Our daily lives are dictated by our schedules: work, school, teams, clubs, lessons, family obligations, and more. Within those schedules, we have routines, and within those routines we have habits. These routines and habits are what make our lives seem “normal” and “safe”. The issue is that often we have habits that are not good for us, but they have become ingrained in our lifestyle.
These ingrained bad habits can affect our health in many ways, from our energy levels to digestion to even our hormonal balance. In particular, digestion is the one area that impacts every other aspect of our health, so it’s crucial to address this first. When our digestion is thrown off, we can’t absorb nutrients properly, we feel tired and sluggish, and fail to get the most out of each day. That being said, trying to make a massive change to your diet or flip your whole daily routine on its head is not only daunting and difficult but in many cases impractical and nearly impossible.
Though there are many things that impact digestion, what we do directly surrounding meals can have the most immediate impact on how well we process our food. Consider making these four small changes to have a positive and lasting impact on your health, without an excess of time and effort.
4 Things You Should Never Do After a Meal
1. Sleep right after a meal
Perhaps you eat a late dinner each night and then head straight to bed, or perhaps your favorite thing to do following a big family meal is a nice, long nap. If that’s the case, you may want to reconsider! A study done in Greece found that those who went to bed within an hour of eating a meal had a much higher risk of having a stroke. Conversely, those who waited one hour decreased their risk by two-thirds, and every additional 20 minutes after that risk dropped by another 10%. (1)
Though not a cause-and-effect relationship, there are strong correlations. Speculation as to why this may occur is for a couple of reasons. First, eating before sleeping increases your risk of acid reflux, which is associated with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a risk factor for stroke. (1)
Other potential reasons the changes in your blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood flow after a meal and while sleeping may contribute to increased risk. More studies are going to be done to determine the true cause. (1)
Bottom line: Eat dinner early to allow plenty of time for digestion to take place, and to avoid sleep disturbances due to dips in blood sugar and acid reflux. This habit will also lower your risk of bigger issues such as a stroke.
2. Drink tea immediately after eating
Though there is some evidence that certain teas and other warm drinks may help digestion, there’s a downside: Beverages such as herbal teas, black teas, coffee, green teas, and even cocoa inhibit the absorption of iron. This is thanks to the large amounts of polyphenolic compounds in them. (2) Normally, these are quite good for you, but immediately after a meal they block the absorption of the iron in your food. With iron deficiency being one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in women in North America, spacing out your tea or coffee after a meal should be considered. (2)
That being said, herbal teas are still a much better choice than caffeinated black tea or coffee. Teas such as fennel, ginger or peppermint can help soothe digestion, whereas caffeine can have an overstimulating effect on digestion and rush the process.
Bottom line: Avoid caffeinated teas and coffee right after a meal, as they are not good for digestion and can inhibit iron absorption. If you are going to have a herbal tea, wait for at least 20-30 minutes instead of consuming tea directly after a meal. For other digestive aids, try one of these drinks instead, or include fermented foods with your meal.
3. Workout immediately after eating
Turns out there is truth behind your parents making you wait to swim after a meal when you were a kid! Beyond the dangers of developing a stitch or cramp (particularly in higher risk activities such as swimming or rock climbing), exercising right after eating can affect both the quality of your workout and the quality of your digestion. (3, 4)
To digest food, your digestive tract requires a large amount of blood flow. To perform an exercise, your working muscles need 80% of your blood flow directed to them. When you workout immediately after exercising, your muscles and your GI tract are now competing for blood flow, limiting and decreasing the quality of both. (4, 5)
Your muscles will also use the energy source that is most easily available to them when working out. If you have just eaten a large meal, there will be sugars in your blood that are ready for immediate use, instead of the more complicated process of breaking down stored energy. This is not ideal if your goal is to burn up the fat stored on your body! Note that this does not mean you should workout on a completely empty stomach, either! (4, 5)
Bottom line: Wait at least an hour after a meal before exercising to prevent cramps and get the most out of your digestion and your workout.
4. Smoke after a meal
Among the many other reasons you should not be smoking in the first place, having a cigarette after a meal takes away most (if not all) of the nutrition. Not only is smoking associated with lower intakes of fruits and vegetables, but it also affects the absorption and use of many important vitamins and minerals. (6, 7, 8 )Even just one cigarette robs the body of Vitamin C, as well as decreases the levels of other antioxidants such as B-carotene, vitamin E, zinc, and selenium. (7, 8, 9, 10)This decreases your body’s ability to fight back against the free radicals caused by smoking and increases your risk of cancer. (7)
Smoking also affects the absorption of vitamin D, which is important for many processes in the body. Primarily, if you are not absorbing vitamin D, you can’t properly absorb calcium. This lack of calcium leads to weak bones and osteoporosis. (7, 9)
Bottom line: Smoking is an incredibly dangerous habit, and affects your ability to absorb the nutrients from your meal.
Changing your habits for a healthier lifestyle is not easy, but it is worth it! Conquering even just one bad habit will inspire you to make more, until eventually you have a new, healthy routine.