Mindful Eating - Remove any distractions whilst eating - put your phone away, close down your computer and focus entirely on the food in front of you. This helps our digestive system to register we are eating and will in turn help to ensure we secrete our digestive enzymes to help break down our food properly so we can absorb all the important nutrients. If we mindlessly eat our meals, not only may we overeat, but we may not be breaking down and digesting our food properly which can lead to undigested food causing problems like gas production and bloating further down our digestive tract. Why not try 1 Mindful Meal to start with - perhaps it will be lunch for you; chose your meal and commit to eating it mindfully with no distractions, notice the different colours, textures and flavours.
Chewing - This might seem like an obvious one but you’d be surprised at how many of us don’t chew our food properly, particularly when we are not eating mindfully (see yesterday’s post). Try chewing each mouthful for 20-30 chews. Although simple, this tip can make a huge difference. Chewing not only mechanically breaks down our food, it also enables enzymes in our saliva to be mixed with the food to help break it down. Chewing also helps signal the stomach and pancreas that food is coming so they release acid and enzymes respectively to further break down our food so it is ready to enter our small intestine where nutrients are absorbed.
Manage stress - Stress can not only impact our mental health but it can also have a huge impact on our second brain, our gut. I know it is not possible to remove all stress from our lives but it is important we learn to manage stress and give ourselves time to rest and recover if we are having a particularly stressful time. Stress can negatively impact the beneficial bacteria in our gut that help to keep it healthy so stress management is very important. Try an app such as Headspace or Calm for guided meditations. Stress also reduces blood flow to our digestive tract and reduces our ability to digest our food so its important we try to ensure we are not stressed when we are eating. Taking a little walk around the block and doing some deep breathing exercises (in for 4 seconds, out for 6 seconds) before we tuck into our meals can help us get out of our fight and flight and into our rest and digest state.
Avoid Tight Clothing - Tight and restrictive clothing around our tummy’s may restrict blood flow and the movement of our digestive tract. Sufferers of IBS and tummy troubles may also be more sensitive around the abdominal area so tight clothing may feel uncomfortable and make symptoms worse. So, try avoiding tight jeans/trousers, tights or leggings; wear more loose fitting clothing and see if you notice a difference.
Move - Moving our bodies can help keep our digestive systems moving too. I always encourage clients to find a form of movement they really enjoy rather than forcing themselves to follow the latest trends because they feel they should. Anything that helps you move your body more is great - walking, cycling, yoga, even dancing round the kitchen at home. We don't necessarily have to hit the gym or do intense exercise, just trying to increase our movement throughout the day can help too. For example, get off the bus or tube a stop early and walk the rest of the way to or from work, take a walk round the block during lunchtime, take the stairs rather than the lift, if you work in a multi storey office use the loos on a different floor and take the stairs to get there and back. Not only is movement good for our digestion it is also great for our heart and overall health.
Fibre - We should be having around 30g per day of fibre but on average, in the UK, we only get around 17-18g. We get fibre from foods like wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, and legumes. Fibre is so important to keep our bowels moving, to feed our gut bacteria and its also important for a healthy heart and maintaining a healthy weight. Aiming to have at least 5-7 portions of fruit and vegetables per day (e.g. 5 veg and 2 fruit) can help us to increase our fibre intake. Swapping refined grains (white bread, white pasta etc) for wholegrains can also help, as can adding beans, pulses and lentils to our dishes. It is important we increase fibre slowly rather than going from very little to lots very quickly to avoid unwanted side effects (bloating and flatulence) so try increasing the amount over a few weeks.
NB: There are some people who suffer with IBS and digestive problems who find fibre worsens symptoms, particularly certain types of fibres found in foods like onions and garlic. If this is you it’s important to get proper help and guidance from a qualified nutrition professional.
Keep a food & symptom diary - Even if just for a short time this can be a helpful tool to track any patterns with the food we eat and our symptoms. What can also be extremely helpful is to also note down other factors including lifestyle factors (stress, sleep, menstrual cycle, etc.) that might be contributing to our symptoms then we can see if we notice any patterns. It doesn't have to be extensive, even just quick notes in your phone will do.
Do not exclude food groups or follow restrictive diets without first consulting a registered nutrition professional - There is so much information out there at the moment on different diets that claim to 'cure' IBS type symptoms but please do not embark on any kind of restrictive eating pattern without seeking proper advice first as to whether it is right for you. Firstly, excluding food groups without proper guidance could lead to nutrient deficiencies, and secondly, following a diet like the Low FODMAP diet for a long period of time, without proper supervision around reintroduction of foods, can actually have negative impacts on our microbiome and gut health in the long term.
Try Yoga - Studies have shown the effectiveness of yoga in helping to control IBS and digestive symptoms. Yoga not only helps us move our body but it also helps us breath and calm our minds. If you’re not sure where to start head over to @sophiedearyoga YouTube channel and have a go at her beginners vinyasa flow video from the comfort of your own home!
Eating patterns - Eating big meals may not suit some of us who suffer with IBS or digestive symptoms. Taking a look at our eaten patterns and adjusting them may help - i.e. if you are someone who only eats one or two big meals a day, eating smaller meals more regularly may help reduce bloating and symptoms. On the other hand, if you are someone who is constantly grazing, try eating 3 proper balanced meals and have a break between each one to give your digestive system a rest. Finally, there is initial research to suggest that adjusting eating patterns to incorporate fasting for 12-14 hours overnight may also help our gut health.
Hydration - It is so important we stay hydrated to help support our digestive systems and help keep them moving. The amount we need is very individual and depends on many factors including our activity levels. A good way to monitor our hydration levels is to look at our wee! It should be a very pale straw colour, any darker and it means we need to drink some more water. If you suffer with diarrhoea it is particularly important to keep hydrated to replace the lost water. A good tip is to have a glass of water by your bed and make drinking it the first thing you do when you wake up. During the night we don’t take on any fluids but we lose them through breathing and sweat so it’s important to hydrate and start our day hydrated. This not only supports our digestion but our energy levels too.
Avoid Fizzy Drinks - Not only are most fizzy drinks full of sugar or sweeteners which may have an impact on our gut microbes, but the gas in fizzy drinks may contribute to bloating. If you don't really like water, try flavouring it with chopped fresh fruit, lemon, lime, mint or cucumber, keep it in a reusable bottle and keep sipping throughout the day.
Herbal tea - If you have pain, bloating or trapped wind sipping peppermint or chamomile tea may help. Not only may they help with the symptoms, they also help us to stay hydrated which is vital for keeping our digestive tract moving. It is worth noting here that if you suffer with reflux chamomile may be a better option.
Get help - If you are struggling with your digestive symptoms and IBS, please don't suffer in silence - get help. There is so much we can do to help, health can never be a one size fits all and what works for one of us may not work for another but seeing someone will help you find the best way forward for you personally. I see so many people who wish they had got help earlier and not lived for years suffering in silence. I may or may not be the right person for you to see depending on where you are in your journey but I am happy to chat with you to help you work out what you should do next and together we can work out a way forward. Please get in touch if you’d like to book a free enquiry call with me to see how I can help.