Bloating 101: Reasons for, temporary relief, + a free cheatsheet
Bloating, the most confusing and upsetting thing when it comes to your dreams of a flat belly. In this post you will read about tips to diminish bloating.
Bloating after eating or bloating occasionally is part of normal digestion. Most of the time when I’m working with clients and educate them about normal bloating, they have an “ah-ha” moment where somewhere along the way, a story was told in their minds they should never be bloated, should always be feeling “light”, have a flat stomach, and no water retention. Our bodies will change from day to day and sometimes they do they’re own thing, bloating included, and that’s okay!
If you’re reading this I assume it’s because you’re personally experiencing some sort of bloating or maybe you’re just ‘asking for a friend’ haha. Regardless, you’re in the right place because there really are several reasons why you’re dealing with the frustration of bloating despite your best intentions to eat well and stay active.
Some of the reasons below may seem obvious, but they are things we tend to do subconsciously. I encourage you to pause and think (be mindful) about how these things could be overlooked in your day. I was previously guilty of reasons 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, and 9 with no idea that I was doing them!
While easy enough to list out the common thread here is mindfulness. Most causes of bloat as listed below are directly tied into your daily habits meaning fixing these issues can be much more difficult than they seem. BUT if you can focus on mindful actions throughout your day you will innately fix the below without much thought.
It may seem like a backward way of thinking and you may not feel that it is connected, but I can promise you the greatest thing I ever invested in was taking time to be mindful. So instead of investing in the next detox tea or putting more food or supplements in your body download a mindful podcast, watch a mindfulness youtube video, or order a book and consume that information. It will be worth so much more to you and you will achieve your goals so much faster by starting with your mindset.
So let’s start by understanding these basic reasons for bloating, but you have to promise me you will practice mindfulness.
Reasons why you feel bloated:
- You’re dehydrated (especially when being very active)
- Ideally you’re drinking half your body weight in fluid ounces every day, but most people get less than half that amount even though they’re also hitting the gym more frequently. If you’re not hydrating your body, not only are you not allowing your body to flush out toxins (resulting in toxic water retention), but your waste will have a much harder time making its way through the colon. If you want a visual, picture a walrus on a waterslide without any water. That’s really no fun for anybody.
- You’re eating too often
- The ideal amount of time between meals is 3-4 hours for most people. Biologically, our ancestors wouldn’t have access to food any more frequently than that and yet we are living in a society where snacks and second lunches are available to us literally whenever we want. When we’re eating round the clock, we never give our digestive system a chance to rest. So while it will always continue to work (until it doesn’t) it won’t be working very efficiently. Hence the backup in your gut, the fermentation, the gas, the bloating…
- You’re eating too late
- Best practice is to stop eating 2-3 hours before bed and this not only ensures better digestion overnight, but better sleep! If you feel like you’re often not getting very restful sleep, have dark circles, brain fog, and of course bloating consider whether you’re having dinner too late or are snacking into the evening AND stop doing it! Late night eating requires your body to spend energy digesting your food while you sleep rather than allowing the body to rest and recover.
- You’re not chewing your food
- The less you chew your food before swallowing the more work you’re creating for your digestion. This also can lead to malnourishment, since your body has a more difficult time extracting nutrients when food isn’t fully broken down. Why might you not be chewing your food well? Read on.
- You’re eating mindlessly
- Think about it. Be honest with me, when was the last time you ate a meal and did nothing but focus on the meal? It’s probably been awhile. Whether at work and eating at your desk, out to dinner with friends and chatting up a storm, or relaxing at home for dinner and a movie (whilst also scrolling through Instagram) it’s extremely difficult to not be preoccupied while you’re eating. But being distracted while you’re eating means you’re shoveling in food without really signaling to your brain that its time to eat. This is also when you become unaware of how much you’re chewing—or not chewing— in addition to how much you’re actually eating! SLOW DOWN
- You’re eating while stressed out
- Similar to reason 5, but also different. Let’s be real— we’re all busy babes here and the hustle is just part of life. So whether you’re on a 9-5 grind, are a new mom, or are cramming for finals it’s all too easy to carry our stress into mealtime. Trust me, I know, it’s hard to totally zen out when your inbox has hundreds of unreads and your clients want their 400 photos like yesterday. But being in a stressed out state of mind signals your body to enter flight-or-fight mode which in turn shuts down digestion. Try taking 3 deep, mindful breaths before you dig in, CHEW, and know that you’ll get to your work with renewed energy after you’ve refueled. I also made an easily printable one page printable checklist of my 5 daily habits for managing stress (DOWNLOAD HERE).
- You’re not properly food combining
- I love this topic because it makes so much sense when you think about it, but it can also get a little nit-picky if you try to overthink it to the point where it causes you more stress and anxiety around food (see reason 6). I wrote a separate post on the basics of food combining (LINK), so check that out to understand the basics of how it all goes down in your stomach when it comes to different transit times of food groups.
- Drinking too much water with food
- Sounds a little counterintuitive at first considering reason 1, BUT it actually makes a ton of sense. When you drink a large amount of water with a meal it dilutes the digestive enzymes in your mouth and stomach as well the hydrochloric stomach acid—all of which are required to breakdown and properly absorb the nutrients of your meal. Little sips while you eat are okay to help “wash it down,” as they say, but you want to avoid glasses of water— or any beverage— for 30 minutes pre-meal and for 60 to 90 minutes post-meal.
- You’re not getting enough sleep
- When you don’t get a full night’s sleep— that’s 8 hours for the average person, but some need more or less— a couple things happen that collectively contribute to your bloaty belly. First, your body isn’t given ample time to process all the food from the day before. Second, your body will be operating on less rest, which means a more stressed state, which means more stressed eating and more cortisol to create that fight-or-flight response which halts digestion. Talk about a series of unfortunate events.
So I know that’s a lot of reasons, but hopefully from reading that last one, you can see how your discomfort is more likely a constant combination of several of these reasons. Isn’t it also so relieving to know how many of them can be fixed with just a little more mindfulness? A little more awareness of your lifestyle habits? Not saying it’ll be easy, but you now have awareness and thus control.
If you need a little temporary relief to ease bloating, here are some ideas:
- Grab a cup of warm-hot peppermint tea (not if you have acid reflux, opt for ginger) which can help soothe digestion and release gas
- Take a short 5 or 10 minute walk
- Do some light core stretching
- Try to use the bathroom if you need to go
- Drink plenty of water
- Take 5 minutes of deep breathing to decrease stress
- Make sure at your next meal you chew the food properly
If you’ve given it your all with the above reasons and still not feeling so hot, you may want to look into getting lab work done to see if:
- You’re eating foods you’re sensitive to (even healthy ones that you just can’t tolerate yet)
- You have low stomach acid (often a result of chronic stress, vitamin b12, D and zinc deficiencies, as well as from taking PPIs)
- You have a hormonal imbalance (chronic stress plays a role here, too, as does a history of birth control, antidepressants, environment, etc)
- You have bacterial overgrowth (honestly probably 70% of the population has some sort of gut-based dysfunction that results as an accumulation over a lifetime of antibiotics, toxins, poor diet and poor digestion)
Consider the value of knowing— no more guessing, no more days/weeks/months wasted trying different tactics and juice cleanses and products (also an investment, mind you, to no avail). The peace of mind and relief of having the answers at long last and an exact protocol to get you well again is truly priceless. So when you’ve ruled out reasons 1-9 as the cause of your discomfort investing further in your heath is a no-brainer in my opinion! Reach out to me and I will give you my testing recommendations.
Lastly, something you may have overlooked, some whole foods are more likely to cause you gas or bloating due to their starch content, sugars, or fiber.
Whole foods that may cause bloating:
- Eating beans, legumes
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Raw kale
- Fiber-rich chia and flax seeds
- Fiber-rich foods in general (insoluble fiber may relieve and soluble fiber may contribute to bloating due to inulin)
- Foods rich in fat
- Sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners
Take note after meals of what may have made you feel bloated, uncomfortable, too full and play with different food combining or elimination techniques.