Troubleshooting Your Digestive Issues: Signs & Symptoms of Digestive Upset (part 1)

Diane Sanfilippo Digestion, Health & Wellness, Troubleshooting 19 Comments

In this four-part series, I'll be addressing one of the most common issues I'm asked about every single day – digestive function. If you or someone you know isn't sure what's going on “in there” or how to tackle an issue, keep your eyes here for the series.

Digestive disruption is your body’s way to telling you something’s not right, so it’s important to address these issues right away.


The body’s ability to fight chronic, and even acute, disease states begins in the digestive system (the gut).

Sixty to eighty percent of the immune system is within the gut. This can result in a condition as innocuous as seasonal allergies or a problem that is much more aggressive like diverticulitis, eczema, psoriasis, or a number of inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.

Perhaps you are having a temporary “healing response” – or your disrupted digestion could be a sign that something needs to change.

In either case, some tweaking is necessary. In this 3-part series, I’ll cover some signs & symptoms, potential causes, and offer some specific recommendations.

First, let’s look at the signs & symptoms and consider the potential causes of digestive upset.

Some signs & symptoms of disrupted digestion:

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  • Heartburn
  • Frequent burping/belching
  • Indigestion
  • Feeling of fullness after meals
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  • Frequent upset stomach
  • Gas after meals
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea

Potential causes of general digestive disruption:

  • Low Stomach Acid (see my previous post: Why you want more stomach acid, not less.)
  • Biliary Insufficiency (sluggish gallbladder)
  • Stress (see Chris Kresser’s post: How stress wreaks havoc on your gut – and what to do about it)
  • Food intolerances/sensitivities (reactions to common allergens/FODMAPS*/Nightshades**)
  • Fiber (too much or not enough)
  • Medications
  • Leaky Gut (see my previous post: Is Your Gut Leaky?)
  • Dysbiosis/Candida (an imbalance of unfriendly microorganisms in your digestive tract)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
  • Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Sugary and starchy foods (feeding potential dysbiosis/candida/SIBO)

Potential causes of constipation:

All the above possible causes of digestive disruption plus…

  • Dehydration
  • Waiting too long to go
  • Mineral deficiencies such as magnesium
  • Some supplements such as iron and calcium, especially in isolation
  • Underactive thyroid

Potential causes of diarrhea:

All the above possible causes of digestive disruption plus…

  • Contaminated food or water
  • Infections
  • Excess magnesium or Vitamin C

Constipation or diarrhea? According to this post by, Paul Chek, diarrhea is often another symptom of constipation.

For a more comprehensive look at digestive troubles and what to do about them, in Practical Paleo, I describe the digestive system: the parts, the process, and the poop! I address what can go wrong, and how to fix it- including:

  • Diet & lifestyle recommendations
  • Nutritional supplements & herb recommendations and
  • 30-day Digestive Health and Autoimmune Conditions meal plans
  • What your poop is telling you

*FODMAP & **Nightshades are listed in my Guide to Paleo Foods.

In parts 2 and 3 I’ll discuss specific recommendations to tackle these tummy troubles. Part 4 of this series will be a guest post about digestive issues and pregnancy. Stay tuned!


Parts in this Series:

Part 1: Signs & Symptoms of Digestive Upset

Part 2: How to Improve Overall Digestion Function

Part 3: Specific Recommendations for Constipation & Diarrhea

Part 4: Tips for Common Digestive Issues in Pregnancy

Comments 19

  1. I was diagnosed with IBS 31 years ago. Not one GI doctor or nutritionist suggested a better or different diet – only pills and more fiber. I can see now that your book and the Paleo lifestyle would have been such a great help to me back then. At the age of 64, I will turn this around. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. I love your book!!!

  2. I did the sugar detox in April. I was fine in May and for most of June, but lately I have had bloating, alternating constipation and diarrhea as well as stomach aches. I have been eating fruits of the season, berries, cherries, etc. I’m beginning to think I have some sort of allergy to them (FODMAPS?) After I eat beets, I have intense stomach issues the next morning which I find disheartening. I have severe aches going on as well. I look forward to this series and seeking help on these issues. I just feel so overwhelmed having to give up so many of the things I love. This list for FODMAPS contains everything I have been eating. OY!

    1. It’s best to work 1:1 with an ND or other practitioner who can run some labs on you if you’re struggling this much– could be SIBO, a parasitic infection, or a very leaky gut that needs a lot of healing! Lots of possibilities but a lot of food intolerances isn’t a diagnosis, just symptoms of a deeper underlying issue.

      1. Okay, funny story….I broke down everything I have been eating and watched carefully what my reaction was to what I was putting in my mouth. I researched it online to see if anything could cause stomach aches. I have a garden full of kale, lettuce, chard and arugula. I was making salads for my lunch every day from all of those mixed together. Well, I cut out the kale and my stomach aches went away. Kale is something I do eat, but not on a daily basis. I also usually cook it. What the french toast? I had no idea my body would react like that to raw kale. Lesson learned. This also explains the beets as I was eating them on a salad made from kale.

  3. I’m really happy that you’re doing this series. I have been getting horrible stomach aches after each meal I eat for a few weeks now and I just kept telling myself I over ate, but after reading this – wow! It’s probably digestive related. Oh, I am so excited to learn more!

    1. Awesome! My book, “Practical Paleo,” outlines all of this information as well. I’d highly recommend getting it to add to your library (well, first read it!) to really help out! Best, Diane

      1. Hi Diane,

        I didn’t expect a response! I admire you even more now! I’ve been thinking of you pretty much all day, so it was really nice to come home, open my computer, and see a message from you!

        I’m definitely going to buy Practical Paleo. I’ve heard amazing things about it, so I am not sure why I don’t own it yet?! But, tomorrow I will go to the mall and buy it 🙂

        Thanks for sharing your knowledge. You are so inspiring and I am sure I will learn a lot from you.

        I hope to talk more with you as I am going to school in the fall for a Registered Holistic Nutritionist.

        Have a great Sunday evening!


  4. I’m really happy that you’re doing this series. I have been getting horrible stomach aches after each meal I eat for a few weeks now and I just kept telling myself I over ate, but after reading this – wow! It’s probably digestive related. Oh, I am so excited to learn more!

    1. Awesome! My book, “Practical Paleo,” outlines all of this information as well. I’d highly recommend getting it to add to your library (well, first read it!) to really help out! Best, Diane

  5. Hi Diane, really looking forward to parts 2,3 & 4. I am currently suffering from excessive belching after eating or drinking anything and also during exercise. The problem is, It’s the only symptom I really have so I’m not quite sure how to guess what the underlying cause is! Maybe dysbiosis. I think your book could offer me some great insights once I figure it all out. Thanks and keep up the good work 🙂

  6. Thank you for the discussion on gallbladder. I had mine out 16 years ago and have always had bouts of tummy troubles and indigestion. It’s funny that an organ which has a purpose and function can be removed without any discussion on what may replace the loss! I bought digestive enzymes with ox bile today in hopes of some real help. Paleo has helped a lot as well. This discussion was really a lightbulb moment for me that makes perfect sense. Many doctors have told me they suspect I have absorption issues but could never figure out why and all labs are always “normal”. Fingers crossed for some improvement!

  7. Some people are not made to function well with fiber – I am one of those people. When I eat fiber, my IBS swells up like crazy. I also do not have a large intestine which only intensifies the issue! 🙁 This stinks because I really do love my veggies!

  8. I have really bad bile salt malabsorption. I know the first thing I eat every day will make me very sick, sometimes it just take thinking about eating to queue up the bile release. Would love any insight on more natural ways of helping this besides prescription medication.

  9. I thought it was really interesting to learn that up to 80% of your immune system lives in your digestive tract. To me, this would make it especially important to keep your stomach healthy. I’ve been having some digestive issues lately, so I’ll definitely look at speaking with a gastroenterologist.

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