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Updated June 30, 2022
Sick of Stomach Bloat? Here Are 11 Simple Ways to Optimize Digestion
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 that 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 to 35-foot tube that runs from our mouth to our anus. It serves as a barrier between us and the outside world—protecting the 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. This 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 short, 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.
Why a Healthy Diet May Not be Enough
Most of us are already aware of the role that 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 absorb 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.
11 Simple Ways to Optimize Digestion
Here are some simple, actionable ways you can improve your digestive health…
1. Take Your Time Eating
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 bodies, 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 back 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 to 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 a NativePath Probiotic Supplement 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 the digestive tract (10). In traditional Korean cooking, bone broth is consumed regularly for its anti-aging properties—yet 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 up the hips and ankles after a long day of sitting at a desk, while relieving constipation and decreasing menstrual cramps.
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. Take a Collagen Supplement Daily
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body—it’s what gives support to your hair, skin, nails, bones, joints, and…intestinal tract.
Out of the 20 amino acids that collagen peptides contain, there are two that stand out when it comes to gut health: Glycine and Glutamine.
Glycine—also known as the body’s simplest amino acid—has been shown to have promising anti-inflammatory effects (15). And since inflammation is a root cause of many digestive conditions like IBS, Chron’s disease, and ulcerative colitis, addressing it should be a top priority.
Glutamine, on the other hand, is the most abundant amino acid in the body, and is a key molecule utilized by intestinal cells. Many have reported glutamine to play an active role in the functioning of the intestines and the management of multiple intestinal diseases (16).
Just one scoop of grass-fed collagen peptides contains approximately 2,198 milligrams of glycine and 1,046 milligrams of glutamine.
10. Drink a Glass of Lemon Water
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 (17, 18).
11. 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 (19). Our brains are about 20 to 30 minutes behind our stomachs, meaning we often over-feed ourselves and don’t know it until we’ve finished our whole plate.
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.
The Bottom Line
It doesn’t matter how “healthy” your diet and lifestyle are if your digestion is off. That’s why it’s important to take the time to incorporate these 11 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 simple tips to improve your digestion naturally and improve your immune system along the way. You’ve got this!
As a doctor of Physical Therapy, Senior Wellness Expert, and co-founder of NativePath, Dr. Walding has helped millions of people improve their quality of life from the inside out—by speaking, writing, and educating others on how to live life a little more #OnThePath.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.