5 Ways You Are Ruining Your Digestive Health in the Hour After You Eat
Maybe you’re enjoying a much healthier diet and better habits these days as part of the Solluna lifestyle — that’s great! But you could still be hindering your digestion in ways you’re not aware of. Improper digestion can lead to discomfort, bloating, weight gain, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and heartburn. Often, it’s not what we eat, but what we do right after, that negatively affects your digestion. Let’s explore them so you can make the appropriate changes to your habits and feel good after every meal.
What NOT To Do For An Hour After You Eat
Lying Down & Sleeping
It may feel good to lie down after eating a filling meal or take the odd post-lunch nap on a lazy weekend. But if you want to keep your digestive system chugging along at top speed without any complications, avoid sleeping or even lying down immediately after meals.
Lying down after eating increases your chances of your digestive juices creeping back up into your esophagus causing heartburn. When you stay awake and upright, the digestive juices are more likely to stay where they need to be and efficiently break down your food.
This fact also affects how much and when you should be eating. Sleeping causes your digestive system to slow down, so having a heavy meal right before bed could cause you to feel bloated, uncomfortable, and full even the next morning. While you should eat light to heavy throughout the day and dinner should be your heaviest meal, giving yourself some time to remain awake and upright before slipping between the sheets promotes optimal digestion. A study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology found that people who eat close to bedtime were likely to develop acid reflux symptoms that cause heartburn and indigestion. (1)
Exercise is one of the keys to feeling good and staying healthy, but you should avoid it right after meals. It may be tempting to do so if you’re not stuffed, but strenuous exercise can use up some of the resources your body needs to digest your food. The easiest answer to why you shouldn’t work out right after you eat: you can make yourself sick. When you engage in exercise after eating, you could experience nausea, cramps, or even diarrhea.
When you attempt to work out after a meal, your blood starts to circulate in a way that gets blood—and oxygen—to all those hard-working muscles. That means blood flow to your stomach is drastically reduced and food can’t be properly digested. It just sits there, waiting for you to slow down again so your body can finish the job.
Think of what might happen if you tried to paint a picture and read a book at the same time. That level of multi-tasking is nearly impossible, and if nothing else, it’ll be a long, slow process. It’s best to do one thing and then move on to the next. Eat, digest, and then exercise. You can also exercise before eating.
A study conducted in Japan found that subjects who ate a meal immediately before high-intensity exercise experienced greater levels of nausea than those who didn’t eat. (2) Even though you’re waiting an hour to work out after eating, remember to fuel your body with the appropriate foods before and after you exercise.
We’ve recommended this before, but it bears repeating: don’t eat fruit after a meal. Experts say that eating fruit after meals tend to cause digestive distress. (3) Fruit digests the fastest of any type of food, and when you toss it down shortly after a meal, it just sits on top of it and ferments there, creating gas, discomfort, and possibly even weight gain. When you eat fruit alone and a couple of hours before anything else (or two to three hours after your last meal), your body can digest it and utilize it for fuel without the gas, bloating, and other discomforts.
Drinking Too Much Water
It’s fine to sip a little water with your meals if you feel it’s necessary, but don’t gulp down a big glass of it during or right after your meals or you may dilute the digestive juices so much, it makes it harder for them to do their job.
Also, steer clear of ice water. It can be refreshing on a hot day, but when you’re drinking even a little water with your meals, the ice could cool the digestive fire and do more damage to the digestive process than hot, warm, or room temperature water would. Hot herbal tea is another alternative if you feel like you want to drink something with your meal, but you should still limit your intake of liquids while you eat.
This Thrive article explains the ice water vs. warm water topic in more detail and provides additional self-care tips for city-dwellers. One study found that digestion was impaired in participants who drank cold liquids with their meals. (4)
Taking a Shower or Bath
This is one that may really disrupt your routine, but once you make the change, you may find that you feel much better all day. If you frequently eat breakfast and then take a shower, or you eat dinner and take your shower to wind down after your day, your digestive health may be suffering. Ayurvedic medicine teaches that bathing, which interferes with body temperature, right after a meal weakens digestion, leading to digestive distress. (5)
Here’s why: When you step into the shower, your body temperature increases, and the blood is pulled toward the surface of the skin, the hands, and the feet. It’s pulled everywhere it doesn’t need to be for digestion, like the stomach area, in order to regulate your core temperature. Instead of your body jumping on the task of digesting the meal you just ate and doing it efficiently, it suddenly becomes distracting. The warmth encourages your body to regulate its temperature by allowing blood to flow away from the vital organs, and digestion is slowed down.
Maximize Your Digestion
Once you’ve changed your habits and you’re not hindering your digestive health anymore, you can do some more things to help boost your digestion and feel even better.