I often get asked this question: "Why am I always bloated?" and I find it difficult to give a straight answer as there are so many factors that could be at play when you have a bloated belly. It is so important to get on top of your gut health as (I believe) a properly functioning digestive system is the cornerstone of good health. Problems in your gut can cause more than just stomach pain, bloating, gas, etc., they can be the root cause of many chronic health problems, i.e. hormonal imbalances, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, anxiety, and depression, to name a few.
As it can be tricky to pinpoint the exact cause of digestive distress without knowing specifics for each person, I will try to tackle a few of the most common reasons below...
You got glutened
Unless you've been living under a rock, you've no doubt heard the terms gluten intolerance or sensitivity and celiac disease being tossed around and may have a vague idea of how gluten can negatively impact your health. The gluten issue is a massive one and would need a stand-alone post to go through everything in detail, but for now I just want to touch on how/why gluten might be the cause of your bloating. Gluten is a type of protein found in certain grains including wheat, rye, kamut and barley. Up to 15% of people are considered gluten sensitive or intolerant so it's no wonder gluten has become such a buzz word these days. Every time that we consume a food we're allergic to, it causes a series of negative reactions in our body, particularly in the digestive tract and immune system. In mild forms of gluten sensitivity, gluten causes malabsorption, which is the inability to properly absorb nutrients in food, and leads to uncomfortable digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating. In those with celiac disease, a very severe gluten allergy, eating gluten damages the lining of the small intestine, preventing proper nutrient absorption, and resulting in a range of autoimmune reactions causing the body to attack itself, sometimes on multiple fronts. Celiac disease is a very serious condition and must be managed carefully. If you suspect that you're gluten sensitive or intolerant, completely (100%) take it out of your diet for at least three weeks, then reintroduce it. Take note if you feel significantly better without it and worse when you reintroduce it. If so, there's your answer - keep away! If you want to get scientific, ask your doctor to do antibodies testing.
You overindulged on the dairy
Many people are sensitive or intolerant to dairy in its commercial forms (normal milk, cheese, yogurt, etc). Even for those who aren't necessarily intolerant, dairy can still cause digestive distress as it can overstimulate the stomach's production of acid causing abdominal pain and bloating. If you have a weak stomach and choose to consume dairy, try having it separately from other foods so it has the best chance of digesting without problems. You can learn more here about the best ways to consume dairy, as well as yummy dairy alternatives.
You ate fruit after a meal
Fruit breaks down in the gut the quickest of all the food groups. On its own, usually in about 20-30 minutes. When it's eaten after a meal, it sticks in the digestive system along with the other foods and begins to ferment. Fermentation in the gut is a sure-fire way towards gas and bloating. If you want to know more about fruit and combining rules for better digestion, check out my post on that here.
You drank (too much) coffee
For some people, coffee doesn't agree with them because it overstimulates their stomach's production of acid and therefore makes them feel nauseous and bloated. It also stimulates contraction of the stomach muscles which can cause abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, and increased bowel movements. I go through the upsides and downsides of consuming coffee here, plus provide coffee alternatives and ways to help cut back.
You have candida
Candida is a fungus that, when overgrown, causes the walls of your intestine to become leaky. This can manifest itself in digestive symptoms, including bloating, constipation, diarrhea, etc. Candida is a tricky condition to deal with and very common in people who consume a lot of sugar. I provide a full run down on candida, its causes and symptoms, and how to get rid of it here.
You gobbled down your food while distracted
When you eat food while driving, working, watching TV, Instgramming, etc., your body is too distracted to even register that it's eating. This means that it doesn't fire all the enzymes and digestive juices needed in the process of digestion and therefore your food doesn't get broken down and absorbed properly. When you're doing other things while eating, you're not paying attention to how your stomach feels, how hungry you are, or how the food tastes. How are you meant to feel content and satisfied after a meal if you barely remember eating it? It's often when we eat too fast or while distracted that we end up reaching for more food to satisfy us when we actually don't need any more food.
You ate under emotional distress
When we are stressed, anxious, upset, etc., the body goes into defensive survival mode (aka "fight or flight") and suspends all activities related to the digestive tract and its ability to properly digest food. The body is too busy standing guard, ready to run from that wildebeest (cave man instincts die hard), to be bothered with stimulating stomach acid, producing enzymes, and digesting your food. Improper digestion --> bloating.
You ate too late at night
When you eat too close to going to bed, your food doesn't have a chance to be fully digested. Your body has to continue digesting your food while you're asleep which will interfere with your sleep pattern and often lead to indigestion and bloating when you wake up in the morning. Giving your digestive system that time while you're asleep to rest and repair is so important for proper detoxification and gut healing. Ayurveda recommends 16 hours rest between your last meal at night and first meal in the morning, but if that's too difficult, aim for 12. Learn more about the importance of resting the gut here.
What to do?
Try the 4R Program
Remove, Replace, Reinoculate, and Repair. Remove gut irritants - alcohol, caffeine, gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, and sugar. Replace with the bad with the good - use digestive enzymes, apple cider vinegar, and bile acids. Reinoculate - add back beneficial bacteria with a probiotic supplement that contains bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species - 25 - 100 billion units a day. Repair - supplements such as L-glutamine, zinc, fish oils and herbs such as slippery elm and aloe vera. If you don't want to do this on your own, find a functional medicine doctor in your area at www.functionalmedicine.org who can walk you through this program, as well as do food sensitivity testing and comprehensive analysis.
Follow principles of food combining
Dairy should not be combined with anything except greens and non starchy vegetables. Fruit should not be combined with anything except greens (think green smoothies!) and best eaten at least 20 minutes before anything else. Have one concentrated protein per meal (no chicken and fish, meat and eggs, cheese and beans on one plate).
Use digestive stimulating spices when making your food
Add black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, basil, cardamom, coriander, fennel and/or ginger in your cooking as these aid digestion and absorption.
Try digestive enzymes and/or apple cider vinegar with meals
Digestive enzymes help you break down proteins and fats so they can be properly absorbed. Apple cider vinegar stimulates stomach acid which is necessary to break down protein into amino acids so that they can be absorbed in the small intestine. We need those amino acids for making neurotransmitters which are the chemicals in your brain that control your mood. Try taking digestive enzymes and a tsp of apple cider vinegar (mixed with a little water) before meals to see if your symptoms improve.
Eat slowly and mindfully
Conscious eating is one of the best things you can do to prevent bloating. Start by taking a few deep breaths before eating. Avoid multitasking and focus on the task at hand - tasting and chewing your food! Take mindful bites and put your spoon/fork down between bites. Try to chew eat bite 40 times (its a lot, I know!). Take time to absorb the colors, smell and flavors of the food. Savor each bite and mentally acknowledge the taste to allow your brain to register a pleasant moment and feeling of satisfaction.
Don't eat when in crisis mode
Instead, go for a walk, listen to some nice music, take a bath, make a cup of tea - do anything that will soothe you...other than stuffing your face!
Eat biggest meal at lunch
The best time for us to eat is when our digestive fire is at its peak which is while the sun is at its strongest, or between the hours of 10am and 2pm. We should have our main meal during this period so your body has the rest of the day to digest it. Your evening meal should be light and early, ideally finished before 8pm, or at least two hours before you go to bed. This will ensure that your digestion will not interfere with your sleep and your food will be fully digested and ready to be eliminated by the time you get up in the morning.
Too late, already bloated....
Gas and bloating remedies
Make some fennel, licorice, fresh mint, or fresh ginger tea
Lay on your left side after a meal
Do child's pose
Take a walk
Put a warm compress on your tummy
Make some healing bone broth
I know this might seem like a lot but, as I said at the beginning, there are lots of different reasons as to why each of us gets bloated and different anti-bloat remedies work for different people. Don't feel like you have to start doing it all straight away. Perhaps just try a few of the above and listen to your body's feedback. If you are less bloated after eating, great! And if not, try something else. It's all about experimentation! Fun, right?! ;)
Let me know if any of these work for you and I'd love to know what other effective tips have worked for you in the past!
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