Notebook on a white table surrounded by an array of foods

The secret to understanding what triggers your digestive upset

Your digestive system works very hard for you. Not only is it responsible for converting what you eat and drink into energy, it also eliminates your body’s waste products.

When your digestive system isn’t working properly it can cause constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion and acid reflux. If these sound familiar to you, don’t worry- these are very common issues. Poor digestive health can also be the cause of more serious conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, most digestive complaints can be remedied with changes to your diet, once you have identified what might be causing your flare-ups.1

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Even if you only suffer from digestive discomfort occasionally, it is well worth paying attention to your gut and what it is trying to tell you. Perhaps you are sensitive to certain foods or drinks that you include in your diet. Perhaps you eat too much, too little, too fast or at the wrong times.

Eating a varied diet rich in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, not smoking and only drinking in moderation are great first steps in taking care of your gut. However, it is a good idea to see if you can get a better understanding of your gut to see what personally works best for you.

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Keep a food diary

For a period of two weeks, keep a record of everything you eat and drink. Include the time of day you had it, and make a brief note about what is going on at that time. For example, if you are wolfing down a sandwich between meetings, eating sweets in the car or indulging in a midnight snack- it is all relevant. Try to give an idea of the quantity of food consumed. Bear in mind that portion sizes are often smaller than we think! For example, a portion of dry pasta is 75g, the equivalent of a couple of handfuls or a small bowlful.

Track your digestive symptoms alongside your record of food and drink consumed. Make a note if you feel bloated, uncomfortable or any other symptoms.

It might be a good idea to take a small notebook with you wherever you go so you don’t miss anything. Your smartphone can also help. There are many free apps on the market that can help you track your digestion.2

Analyse your results

At the end of the two weeks, take an honest look at any patterns that have arisen. Your food diary can help you identify triggers that might be leading to your digestive upset. If you can spot a pattern, you will be able to eliminate the foods you suspect are triggers, and see if this eases your symptoms.

Wheat, fizzy drinks and dairy are common causes of bloating, as is alcohol. In fact, alcohol, caffeine and smoking are all risk factors for those with a sensitive stomach, and should be eliminated if possible, at least to see if your symptoms improve.

Greasy, spicy and fatty foods found in many fast food and takeaways play havoc with your digestion, so consider cutting these out or look for healthier alternatives if they seem like a trigger for you. Vegetables such as onions and cabbage, as well as beans can cause excess wind and bloating, as well as beans and pulses. However, these foods are healthy so it is not advisable to cut them out completely, but rather to eat them in small quantities and build up your tolerance.

You might find that some of your eating is stress or boredom related. When you are eating for reasons other than hunger, it is likely to lead you to you making poor choices without putting your digestive health first. If you find yourself craving sugary foods in front of the TV an hour after dinner, then take a look at your lifestyle and consider a walk after your evening meal, or a hobby that gets you out of the house so you aren’t tempted to make bad food choices out of habit.

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please consult a doctor or healthcare professional before trying any remedies.
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Sources

1. [Online] https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/digestive-health/Pages/gut-health.aspx.
2. [Online] https://www.everydayhealth.com/digestive-health-pictures/mobile-apps-for-digestion-tracking.aspx.

Digestive Health