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6 Steps to Beat the Bloat over the Festive Season

Bloating is a common symptom that can either be fairly easy to resolve, or can accompany other gut related symptoms and be caused by more complicated issues such as food intolerances, ‘leaky gut,’ dysbiosis, Candida, SIBO etc. My latest blogs, What’s going on with my Gut? and Acid Reflux and Heartburn, delve more deeply into these other issues. However, as we approach the start of the festive season with Christmas parties, Christmas day, Boxing day, New Year’s parties and other religious upcoming festivities, here are 6 easy steps to beat the bloat that, for many, accompanies this period of indulgence.

We are all prone to a little indulgence at this time of the year. However, rich foods and overeating tend to play havoc with our digestion, leaving us feeling bloated and uncomfortable. In fact, it is estimated that on Christmas day alone, we can consume as many as 6,000 calories – three times the recommended daily intake for women.

At this time of the year digestive issues are often the result of:

  • Eating more than usual, putting pressure on our digestive systems.

  • Drinking more with meals, especially alcohol. This dilutes stomach acid making it harder to properly digest the meal.

  • Richer, creamier foods, typical of the season’s meals, can trigger heartburn or reflux or make IBS symptoms worse.

Although festive food and drink can be tough on the digestive system, here are some simple tips aimed at helping you beat the bloat this time of the year.

1. Use Your Senses

Digestion (the breaking down of food particles) begins in the mouth. Your saliva is full of important enzymes which set the process in motion, so that by the time the food reaches your stomach, the burden is not so great. Anticipating food causes your mouth to water. This is actually an important initial step in the digestive process. Our brains automatically react to the smell, sight and even the thought of food by increasing the secretion of saliva. Today we are so rushed that we often eat on the go, grab a sandwich or arrive at the dinner table just in time for the meal. Before you eat, be mindful of the food you are about to eat. Think about it, savour and enjoy the wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen and get your digestive juices flowing. This will ensure that your saliva is full of the enzymes necessary to help break down your food more easily once you start to eat.

2. Chew Your Food

In order for digestion to start in the mouth, we need to chew our food properly. It’s one thing having enough saliva, but if we swallow big food particles without chewing properly, we will have missed a crucial step in the digestive process. Chewing gives the enzymes the chance to start the digestion process before we even swallow. It is key to good gut health, breaking the food into smaller pieces so the digestive enzymes can do their work more easily. If we do not chew our food properly, the bigger particles will take much longer to break down in our stomach. These particles can then start to ferment, causing wind, gas, bloating and abdominal pain. It is not necessary to chew a certain number of times. The test is that the food should be chewed sufficiently not to be able to recognise what you are eating should you spit it out. A typical sign that you are not chewing your food properly is to see undigested food particles in your stool.

3. Balance your stomach acid

One big misconception responsible for the skyrocketing sale of heartburn tablets is the assumption by most people that their digestive issues are caused by excess stomach acid. Nutritional therapists like myself are more and more frequently finding the opposite to be true. Stress, over-the-counter medications and getting older are examples of factors that actually result in reduced stomach acid production, often to levels insufficient enough to digest food properly. Stomach acid is produced for a reason. It kills bacteria in the food we eat. It also breaks down the protein in the meal. If the protein is not adequately broken down, it starts to ferment, creating gases that force the esophageal sphincter (a type of muscle flap between the stomach and the oesophagus) to weaken, allowing what little stomach acid there is, to escape. The problem therefore is not too much stomach acid, but acid escaping into the oesophagus, resulting in a burning sensation and gas. One solution is to have a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar before each main meal. It is important to choose apple cider vinegar with the ‘mother.’ (Note: There are some people who genuinely do produce too much stomach acid. If apple cider vinegar makes things worse, you are likely one of them. In this case, neutralise the acid by taking a little bicarbonate of soda).

4. Take a digestive enzyme supplement

Digestive enzymes break down food into nutrients to be absorbed and used by our bodies. As we age, we naturally produce fewer enzymes. This can be counteracted by eating foods rich in digestive enzymes, such as pineapple or papaya, before a meal. Alternatively, you can take a digestive enzyme supplement (available from health food shops) with each meal to give your system a boost.

5. Time Out

Make time to give your digestive system a chance to rest. This also allows your body an opportunity to carry out other important processes. Aim to eat every 3-4 hours as this will give your body enough time to digest the previous meal before it gets put to work again. Even better is to try intermittent fasting once or twice a week. This gives your body the chance to recover from the days of over indulging. There are numerous health benefits to intermittent fasting and it may be that, if you give it a go over the holiday season, you may continue with it into 2018.

6. Walk it off

When you walk shortly after a meal, magic starts to happen. A gentle walk lowers your blood sugar levels, reducing your insulin levels. Insulin is the fat-storage hormone so taking a 15 -30-minute stroll after eating makes you less likely to store fat and gain weight. Walking also helps you digest your meal better as it increases the speed at which food moves through the digestive system.

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