Unless there’s someone out there with a digestive system of steel, chances are we’ve all had bouts of upset stomach from time to time. For the particularly sensitive (like me), trying to figure out the direct cause can be incredibly frustrating. Most people can point their fingers at digestive problems—basically, our systems functioning poorly for whatever reason. But there are plenty of things we can do to ensure we finish meals with a smile instead of a stomachache. All it takes is a little mindfulness and a few informed choices to keep our digestive systems efficient and trouble-free.
1. Pair meals with warm or hot beverages.
It seems counterintuitive, but drinking liquids while eating actually inhibits digestion. The optimal choice would be to drink something before or after the meal, but since getting thirsty while eating is pretty common, that’s not really manageable. One of the worst things we can do to our digestive systems is to fill our bodies with cold liquids. Warm or hot beverages—room temperature water or herbal tea—are our best bets while dining. Drinking water throughout the day is also important for good digestive health.
Avoid alcohol, milk, and caffeinated beverages, as they raise acid levels in our stomachs.
2. Choose cooked foods as much as possible.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are great for our bodies, but conversely, our system has to work that much harder to break them down. Cooked vegetables are especially easier on our stomachs than their raw alternative. Generally, warm foods are more easily digested than colder foods. That doesn’t mean we should give up salads and sandwiches, but if you notice a pattern of stomach issues after eating uncooked foods, try limiting your intake.
3. Don’t eat on the run.
Eating is one of the most essential activities we engage in throughout the day, yet few of us give it its proper attention. We eat on the way to meetings, sitting at our desks, and during a million other things that take our focus away from the meal itself. It only contributes to poor digestion, especially if we’re stressed out when doing it (workers who eat on the clock, take note).
Preoccupied eating often leads to overeating, another impediment to smooth digestion. The brain doesn’t recognize satiety until about twenty minutes after a meal ends, so it’s important to eat slowly and methodically. We should put our utensils down when our stomachs are about 80 percent full—comfortably satisfied, but not bursting at the seams. Eating too quickly or too much are common causes of digestive problems.
Setting times for meals and snacks is also a good idea. While listening to our bodies’ needs is important, the whole digestive process runs more efficiently when it has a schedule to work with. Eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner around the same time every day helps prevent subsequent stomachaches.
4. Chew food thoroughly.
That we have to chew our food well for it to digest properly is common sense, but many of us eat too quickly and swallow food relatively un-chewed. This goes hand in hand with eating mindfully. Chewing is the very first step, and therefore one of the most integral parts, to digestion. When we mash up food in our mouths, it sends a signal to our stomachs to release digestive juices and ready themselves for the onslaught of food. Having large chunks of food in our systems leads to digestion disruption and system blockage, so make it a point to chew well.
5. Consume healthy foods that promote good digestion.
A diet filled with greasy, saturated fat-laden food is sure to cause stomach issues. But one that includes fibrous whole grains, vegetables, and fruits creates a healthy system. Plain yogurt contains naturally-occurring bacteria (probiotics) that settle our stomachs and encourage regularity. Peppermint and ginger, along with many other kitchen cabinet cures, soothe our systems as well.
6. Take a post-meal stroll.
I started walking after eating lunch every day and it has done wonders for my usual stomach discomfort. It doesn’t have to be a power walk—just a simple stroll around the neighborhood, office building, or wherever you’re dining. Even that little bit of exercise stimulates the digestive system and helps keep our bodies regular.
When I’d finally had enough of every other meal ending with me clutching my stomach in agony, I incorporated some of these techniques into my life and saw positive results almost immediately. Even those without frequent digestive troubles can benefit from some of these changes. We could all use a reminder to eat more mindfully and move more throughout the day. And if that brings about an end (or at least a decrease) to stomach pain, that’s just icing on the cake—which we’ll eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and enjoy with a cup of peppermint tea.