Feeling bloated, too full, or constipated is never fun. There are lots of factors that affect our digestion, such as if we're traveling or under stress. And whether you regularly struggle with digestive issues or only experience occasional discomfort, that stomach pain can range from inconvenient to unbearable. Thankfully, there are healthy, natural ways we can improve our digestion and help keep things moving.
Chew Your Food
If your mom ever told you to slow down at the dinner table, she had a point. "Digestion is the process of breaking down food as you eat it into the smallest particles (molecules) that can be absorbed into your body for nourishment," dietitian Joanne Larsen said. That process begins with your mouth, and when you chew your food thoroughly, your stomach has less work to do when food reaches it. This means food spends less time being broken down in your stomach because it's already in small pieces by the time it gets there. This can also help prevent bloating.
Keep a Consistent Eating Schedule
Peristalsis is the series of muscle contractions that move food to different processing stations in the digestive tract. Essentially, it's the process of digestion from start to finish, and it's triggered when food is swallowed and travels down your esophagus. According to Tianna Smith, registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Realistic Roots Nutrition Counseling, "Digestion is very dependent on how much we eat. If we are dieting or restricting our intake, that is going to result in constipation." It may sound straightforward, but in order to digest, we need to eat. Larsen recommends eating every four to six hours to keep your body fueled and digestive tract moving.
To support healthy digestion, "Make sure you're eating enough and drinking adequate water," Smith said. Staying properly hydrated is incredibly important for proper digestion. Water, as well as other liquids, helps break down food so your body can absorb the nutrients. While several factors can affect how much water you should be drinking in a day, one suggestion is to take half your bodyweight (in pounds) and convert it to ounces. So if you weigh 160 pounds, you should aim for 80 ounces, or 10 cups, of water a day.
Get Enough Fiber
"Fiber helps speed food along to your large intestine," Larsen said. By eating foods with fiber, you're naturally helping the digestive process along. The FDA recommends eating 28 grams of fiber a day. For fiber-rich foods, Larsen suggests eating fruits, veggies, whole grains, dried beans, and peas. Fruits and vegetables get an extra bonus because of their high water content, too!
If you're dealing with discomfort, sometimes the best thing to do is get up and move. A study that tracked the transit time for food between people who rested and people who exercised found that exercise decreased food transit time by up to 15 hours. Those participants were either biking or running, but even just walking has been shown to help get things moving. If you're feeling bloated or constipated despite following a regular diet with plenty of fiber, the best thing to do might be to walk it off.