We can all overindulge from time to time, causing ourselves discomfort and unwanted stomach ache. Usually, it’s nothing to worry about and can be simple to address. To put your mind at rest, we have put together the following article that will go through stomach cramps, what causes them and how you can avoid them in the future.
It can be really worrying if you get stomach pains after eating. Stomach ache, stomach cramps, tummy ache or tummy cramps often refer to the same thing. It’s the dull ache you feel in your stomach or abdomen.1
Ordinarily they are short-lived and soon disappear. Although, in more severe circumstances, if your pain starts suddenly and unexpectedly It may be more cause for concern.2
According to the NHS there are four common stomach cramp causes. They are3:
|Common cause||Type of stomach ache|
|Trapped wind||Feeling bloated and farting a lot|
|Indigestion||Feeling full and bloated after eating, heartburn, feeling sick|
|Constipation||Struggling to go to the toilet|
|Diarrhoea / food poisoning||Watery poo, nausea, vomiting|
It's advised that you should see your GP if:
As covered above, tummy ache is a general term for stomach or tummy cramps that can occur for a number of reasons. Commonly they are short-lived but can be more concerning if they last for a long time.
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.
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, one tablespoon of raisins and one slice of pineapple each constitute a whole portion of fruit or vegetables.
If you only experience stomach cramps after eating sometimes, they could be linked to the type of food you ate on that occasion.
Spicy food may cause stomach pain. 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.5
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.6
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.7
Adding lots 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.8
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.. Remember - chewing is the first step in the digestive process, so chew each mouthful properly otherwise it may also lead to indigestion.
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.9
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.
In more serious cases, uncontrolled and sometimes painful muscle movements, or spasms in the stomach are known by the NHS as dystonia.
Dystonia symptoms include10:
Dystonia is not common, however, in rare cases it can lifelong condition that affects people in different ways. You can get help and advice about dystonia from your GP or the UK’s Dystonia Society.
There are many reasons why you might experience stomach pains after eating. It’s likely that it isn’t anything serious and it can be easily treated.
It’s worth considering portion control and your food choices. However, if the problems persist it might be worth consulting your GP.
Last updated: 27 April 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Jan 2018
Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist and Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018.
Donia has over 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one to one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.