12 Lifestyle Changes You Can Make To Aid Your Digestion

Do you have a basic gauge of how well your digestive system is functioning? If you don't, now's the time to take some inventory. Your digestive system is responsible for converting the foods you consume into fuel that helps your body to do the things you do every day, from physical activity to working a day job and even simply reading a book. It goes without saying, then, that making sure your digestive system is in tip-top shape can go a long way in keeping you healthy in every area of your life. 

An unhealthy digestive system, on the other hand, can feel pretty debilitating. How do you know if you're having digestive issues? Some key signs are bloating, abdominal pain, heartburn, nausea, and irregular bowel movements. An unhealthy gut can also manifest in less obvious symptoms, like lethargy or joint pain. As far as what causes your digestive issues, it could be any number of things, from eating inflammatory foods to not getting enough sleep or exercise.

If you suspect you have digestive issues, you're far from alone, and there are many things you can do to get your digestion back on track and have you feeling healthy again. Here are 12 of the best lifestyle changes you can make to aid your digestion.

Try an elimination diet

When it comes to what foods are best for our body, everyone's a little different. One person's gut may tolerate certain foods that your gut just doesn't process very well. You may not have an allergy; your body might just be a bit intolerant of various inflammatory foods. Sometimes this kind of digestion issue is easy to identify — for example, if you frequently get abdominal cramps after your morning latte, you may be intolerant to dairy.

If you suspect a food intolerance to be at the root of your digestive upsets, consider trying an elimination diet to see if your body really is reacting poorly to certain foods. There are several different elimination diets you can try; gut health expert Dr. Michael Ruscio identifies common ones such as the paleo diet or the low FODMAP diet. Every elimination diet will have you go a couple weeks without consuming certain foods that can cause an upset gut, such as wheat, dairy, sugar, and other grains. 

After you've been without those foods for a few weeks, you'll reintroduce them to your diet one at a time and pay attention to how your gut responds. If you notice any symptoms of an unhealthy gut when you reintroduce the food, it could mean that particular food is causing some problems. As always, we recommend consulting with your doctor before starting a diet plan to make sure you're doing it as safely as possible. 

Let go of stress

Stress wreaks havoc on your gut, and high stress levels could be the primary cause of your recent digestive upsets. Why? Well, according to Harvard Medical School, being in a time of significant stress triggers your body's fight or flight system. When that happens, many of your body's resources divert themselves to aid that system — to prepare you to respond to the perceived threat. This means digestion can slow down or even stop when you're in fight-or-flight mode, leaving you feeling bloated, gassy, or even generally icky as a result.

Basically, if you've been experiencing some gut upset and there's no obvious cause, ask yourself whether you've been under a lot of stress lately. If you have, stress could be the problem. The solution? Take steps to eliminate it — easier said than done, we know, but when you're in a time of mental duress, you can do a lot to calm your body and get things moving again. Yoga or meditation can help your body (and mind) release some of the stress it's been hanging onto. You could also take a warm bath, get a massage, or go on a long run. Anything that relaxes your body can help both your gut and your brain let go of stress — you may find yourself feeling better physically and mentally in no time. Of course, the more consistent you are with these practices the better you might feel. 

Take a probiotic

Believe it or not, your gut is teeming with healthy bacteria that helps your body regulate the digestion of everything you consume. Sometimes, though, your gut biome can get slightly out of whack. This commonly happens after taking antibiotics, which kill off both the bad and good bacteria in your gut. You might also find yourself with an imbalanced gut biome if you haven't been eating a balanced diet — if you've ever felt bloated after a day of eating nothing but bread, pasta, and crackers, you probably know what we mean.

Want to get your gut biome back on track? An easy way to do this is by adding probiotics into your diet. Everyday Health says that probiotics can help with a number of digestive issues, including IBS, diarrhea, and constipation, to name a few. You could go all-in with a probiotic supplement (that often comes in capsule or liquid form), or if you're feeling a bit more adventurous, there are several ways to seamlessly add probiotics into your diet. Many foods you probably already have in your diet are rich in probiotics, like kefir, yogurt, or kimchi. Fermented foods will typically be rich in this good gut bacteria, and if you really want to go all in, you can try making your own fermented foods at home. Homemade milk kefir, fermented veggies, or sauerkraut are fun ways to dig your heels into the gut health world; plus, they're tasty, too.

Eat whole foods

If your typical diet is chock full of processed foods, you might find yourself with a less-than-happy digestive system. Processed foods and your gut are not (and will never be) BFFs, so if your daily meals typically consist of boxed cereal for breakfast, a microwave meal for lunch, and boxed mac 'n' cheese for dinner, we wouldn't be surprised if you don't feel that great most of the time. Now, we're not saying you can never indulge in a frozen pizza and ice cream; just make sure you're balancing that by regularly incorporating whole foods into your diet. 

According to NYC Health, whole foods are just unprocessed foods. In other words, if you can't find it on a farm or in a garden, it's probably not a whole food. Whole foods are better for your gut because processing foods will often add unnecessary (and, in some cases, downright unhealthy) ingredients to food, while removing or diluting important ones. A super easy way to add whole foods into your diet is by eating more plants; the produce section of your local grocery store is full of whole foods. You don't have to shy away from grains or protein, either. Just buy them in the most natural state possible; for example, a canister of whole oats is better for you than packages of instant oatmeal, and a butcher's cut of raw ground beef tends to be a better pick than frozen burger patties. 

Drink more water

We wish we didn't have to say it, but unfortunately, we do: Drink more water! Your digestive upset could simply be caused by dehydration, and if that's the case, it's too easy to not fix it. If you're not sure whether you've been drinking enough water, the University of Missouri System offers this guideline: Aim to drink half your body weight (measured in pounds) in ounces of water daily. For example, a person weighing 180 pounds should aim to drink 90 ounces of water every day.

Aside from being necessary to sustain life, water is a basic factor (and one of the most important) in maintaining good gut health. Why? The Mayo Clinic explains that water helps your digestive system break down the foods you consume, and it helps soften your stool, which can therefore relieve any constipation you may be suffering from. On the other hand, not drinking enough water can cause stool to harden while still in the intestines, making it harder to pass when the time comes. So if you've been dealing with constipation recently, it could be that you haven't been drinking enough water — try increasing the amount you drink over the next few days and see if that does the trick.


Another key component of gut health? Exercise. If you're a chronic couch potato who's also suffering from bouts of digestive discomfort, this news may be devastating to hear, but it could genuinely change your digestive system for the better. Lucky for you, even simple exercises (like stretching or going for a short walk) can greatly improve your gut health and the overall performance of your digestive system. 

Exercise increases blood flow to all parts of your body, including the muscles around your gut. It basically kickstarts your digestive system and keeps it from being stagnant, which lets it better break down the foods you introduce to your body. Don't be fooled, though — going for a miles-long run right after you eat a big meal isn't the best idea, as engaging in strenuous exercise while your body is digesting food can add to the discomfort you're already experiencing. Instead, incorporate aerobic exercise into your routine before eating. 

After you eat, there are exercises that you can do to help aid in digestion — AXA Health recommends performing some yoga stretches on a mat to help aid your body's digestive process. If you're experiencing a one-off bout of digestive discomfort, you can also try laying on your left side or rubbing your stomach in clockwise circles, both of which can stimulate the digestive process.

Eat slowly

Yep, that's right — eating your food more slowly can actually help your body digest it better. Why? Well, your digestive system begins where your food enters your body — namely, your mouth. The act of chewing your food is the very first thing that starts breaking down food for your body to digest it. It makes sense, then, that you'd want to chew your food well before it continues along the digestive tract. 

Don't believe us? Take it from Intestinal Labs, who explains that not chewing your food well enough can contribute to digestive problems like bloating and gas, and can even cause headaches. Not to mention, thoroughly chewing will lessen your chances of choking. Plus, chewing your food gives you time to actually enjoy it — after all, we've all had the experience of shoveling delicious food into our mouths so fast we can barely taste it. Take time to savor it! You may also find yourself eating more reasonable portions as a result, as eating more slowly gives your body (and brain) enough time to tell you it's full. 

Keep red meat to a minimum

Sorry, steakhouse fans, but all that red meat might be proving detrimental to your gut health. Of course, moderation is key here, but if you're experiencing digestive discomfort and regularly feast on steak or burgers (or both), this could be a sign to reevaluate some of your dietary choices. Don't know if you're eating too much? Cancer Council NSW recommends eating no more than 700 grams of red meat (beef, lamb or pork) weekly. 

The reason red meat can disturb your digestive tract is pretty simple: It just takes a really, really long time for your body to process. In fact, according to Nutrition Care, your body will take about 8 to 12 hours to process red meat — way more time and energy than the average meal. So again, you don't have to cut out red meat completely. Just make sure you're consuming it infrequently enough that your body can process it well. 

Need to find a substitute for some of your favorite meals? Burger fans can always look to turkey or chicken burgers as a good substitute. Consider skipping your typical side of bacon with breakfast a few times a week — and choose the leanest cuts of steak at the store. You might find that these changes, though small, help your digestive system a ton without totally sacrificing your love for red meat.

Make food for yourself

Dear friend who Postmates dinner every night, we're talking to you. Listen, we totally understand the joys and conveniences made possible by today's gig economy — and we know there are few things better than clicking "Order Now" and knowing your favorite restaurant food will be delivered to your door shortly thereafter. But we have some sad news — all that ordering in (or eating out, if you're more of a social butterfly) could ultimately be compromising the functionality of your digestive tract.

Why? Put simply, it's rare that you'll know every ingredient in that pad krapow you just ordered. Food you eat from a restaurant is likely (at least to some extent) processed and packed full of empty calories that your body really doesn't need. Food you'd normally make at home may taste better from a restaurant because they use copious amount of ingredients like butter, salt, and sugar; but when it comes down to it, you should opt for your homemade version for health reasons. 

Generally, eating at a restaurant isn't bad, as long as it's in moderation. Home cooking gives you precise control over everything you consume, not to mention, making food at home together is a great way to bond with a partner or friend.

Add some acid to your stomach

Add acid? To your stomach? It might not sound like the most intuitive thing in the world. After all, you probably know your stomach already has acid. Plus, acid typically has negative connotations when talked about in the context of the digestive system — ever heard of acid reflux? Adding acid to your stomach probably doesn't seem like it could do a whole lot of good, but it really can, especially when it comes to balancing out your gut biome.

Stomach acid plays an incredibly important role in the process of digesting your food. In fact, SF Gate notes that stomach acid does everything from helping break down your foods to making sure your body absorbs vitamins and nutrients from your food well. This means that if your stomach acid is out of whack, your whole digestive system will likely suffer as a result. 

The remedy? Add some acid back to your stomach! Nutritionist Alessandra Edwards offers some great advice on how to naturally increase your stomach acid. She recommends eating bitter herbs (like ginger or dandelion root); adding some apple cider vinegar or lemon to your diet; adding fermented foods to your regular meal plans; and notes that you can always add to your stomach acid with some hydrochloric acid supplements.

Get enough sleep

If you're perpetually exhausted and also suffering from digestive discomfort, we have some news for you: The two are probably related. That's right, not getting enough sleep can really do a number on your gut for several reasons. First, and perhaps most obvious, not getting enough sleep (especially if sleeplessness persists for a while) tends to increase your stress levels, which we already know can wreak havoc on your digestive system. There are also numerous secondary ways that a lack of sleep can affect your digestive health; for example, you're more likely to go out to eat (or to eat processed, easy-to-make food) when you're too wiped to cook dinner. 

Henry Ford Health also suggests a biological reason sleep affects your gut, and it has to do with melatonin. In case you haven't heard of it, the melatonin hormone helps your body sleep at night — but it also "helps regulate gastrointestinal mobility." Basically, the same hormone that helps you sleep also helps your digestive system function. If you've been having trouble sleeping, you could try taking melatonin supplements to see if they help, or you could try other methods to boost your melatonin production. Foods like fish or bananas can help increase melatonin production — and even simple practices such as having good sleep hygiene (your room is dark, quiet, and the temperature is perfect) can get your body in sleep mode.

Try an abdominal massage

Yep, that's right! Getting an abdominal massage can stimulate your digestive tract and help your recently-ingested food move through your digestive system. Abdominal massages differ from a standard massage in that they tend to focus mostly (or even solely) on massaging your intestines and abdomen. When getting an abdominal massage, don't be surprised if it's fairly uncomfortable, especially if digestive discomfort has been a thing for you recently. You should never experience sharp pain, but you'll likely experience some intense pressure as your massage therapist works on your intestines and colon. 

If you don't want to spend the money on a professional abdominal massage, you can do the milder version on yourself at home. Prevention outlines an easy method to DIY your own abdominal massage. Start by massaging your abdominal area in circles. As you notice tenderness in certain areas, gently apply more pressure as you massage that area. You should feel it loosen as a result, and as you keep massaging, the tenderness should gradually decrease. 

After your abdominal massage, don't be surprised if you experience near immediate bowel movements, especially if you've been experiencing digestive issues — after all, all that massaging is helping food move through your intestines more easily!