Bloating can be extremely uncomfortable and embarrassing, and can make us feel anxious about social settings. It can occur for a lot of different reasons, such as high volumes of food or fluids, or from gas produced by our gut. Some people also have a heightened sensitivity in their gut; this is particularly common in those with functional gut disorders such as IBS. Fortunately, beating the bloat may be easier than you think and can be avoided simply by managing our diet and lifestyle. There are many strategies to help and whether you try one strategy at a time or a combined approach is entirely up to you. Introducing one method at a time will help you assess which strategy is effective for you, but of course, may take a longer time to find relief. A nutritional therapist can be a God-send in helping you narrow down what is causing the issue and fixing the issue, fast.
Chew your food
Turns out that your mother was right – you need to slow down and chew your food! Digestion begins in your mouth with chewing so it’s important to do it properly. Aim to chew each mouthful at least 15 times. Up to 40 chews may be necessary for harder-to-chew foods, such as steak. Main meals should take about 20 minutes to consume. Get into the habit of putting your knife and fork down between bites to slow yourself down and switch on more mindful eating. This will help improve digestion and reduce digestive symptoms. As an added benefit you’ll also extract more nutrients from your food!
Identify food triggers
Managing the trigger of other issues such as constipation or IBS will often resolve bloating or stomach protrusion. This is where the support of a Nutritional Therapist can help immensely! Try keeping a diary for 1-2 weeks, noting all foods consumed, water intake, stresses, and sleep. Take note of when bloating occurs and try to identify any patterns like certain foods or stressful events triggering bloating. If your trigger is a certain food, remove this food temporarily, adopt a good gut-health protocol, and slowly reintroduce this food over time.
Eat small, regular meals
If you suffer from bloating, try avoiding large meals and opt for small regular meals. 4 to 5 small meals may be a better idea than 2-3 large meals.
Avoid ingesting air
I’m not saying you need to stop breathing, but sometimes air can get mixed up with your food and end up in your stomach. Excess air can come from talking while eating (“don’t speak with your mouth full!”), fizzy drinks, chewing gum, using a straw, and smoking.
Avoid or reduce sweeteners and added polyols
These are often found in sugar-free foods and drinks (unfortunately this includes some protein powders and snacks). Try avoiding erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, isomalt, and maltitol; opt for stevia instead. Stevia is a natural sweetener and doesn’t cause some of the side effects that can come with other artificial sweeteners. Try out the protein powders made with stevia and see if it makes a difference!
Restore your gut balance
Bloating has been linked with gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in the trillions of bacteria that live inside your gut). The first step is to consume a healthy diet full of fruits of vegetables. Aim to eat a rainbow of colours each day with at least 30 different plant foods per week and 30g of fibre per day. Furthermore, consuming a daily natural probiotic, like kefir, can help to re-populate your gut with the healthy balance of good bacteria it needs to function properly.
As peppermint oil can relax the muscles in the gut, it may help ease bloating caused by trapped gas. Supplementing with peppermint capsules during times of uncomfortable bloating may help.
Going for a walk, doing some light exercise, or stretching can help to diffuse trapped gas and relieve bloating.
Avoid tight clothing
Tight clothing can put additional stress or constriction on your stomach and intestines which may cause bloating or discomfort. ‘Tight Pants Syndrome’ is a real thing!
Using a heat pack or a warm damp towel on your stomach may help relax the gut muscles and relieve trapped gas. This method increases blood flow to the area, so it may also help settle overactive gut muscles.
If none of the above diet or lifestyle strategies improves your bloating, consider improving other areas that affect the gut-brain axis. Work on improving key areas of your life such as sleep, stress, self-care, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, etc.
Occasional bloating is generally normal and ok, especially after a heavy meal or consuming extra fibre. A bit of bloating after a high-fibre meal is, in fact, a good thing! However, a lot of bloating is often a result of our diet and lifestyle and can be easily improved. Working with a nutritional therapist can help to make it easier to identify the root cause of bloating and prevent it from occurring, allowing you to live a comfortable life and improve your confidence.