Ever wonder why you feel bloated sometimes? Bloating is a common occurrence if we are consuming foods we are intolerant to, but it can also be caused by eating too fast and not chewing or cooking your food properly.
Bloating is typically caused by excessive amounts of solids, liquids, gas production or disturbances in the movement of muscles in the digestive system, which can cause pains, the feeling of fullness, and a distended stomach.
There are several triggers that can contribute to bloating and vary quite a bit depending on the person's lifestyle, their gut health and their stress levels.
Some common triggers include:
- Digestive issues: Constipation, food allergies, and food sensitivities or intolerances can lead to bloating.
Altered gut motility: When stool becomes backed up in the large intestine, it can cause bloating and a feeling of discomfort.
- Impaired gas transit: Excess gas may also build up behind the stool, making the bloating worse.
- Diet: Fizzy drinks, too much salt or sugar, and not enough fiber in the diet can all cause bloating.
- Hormonal changes: Many people experience bloating before and during their periods due to hormonal changes and water retention.
- Abnormal abdominal reflexes
- Visceral hypersensitivity (feeling of bloating in small or even normal body changes)
More severe causes of bloating can be related to underlying medical conditions such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
- Other functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs)
- Food intolerances
- Weight gain
- Intestinal parasite infection
- Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa
- Mental health factors such as stress, anxiety, depression, and more
- Some medications can also cause bloating and water retention
So how can we combat bloating through lifestyle changes? The good news is there are several things we can do both short term and long term to improve bloating.
Slow down when eating and drinking - Gas is the most common cause of bloating, especially after eating. Gas builds up in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract when undigested food gets broken down or when you swallow air. Swallowing food quickly can introduce air into the digestive tract.
Drinking from a straw can also lead to people swallowing more air, which in turn leads to gas and bloating. If you’re suffering from bloating, avoid using straws and slow down when eating, taking time to chew your food properly to minimize swallowing air during meals.
Eat at regular intervals - Many people experience bloating directly after a big meal. It is possible to avoid this by eating several smaller meals each day, which can also help to keep the digestive system moving.
Go for a walk - Physical activity can get the bowels moving more regularly, which can help to release excess gas and stool. Getting the bowels to move is especially important if a person is feeling constipated. A walk around the block can provide fast relief from gas pressure.
Try yoga poses - Certain yoga poses can position the muscles in the abdomen in a way that encourages the release of excess gas from the GI tract. Child’s pose, happy baby pose, knee to chest and squats can all help people to relieve a buildup of gas quickly.
Use peppermint capsules or tea - Peppermint works by relaxing the intestinal muscles, which allows gas and stool to move along more effectively. Both mint and chamomile teas are known for relaxing your GI tract. Peppermint oil capsules may also be helpful for indigestion and related gas.
Incorporate Ginger - Ginger can help increase motility in the digestive system as it helps food pass more quickly through the GI tract. This decreases the amount of time food stays in the gut, so it is less likely to undergo fermentation which leads to gas and bloating. Sip on ginger root tea, add it to water with lemon, blend into smoothies or into stir frys for a boost of flavor!
Take a warm bath, soaking, and relaxing - The heat of the bath can provide relief for a sore abdomen. Relaxation can reduce stress levels, which may allow the gastrointestinal tract to function more effectively and help reduce bloating.
Abdominal massage - Massaging the abdomen for 2-3 minutes can help to get the bowels moving. A massage that follows the path of the large intestine is especially helpful. A basic massage will involve moving your fingertips in a circular motion over the abdomen, starting on your lower right side and traveling clockwise up to your rib cage, then across and down to your pelvis.
Keep a food diary - This is one of the easiest ways to identify what foods may be linked to bloating and other digestive issues. Food intolerances are very common and can lead to excessive gas in the digestive tract. So if you notice the bloating is occurring 2-3 hours after eating, starting to keep a food log can help you make correlations to the foods you ate before and identify potential culprits.
Two very common food groups linked to digestive issues are dairy and gluten. Individuals who are sensitive to lactose or lactose intolerant, are unable to digest the lactose sugar in dairy products resulting in uncomfortable digestive issues. Autoimmune intolerance to gluten, known as celiac disease, is another potential culprit. (source)
Eat foods higher in potassium - When potassium is low, the body retains extra sodium and holds on to water. Bananas are a great source of potassium as well as tomatoes, mushrooms, dark leafy greens, and fish like salmon and halibut!
Eat more natural probiotics - There are plenty of natural foods that contain probiotics. Fermented foods such as fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kombucha tea, kefir and yogurt are all great sources and easy ways to get probiotics into your diet. Be cautious with the sugar content as that can be counterproductive for gastrointestinal health. Look for low sugar or no sugar added yogurts and kombucha.
Increase your leafy greens - Leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach and arugula, are a good source of insoluble fiber, they help your colon produce stool, thereby reducing gas and bloating. One of the easiest ways to incorporate more veggies is to add them into smoothies, soups, ‘bowl’ style meals or saute them as a side. Smoothies are also easy on the stomach as the food is already broken down a bit so it makes it easier to digest.
Not a fan of greens or travel a lot and don’t have access to fresh fruits and veggies? Try our superfood blend of GREENS formulated with 12x servings of the world's most powerful fruits & veggies per serving. We have also included a full enzyme blend to help with nutrient absorption!
Increase fiber - Eating more fiber helps to prevent constipation and bloating. Research shows that most people do not consume enough fiber, the mean intake in the American diet is 17 grams per day with only 5 percent of people meeting their recommended daily fiber intake of 25 grams for females and 38 grams for males. (source)
However, eating too much fiber or increasing fiber intake too quickly can cause more gas and bloating. If you're used to lower-fiber meals and you suddenly start eating a lot of fruit, salads, and bran cereals, you're going to be significantly bloated. When increasing fiber intake, it is best to start slowly and increase the intake over several days to allow the body to adjust to this change in the diet.
Consider a low-FODMAP diet - FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly. Some people, especially those dealing with IBS or SIBO, experience digestive distress after eating foods high in FODMAPs. Typical symptoms include bloating, flatulence, cramping and diarrhea or constipation.
A 2012 review article of multiple studies concluded that a low-FODMAP diet might improve symptoms in at least 74 percent of people with IBS. (source)
High FODMAP foods that aggravate the gut include dairy-based products like yogurt, wheat-based products such as cereal, bread and crackers, beans and lentils, vegetables, such as artichokes, asparagus, onions and garlic and fruits, such as apples, cherries, pears and peaches.
Raw vegetables are delicious and all, but they can contribute to bloating. If you're having serious bloat issues, eat vegetables cooked, especially cruciferous vegetables. One way to make it easier on the GI tract is to pressure cook high FODMAP foods to alleviate some of the work on your digestive system as the high heat pressure cooking helps break down or soften the fibers so they are easier to digest.
Eliminate carbonated beverages & consider adding lemon to your water - Fizzy, carbonated drinks contain gas that can build up in the stomach. The carbon dioxide that makes soda and similar beverages fizzy can also cause bubbling and bloating in the stomach. Not to mention the sugar-replacement artificial sweeteners which are often part of low calorie carbonated beverages that can be problematic for many people.
Lemons are one of nature’s best bodily waste removers as they work as a subtle laxative to move stool out of the colon as well as a diuretic to flush out your kidneys. So they may keep you from getting constipated and retaining water - two major sources of bloating.
Try reducing your dairy intake - Many people don’t realize they have a sensitivity to dairy or are lactose intolerant. Lactose, the sugar in dairy, can pull water into your gut and cause gas and bloating, and for those with lactose intolerance, it can be more problematic as inadequately digested lactose acts as a food source to bacteria in the colon, leaving you more uncomfortable and possibly even constipated.
The best route to reduce bloating is to avoid dairy for 14 days and see if your symptoms improve. You can also look for organic, high quality dairy products that contain the lactase enzyme to make it easier on the digestive system.
Limit low sugar/high fiber processed food products, including protein bars - There are a bunch of products on the market that boast about their high fiber and low sugar content. However, these products tend to have a lot of sugar alcohols and inulin added to boost fiber content which can also cause bloating in sensitive people.
One of the most common culprits of bloating that we see with our clients is low quality protein bars and protein supplements. These products often contain whey-protein concentrate or milk protein concentrate, which causes bloating in people who have trouble digesting lactose. So it is important to consume a high quality protein supplement such as CLEAN, that does not contain sugar alcohols and includes a patented blend of digestive enzymes designed to improve protein digestion and soothe the gut. We have also removed 90% of the lactose and added lactase enzymes to help with any lactose intolerance issues.
Minimize processed foods - Processed foods are quick and easy when you're pressed for time, but they're not doing you any favors in the digestive department. Processed foods are usually high in sodium which causes water retention and contributes to bloating.
If you love having something crunchy to munch on, try keeping healthy, non-bloating snacks handy, like carrot sticks or unsalted almonds. You can also create your own bento box style snack box which is one of our favorite snacks and very versatile! Mix and match things like grapes, apples, berries, almonds, hummus, guacamole, zucchini or bell pepper sticks, baby tomatoes, sliced cucumber, radishes, crackers, deli turkey, diced chicken, or chicken salad to create a well rounded snack with healthy fats, protein and higher quality carbohydrates.
Give these tips a try to help reduce or eliminate your bloating! Once you’ve ruled out all the obvious sources of bloating, it is advised to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss any lingering concerns especially if bloating persists for days or weeks. Continual swelling in the abdominal area could be a sign of a more serious medical concern, especially when bloating is accompanied by other unusual or uncomfortable symptoms.
Although it is not common, a swollen abdomen can indicate medical conditions such as liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), heart failure, ovarian cancer or colon cancer, and kidney problems.