The food coma: how to avoid bloating & indigestion

Hot lemon water is perfect right before a big meal to avoid indigestion

We’ve all been there. One hand is clutching your stomach while your other hand is leaning forward and reaching for that last piece of chicken. You know you’re full, but everything is so damn delicious. Anyway, you worked out yesterday so it’s okay. Or was it last week? Doesn’t matter, this chicken is filling that caloric deficit right now, so it’s all even.

The food coma is something we all experience now and again, but if you’re experiencing it every time you go out to a restaurant or every weekend, then something’s got to change. It’s not normal to feel sleepy, sluggish and bloated after every meal. You know this and I know this, 90% of the time the culprit is simply overeating.

But what about when it’s not? What if you’re eating healthy, not overeating and yet you still feel sluggish and bloated afterwards? That’s where digestion comes in. Unfortunately most of us aren’t even aware that the eating habits we’ve developed as a society are causing us to feel this way.

Here are the top 3 unhealthy habits I recommend avoiding at your next meal:

Drinking lots of water with your meal

Feeling confused already? A nutritionist telling you NOT to drink water? Hear me out. Water is wonderful. And it’s great to have with your meal in small sips, for the purpose of helping the food along the digestive tract. But drowning your meals with multiple glasses of water is just going to give you indigestion and make you feel bloated afterwards.

When food enters your stomach, a substance called hydrochloric acid (HCL) is secreted from the stomach lining to help begin the process of digestion. HCL is super acidic — after all, it needs to be in order to break big chunks of food into tiny, absorbable nutrients. So if you start chugging back water with your meal, you’re going to dilute the hydrochloric acid and thereby dampen (pun intended) its efforts. If it helps to paint a picture, imagine a pool of water in your stomach with bits of food floating around, the acid just kind of fizzing out trying to do its job. Feeling gross and bloated already? Good, don’t do it!

Solution: drink lots of water either an hour before or after your meals. Only sip on a glass of water throughout your meal.

Eating lots of starch and protein together

Steak and mashed potato. Burger and fries. Eggs Benedict. All the glorious combinations that make us want to pass out on the couch after. Eating large amounts of starch (e.g. bread, pasta, rice, potatoes) and protein (e.g. fish, chicken, beef, eggs) at the same time can cause indigestion and acid reflux.

This is because protein has a much slower rate of digestion, and starches digest much faster into simple sugars. Technically speaking, starches should be saying “hasta la vista” to the stomach pretty quickly and entering the next stage of digestion in the small intestine. But because they’re all mushed up with the protein in the stomach, they have to hang around and wait for hours until the protein finishes digesting too. And when starches hang around too long, they ferment i.e. release gas which causes us to belch every so eloquently.

Solution: eat your starch first, follow it up with protein afterwards. Don’t sweat it if you’re having a small portion of starch alongside your protein, the key is not to overdo the rice and potatoes. P.S. you can eat your veggies with starch and protein, either combo works well!

Having ice-cold water with your meal

Yep, I’m back to talking about water again. And here you thought all there was to water was drinking it. Nay friend. When it comes to temperature of drinking water at a meal, opt for room temperature instead of cold. Ice-cold water constricts blood vessels, so it hinders the body’s ability to digest food and absorb nutrients. Ice-cold water will also solidify any fats that are being eaten making them difficult to digest as well. Plus, your body’s energy is going to get diverted from trying to digest food to trying to regulate your body’s temperature. Sooo much unnecessary exhaustion.

Solution: think Japanese. Order some hot water (with lemon, optional) or green tea before the start of your meal and slowly sip on it to prime your gut for optimal digestion. Always tell the server “no ice” and “room temperature”.

Keep in mind that these tips are for optimal digestion. If you suffer from weak digestion, these are far more applicable to you than someone who rarely suffers from feeling bloated or sluggish after a meal. These tips are also more crucial when you have a big brunch or celebratory meal coming up  — basically, when you know a food coma is just around the corner.

About Alina

I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and my official title is Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). I received my diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I'm a coach and an educator. Follow Alina on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.
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