5 Sneaky Things That Can Lead to Bad Digestion

Sometimes your digestion can get out of whack, and you might experience stomach discomfort or strange bowel movements (yes, it happens to everyone!). But beyond some foods that are known to be troublesome for digestion, there are other sneaky habits that can mess with your body’s digestive system, leading to those unwanted side effects. 

The good news is, with the right tools and a few lifestyle tweaks, you can get your body back on track. Here are five sneaky culprits of bad digestion to look out for.

lifestyle tips for bad digestion

Stress

Stress can cause bad digestion in different ways, where you might feel bloated or even have diarrhea and constipation, says Maggie Michcalczyk, MS, RD, a dietitian and food blogger in Chicago. 

“Since your body is technically in the ‘fight or flight’ response when we’re stressed the digestive muscles could be working differently,” she says.

These things can start happening before you even realize that you are stressed, which is one way your body could be telling you it’s time to up that stress management routine! Try relaxing activities and make time for self-care to unwind. Read, watch a favorite show, take a warm bath—these things can help you keep stress low.

Lack of sleep

“Sleep impacts our food choices and digestion in a major way. Lack of sleep also means that your digestive system might not be getting enough time to ‘rest and digest’ and repair,” Michcalczyk explains. A lack of sleep also increases the hormone gherlin, which causes an increase in cravings for fatty and sugary foods, she says, which are things we know are not great for digestion on their own either! So get 7-8 hours nightly to stay well rested!

Not moving enough 

“Barely moving around all day? Staying active really does help your gut and your digestive system run smoothly,” Michcalczyk says. So, stay active. Do a workout if you can a few days a week and just be active in the day. Take a walk, dance around, do some errands or chores in the home—whatever it is to be on your feet enough. Even just take the stairs over the elevator!

“Staying hydrated and getting enough movement helps to ensure good movement is happening in your digestive system too,” she adds, so drink fluids when moving too!

Having sugar alcohols 

Foods that say “sugar free” often contain sugar alcohols like sorbitol and erythritol, which can wreak havoc on your digestive system in some individuals and cause diarrhea, bloating and gas, Michcalczyk says. 

“For people with a sensitive stomach, I would definitely avoid anything with sugar alcohols (often found in protein bars and packaged desserts and gum!),” she explains. This is not the case for everyone—for instance I am fine with them!—but if you do have symptoms, ditch them ASAP and see if and how your symptoms change.

High fat foods

We don’t mean avocado and nuts, here, but fast food and greasy foods.

“Greasy, high-fat foods might sound like a good idea, but when the meal is over can cause digestive discomfort like bloating, acid reflux and heartburn and more due to the high amount of fat that your system is trying to digest,” Michcalczyk points out.

Plus these foods are low in fiber, which is not doing your stomach any favors either. Ditch for healthy fats and clean eating techniques, like grilling, roasting, and sautéing instead. 

Dairy

This is not a bad food for digestion in everyone, but it can be for those with lactose sensitive bellies.

“Eating cheese and enjoying ice cream can be a real digestive challenge for some people who are sensitive to lactose or lactose intolerant,” Michcalczyk says. It can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. 

The good news is there are a lot of dairy free or lactose free options when it comes to yogurt, ice cream, and cheese that should be easier on digestion for people who are sensitive to dairy! So explore. 

Acidic foods

“Acidic foods like oranges, grapefruit and tomatoes can leave some people with a sour stomach and cause acid reflux like symptoms. One way to help lessen this is to not eat acidic foods on an empty stomach if you do experience symptoms like this,” Michcalczyk says. And just keep them in moderation when possible. When you do eat them, have it with something with a bit of protein or good fats and fiber, to help balance it out.

Spicy foods 

Spicy foods can be bad for digestion in those who are sensitive to the kick and might get reflux effects.

“While some people do well with and love spicy foods, for others spicy foods can trigger heartburn and other upset stomach like symptoms,” Michcalczyk shares. If you fall into that category, be careful with spice and go for mild when possible. 

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About Isadora Baum

Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, author, and certified health coach. She writes for various magazines, such as Cooking Light, SHAPE, Men's Health, Women's Health, Health, Prevention, POPSUGAR, Runner's World, Bustle, and more. She is also the author of the book "5-Minute Energy." She can't resist a good sample, a killer margarita, a new HIIT class, or an easy laugh. Beyond magazines, she helps grow businesses through blogging and content marketing strategy.