We all have bad habits, things we wish we’d stop doing but can never seem to shake off.
For example, I bite my nails and have for as long as I can remember. Even when I manage to stop, it’s never long before I’m back biting them again. Some might sympathize, while others will find it disgusting. However you see it, it doesn’t impact my health.
But there are habits which can negatively affect your health, particularly when it comes to digestion and the health of your gut. If you’re not careful, these habits can literally be a real pain.
The gut is a vital system within the body and is in charge of processing food from start to finish—though the part people most commonly associate with the gut is the stomach and the small and large intestines.
In fact, it starts where food enters our bodies and ends where waste exits. It’s where food is broken down, nutrients are absorbed, energy is extracted and the leftovers are processed.
To help us complete this cycle, we have what’s called gut flora, or microbiota, that lives inside us. In fact, we have tens of trillions of bacteria living in our intestines, with the majority found in the large intestine.
These microbiota are responsible for the breakdown of carbohydrates, the absorption of energy and uptake of nutrients, among other things.
However, when something goes wrong, an upset colony of microbiota can cause a host of problems, ranging from weight gain and irritable bowel syndrome to acid reflux (or heartburn) and other negative conditions.
There are steps you can take to right these wrongs if it happens. But the best defense is to break any bad habits that can contribute to poor digestion and bad gut health before the problems set in.
Below are the 10 most common bad habits and why you should break them for a happier, healthier you.
- Not Chewing Your Food Properly
The mouth is the first part of the gut and digestive system.
If you don’t chew your food properly, it makes the work of the rest of the body harder. By taking a little extra time to chew, you break it down into smaller pieces, making it easier for the food to travel down your esophagus into the stomach, where it is broken down further by stomach acid.
- Not Staying Hydrated
Water is an important part of the digestion process and is used to help digest solid foods and absorb nutrients.
Try to sip water regularly throughout the day, but avoid drinking too much at meal times because this can contribute to feeling bloated.
Also, be aware of how much tea and coffee you’re drinking. These beverages can dehydrate you, and if you’re exercising be sure to take in extra water to top your levels back up.
You can tell if you are sufficiently hydrated by the color of your urine. You’re looking for very little yellow as a sign of good hydration.
- Eating Too Much in One Sitting
I like an all-you-can-eat buffet as much as the next person, but beware the perils of stuffing your face.
Eating too much in one sitting can lead to bloating, reflux and an uncomfortable level of fullness which puts pressure on your digestive system.
Instead, try to eat your food slowly and recognize when you are full.
You can also try to be more mindful of the amount of food you make and then serving yourself. Remember, any leftovers can be kept for another night or for lunch the next day.
- Having Carbonated Drinks at Dinner
Fizzy drinks are well-known to be tasty and delicious.
Unfortunately, they’re also known to increase bloating, belching and make you feel uncomfortably full. On occasion, they can even result in acid reflux, too.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Perrier or Coca-Cola. Drinking too many carbonated drinks are not good for your digestive system, particularly during dinner time.
Try to opt for something still, and keep in mind that any liquid can cause you to feel bloated and full. Drink with caution or better yet, drink outside of meal times.
- Drinking Alcohol Too Often
Sometimes you finish work and all you want to do is have a drink and cast away the stress and worries of the day.
However, do so with caution as alcohol, like carbonated beverages, can cause bloating, gas and discomfort, particularly during or just after a meal.
Additionally, alcohol acts as a stimulant, which is why regular drinkers can experience stomach pain and diarrhea.
If you want to drink, drink in moderation and try to have a few alcohol-free days per week.
- Ignoring the Urge to Go
Constipation occurs when digested food spends too long in your system.
The longer food stays, the harder and more difficult it is to pass as your colon continues to absorb water from it. Being unable to pass this stool can cause a backlog.
There are several causes of constipation including low fluid intake, lack of fiber and ignoring the urge to go. Counteract these in the obvious ways by staying hydrated, including fiber in your diet and trying not to ignore the urge to go when it strikes.
If you find yourself with constipation, try one of the above. If that doesn’t work consult your doctor.
- Eating Too Close to Bedtime
I know you don’t always get a choice, work runs late and by the time you get home you’re left with the choice of eating just before bed or not eating at all.
Not much of a choice. Just be aware that eating close to bedtime can cause feelings of acid reflux (also called heartburn or GERD) through the night.
This is because the digesting food in your stomach can get pushed back into your esophagus more easily when you are lying flat as compared to sitting or standing.
To help counteract this, try not to eat within two hours before you plan on going to bed.
- Not Getting Enough Fiber in your Diet
Fiber is a very important part of the diet but is often overlooked or not considered. When included in the diet, fiber works to keep your bowel movements regular and prevent the onset of constipation.
In addition, there is a unique type of dietary fiber called prebiotic fiber. This stimulates and promotes growth in the good bacteria in the gut and can be found in bananas, chicory and tomatoes.
For optimal gut health, try to include your daily dose of fiber including some from sources known to include prebiotic fiber.
- Chewing Gum Too Often
Chewing gum can be a lifesaver for those times we’ve forgotten to brush our teeth before work or had a little too much garlic at dinner and have an important meeting.
Chewing gum on occasion is no problem, and some people will never have a problem with it. However, for some, chewing gum can cause you to swallow too much air which leads to burping, gas and feeling bloated.
If you’re one of these people, then try to avoid chewing gum, opting for a soft mint alternative.
- Eating Too Fast
If you practically inhales food and you’re not a competitive eater, you might want to slow down.
Eating too fast can lead to discomfort and bloating as you don’t allow the stomach enough time expand for the incoming food. Additionally, eating quickly usually results in taking in more air than usual, which adds to bloating and can cause gas.
Next time you sit down to eat, try to slow down a bit. Think about enjoying your food and taking your time. It doesn’t have to be a race.
Your body knows best, so pay attention to what it’s saying.
- Are you full?
- Are you hungry?
- Are you thirsty?
Try not to eat mindlessly or assume that you’re hungry when you may just be thirsty. If you can, make note of whether you feel comfortable and satiated after eating or whether you feel bloated and overly full.
Do you have any stomach pain, lots of gas or have trouble going to the toilet?
Theo is a personal trainer and the founder of Lift Learn Grow.