!!
- Raw vs cooked food - this is different from person to person, but in general, cooked food is much easier to digest than raw food. If your diet is very high in raw foods and you're experiencing poor digestion, try exchanging some for more cooked foods and see if that helps. If you're eating mainly cooked food, try adding in some more fresh fruit and salads and see if that helps. Don't be afraid to experiment!
- Timing - eating a big meal right before exercising or going to bed doesn't sit well with some people, others are fine with it or even need it. I always eat a snack about an hour or so before bed and that works for me, but I know a large meal wouldn't go so well, so again, experiment and see what feels best for you.
- Food combining - this doesn't apply to all people, but some people may find certain combinations of food just don't digest well together for them. An example of this is eating watermelon right after a cooked meal, which gives a lot of people tummy issues. This will take a bit of trial and error to find out if there's any food combos that don't work for you!
- Herbal tea - tea can be really helpful and soothing on the digestion, as well as help reduce bloating. My favourite ones for digestion are peppermint and fennel tea
- Trigger foods - try to find out if there's any specific foods that trigger your digestive troubles or just don't sit well with you (common culprits are gluten, wheat and FODMAP containing foods). You might like to keep a diary where you note what you eat and how you felt afterwards to find out which foods may be the culprit. See if you feel better by removing these foods temporarily and consider going to see a Naturopath if you think you might have food intolerances.
- Sleep - sleep is so important for proper digestion and just about everything else too. While we are sleeping our body is still working hard to absorb and metabolise all the nutrients we have eaten that day, so getting enough good quality rest is super important.
- Keep it simple - eating more simple foods that are easier for your body to digest and get a 'rest' from working hard can be really helpful, especially if you tend to eat out a lot or if your dietary habits aren't very consistent. Things like plain veggies, rice or potatoes, oatmeal, veggie soups etc and just sticking to a few ingredients at each meal are great if you're wanting to give your digestive system a bit of a break.
- Be consistent - constantly changing things and not being consistent with your diet (and other things such as water intake, sleep, exercise etc) can also cause stress on the body and digestive issues. Our bodies love routine, especially when it comes to food!
I also want to add that eating ENOUGH food is also very important for good digestion. As I mentioned, restriction and dieting are often a cause of slow and troublesome digestion because without enough fuel and nutrients, the body tries to conserve energy and slows all bodily process right down. It takes some time of consistency for the body to heal and get back to working at it's best.
I hope this (very long) post gives you some ideas as to what you can try to help improve your digestion and keep your tum happy. Keep in mind that this isn't something that will occur overnight and takes time and consistency. If you're having severe issues or finding that nothing helps, I highly recommend seeing a Naturopath, Nutritionist or Doctor who can help find out exactly what's going on for you and help you get back to health. In the end, you will have to try and get in-tune with your body and find what works best for you, as every person will be different!
Sending love xx