Everyone has stomach discomfort after eating from time to time. Usually, it’s nothing to worry about, and simple to address. Read on to find out more.
What’s causing your cramps?
If your cramps are occurring after eating, they’re most likely related to your digestive system. Helpfully, this narrows down the list of possible causes.
First, you should consider the most common reasons that might be causing your discomfort.
Too much food
If you experience stomach cramps after meals, assess your portion size. If accompanied by bloating or a feeling of fullness – the cramp-like discomfort could be caused by eating too much at once – therefore over-filling your stomach.
Portion sizes are often much smaller than you’d think. With some foods, it’s easy to consume double or even triple the recommended amount. This counts with healthy foods, too.
For example, half a pepper, half an avocado, 1 tablespoon of raisins and 1 slice of pineapple each constitute a whole portion of fruit or vegetables.
- 1 portion rice, pasta or noodles = 6 tablespoons (cooked)
- 1 portion cheese = 30g, or the size of a box of regular matches (not giant BBQ matches!)
- 1 portion meat = 90g, or the size of a deck of cards
- 1 portion fruit juice or fruit smoothie = 150ml, or a small tumbler glassful1
The type of food
If you only experience stomach cramps after eating sometimes, they could be linked to the type of food you ate on that occasion.
For instance, stomach cramps after a hot curry are incredibly common. Spicy food gets its kick from the compound capsaicin, found in chilli peppers. For people with a sensitive stomach, capsaicin can cause pain and discomfort by irritating the lining of the gut.2
A 2008 study by Imperial College London found that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have a higher than usual number of chili pepper pain receptors, which is why some people’s IBS symptoms worsen after eating spicy food.3
Fatty foods might also be the culprit. Compared to protein and carbohydrates, fat is digested slowly. This means it spends more time in the stomach – and can lead to indigestion. So, if stomach cramps after eating are accompanies by nausea, heartburn and a nasty taste in the back of your throat – a fatty meal might be to blame.4
Adding lot of fibre to your diet if you don’t usually eat much fibre can also cause temporary gastro-intestinal symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating and cramping.
According to the NHS, acidic foods such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, salad dressings and fizzy drinks can also trigger gut symptoms in some people.5
Trapped wind is a common cause of stomach cramps after eating and can be seriously uncomfortable or even painful.
Eating too quickly leads to trapped wind, as we swallow air along with mouthfuls of food. It can also lead to indigestion. Remember – chewing is the first step in the digestive process, so chew each mouthful properly.
The correct number of chews is different for everyone, but some studies have indicated a positive effect on appetite and digestion with 40 chews per mouthful!6
Do you sip a fizzy drink with a meal? Fizzy drinks are carbonated, which means they contain hundreds of tiny air bubbles. You swallow these air bubbles, which can become temporarily trapped in your digestive tract, causing stomach cramps after meals.
Other causes of stomach cramps after eating include:
- Stomach ulcers – these are sores which can develop on the stomach lining, which are made worse by eating certain foods. Abdominal pain is usually the main symptom. See your GP as stomach ulcers require treatment7
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – a common condition which affects digestion.8 Adjusting your diet can help. Find out more
- Food intolerance – whether it’s lactose, gluten, fructose or sulphites, an undiagnosed food intolerance could cause stomach cramps after meals. Try keeping a food diary to monitor your symptoms and identify a pattern
Last updated: 22 May 2020
3 Akbar et al. Increased capsaicin receptor TRPV1 expressing sensory fibres in irritable bowel syndrome and their correlation with abdominal pain. Gut, 2008; DOI: 1136/gut.2007.138982