Do you suffer from bloating after meals? Eating more mindfully could relax our guts and help improve digestion.
Even though we may have the best intentions when it comes to keeping our gut happy and healthy – eating plenty of fibre, keeping hydrated and getting enough sleep, you know the score – many of us still suffer from regular bloating after eating.
Lots of young women complain of near-daily bloating, which can be incredibly frustrating when it feels like there’s very little you can do. However, a study from scientists at Maryland University has some hope for those of us that just can’t seem to beat the bloat.
The paper highlights the impact that chronic stress can have on our digestive system and that eating more mindfully could reduce pressure on our gut as well as ease bloating and make eating more pleasurable. Win-win.
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Thanks to the fact that our gut microbiome has a synergistic connection with our brain through our nervous system, stress can have a huge impact on our gut health.
“Raised stress in the body has been shown to worsen gastrointestinal disorders and increase the permeability of the gut,” explains Naomi Leppitt, gut health specialist dietitian for Dietitian Fit & Co. “If we’re anxious, you might find you get more gut symptoms like constipation or diarrhoea because blood flow is redirected away from your gut to your limbs as the fight-or-flight response is triggered.”
The 2019 review suggests eating mindfully can ease digestion by reducing our stress response and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes the secretion of gastric juices, saliva and digestive enzymes.
But, what does mindful eating actually mean and how can we do it day-to-day?
Dr Rupy Aujla, an NHS GP who founded The Doctor’s Kitchen, a project educating people about the medical benefits of eating well, has used the study to set out some simple, practical tips on how to eat more mindfully and help ease uncomfortable bloating.
Thanks to hectic lives and busy schedules, lots of us can end up rushing our meals. However, by making a few simple changes we can slow down how we eat, decreasing the pressure on our digestive system and avoiding inflammation and bloating in the process.
Dr Aujla recommends taking time over meals by taking three deep belly breaths before tucking in to prepare the digestive system to receive and digest food. Then, eating slowly by making sure we chew each mouthful properly, putting the fork down, and taking deep breaths between bites.
Chewing properly is something that Pippa Campbell, a nutritionist and nutrigenomics practitioner specialising in female health, agrees with. “My number one tip is always to chew your food,” she says. “Chewing is the first stage of digestion and we need our food to be more of a liquid pulp before we swallow. Chewing produces the digestive enzymes that we need for further down the digestive process and means that the rest of our system has less work to do. You’d also be surprised by how much chewing your food properly can help ease bloating.”
Simple things like creating a calming atmosphere to eat our meals in can help us take our time with our food and relax our digestive systems.
“Create an enjoyable relaxing eating environment to create positive emotions around food and signal to your nervous system a shift to rest and digest,” says Dr Aujla.
This can include things like eating at a table rather than on the sofa, setting the table nicely in preparation to eat and using your favourite crockery, or even playing calming music and lighting a candle while you eating.
According to the study, creating a relaxing external environment to eat in relaxes our nervous system.
Eating at a table also means we’re thinking more about the position we’re eating in. Dr Aujla suggests we sit comfortably with feet grounded to the floor, no slouching, to help our stomachs digest.
Engage the senses
The study points out that tasting food is only one component of mindful eating. Engaging all of our senses is important when we smell, see, and touch food, so as to increase digestive secretions.
This means paying attention to the colour, texture and aroma of your food while you‘re preparing your food and eating it. For example, the study suggests instead of simply guzzling down our meals, we try and take notice of notes of sourness if we’ve added citrus to our plate, or look for bitterness in things like dark chocolate.
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Taking a moment to give some thought to where our food has come from and how it came to be on our plates can influence digestion, according to the study. “This will naturally slow your eating and allow you to become more connected to your food,” says Dr Aujla.
If you enjoy journaling, think about adding a mindful eating section to your practice to examine how you feel during and after a meal.
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