Being bloated isn’t much fun.
Nor is having no appetite, feeling sluggish and uncomfortable, and struggling to lose weight…
If any of the above symptoms are present it could indicate a digestive issue or deficiency. An often forgotten and overlooked component of any weight loss (or general health-improving) programme.
Not only is a healthy digestive system and gut fundamental to being able to lose weight effectively, but is very closely linked to general well-being, mental health and a strong immune system.
After all, you could be eating healthy foods as part of your nutrition plan, but if your body can’t digest and absorb these nutrients properly you won’t change much, if at all.
In today’s blog post, I’ll discuss some common reasons why people experience digestive discomfort and some top-level strategies on what to do about it so you can get back to better health soon.
The strategies are designed to build upon each other, so do step 1 before moving on to step 2, and so on. However, everything discussed here is for information purposes only and you should consult your doctor before implementing anything you read here.
1) Inconsistent Eating Patterns
In today’s fast-paced society, we’re often guilty of grabbing food on the go and giving very little thought to what and when we’re eating.
And while this isn’t a problem for many, if you are experiencing digestive discomfort, establishing a consistent eating pattern is a good place to start before trying any of the more advanced strategies.
This involves eating your 3 main meals (or however many you typically eat per day) at as close to the same time every day as you can. And, most importantly, when you are eating – eat slowly, mindfully and until you’re 80% full, ideally without your smartphone in your hand!
I’ve helped many people eliminate their digestive problems and lost weight simply by eating slowly and until 80% full. So don’t skip over this part.
As a caveat here, some people with digestive issues have good success when following more of an intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating approach. This usually involves short windows of eating with longer windows of not eating.
The topic of intermittent fasting is too broad to discuss here, but you can find out more about it on the Precision Nutrition blog. Do your research before you decide if that approach is right for you as it’s not suitable for everyone.
2) Food Sensitivities/Intolerances
If you’ve been following a consistent eating pattern and focusing on eating slowly and until 80% full for a few weeks and still feel bloated and upset in the stomach, it’s possible you’re eating foods you’re intolerant to.
Some of the main culprits for food intolerances are gluten, alcohol, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, caffeine and yeast. Eating foods you’re intolerant to can cause a whole host of symptoms such as those mentioned earlier in this post.
The good news? By eliminating the foods you’re intolerant your symptoms should start to resolve. Over time you can gradually reintroduce those foods back into your diet as well.
The bad news? It can be really tricky figuring out what you’re actually intolerant to. If you have suspicions about certain foods, try eliminating those and monitor your symptoms as a first step.
Alternatively, you can try an elimination diet. An approach that eliminates all of the common culprits (mentioned above) for a period of at least 3 weeks, before gradually introducing the foods back in one by one. If, after reintroducing a certain food group and your symptoms reappear? You’ve found the culprit.
Unfortunately, the above methods, although highly effective, can be a little time-consuming as you play detective. If you’d rather know quickly if you have any food intolerances you can order a food intolerance test online for a relatively lost cost. A simple internet search should bring up multiple companies that do this in your area.
3) Digestive Insufficiency
Within our stomachs, we have stomach acid and a range of digestive enzymes to help break down the foods we eat.
Due to poor nutritional intake, chronic stress, environmental toxins and even excessive alcohol or caffeine intake, many people suffer from low stomach acid and digestive enzymes.
This means that your ‘digestive fire’ is not as hot as it should be, and your body may struggle to break down the foods you eat. This, in turn, can also lead to a whole host of digestive issues and it can also lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies secondary to poor nutrient absorption.
So, if you’ve established a consistent eating pattern and have eliminated any foods you’re intolerant to but are still experiencing symptoms? It may be time to consider you may be experiencing digestive insufficiency in the form of low stomach acid or digestive enzymes.
It’s quite difficult to tell if you’re low on digestive enzymes. Fortunately, you can supplement with digestive enzymes both cheaply and safely and these supplements are readily available.
Stomach acid, on the other hand, can be tested at home by performing a simple home test which you can learn about here. It’s wise to do more research and consider a home test before taking stomach acid-boosting supplements as there are some risks and potential side effects with these.
4) Repair & Rebuild
After establishing a consistent eating rhythm, eliminating foods you’re intolerant to and considering your digestive enzyme/stomach acid function, there are some additional supplements that can also help.
Our guts are filled with trillions of beneficial bacteria which help digest the food we eat and to maintain a healthy gut. For the same reasons we may experience low stomach acid and digestive enzyme function, our beneficial gut bacteria can also be negatively impacted.
This is even more common in our modern society with the increased prescription of antibiotic drugs. Very helpful for bad bacteria and clearing infection, but not so good for our friendly and helpful bacteria.
A low number of probiotics can be yet another reason why we may experience digestive discomfort so it’s worth making sure we have enough of the good guys in our guts!
Fortunately, broad-spectrum probiotic supplements are available which can help – over time – to restore the balance of bacteria in our guts.
But you can also get loads of good bacteria through food as well. Fermented food and drinks such Sauerkraut, Kefir, Kimchi, Miso, Kombucha and some Yoghurts all contain tonnes of helpful bacteria, so it may be worth trying these in your diet instead of (or in addition to) a probiotic supplement.
The primary function of glutamine – an amino acid – in this instance is to help repair your gastrointestinal lining.
With everything I’ve mentioned above, the gastrointestinal lining can become damaged. In some cases, this can even progress to leaky gut syndrome – a condition in which the gut wall becomes permeable, allowing toxins and inflammatory agents into the bloodstream.
(Unfortunately, leaky gut syndrome is still not readily recognised by mainstream medicine. If you’re someone who’s been struggling for years with digestive issues it’s worth looking into leaky gut syndrome in more depth. Here’s a great place to start).
Taking a glutamine supplement can health to soothe and repair the lining of your intestines and reduce inflammation which may contribute to a reduction or elimination of your digestive symptoms.
As with any supplement, I definitely recommend speaking with a qualified healthcare practitioner directly before taking them yourself.
Following the steps above can be a good place to start if you’re feeling bloated, sluggish and struggling to lose weight.
However, the subject of digestive health is complex. I could write several articles on each of the topics discussed above. This article was designed as a top-level overview of the thinking process I use when helping clients with digestive concerns.
I recommend doing further research (using the links provided) if any of the topics discussed resonated with you.
And, as someone who’s personally previously struggled with a digestive issue, I wish you every success in finally getting back on track with your digestive and overall health.
If you’d like to find out more about how my team and I can help you to lose weight, improve your health and live a happier life, check out our online personal training programmes here and our in-person training at our private Edinburgh gyms here.