Sick of Stomach Bloat? 10 Ways to Optimize Digestion
By Dr. Chad Walding, DPT
June 14th, 2019
You’re backed up, bloated, gassy, have diarrhea, or maybe just feel “off.”
You can’t quite place it, but you’ve got this gut feeling your GUT is actually the problem. Chances are, you’re right—the nasty symptoms you’re having are all pointing to your digestive system.
Digestion is the first step in a long, complicated process through which your body absorbs nutrients and vitamins from the food you ingest. When your digestion is off, it can lead to more serious conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, gallstones, and other serious gastrointestinal conditions.
As you’ll learn, fixing your digestive issues can have a big impact on your health. Before we dive into how to optimize your digestive system, let’s take a closer look at the system itself.
What Is the Digestive System?
Our digestive tract is basically a hollow, 25-35 foot tube that runs from our mouth to our anus. It serves as a barrier between us and the outside world — protecting our body from foreign invaders, harmful chemicals, undigested food, and toxins.1
In fact, the digestive tract houses the lymphoid tissues that comprise almost 70% of our entire immune system which explains why when gut health is off, the rest of the body noticeably suffers. This can lead to chronic diseases, allergies, and other health issues. A healthy gut is the first step to having a healthy immune system! 2
Just as importantly, our digestive system is also responsible for the breakdown of food into the tiny particles our cells use for energy, maintenance, and repair. It’s also responsible for the elimination of any toxins, pathogens, or other unwanted substances that enter the body.3
In essence, our digestive system keeps the good stuff in and the bad stuff out.
How well our digestive system is functioning plays a key role in how we feel, our ability to prevent disease, and our ability to heal.
When Diet Isn’t Enough
Most of us are already aware of the role diet plays in our health. We know it’s important to eat healthy proteins, focus on fruit and vegetables, and avoid processed foods.
But did you know a healthy diet might not be enough?
Unfortunately, if you’re digestive system isn’t working properly, your body can’t break down those healthy foods or assimilate the vitamins and nutrients into your body. 4 That’s why it’s so important to do what you can to optimize your digestion!
If you’ve recently switched from a standard American diet to a Paleo or Keto type diet but haven’t seen the results you were hoping for, it’s likely your digestion is off. Your body is struggling to use the nutrients and vitamins you are feeding it.
Here are some simple, actionable ways you can improve your digestive health.
10 Simple — but Effective — Ways to Optimize Digestion
1. Take time at meal time.
Do you scarf your food down as quickly as possible?
Instead, take time at each meal to bless your food, pause for gratitude, or notice what’s on your plate. Thank the person who prepared the meal and cultivate gratitude for the animals, plants, and people who helped bring you this nourishing meal. Try putting your fork down between bites.
Not only does this practice encourage gratitude and help you enjoy your meal more, it actually helps your body digest food! 5
2. Avoid processed foods.
Most of us know the adverse effects that processed and refined foods have on our body, and digestion is just one more system these foods affect. Your body does not digest fake food easily, which slows down the absorption of nutrients from healthy foods in the process and hurts your immune system in the long run.6
3. Eliminate troublesome food groups.
Dairy, grains, and legumes are difficult to digest for those with compromised digestive symptoms. Try eliminating these foods from your diet, at least for a few weeks, to see how you feel. You might be able to slowly add raw dairy products into your diet, especially fermented dairy products like kefir.
4. Chew your food.
This tip seems simple — but don’t underestimate the power of properly chewing.
Digestion begins in the mouth, where enzymes are secreted by your salivary glands to help break down food. This helps prepare the food to be further digested in the stomach, making digestion easier for your system down the line.
Studies show that the popular technique of “grazing” is actually quite harmful to your health.7 Instead, try sitting down for meals and chewing your food 32-36 times per bite.8 This brings awareness to how much you chew (or don’t chew) your food and forces you to eat at a slower, healthier rate.
5. Eat more fermented foods and probiotics.
Sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented foods are great to use as condiments with your meals. These foods are rich in probiotics, a kind of good bacteria that aids in digestion.9 Ideally, these foods should be raw and unpasteurized. If you can’t find them at your local supermarket, try making them at home.
Not a fan of sauerkraut? If you feel you aren’t getting enough probiotics in your diet through fermented foods, try our NativePath Probiotic to rebalance and restore gut health.
6. Drink bone broth daily.
Bone broth is a superfood that’s full of gelatin — a nutrient that helps heal, seal, and nourish our digestive tract.10 In traditional Korean cooking, bone broth is consumed regularly for its anti-aging properties — another benefit of gelatin! 11
Best of all, it’s a tasty way to start your day and is easily made at home in a crockpot or Instant Pot. Click here to get the recipe and learn more about the healing properties of bone broth.
7. Practice womb squatting.
Have you ever wondered how humans pooped before toilets? That’s right — they had to squat! Womb squatting is shown to be an effective way to improve digestion by promoting proper elimination.12 It also opens the hips and ankles after a long day of sitting at a desk, helps relieve constipation, and decreases menstrual cramps.
Here is a video explaining how to use the womb squat in your daily practice.
You can also catch my podcast interview with Wellness Force Radio to learn more about the womb squat as a pain relief tool.
8. Learn to belly breathe.
Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing, is a technique used to manage gastrointestinal stress. This form of deep, meditative breathing has been shown to reduce stress, support the immune system, decrease muscle tension, improve digestion and even increase energy.13,14
Try belly breathing if you’re feeling stressed or frazzled throughout the day. To start, lay flat on your back. Take a few minutes to completely relax and focus on the breath as your stomach rises and falls. Most of us take very shallow breaths, so work on slowly and intentionally letting the air in and out of your mouth or nose.
Try this technique twice a day for five minutes, preferably after big meals as a way to help digestion.
9. Drink a glass of lemon water upon waking.
Drink a glass of warm water with lemon and a pinch of salt first thing in the morning to help jumpstart digestion and get things moving! The salt will help you better absorb the water and keeps you hydrated. It also promotes vascular and neurological health while providing beneficial electrolytes. Studies show lemon juice may help prevent weight gain, and some researchers think lemons also contain anti-cancer properties.15,16
10. Eat until you’re 80% full.
Hara hachi bu is an ancient saying, practiced in Japan, that teaches eating until you are only 80% full.17 Our brains are about 20-30 minutes behind our stomachs, meaning we often over-feed ourselves and don’t know it until we’ve finished eating.
Try eating about half of what you normally eat, but at a slower pace. It may take a few weeks to reset the muscle memory of your stomach, but you’ll probably find you actually need less food to feel full.
You’ve got this!
It doesn’t matter how “healthy” your diet and lifestyle is if your digestion is off. That’s why it’s important to take the time to incorporate these steps into your daily practice while giving your body the time and resources it needs to heal itself. Understanding how your digestive system works puts you in control of your health. Follow these 10 tips to improve your digestion naturally and improve your immune system along the way!