We’ve all experienced it. That feeling where your stomach is hard as a rock and your suddenly look six months pregnant. Why me? What have I done wrong? You feel heavy and upset. All you can think about is how long it will continue and how to get rid of it.
Bloating was my enemy for years. My belly was sensitive to everything and the more stressed I got about it , the worse it got. Diagnosed with IBS I was left lost and confused. But with a little research, time and by listening to my body I have identified some strategies to deal with bloating when it does occur, which these days is no longer as common!
Bloating is so common these days. If you ask anyone they’ll likely have experienced it, sometimes for longer periods than normal. But what exactly causes bloating? How can I get rid of it? I did a poll last week on my Instagram (@f.i.g_nutrition_) asking how many people would like me to cover how to get rid of bloating and 100% voted yes. So here goes..
It’s important to remember that bloating is a normal reaction to eating or drinking a large meal however, its when bloating becomes a chronic issue that we may need to explore more deeply. There are a number of causes of bloating, some reasons including:
1. Food intolerances – Some foods are more difficult to digest for some people for various reasons. Some more common ones like lactose, wheat or gluten but there’s also some less commonly know ones such as garlic, onions and sweeteners. These contain certain carbohydrates that for some people, are less easily digested. When these foods are undigested, they get left sitting fermenting in the bowels, which results in a production of gas and pressure leading to that bloated feeling.
2. Eating too quickly: Digestion starts when we see and smell food. When we start chewing, this our stimulates digestive enzymes in anticipation of the meal. If we don’t chew properly, not enough enzymes are produced, resulting in undigested food particles making it to the gut. Its also common to swallow more air while eating fast. The combination of air build up and fermenting food particles may then result in bloating.
3. Stress: This is by far the most common reason behind bloating. Our gut and our brain are constantly in contact. Stress causes the brain to go into ‘fight or flight’ mode, similar to when humans lived in the wild and were in danger – the body shuts off digestion to save energy in case it needs to escape quickly. Stress is a normal part of modern society but this can be detrimental to our health in a number of ways. Chronic stress means digestion is constantly ‘switched off’ so over time our food isn’t properly digested again leaving it building up and fermenting in the gut.
4. Fibre: (this can be too much or too little!) too little fibre can cause things to slow down as the gut muscles become lazy, food gets ‘stuck’ essentially and begins to ferment and produce gas. Similarly, if you’re not used to eating fibre, eating too much quickly can produce a lot of gas. Think of it like our gut bacteria having a party. They get excited with all this extra food to eat, resulting in a higher production of their beneficial byproducts and a build up of gas. Its best to start slow and be sure to drink enough water to help bulk out the fibre consumed.
5. Lack of movement: Exercise stimulates peristalsis which just means the movement of gut muscles which push the food along the digestive tract. Lack of movement and sitting still all day can cause peristalsis to slow down leaving food in the gut for longer than necessary.
Ok, so now we know what causes bloating, so how exactly do I get rid of it? Firstly, relax. Getting worked up over your bloated tummy will only make it worse. This puts your body into a state of stress further worsening the problem (see number 3) You won’t be able to get rid of a bloated belly instantly, but some tips to help the process include:
- Peppermint tea – This calming tea can help you unwind. It also has a relaxing effect on the gut and can help reduce bloating.
- Stress management: This may not always be the easiest, but this is the most common reason for bloating. Is there something in your life that’s causing that stress? Can you address this? If not, try to find some down time and include relaxing practises such as exercise, a bath, yoga or light stretching. Each of these can help us to reduce stress and feel less overwhelmed.
- Diet – alcohol, spicy foods, caffeine and refined carbohydrates can induce bloating in some people, do you consume these foods often? Keeping a food diary can help identify this and other problem foods.
- Exercise – This one has a double whammy by helping manage stress and inducing gut motility to get things moving.
- Eat slowly – So often we are eating n the move or quickly to save time. Stop doing this. Make time for your meals removing any distractions. Sit down and take your time, taking breaks between bites can really help to slow down the speed of eating.
Unfortunately bloating can happen unexpectedly for a long period of time. There’s no magic, instant cure and you do need to allow time for your tummy to relax a little. Please be patient and try some of the above remedies and you should be back to normal in a day or two. If you have suffered from bloating long term or experience severe pain, diarrhoea, vomiting or unexplained weight loss please get in contact with your doctor to rule out anything more serious. Exclusion diets should be carried out with the support of a registered nutritionist or dietitian to prevent nutritional deficiencies.
If you found this article helpful or interesting, please be sure to share with friends, family or anyone you think may benefit. For more information and daily nutrition advice, please see my Instagram @f.i.g_nutriton_. Have a lovely day!