Tummy Troubles? Avoid These Common Digestive Health Mistakes

Woman holding her belly

Guest post by Patsy Catsos, MS, RDN, LD, courtesy of the Maine Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Most people experience uncomfortable, but transient digestive symptoms at some point or another, and while it might not be something we want to chat about with others, it’s a good idea to remind ourselves of what we can do — and shouldn’t do — when it comes to our digestive health.

Obviously, we cannot control for all possible gastrointestinal issues that may arise, but there are some general things we can do to keep our GI system in good shape.

First, get back to basics.

For many people, all it takes to maintain digestive health is to get regular exercise, drink plenty of water and eat enough naturally high fiber foods. It also helps to keep in mind that “normal” digestive function is varied. Most people pass gas about 14 times per day! And healthy people may have one or more bowel movements every day, or just one bowel movement every few days — both are “normal.”

What matters most is how you feel. If your bowel movements are difficult, you have painful bloating, your symptoms interfere with your work or social life or you have to plan your life around your bathroom habits — that’s not typical, and your symptoms should be evaluated by your doctor.

Digestive Dos and Don’ts

Do

  • Chew your food thoroughly — it increases the food’s surface area available to digestive enzymes, thereby enhancing digestion.
  • Consume medium-sized meals at regular intervals instead of eating sporadically or skipping meals and then overeating.
  • Use antibiotics exactly as prescribed — they greatly impact your gut microbiome (the large community of microbes naturally present in your GI tract). The health of these microbes affects your health. Also, consider taking probiotics and eating fermented foods — gut microbes love these things!
  • Eat a varied, nutritious diet that you tolerate well. Not every eating plan works for every person. Get evaluated by your doctor and see a dietitian who can help you devise a healthy diet that works for you.

Don’t

  • Over-restrict your diet or practice continual food elimination trials on yourself.
  • Overdo the fiber-fortified foods — those with added chicory and inulin (such as bars, breads, breakfast cereals, etc) — if you are prone to digestive distress.
  • Over-treat diarrhea or constipation — it can lead to a vicious cycle of extremes. Take the smallest effective dose of laxative or anti-diarrheal only if you must. Sometimes a quarter or half-size dose is enough.
  • Settle for living with your symptoms and not seeking help. There are a number of new drug and nutrition therapies to help people with irritable bowel syndrome or chronic constipation. Ask your doctor for a referral to a gastroenterologist or dietitian to discuss.

NOTE: If you experience ongoing, painful or frequent bouts of GI distress, or if your symptoms are accompanied by any of the following alarm symptoms: anemia, poor appetite, blood or pus in stools, fever, malnutrition, onset over age 50 or unintentional weight loss, seek an evaluation by your doctor (for women, a gynecologist consult may also be in order).

This post was written by Patsy Catsos, MS, RDN, LD, courtesy of the Maine Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

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Diane Atwood

About Diane Atwood

For more than 20 years, Diane was the health reporter on WCSH 6. Before that, a radiation therapist at Maine Medical Center and after, Manager of Marketing/PR at Mercy Hospital. Now she writes the award-winning blog Catching Health with Diane Atwood.