You’re about to dive into a plate full of delicious food. You get started, savoring the first bite, but then quickly devouring the rest, your plate whipped clean. You find yourself wishing you had more. But then it starts. The bloating . The gas . The abdominal pain. A familiar mix of symptoms that make you feel like crap and you have no idea why. Find out what and how you’re eating can play a part in why you don’t feel good after you eat.
Whether you realize it or not, stress greatly impacts digestive function. When you feel stress or anxiety , your body goes into fight or flight mode, a natural response that increases your heart rate, constricts blood vessels, and tightens muscles. In this state, the gut becomes vulnerable to inflammation , permeability (leaky gut ), reflux, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), and even food allergies .
The fix: The next time you sit down to eat, take a deep breath, relax, and be present while you eat —don’t multitask. This will go a long way in helping you properly digest and absorb the nutrients from the food you eat.
Did you know that digestion begins in the mouth? Even before you take a bite, your salivary glands are activated, secreting key enzymes that will break down your food. While you don’t really have to worry about that, you do need to be mindful of actually chewing your food. As your teeth tear up food, saliva softens and breaks it down to make it easy for the next stage of digestion, which happens in the stomach. But if you don’t chew your food enough, the breakdown doesn’t happen thoroughly, resulting in more work for the rest of the digestive tract. The act of swallowing huge chunks of food without chewing until your food pretty much liquefies can result in gas, bloating , and stomach pain.
The fix: Be sure to chew your food around 20 times before swallowing. This will help kick off the digestive process properly, creating less work for your stomach and intestines further down the line. It will also make the nutrients in your food more readily absorbable for your cells, allowing you to get more out of what you eat.
If you are constantly experiencing pain and discomfort after eating, it’s time to do some investigating. Take note of what you eat at every meal and log it in a food diary. After a few weeks, it’s time to see if there is a pattern. Does bloating happen anytime gluten is involved? Does gas hit you hard anytime you snack on cheese? Is your afternoon coffee causing your evening diarrhea?
The fix: Whatever you discover, it’s time to give your body a break and stop eating the foods that trigger negative reactions. An elimination diet can help you discover which foods are giving you problems. Starting with the most common culprits—gluten , dairy , egg, soy, corn, peanuts, and artificial sweeteners—your doctor and health coach can help you refine your diet to identify any triggers. If these dietary changes don’t work for you, your doctor may recommend specialty testing to get to the bottom of things.
While it might feel good to lay down immediately following a meal, you’ll quickly realize it feels a lot worse than if you were to have gone for a stroll or remain upright. This is because laying down puts the body in a position prone to indigestion and heartburn.
The fix: Give yourself at least two to three hours before bed to digest dinner. To help digestion, stay upright after eating. You can even go for a walk after you eat, which research has shown helps speed up the time it takes for food to travel from your stomach to your small intestine.
Drinking carbonated drinks in excess can put stress on the digestive system and cause uncomfortable bloating that doesn’t seem to dissipate. Such symptoms can occur after drinking more than just one glass of a carbonated beverage. This is because when you’re drinking carbonated beverages, much of what you’re ingesting are large pockets of air. These pockets can get trapped in your stomach and cause bouts of abdominal pain and gas as a result.
The fix: Rather than opting for a bubbly beverage like sparkling water or kombucha, opt for something flat without bubbles. This will be easier on your stomach and actually aid digestion and ease of elimination, something carbonated beverages don’t encourage.
Your gut is home to over 100 trillion bacteria—some of it good, some of it bad. Making sure you have the right balance of this good and bad bacteria in your gut microbiome is one of the most important things you can do for your digestive health. In fact, this ratio can impact everything from your immune system to your inflammatory response and mental health. The root cause of many digestive issues, including bloating, diarrhea, and constipation often ties back to imbalanced gut bacteria, or gut dysbiosis .
The fix: A probiotic is a great, preemptive way to ensure you are getting good bacteria in your system. Probiotics are live microorganisms that restore the good intestinal bacteria that exist in your gut microbiome and maximize your body’s ability to extract nutrients from the food you eat. However, if you suspect you may already have a gut dysbiosis , talk to your doctor about gut microbiome testing and treatment.
Fiber is one of the most important nutrients when it comes to your digestive health, but most people are eating about half of the recommended daily intake (we like to aim for 30 to 50 grams a day). Without enough fiber to move things along, it’s possible your digestive tract could be backed up and making you feel sick when you eat. Fiber passes through your digestive tract relatively intact, allowing it to feed on gut bacteria and push out toxins. And not only does it promote digestion, but it’s also known to keep you fuller longer, balance blood sugar, and regulate estrogen levels .
The fix: Fiber can be found naturally in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Incorporating more of these fiber-rich foods into your diet regularly can be a great way to promote a health gut. If you find that you’re still having trouble reaching your 30 grams per day, try adding some chia seeds or ground flaxseed—both forms of concentrated fiber—into your morning smoothie.
Unfortunately, some medications may be doing some harm in their process of trying to help. Take antibiotics—while they’re known to kill bacteria that are threatening your health, oftentimes they can wipe out the good bacteria already living in your gut. And the same can be said for other, seemingly harmless medications like hormonal birth control or over-the-counter pain relievers like Advil. By throwing off that important balance of good to bad bacteria in your gut microbiome, these medications could be at the root of your discomfort when eating.
The fix: At Parsley Health, our doctors are sure to prescribe medication only when necessary, and help guide you through the process should you decide to come off any existing medication. Diet and lifestyle changes can help take the place of some medications that may have been contributing to your feeling sick after eating.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland in your neck that is at the heart of so many processes in our bodies, including digestion Whether you have an overactive thyroid (your body produces too much thyroid hormones) or an underactive thyroid (your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones), either could be contributing to why you feel sick when you eat. Typically, high thyroid function causes overactive digestion, leading to diarrhea, and low thyroid function slows everything down and ultimately leads to constipation.
The fix: Everything from your environment to how you eat, your stress levels, and lifestyle can impact how your thyroid functions and things can change over time, so it’s good to get your thyroid levels tested annually. Parsley Health doctors use advanced thyroid testing to monitor levels and treat thyroid issues using lifestyle changes and medication if necessary.
Eating is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, not a painful one. If you’ve been experiencing abdominal pain, gas, bloating, brain fog , and irregular bowel movements, it may be a sign that there’s something deeper going on.
Since your digestive system is a long and complex system, starting from your mouth and ending at your anus, there are many things that can go wrong along the way. We know that how we live and eat has a direct impact on our digestive system and how well it functions. By incorporating these biohacks for a healthier gut , you may be able to help your digestive system function more efficiently.
If you regularly experience symptoms of feeling sick after you eat and still aren’t sure what could be causing it, it’s best to consult with a doctor to help you determine what it could be.
At Parsley Health, our doctors and health coaches will take the time to get to the root cause of your discomfort by listening to your unique experience and symptoms and recommending the proper testing, like an advanced gut microbiome test. They can then work with you to determine the proper protocols for healing your gut, taking into account what works best for your and your lifestyle. Between elimination diets , a low-FODMAP die t, even improving your mental health , there are plenty of natural treatment options to fit your needs.
Dr. Robin Berzin is the founder and CEO of Parsley Health. A Summa Cum Laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Robin completed medical school at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.