How dieting can affect your digestion

How to diet right in order to support your digestion

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Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
@AVogelUK
Ask Ali


10 December 2018

1 - More bloating

Why?

If you’ve recently taken up a new diet you could be feeling paranoid that your waistline is expanding rather than shrinking – surely all your efforts haven’t been in vain? Well you’re not alone, bloating can be a common side effect of dieting and there are a few possible reasons why:

Is your new diet lacking in fibre?

Depending on the new diet that you’ve adopted, it could be lacking in fibre. Fibre is generally found in fresh foods such as fruit and veggies plus your wholegrains; so if you’re desperately avoiding carbs, you could be in trouble. There are two types of dietary fibre, soluble and insoluble fibre and both work in slightly different ways to keep our bowel moving along. If you aren’t going to the loo as regularly, you’re much more likely to feel bunged up and more gassy than normal.

Are you fighting hunger?

If you’ve reduced your calorie intake quite significantly, (a common tactic after the festive binge), then you might end up ravenous by the time your next meagre meal comes around. Being especially hungry puts you at a greater risk of eating more quickly, not chewing your food properly and swallowing excess air, all of which can easily make your tummy blow up. We need to eat slowly and mindfully in order to give our stomachs the best chance of digesting properly

Water retention can crop up

Water retention is a common complaint, especially from women and we know that hormones can often add to the problem. However, if you can manage this problem as much as possible through diet, that’s always going to be a good start! Eating salty or sugary pre-packaged foods or drinks, plus forgetting to drink enough water, is a sure way to increase water weight. 

How to do it right... 

Up the fresh foods

Fresh foods such as fruit and vegetables are naturally low in calories (if that’s your main concern!) and guess what? They’re also a good source of fibre. Top up with some complex carbs too such as brown rice or beans – these won’t have adverse effects on your blood sugar levels or gut bacteria, but will add to the fibre count again and help to keep things moving along. Then, you can add a source of L+ lactic acid to your diet with some Molkosan to give your gut bacteria an extra boost, and help protect against any excess bloating.

Don’t restrict drastically

Nowadays when people attempt to diet they often assume 'the more extreme the better'! Although in some cases this can work in the short-term, longer term you’re more likely to fall off the bandwagon and you’re eating habits may suffer in the meantime. Don’t go to extremes and with subtle, positive changes to your diet you’ll notice more gradual weight loss which is much more sustainable.

Drink plenty of H20

Ensure you’re drinking at least 1.5l of water to help manage water weight and keep your bowel moving.

2 – Indigestion

Why?  

Stomach issues may have troubled you before or have they got worse with your new, healthier regime? Well, it’s not just the types of food we eat but there could also be some other factors at play. Let me explain:

High fat can prove too much

Depending on the diet you’ve embarked on, you may have fallen out of balance. The problem with some of the more extreme regimes is, for example in the case of ‘low carb’ diets, something has had to replace those lost carbs. See, there are only 3 main macronutrients; carbs, protein and fat, so low carb must mean higher protein or more fat, both of which can put more stress on your tum. Fat and protein take more effort to break down and if your gastric secretions are lacking to start with (low stomach acid is much more common than we may realise!), then you’re then much more likely to suffer from symptoms such as acid reflux.

The bitterness may be lost

Again, depending on the diet you’ve opted for, especially if it doesn’t revolve around simple wholefoods, the ‘bitter’ component of your diet may be comprised – pre-packaged meals, bars or shakes are certainly guilty of this! 

Is it all just a bit stressful?

We talk lots about the impact stress can have on our digestive functions and believe it or not, embarking on a strict new diet regime may be stressful too. Complicated shopping lists, new flavours and feeling unsatisfied after your meal can easily leave you feeling uneasy and stressed and this will only make symptoms such as acid reflux and indigestion worse as your digestive functions dwindle!

How to do it right...

Balance is key

A balanced diet is key to good health and weight loss, plus it’s generally more sustainable. A lifestyle change is the key to supporting your weight longer term so unfortunately extreme measures don’t often seem to last. Get in the habit of cooking fresh and eating sensible portions and you won’t need to worry so much about the nitty gritty of including specific types of foods or restricting calories meticulously. Also, guess what, you can still have treats now and again too! 

Give bitters their place

In an ideal world we should be including some bitterness in every meal. Some common foodstuffs which give us a good dose of bitterness include leaves and veggies such as artichoke, rocket, watercress, chicory and lamb’s lettuce. If you’re struggling with the food side of things, it can be really helpful to employ a herbal bitter tincture instead. Take Yarrow complex 5-10 minutes before your meals in a small splash of water so it tastes especially bitter.

Relax!

Rather than what you eat, why not give how you eat you some attention? Symptoms such as acid reflux or indigestion are often a sign our stomach needs some extra support, rather than it all being down to the foods you’re eating. Aim to relax, sit up straight and actually focus on the food you’re eating and the act of chewing properly, and of course, this is always easier if you’re eating good quality ingredients that you can enjoy too.

3 – Constipation

Why?  

A change of diet or circumstances can easily throw off the frequency of your bowel movements, even just temporarily, however, if things are taking a little longer to regulate, here are a few explanations as to what could be going on:

There could be a fibre shortage

For some bizarre reason, many of the diet plans out there include lots of pre-packed items. Although you may be able to track the calories more easily (this really isn’t the be all and end all people – read my blog for more), anything processed will likely be lacking in fibre and could begin to cause a bit of a backlog in your system. Fibre is also essential for supporting the good bacteria in our gut and if the bad guys have their way – bloating is a common side effect! 

Not enough fluids

Dehydration is one of the key underlying factors when it comes to constipation. It’s easy to forget about the basics when it comes to prescriptive regimes, and not having enough water can have a significant effects.

Not enough substance in general

Cut your calories too much and everything could start to slow down, from your gut to your metabolism. We need sufficient calories and nutrients to keep everything ticking over and even changing your meal timings can throw your body of its rhythm. Skipping meals risks slowing your metabolism down and you’re then more likely to overeat or cave when it does eventually come to meal time. It’s also worth noting that changing your diet drastically, in whatever way, can cause a shock to the system and slow down things anyway – it’s a common side effect when people go on holiday and enter a new climate with new foods!

How to do it right...

Fibre focus

Rather than it be a forced focus, the easiest way to ensure you’re including enough fibre in your diet without getting too caught up on it all is to include fresh foods. Fruit, vegetables and simple wholegrains such as brown rice, beans and legumes are the way to go.

Make water a habit 

Again, rather than you having to make lots of effort to remember to do things a certain way, if you can try and get in the habit of including more water in your daily regime, that’s half the battle. Leave a glass by your bed so you remember to fill it first thing in the morning and the same applies to your desk in work. This means as you catch sight of it being empty you’ll remember to fill it again!

Top tip: If you need a helping hand getting things moving initially, Linoforce can help. However, this shouldn’t be taken long-term and instead we want to concentrate on using diet and lifestyle factors to help get us back on track.

Stick to your normal routines

Although there is some evidence to suggest that certain diet regimes such as intermittent fasting can help support weight loss, if you don’t reckon it’s something that you can sustain in the long-term, then the degree of the benefit may be more limited. Generally, our bodies’ respond well to routine, so try and keep your meal times around the same time each day and don’t be tempted to skip meals.

4- Diarrhoea

Why?

If diarrhoea or looser stools are troubling you since starting your new diet, unsurprisingly you probably won’t want your new-found symptoms to hang around for very long! Here I touch on some possible causes and what can be done to help:

It’s all new

With any change in your diet, good or bad, it can in some cases take your gut a little while to readjust; see your gut is rather sensitive and has hoards of immune cells sitting waiting, ready to help detect what’s coming through at any given time. The balance of gut bacteria that live there can also have an influence. Our gut bacteria help breakdown the starches and sugars that make up the indigestible, carbohydrate portion of our diet. So, if your diet changes, and especially if the proportions of carbohydrates or sugar have changed quite considerably recently, the balance of bacteria can become altered and symptoms such as looser stools may crop up.

Something’s irritating you

Whether intentionally or not, if you’ve made some drastic changes to your diet recently, there could be some things in there which are making you go to the loo more often. A high content of fruit or vegetable juice, for example, may be ones to watch, or if you’ve upped your intake of artificial sweeteners. We might assume this is worth it in a bid to reduce our calorie content, however, artificial sweeteners can cause havoc with your gut and increasing your intake could see you running to the loo more are often. There are also supplement options out there such as ‘fat binders’ which you might be tempted by, but beware, these will definitely have you running to the loo without much warning and definitely aren’t a long-term solution.

Too much fibre?

Although having too much fibre isn’t a common modern-day issue, if you’re embarking on a more extreme regime such as a juicing diet or the cabbage soup diet, then the high fibre content could keep things flushing through just a bit too quickly! Everything in moderation – even the good stuff!

How to do it right...

Introduce the changes more gradually

Especially if you’re a particularly sensitive soul, (your gut that is), even small changes can make a big difference to how you look and feel, but without any adverse effects. Make a list of diet and lifestyle changes you’d like to adopt and aim to implement these gradually over a number of weeks. 

Listen to your symptoms

As with anything, when it comes to your new diet regime, it’s important to listen to your body and see how you respond. If you’re feeling hungry, faint, or uncomfortable at any point it’s time to reassess what could be going on and perhaps take it down a notch. Tormentil can be helpful if you’re experiencing some erratic bowel movements and you want to try and restore some calm quickly.

Balance is key

This is a common theme but it’s so important! You don’t want to bore yourself (yes, you should always be able to enjoy your food) or fall off the bandwagon completely, plus, it’s also vital that we get a good range of nutrients in our diet which is why the extreme measures don’t tend to work. Aim to eat a varied diet, enjoying different colours and textures, even whilst you’re on your diet. 

Yarrow complex for digestion

50ml

£ 10.50

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Combination of freshly harvested 'digestive' herbs including Yarrow, Dandelion and Gentian.
More info

Molkosan® Original – A prebiotic for good gut bacteria

200ml

£ 5.99

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Prebiotic whey drink, rich in L+ lactic acid, for good digestion. Also available in 500ml size.
More info

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Here’s what I recommend

As the A.Vogel Digestion advisor, I recommend Digestisan with extracts of Artichoke and Peppermint, to help support your digestion.

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Did you know?

According to naturopathic principles, when two or three meals are being eaten daily, the bowel should move at least once or twice a day.

What are healthy bowels?

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