Bloating is probably one of the most uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes you feel like you’re in your third trimester of pregnancy, because your belly is so swollen and tight. While other times it’s less of a visible distention and more of a whole body feeling of inflammation or swelling. Regardless of the symptom, let’s look at what can cause bloating, and learn how to tune-in to your body’s signals so you can ditch the bloat.
The definition of bloating is an accumulation of either extra air or fluid in the body that creates tightness or fullness. How does that extra fluid or air get in there? Well, it can be as simple as chewing gum and swallowing air, or as complicated as fluctuating hormones, such as increased estrogen, which can cause water retention. While gas tends to be more specifically trapped in the belly, water retention may be felt as swelling in the hands, feet, belly, or other places in the body.
Here are some tips to help you discover what could be causing the bloat, as well as ways to decrease it.
Journal. The best way to figure out what could be causing your bloating is to journal symptoms. Not only is it helpful to jot down what foods and drinks you’ve had, but also keep track of feelings/emotions (happy, sad, stressed, angry, etc.), quality of your poop (color, consistency, number, etc.), how you ate (in the car, in 5 minutes, while working, etc.), level of hunger, how you feel 1-2 hours after eating, and other symptoms you may experience (brain fog, PMS, etc.). It’s also nice to track the type and duration of exercise, quality and duration of sleep, and timing of meals. Do this for 1-2 weeks as a way to tune-in to your body. It will speak to you. You just need to listen.
Breathe. Good digestion starts before you put food in your mouth. If you’re eating in a stressed or hurried state, then it’s hard for your body to properly break down and absorb food. When you sit down to eat, take 10 deep breaths. This will help signal your body to be in the rest and digest state. The more relaxed you are eating, usually the slower you eat, which makes it less likely for you to consume extra air that you normally would if you were quickly gulping down food.
Give Thanks. Another option that can be combined with breathing or done in place of breathing, is taking time to give thanks for your meal. This decreases stress, helps transition your body to rest and digest mode, and sets a positive tone for your meal.
Chew Well & Oral Health. To ensure you’re properly breaking down food and not leaving large chunks for your gut bacteria to do the work (which you guessed it—can create more gas in your tummy), chew your food well. If you notice discomfort or pain when chewing, please tell your dentist. Regular visits help keep those chompers working well.
Hydration. Drinking water throughout the day keeps your bowels moving; however, drinking too much at meal times can actually disrupt digestion by diluting natural gut juices, like stomach acid, that help break down food. Try to drink the majority of your water between meals, drinking enough at mealtime to take supplements or medications, and to moisten drier foods if needed. Ideally, drink half of your bodyweight in ounces of water daily and adjust from there. If you drink a lot of carbonated beverages, take note that carbonation can increase gas in your belly too.
Movement. Moving your body helps with moving your bowels, which can release pressure in your belly. If you are moving enough that you’re generating sweat, that can also help with releasing water (and toxins); therefore, reducing bloat. Walking and other forms of exercise are also great for reducing stress and balancing hormones. It's important to note that during exercise, blood is shunted away from digestion and to your working muscles. If you are tracking your exercise and notice it is worsening symptoms such as bloating or constipation, then it may be time to experiment with shorter duration or less vigorous forms of exercise.
Fiber. Fiber is food for your good bacteria and adds bulk to your stools. It also helps bind excessive hormones, like estrogen, and clears them from the body, thus reducing water retention. Please remember, it’s normal and healthy to have some gas throughout the day since your bacteria does produce gas when it breaks down food. Bloating comes into play when poorly broken down food is left for the bacteria to feed on, thus producing excessive gas; or when you’re eating high amounts of fiber or new forms of fiber (i.e. eating beans when you’ve rarely eaten them before), which is also making the bacteria work harder and thus producing gas. If you currently aren’t consuming enough fiber, then start one meal at a time to allow your gut bacteria to get used to breaking it down.
Whole Foods. Not the grocery store, just whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods, which contain fiber to feed good gut bacteria. These foods are also less likely to contain bloating-induced additives such as sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are known for causing loose stools and/or bloating—neither of which are desirable. If you are looking for ideas on incorporating more fiber and less processed foods in your day, sign up for the 10-Day Blood Sugar Balance Challenge (it’ll be the box that pops up after a second or two when you hop on over to my website).
Probiotics. While taking supplemental probiotics can be very helpful, it’s also nice to eat them so you can diversify your good bacteria. Some of my favorite fermented, probiotic-rich foods are kimchi and yogurt. If you have a histamine intolerance or notice that these foods worsen symptoms, please stop eating them and work with a nutrition therapist like me or your GI doctor to get to the root cause of your symptoms.
Test, Don’t Guess. If the above tips don’t completely relieve your bloating, then it’s time to dig deeper. This may include foundational supplements to help support digestion, an elimination diet to rule out food intolerances, or additional digestive and hormone testing to discover if a parasite, yeast overgrowth, or hormone imbalance is the cause of your symptoms. Whatever it may be, I’m here to help.
I want to hear from you. Please comment below what is the one thing you’ll start working on today to ditch the bloat? Also, if you felt this blog was helpful or know someone who would benefit from it, please like it and share it.
With love, Steph