Curious how to speed up digestion, feel less bloated and gassy after a big meal, and be able to enjoy yourself while still indulging? Bookmark this guide for your next heavy or large meal.
We’ve all been there: eating the pizza even when we *know* it doesn’t agree with our stomach, taking the second helping because it’s totally delicious even though we’re getting full, or polishing off a plate and then totally regretting it when your brain and belly catch up to each other.
When you’re enjoying yourself and eating more than usual (which is 100 percent ok!) you may feel less than comfortable after a big meal. The good news is there are a few tips and tricks you can incorporate before, during, and after your meal to speed up digestion and feel better ASAP. Ditch the guilt (and bloat) and get ready to optimize your digestion—while still enjoying all of your fave foods—with these 8 expert-approved tips for how to digest foods faster.
Before your meal
Planning ahead is a crucial step to speed up digestion and feel your best after indulging in a heavier or larger meal. When you know you’re about to sit down to a huge meal, you can proactively take a few steps to make sure you feel better on the other side.
Stress wreaks havoc on basically everything in your body, and digestion is no exception. “One of the best ways to naturally help your digestive system before a meal is by reducing stress. Stress increases problems in your digestive system,” says Erin James, a certified sports nutritionist and health coach.
When you’re stressed, your body is in “fight or flight” mode, also known as the sympathetic nervous system. But digestion happens when your body is in the “rest and digest” mode, or when your parasympathetic nervous system is activated. Calming activities like deep breathing can help you achieve that.
“Take a few minutes to meditate or stretch before eating to help relax your mind and body,” says James. If you have time, do a yoga class or another workout that you enjoy that helps you destress and blow off steam before heading off to your big meal.
Take a digestive enzyme
Digestive enzymes help your body break down all of the nutrients you take in from food, including protein, carbohydrates, fat, fiber, and lactose from dairy. There are many different types of specific enzymes, but for the best results, look for a supplement that contains a blend of enzymes to tackle whatever you eat. HUM’s Flatter Me contains 18 full-spectrum digestive enzymes and ingredients like ginger, peppermint, and fennel to further support digestion.
You might think that you need to take them after a meal, but they actually work best if you take them before you eat. HUM’s dietitians recommend taking 1 capsule of Flatter Me before your two main meals of the day to help manage bloating and optimize digestion.
Eat bitter foods for your appetizer
Incorporating bitter foods and condiments can also prime your digestive system for a meal. According to a review in The International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, bitter foods can help optimize your body’s digestion process. “Bitter foods, such as apple cider vinegar, help increase the secretion of gastric acid in the stomach which improves digestion,” says James.
Other bitter foods you can try include bitter greens like dandelion, arugula, and endive, cruciferous veggies like Brussels sprouts and radishes, and cranberries. A quick and easy way to get in some bitter foods is to make your own crudite platter. Headed to a party? Offer to bring the salad. A bed of arugula topped with cranberries, shaved Brussels sprouts, and an apple cider vinegar-based dressing makes a great first course before you dive into your bigger main.
During your meal
Chew slowly and take smaller bites
Your parents were on to something when they told you to slow down during meals when you were a kid. “When eating, make sure to take smaller bites, chew slowly, and not rush through your meal,” says James. The digestive process actually begins in your mouth, where saliva contains digestive enzymes that begin to break down food before you even swallow. James says rushing through a meal also makes you swallow more air, which makes you feel gassy and bloated.
Keep your phone or TV off while you eat
Try to get into the habit of staying off your phone or watching TV during meals. Distractions can be a disaster for digestion. This lets you eat more mindfully and can help you pay attention to how quickly (and how much) you’re eating. “This will help you eat slower and more intuitively. You will also pay more attention to how you chew to ensure you are chewing through your food and not trying to swallow big bites which are hard for the digestive system to break down,” says James. If you’re eating with friends or family,
Be aware of posture
Posture is key for a lot of things, and it can affect just how well your body is breaking down your food. James says sitting up straight while eating can help support your digestive system.
“This way you can use your stomach muscles to help break down food which pushes the food down,” she says. Standing, on the other hand, may make you eat less but it won’t help you digest your food better. According to a 2019 study, standing while eating triggers a stress response in your body. While the study focused on how this affects your taste perception of food, we know that stress doesn’t do any favors for your digestion, which is why sitting is the best position to eat.
After your meal
Go for a walk
It’s natural to want to plop down on the couch after a large meal, but moving your body, even for a casual walk, can help speed up digestion. “A slow walk is perfectly acceptable and can help reduce bloating and the feeling of fullness. When walking, gravity helps move food through your digestive system,” says James. One study found that walking after a meal accelerates gastric emptying, or the process of stomach contents moving into your small intestine where nutrients are absorbed.
More exercise, in this case, is not always better though since doing a full-on workout after a big deal is not the best idea. “Stick to a walk right after your meal and wait at least an hour, if not two, to get a workout in,” says James.
Did we mention that stress is bad for digestion? You know this is true if you’ve ever had an argument or difficult convo during a meal and get a stomach ache after. So try to keep stress at bay during and after your meal while your food is digesting. “Try not to jump back into work right away if you are having a stressful day,” says James. (Same goes for avoiding any contentious topics during family holiday meals.)