What Causes Gastrointestinal Symptoms? 9 Habits That Can Impact The Gut

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If you suffer from gut issues of any kind, from constipation to gas to simply having a constant, low-grade ache, you aren't alone in that. While figuring out the main cause of your tummy woes might likely entail getting help from a professional, avoiding habits that make gut issues worse is incredibly helpful when it comes to getting things moving in the right direction.

But it's true that basically every element of our lives can impact the gut. Not surprisingly, eating is the number one habit to look at, from what you eat, to how you eat it.

"An important part of the initial discussion with a client about promoting gut health is to determine how they eat," dietitian Liz Wyosnick MS, RDN, owner of the private practice Equilibriyum in Seattle, tells Bustle. "If meals are rushed, distracted, and eaten while answering stressful emails, that can set the stage for maldigestion and discomfort later because of the fast pace and minimal chewing."

Hear that, my quick-snackin' pals? First step in healing the gut really is just simply observing your habits. Take a look below at the totally normal things you might be doing every day that make your stomach a little less than thrilled, according to experts.

1. Eating Too Many Acidic Foods

"An acidic diet causes numerous health issues, the majority of these being gastrointestinal," sports nutritionist Raquel Santos, BS, ACSM-CPT, CISSN, who is based out of New York City, tells Bustle. That can include things like acid reflux, ulcers, heartburn, and inflammation of the stomach lining.

Thusly, if you’re suffering from these kinds of gut issues, you may want to cut down on foods and beverages like alcohol, bacon, red meat, fried foods, dairy, and yes, coffee. Santos says a good fix is to add in more alkaline foods, such as fruits and vegetables, which do not cause your stomach acid to increase.

2. Habitually Taking Pain Relievers

Your average painkiller from the pharmacy, also known as NSAIDS, may not be very good for the tummy.

"Although popping one or two of these every time you have an ache or pain may seem like the right thing to do, an accumulation of too many NSAIDs may actually be detrimental to your gut health and may lead to ulcers," Santos says.

Her personal recommendation is to give a natural pain reliever such as turmeric a try, which is also good for stomach issues. But if you are having lots of aches and pains, it's always best to go in to see your healthcare provider and get some guidance.

3. Not Giving Yourself Enough Time To Digest

As Wyosnick says, the how of eating is important. So who would have known that scarfing down that bolognese in five minutes flat is bad for the digestion? Well, just as you might have been told at the dinner table at some point in your life, it's good to slow down, enjoy, and really chew that food.

"It takes our gut 20 minutes to signal fullness to the brain, so you should aim to sit down for as close to 20 minutes as possible for every meal," Santos says. This can help you relieve some digestion issues that may be coming from eating too quickly.

4. Chewing Gum And Sucking On Mints

As strange as it may sound, Santos says that chewing or sucking on mints all day can cause internal disturbances where the intestines are concerned. So you might want to pass on grabbing that bubble gum last minute while you're on line at the grocery store.

"These seemingly innocent habits may be the culprit of your bloated belly and uncontrollable gas," Santos says. "Gum chewing and sucking on mints or hard candies causes you to swallow air, which leads to bloat and lots of burping."

5. Holding It In When You Have To Go

No need to wait. You just have to go when your body is telling you it's time.

"Ignoring your body’s urge to poop is one of the worst things you can do for your gut," Santos says. "When your body says it’s time for a bowel movement, it means it."

Holding it in for whatever reason, Santos says, could result in constipation and other unpleasant issues you definitely want to avoid. This is not a habit you want to get into.

6. Drinking Lots of Alcohol

Just take a quick pause before you have that next vodka soda if you and your stomach are on the outs.

"Ever get the runs or horrible stomach pain after having one too many? That’s your gut telling you to cut back on the booze," Santos says. If you're experiencing gastrointestinal issues, Santos says it may not be a good idea to have another drink.

Alcohol can cause ulcers and may keep existing ulcers from healing, Santos says. But on another note, if you are feeling any greater struggles or dependence on your alcohol habits, reaching out for some medical help is a great first step to look at what's going on with you.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).

7. Too Many Bubbly Beverages

For the seltzer lovers in the house, this isn't the best of news. But those fun-loving bubbles in your drink might also be causing bubbles in your stomach. Not so surprising when you give it a think.

"Soda and other carbonated beverages can lead to stomach bloat, gas, and can exacerbate reflux issues," Santos says.

It might be time to choose juice or — gasp — normal water. Santos says that making your own fruit-infused water or having a natural iced tea are other good, refreshing options when you need that little sparkle in your beverage.

8. Eating Foods Loaded With Sugar Alcohols

OK, so this is a little gross. But you know how lots of gums and diet sodas are sweet but have no actual sugar in them? Well, the reason being is that the sugar alcohols that make them sweet are indigestible, Santos says. They don't register as actual nutrients.

"Eating foods high in sugar alcohols leads to bloating and [...] more unruly gas," Santos says. "Over extended periods of time, having a diet high in sugar alcohols can do some serious damage to your gut lining."

Santos says that good sweetening options are things like organic honey or stevia.

9. Getting Overly Full

Even though eating something delicious is the best, when you go just a little past the point of fullness, it's not so fun. Eating that last portion of french fries or having a few more bites of sandwich when your body is saying "we're good" could actually be causing you some more long-term stomach issues.

"If you’ve experienced gas, bloating, or stomach pain after meals, you may have eaten too much," Santos says, and just like eating fast, it puts a lot of strain on the digestive system if it happens habitually. Giving yourself time to sit down and enjoy your meals is a great opportunity to start listening to your body's fullness cues.

While these habits might not be the whole picture when it comes to your gut, looking at what and how you're interacting with your whole digestive system is a great way to begin taking care of it. And if your gut is really suffering, never hesitate to check in with a medical pro.