The 3 Reasons Why Your Digestion Goes to Crap Throughout the Day—and How to Fix It

Photo: Getty Images/Niyaz Tavkaev
I'm at my best in the morning. The existential grumpiness hasn't set in yet, I get to eat my favorite parfait breakfast, and as for my digestion (welp) let's just say everything's running smoothly. As the day goes on, though, my GI tract seems to get just as tuckered out as I do. I had my hunches as to why, so I asked a gastroenterologist to riddle me this: Does the time of day affect digestion?

Gastroenterologist and internist Niket Sonpal, MD, tells me, that yes, it's quite common to feel like your digestive system is working less efficiently throughout the day, and there are three major reasons why. First of all, and sorry to be crass here, but it's because most people poop in the morning. "The first thing people do usually when they wake up in the morning is they brush their teeth, they get ready for the morning, they have coffee, and they go to the bathroom," says Dr. Sonpal. "And so their stomach and everything gets very flat, and they feel really good. There's no bloat and all the gases are out." (You know the feeling.)

"Eating can lead to us feeling full, bloated, or heavy. When that happens, we get the subjective feeling that we're not able to digest as well." —Niket Sonpal, MD

Unfortunately, this post-poo feeling Dr. Sonpal describes is quite ephemeral. "As the day goes on, a variety of things happen.  Eating can lead to us feeling full, bloated, or heavy. When that happens, we get the subjective feeling that we're not able to digest as well," he says. In other words, one of the reasons we feel as though our digestion is worsening throughout the day is that we're comparing our experience to that golden, post-number two feelings. In reality, your body's still working just as hard as it did when you woke up, you might just not feel like it is by lunchtime.

"The second thing is that the first meal of the day is usually the most calm," says Dr. Sonpal. "You've slept. You've had coffee, you're in peak performance, and your entire GI tract is pretty much empty. And so everything feels like it goes down very easily. As the day goes on, though, our bodies are subjected to tons of stimulatory stress that can be found." You get that SOS request from your boss, your workload piles up, your 1.2 million Zoom meetings wreak their havoc, and suddenly your gut-brain connection is fielding your stress signals and causing indigestion. "The type of neurotransmitters in our brain that control our mood are the same ones that are in our gut, like serotonin and dopamine," explains Dr. Sonpal.

Of course, the components of your diet also contribute to how well your stomach feels morning, noon, and night. And according to Dr. Sonpal, breakfast—which really can make or break your stress levels for the rest of the day—sets the stage for how seamless your belly will feel for your remaining hours of consciousness. "For example, if you have a very carbohydrate, starch-rich food in the morning, you're going to feel really lethargic," he says. If you have a very fiber-rich, protein-heavy meal in the morning, you're going to feel fuller for longer, and experience less gas bloating."

To some extent, you can't really control the rumblings and, ahem, other noises your body makes for the sake of nourishing and taking care of you. But Dr. Sonpal says there are a few ways to tweak your meals—and the activities you do before and after them—to quell the gassiness and discomfort that just might creep up as the sun makes its journey from east to west.

The time of day does affect how your digestion feels. Here's how to hack it

1. balance your protein, carbs, and fats at every meal

"The digestive tract works well when we have everything in moderation, as opposed to a lot of one thing," says Dr. Sonpal. If you're like me, you might snack all day and then wait until dinner to squeeze in your daily recommended four to five servings of vegetables. (I never learn!) This vegetable dump might not feel great on your stomach, so compose a plate that's balanced between the food groups at each meal so your stomach doesn't throw a temper tantrum.

These are the foods that help you poop:

2. Skip the self-entertainment while you eat

Look, I love to gawk at Normal People while I eat dinner as much as the next person. What you may not notice is that you're gulping up a ton of air when you're crying or screaming in frustration at the television screen (why won't Marianne and Connell just tell each other how they feel?!), and sorry, but that makes you gassy at a time of day when your body's already dealing with the add slowness of stress. Dr. Sonpal says that his idea of "good eating hygiene" includes three components: no distractions, a sprinkle of mindfulness, and a nice glass of water to accompany the meal.

3. Take a walk, all the walks

It's just a fact: Walking and digestion go together like peanut butter and jelly. After a nice, filling meal, you may want to cozy up and lie down, but Dr. Sonpal says it's in your best interest to stay vertical. "The reason why is because the walking stimulates your abdominal muscles, your back muscles. These muscles help the normal colon contractions that help you digest," he says. You're doing yourself a solid. Make this a priority especially after lunch and dinner, and you might notice that your stomach and... other places are making less of a racket than usual.

A dietitian explains gut health:

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