Living with regular digestive problems can be painful and frustrating, disrupting your daily life and distracting you at work and at home. Bloating, gas, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, excess burping, and abdominal pain are just some of the most common symptoms people have to deal with everyday. Unfortunately, many people simply choose to suffer through digestive issues without seeking a cure because they are unwilling to make the lifestyle changes necessary to be more comfortable.
Because of my own struggles with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Iíve learned to always be on my guard with the foods I eat and pay attention to other factors that can have an impact on digestive issues. Here are some of the strategies Iíve learned for coping with indigestion and other problems.
Pay Attention to Trigger Foods
Of course, the root cause of many digestive issues, such as chronic acid reflux (or GERD), is what you eat. It could be an overall dietary issue, or there might be one or two foods that set off your symptoms. Each person will react differently to specific foods, so itís important to pay attention to which foods trigger your symptoms. Because you may eat a variety of foods throughout the day, itís not always easy to track the cause of your indigestion.
One strategy that has helped me keep up with my trigger foods is to keep a journal of what I eat and any reactions I have. This allows me to identify patterns, and Iíve learned to avoid or minimize contact with certain foods, spices, or ingredients. Once you recognize a potential trigger food, you might try introducing it back into your diet in small amounts, again paying close attention to the reactions you have.
It can be disheartening to realize that some foods you love are causing you pain. I recently had to leave work early after having a bad reaction to a pizza lunch. After a few more stubborn attempts to enjoy what has been one of my favorite foods, Iím beginning to accept that I should just avoid it altogether. Though I miss pizza ó and Iím still tempted by the sight, smell, and thought of it ó I appreciate the security of knowing that I wonít have a digestive episode.
Though everyone will react differently to various foods, some that are commonly associated with digestive problems include foods that are especially spicy, acidic, and fatty, as well as fried foods and foods that are highly processed. Dairy is a major trigger food for many people and may indicate some level of lactose intolerance. While alcohol is fine in moderation for some people, it damages the lining of your stomach and changes your liver metabolism. And though that cup of coffee may seem like a necessary part of your day, the caffeine present in coffee, tea, and soda increases the acidity and gastric secretions in your stomach, which may be the cause of your discomfort.
Manage Your Weight
Being overweight can be the cause of digestive disorders, or it may exacerbate existing conditions. This is because when you are overweight, the stomach distends, placing an increased strain on the muscle that separates your stomach from your esophagus. When that muscle canít close properly, acid rises up out of the stomach causing heartburn. This is especially problematic as obesity is a growing epidemic.
Some research suggests that losing just ten percent of your body weight can significantly decrease your symptoms. Likewise, itís worth noting that gaining a few pounds could be enough to worsen your heartburn. However, if you experience heartburn while you are within your ideal weight range, losing additional weight isnít likely to improve your symptoms.
Though youíll likely need to introduce some kind of exercise routine, itís worth noting that some forms of exercise can increase stomach pain and indigestion. Exercises like weightlifting and sit-ups place additional stress on your abdomen, which can irritate digestive issues. Also, exercises that involve a lot of jarring motions such as running can also shake up your insides, causing symptoms.
Try to Relieve Stress
Itís not just your diet and weight that affect digestive issues. When you are stressed, your central nervous system can essentially shut down your digestion, which can lead to constipation, gas, bloating, stomach pain, and may cause you to gain weight. Stress can have the opposite effect as well, causing food to move so fast through your digestive tract that you cannot fully absorb the nutrients. Stress can even cause spasms in your digestive tract, leading to painful cramps and acid reflux.
Because of stressís effects on your digestion (and other facets of your overall health), itís important to take time each day to calm down. This could be as simple as taking a few minutes to close your eyes and take slow, deep breaths. Aside from relieving stress-related digestive issues, youíll be better able to focus on other tasks and hopefully feel happier.
Despite the stigma that sometimes accompanies seeing a counselor, Iím a firm believer in the value of modern counseling techniques. Having the opportunity to speak with a professional about the things on your mind is a great way to externalize and better understand your emotions. A combination of counseling and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, massage, and yoga can increase the chance that youíll be able to leave your stressful state of mind and allow your digestive system to function normally.
Digestive problems can be painful, annoying, and even embarrassing at times. Minor problems left unattended can also evolve into more serious conditions in the long term. Itís important to pay attention to the foods that affect your symptoms and attempt to make positive changes to your diet and lifestyle. Itís not always easy to avoid foods you like or maintain a healthy weight, but the work you put in will all be worthwhile when you spend less time suffering from digestive issues.