If your digestive system is not functioning to the best of it’s ability, it can leave you feeling quite unwell, bloated, in pain, and low on energy. It may even be affecting your social life if symptoms are preventing you from meeting up with friends or attending family functions. How can you change simple lifestyle factors to ensure you maintain a happy, healthy tummy?
How stress affects our tummy
Having “butterflies” or “a knot in our stomach” perfectly describes that panicky anxious feeling that we get in our tummy when we’re worried or stressed. Our digestive systems are finely balanced and can be easily upset by factors like stress and anxiety.
Stress produces chemicals such as Adrenaline, Cortisol and Norepinephrine, which affect the speed at which food is digested – either speeding it up or slowing it down – leading to diarrhoea or constipation and impacting our body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Maintaining a happy tummy is important for our overall health and wellbeing, so how can we do that?
Clearly, one of the best ways is to manage our stress levels effectively to keep these unwanted side-effects to a minimum. There are many ways to do this, including meditation, exercise and getting enough sleep. Try to come up with a relaxation technique that you can fit easily into your lifestyle as the harder it is the greater the temptation will be not to do it!
It’s a good idea to avoid eating when you’re feeling anxious or angry and don’t eat too late at night. As a rule, try to leave at least two to three hours before bedtime for your food to be digested properly.
The idea that we might need to learn something as basic as how to eat properly seems crazy, but studies suggest that many of us have developed bad habits that can inhibit good digestion.
Some helpful rules for eating for a happy tummy are:
- Take your time and don’t rush your food. Chew each mouthful thoroughly.
- Have smaller meals more regularly rather than three large ones. Reduce your portion sizes.
- Many of us eat on the go but this can lead to overeating and indigestion. Make time for mealtimes.
- Drink plenty of fluid.
Other factors that can cause gut issues
Other lifestyle factors that contribute to gut-related problems include
- drinking, and
- being overweight
Smoking can weaken the muscle in the oesophagus that prevents acid from travelling up the gullet. The result is reflux, which as well as being pretty uncomfortable can precipitate or aggravate ulcers. Smoking is also linked to an increase risk of stomach cancer.
Binge-drinking increases the amount of acid produced by your stomach which can cause heartburn. Eight or more units of alcohol in one session constitutes binge-drinking for a man. For a woman it is six units.
If you’re overweight you are also more prone to stomach-related problems as excess fat puts pressure on your tummy, which can cause heartburn.
What factors contribute to a happy tummy?
As a rule, a happy tummy is one that receives a healthy, balanced diet.
Increasing our fibre intake and drinking more fluids helps to prevent constipation. Cutting down on fat and spicy foods can prevent heartburn. And it’s a good idea to become aware of your personal sensitivities to foods that can trigger discomfort. For some it is gluten, for others tomatoes or citrus.
When our gut feels good we feel good so it’s worth taking a little time to listen to what our tummy is telling us and responding with a little TLC (Tummy Love and Care!)