Bloating is the discomfort and pressure or physical appearance of distention in the abdomen. First, let me say that I have some good and bad news about bloating.
The good news about bloating is that often times, we confuse it with fat — when that’s not really the case! Some people call it “false fat” for this very reason. Bloating comes in the form of gas and water weight, adding inches and puffiness to our body, especially around the waist.
This means, when you reduce bloating, you look significantly thinner and healthier — even if you haven’t burned off any additional fat! Pretty great, right? That’s yet another reason to drop our unhealthy obsession with micromanaging weight by obsessively weighing yourself! Which is amazing.
Ready for the bad news?
It’s simple: bloating is really a health issue, and as such, there is no quick fix. The key is identifying why you bloat. There are a variety of reasons why you may be experiencing it and no two people are the same. But once you have identified the cause there are things you can do to help.
Causes of Bloating
1. Food Allergies or Sensitivities
You may have food sensitivities or allergies. The most common allergies or sensitivities that can cause bloating are gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, shellfish, and fruits. True food allergies result in hives, anaphylaxis and swelling, rarely cause bloating. Sensitivities are harder to diagnose and are often the primary cause of GI distress. An elimination diet and food journal to track how you digest and feel after certain foods is usually the way sensitivities are found. Whereas food allergies are something to avoid throughout life, food sensitivities may be resolved by a time of food elimination and some digestive healing.
2. Eating Under Stress
Eating under stress causes some degree of digestive shutdown. When we eat under stress it reduces stomach acid and enzymes for breakdown of food making our whole digestive tract work harder to convert foods into usable nutrients.
Our body has a rest and digest mode, OR a fight or flight mode. When we eat, the optimal state to be in is in rest. When we eat under stress, in the fight or flight mode, our body thinks it’s under attack and starts to respond to food as if it were a foreign invader. The blood rushes out of our bellies into our limbs, making digestion more difficult. Eating under stress, therefore, plays a role in the development of food sensitivities.
No matter how rushed we are, slowing down and becoming present during a meal has many beneficial properties for overall health and less bloating. From a digestive perspective, it’s better to eat less in a more mindful state than to eat more while disconnected from your body.
3. Too Much Food
When we overeat, it can cause a stress response in the digestive system, which can lead to bloating. Our digestive system is like a wood-burning furnace. We want fuel, but if there’s too much wood and not enough oxygen, fire won’t happen. If all our resources are attempting to manage a large amount of food, the body registers this as a stressor, not fuel. Digestion slows or stalls and we feel tired, rather than energized.
Excess food slows the transit time in your digestive tract. When this happens, we don’t use our food efficiently. Food sits in the digestive tract longer and can ferment, and as a result, bloating occurs.
4. Antibiotic Use
Antibiotics destroy not only bad bacteria, but healthy gut bacteria as well, and commonly cause bloating for many users. The good bacteria living in a healthy colon help us from a nutrient standpoint, and they fight off local infections in the gut. When we take antibiotics, we kill good gut bacteria, which contributes to bloating, decreased mood, depressed immune function, and constipation.
If you need to take antibiotics for a specific infection, make sure you combat the dying of good bacteria with a probiotic. These need to be taken at least 2 hours apart so the antibiotics don’t kill the probiotics. Eating fermented foods will help cultivate good gut bacteria.
5. Unprocessed Emotions
There is such a thing as psychological inflammation. When our social, family, or work environment is toxic unsupportive or non-optimal, we can get bloating or inflammation, manifestation in physical form. If you’ve tried all the other suggestions and are still experiencing bloating, talking to someone about it can help!
Writer: Alysha Coughler, RD, MHSc, Sports Dietitian
Sports Dietitian with Evolved Sport and Nutrition