How to Identify and Manage Bloating

July 31, 2021 6 min read

How to Identify and Manage Bloating

Feeling bloated constantly can put a damper on anyone’s day.  It can be detrimental to your overall quality of life, uncomfortable, or even straight up painful.  Waking up and feeling like you can’t button your pants, or after a meal feeling like you’re 5 months pregnant...when you’re not.  Almost feeling like someone filled your stomach up with air to where you are about to burst.   

Believe it or not, consistent bloating is actually pretty common with individuals, but we do not believe it is ‘normal’ and it should not be something you have to deal with on a daily basis.  So we’re going to discuss the main drivers of bloating and how to identify your reason, as well as go over the top tips to implement so you can avoid bloating being a part of your everyday life.  

Difference Between Bloating and Water Retention 

There are definitely multiple feelings around bloating and what it entails, so depending on the individual, bloating may look or feel different.  The term ‘bloating’ is sometimes used interchangeably with water retention, although they are not the same. 

Bloating is in reference to a feeling related to our digestive system - usually related to consumption of food and digestion.  When a person consumes food, or throughout the day, it develops the feeling of your stomach or midsection area being full, tight, gassy, visibly swollen, distended, or just uncomfortable in general.  

Water retention can cause a similar physical feeling, but does not include the digestive system and is more systemic in nature.  This usually refers to a change in body composition that someone may not be used to, water retention due to ‘that time of the month’, an increase in belly fat/weight gain that someone starts to feel in their clothes, or eating too much salty food.  

Typically with bloating, it can be normal to feel a little full temporarily after eating or even a tiny bit gassy throughout the day, as these are all signs of normal digestion your body goes through, but what about when bloating becomes a problem?  

Main Drivers of Bloating

Air gets into our bodies constantly.  When we swallow air, and it stays trapped in our stomach, we usually release that by good ole burping.  Air passed through the bowels completely is relieved as gas - which can be very normal 10-20x/day, often later in the day.  Although air that is trapped in the colon or small intestine is what drives a lot of bloating that is painful or uncomfortable.  Our intestinal gas is made up of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane - and the composition varies depending on the type of intestinal gas.  There are two main drivers of bloating: 

1. Bacterial Fermentation  

When we eat foods that our body does not digest completely, there are undigested parts that pass along into the large intestine, where most of our bacterial colonies live, and this can create excessive fermentation and gas.  This can be driven by meals that are too large and too dense in calories compared to our body’s digestive abilities, a deficiency in digestive enzymes, or an inability to digest specific foods (food allergies or intolerances).  

In some cases, the small intestine is actually the driver of the bloating, which comes before the large intestine in the digestive system and process.  Sometimes bacterial overgrowth can occur in the small intestine, which is usually a result of bacteria accumulating in the large intestine and backing up into the small intestine due to slow motility or slowed digestion.  This ‘back-up’ can cause excessive fermentation, and what many people know as small intestine bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO.  This is a bit more of a chronic condition and is often a main driver of the development of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) as well. 

2. Eating Habits  

Eating behaviors and other habits can also be a large driver behind the belly discomfort or bloat.  

Eating Habits that Drive Bloating: 

  • Not chewing your food well enough
  • Eating while distracted or eating too quickly
  • Not drinking enough water between meals (we recommend not drinking much WITH meals to avoid swallowing too much air)
  • Eating large or oversized portions
  • Carbonated beverages, like sparkling water
  • Eating an excess of spicy, fried, or fatty foods
  • Specific foods can also cause bloating for many individuals, even healthy foods including: 
    • Cruciferous vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, or onions (as they are considered ‘poorly digested carbohydrates’ and are often difficult to break down and lead to bloating)
    • Beans 
    • Dairy (many people who have pre-existing gut issues or fermentation do not tolerate dairy products well) 
    • Dried fruits
    • Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols as they are metabolized by bacteria in the colon resulting in bloating, gas, or even diarrhea for many! 
    • High amounts of vegetables - especially less cooked or raw 

Lifestyle Habits that Drive Bloating: 

  • Chronic stress and poor sleep - both which drive inflammation, slow digestion and drive more fermentation or overgrowth of bacteria in the intestines. 
  • Certain medications/supplements (prebiotics, antacids, aspirin, fiber supplements, multivitamins, and iron pills) 
  • Eating too late before bedtime 
  • Smoking 
  • Sedentarism 

How to Relieve Bloating

If you are experiencing bloating, there are a number of ways that you can be helpful to relieve that bloating in the moment. 

1. Going for a walk 

Being active can help improve motility and drive the muscles of the digestive tract to push down and relieve air trapped.  

2. Drinking lukewarm water 

Drinking additional water while bloating can aid digestion, but lukewarm water in particular has been shown to be more effective for this.

3. Massage your abdomen clockwise  

This motion can help promote the large intestine to move stool along effectively and relieve bloating.  

4. Natural Remedies/Supplements 

These are all known to be natural remedies as well for reducing bloating - peppermint tea, chamomile tea, anise, caraway, coriander, funnel, and turmeric.  

How to Prevent Bloating

It can be much easier though toprevent bloating in the first place than trying to find ways to relieve it once it is there.  If you are someone who experiences consistent bloating, stomach pain, or discomfort from consuming foods, these are great options to look into to help relieve the constant uncomfortable feeling that bloating can cause.  I would especially consider these if you are working to manage symptoms of a condition like IBS, IBD, food intolerances, celiacs, acid reflux, PCOS, or H. Pylori.  

1. Eating slowly and chewing your food 15-20x/bite

When we don’t break down our food as much as possible in our mouth from chewing, the rest of the digestive system has more work to do.  A simple way to prevent bloating is to just slow down when you eat!  

2. Stay active! 

Being active and getting up more throughout your day is one of the best ways to improve your motility and digestion.  If you get moving, your digestion gets moving too!  

3. Eat smaller, more frequent meals 

If you experience bloating after eating, try having smaller, more frequent meals every few hours versus larger meals all at once to give your digestive system less food to manage.  

4. Avoid common food irritants 

There are some common foods that are great, nutritious foods but cause bloating for many people with gut irritation.  They include: beans/legumes, cruciferous vegetables, raw kale or lettuce, chia or flaxseeds, foods rich in fat, sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners.  This is why we use stevia in all of our products like CLEAN and PRE because it has been shown in research to not impact the gut the same way as sucralose or fructose does.  

5. Low FODMAP Diet 

This diet has been particularly helpful in studies with patients who deal with IBS or IBD.  It is a collection of naturally-occurring short-chain carbohydrates or sugars, which the gut has trouble digesting in some people.  You can learn more about the diet here.  

6. Utilize a digestive enzyme

Many of us, as we age, or if there has been long-term gut stress, can lack proper digestive enzymes to break down foods.  Things like lactase to break down lactose - the sugar in dairy, or lipase to break down fats, can be lacking in production in the body.  This is why we recommend trying a digestive enzyme with your meals, which can also be great for nutrient absorption! You can read more about digestive enzymes here.

7. Work with a Coach or Keep a Food Journal

Often, it can be hard to figure out what in particular is causing the bloating.  By working with a coach who has a trained and expert eye to aid in bloating, or by keeping a food journal and log of your bloating, it can be helpful to start to uncover what foods or situations seem to cause it most.  

Disclaimer: In most situations, gas and abdominal discomfort does not require medical attention.  Although if you are dealing with frequency of weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, heartburn, or blood in your stool - seek medical attention to get things checked out further! 

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