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Seasonal Digestive Distress: 10 Tips for Coping

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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

End of summer and early fall is a time for barbecue, seaside clambakes, and fair food. And unless we’re careful, we suffer some unpleasant results: stomachaches, nausea, heartburn, and constipation or diarrhea. 

Outdoor events can trigger digestive problems in a number of ways:

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  • Picnic and party food can spoil in the heat.
  • We may over-exercise.
  • And it’s easy to become dehydrated.

What can you do? Here, gastroenterologists offer five ways to avoid digestive problems, followed by five ways to deal with digestive trouble once you have it.  

5 Ways to Avoid Digestive Problems

1. Eat Smaller, Frequent Meals. If you want to prevent indigestion, eat smaller, more frequent meals, writes gastroenterologist Cynthia M. Yoshida, MD, in her book No More Digestive Problems. In the case of a great picnic or barbecue, try starting with small portions of your favorite foods. 

2. Take It Slow. Taste your food, savor it, and space it out. Practice mindful eating, and talk and socialize, says Gerard E. Mullin, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of integrative GI nutrition services at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. "If you overwhelm your stomach -- and the more you eat the more you slow it down -- you'll feel gas, bloating and discomfort." Here’s one good way to help yourself slow down: Cut your food into small pieces, then chew each piece well. 

Going slow refers to physical activity, too. Mullin suggests that if you exercise for more than 45 minutes, wait an hour before you eat so that the blood diverted to your muscles has time to return to your stomach, where it's needed to help digest your food. 

3. Store Food Safely. The waning sun feels great on your skin, but it also allows bacteria to thrive on food. There are about 76 million cases of food-borne illness in the U.S. each year, says the CDC. Common symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, and other digestive problems. 

Keep cold foods cold, hot foods hot, and if you have doubts about that salad, steak, or picnic bounty, pass it up. Hot foods should be kept at 140 degrees or warmer. Cold foods should be kept at 40 degrees or colder. Perishable food should not be kept at room temperature for longer than two hours. 

4. Avoid Fried and Acidic Foods. To prevent gas, bloating, and other symptoms of overindulgence, limit or avoid these types of food: 

  • Fatty food, like fried foods and cheese, which take longer to digest and increase risk for heartburn
  • Gassy foods, like sodas and beans
  • Acidic foods, like citrus, tomatoes, colas, tea, and coffee, which can lead to heartburn 

5. Hydrate. When it's warm out, you want to be sure you're getting enough fluids. Yet you don't want to gulp down glass after glass, which can cause you to swallow air, leading to bloating and gas. Dehydration can lead to constipation and nausea. Drink sensibly before you're thirsty.

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