This post was originally shared on my site overcomingdisorderedeating.com and after such a huge response to an Instagram post about bloating I thought it was necessary to share this incredibly empowering information here too!
BLOATING – Common causes and how to relieve bloating naturally
Bloating is one of the most common issues among women especially and can impact so many areas of our lives, from self-esteem to confidence to difficulties doing every day tasks. Bloating is also a symptom I personally struggled with for many years whilst I had a toxic relationship with food as well as while trying to overcome disordered eating, so it is an issue I am all too familiar with.
You name a way to combat bloating and I guarantee I’ve tried it. When struggling with disordered eating I felt like I was constantly bloated. I’ll touch on the most common causes of bloating soon, but at that time of my life my digestive system was a mess. Anything I ate caused immense pain and when you are already dealing with the mental difficulties of overcoming disordered eating bloating is not a helpful issue to have.
I still vividly remember during my last year of University curling into a ball on my bed and crying in pain because I was so severely bloated. My stomach had overinflated and I was scared. It felt like I had a balloon inside my stomach and that balloon was about to burst. This was a whole new level of bloating, even for me. My boyfriend (now husband) took me to hospital and after examination the doctors couldn’t tell me why I was in so much pain or why my stomach had bloated so severely, other than that I was experiencing bloating (obviously). There was no ‘cure’ or magic pill I could take. I simply had to wait it out in hospital.
After experiencing such crippling bloating I became fearful of experiencing that again. I began researching ways to restore my gut health and combat bloating naturally.
Dealing with bloating on top of already difficult body image issues can be crippling and disheartening. You can feel as though you are on the right track, making progress and eating more nourishing food, but if you are struck down by major bloating you can feel those negative thoughts come spiriling back. And those negative thoughts are nasty.
So that is why I am so intrigued by the causes of bloating and why I’ve researched (and personally tried) almost every method to relieve bloating naturally. Once you realise the why (what causes bloating in the first place), combating bloating naturally becomes simple. You don’t need to feel bloated and uncomfortable and you definitely don’t need to take pills or de-gassing potions.
So what causes bloating in the first place? There are several different theories and possible causes of bloating so I’ve listed the most common causes below.
Healing from disordered eating
A lot of the bloating I experienced was when I was healing my relationship with food. I had damaged my digestive system and it needed time (and kindness) to heal. My digestion was sensitive and it was important that I closely monitored my food intake and eating habits to ensure I continued to eat nourishing foods and not become pre-occupied with bloating (which was not ‘fat’ or weight gain).
Poor food combining
Kimberly Snyder goes into great detail in her book ‘Beauty Detox Solution’ regarding food combining and why it is important for digestion. Her analogy is that digestion is like traffic: if you put a slow-moving truck (food) at the front of a busy road you are going to slow down traffic (food) behind it, but if you put the faster moving traffic (food) at the front of the busy road traffic will continue to flow smoothly.
Fruits in particular are easily digested and pass through the body quickly. You might think fruit for dessert is a healthy choice, but it is likely to leave you feeling bloated as the fruit is not able to move as quickly through the body as it would if it was eaten first. From a strictly digestion viewpoint it may therefore be wise to eat those fast-digesting foods such as fruits before other heavier foods such as protein.
Drinking too much fluid at meal times
Our bodies are clever and produce enzymes to support digestion of a multitude of foods. Drinking fluids at meal times can result in bloating for some people, but can also confuse our hunger and fullness cues. Drinking water before and after a meal may be a better option.
Feeling over-full isn’t necessarily due to bloating, but the feeling can be similar. As discussed above, food can sit in the stomach/digestive system and make us feel uncomfortable if we eat too much food at any one time. We will touch on mindful eating to minimise over-eating over the coming weeks.
Eating foods that your body can’t handle
Bloating can be the result of eating foods that our body cannot easily digest. For example, I cannot eat dried apricots as they immediately result in bloating and stomach pains. Chickpeas produce a similar (but less intense) result and dairy products can also make me feel bloated. Knowing these triggers can help me to plan my meals better and minimise foods that trigger bloating.
The best way to discover foods that your body may not handle or digest well is to keep a food and mood diary, noting when you feel bloated and what you have eaten (without counting calories). A qualified health coach or health professional can help you with this.
Eating too quickly
Eating quickly can result in bloating for two reasons, the first being mindless eating and the second being swallowing excess air. Mindless eating can result in overeating, eating foods that your body doesn’t handle well, poor food combining or eating while drinking.
Swallowing excess air can result it a build up of air in the stomach and can leave us feeling uncomfortable and bloated.
Poor gut health
Gut health is integral to good health. Signs that your gut may be struggling can include persistent or frequent bloating. If you notice you are consistently bloated or bloat seemingly easily it may be worth discussing your health, eating habits and gut health with a naturopath or medical professional.
Candida (overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria often in the gut) can contribute to bloating.
Medications, antibiotic, viruses or bugs
Medications, antibiotics, viruses or bugs can all damage gut health or the digestive system and result in bloating for a short period of time.
Let’s talk about poo for a minute. I know, I know, it’s not something you want to talk about, but if it doesn’t come out it’s going to ferment and well, rot, inside you. Having a build up of waste inside you is a possible (and not so pleasant) cause of bloating.
Stress can exacerbate any of the above possible causes for bloating. But more interestingly, stress is physiologically known to slow down digestion (in order to ‘save’ energy for a possible fight/flight response related to that stressor). As such, when we experience stress we can slow down our digestion and feel bloated, even if we are eating seemingly ideal and nourishing foods.
How can we start to combat bloating naturally?
If you are feeling bloated these tips and tricks may help alleviate some of the symptoms of bloating.
Slippery Elm is commonly used as a demulcent (believed to form a soothing layer over a mucous membrane) relieving some pain and inflammation. The taste is a little off-putting and slippery elm is definitely one you’d want to chat to your holistic health care professional about before taking. This is one I used when my bloating was at it’s worst (under the guidance of a naturopath).
Fennel tea is believed to soothe indigestion and bloating. It’s also amazing for breastfeeding mummas! The compounds within the oils are believed to help calm and relax the digestive system, alleviating many of the symptoms of bloating/digestive issues. Fennel tea can be found at most health food stores (or you could make your own).
Reducing soda/sparkling water
Reducing or eliminating soda and sparkling water may help alleviate feelings of bloating or indigestion. Drink room temperature still water instead.
Increasing fibre from whole foods (vegetables, chia seeds, etc)
It is important that when increasing fibre you do so gently and slowly as overwhelming your body with too much fibre can also result in bloating and digestive upsets. That being said, fibre is important to keep the digestive system working efficiently and is incredibly important for proper waste elimination.
Reducing dried and processed foods
Foods such as dried fruits, oats, wheat, processed foods, seeds and nuts and other seemingly harmless foods can cause havoc inside. For a real-life experiment grab a pretzel, potato chip or other processed food (even bread) and soak it in water for 5-10 minutes. Notice anything different? In most cases the food swells well beyond it’s initial size. THIS is happening inside our digestive tract and may lead to that uncomfortable bloated feeling. Reducing these foods or eating them with plenty of water can be helpful.
Flexing, stretching and gently massaging the digestive tract may be helpful for anyone struggling with bloating or digestive discomfort. Try some simple yoga stretches to relieve discomfort.
Eating in a relaxed environment
Rushing our meals can result in overeating, swallowing air and not chewing food properly. Mindful eating is a huge topic and one we will touch on much deeper. The essence of mindful eating is to slow down and reconnect with your body. If you are struggling to slow down at meal time try the following technique:
STOP: Put down your food
REMOVE: Remove yourself from stressful or distracting situations before continuing to eat. Environments such an office desk and car are examples of distracting situations. Switch off your phone if necessary. If it is not possible to remove the distraction or stress, take a moment to just breathe (below).
BREATHE: Take a deep breath in for four counts, hold for two counts and then breath out for four counts. Repeat up to 1o times or until you feel calmer.
REASSESS: Look at the food you are eating. Reconnect with your feelings.
EAT: Resume eating at a slower pace, really tasting and enjoying your food.
Keeping a food, mood and bloating diary to identify foods that may not be as easily digested.
Each of us are unique in our own ways. What is easily digested by some can wreak havoc for others. Learn how to identify trigger foods (working with a holistic wellness coach or professional can be helpful if you are struggling) and then minimising the intake of the foods you suspect are sensitive too can be helpful. Please note restriction of foods without appropriate guidance from a nutritionist or health care professional is not recommended nor encouraged. Check out THIS free training on reflective mindful eating.
Reducing your sugar intake
Sugar, especially processed sugar, may contribute to bloating. More importantly, processed sugar is nutrient-void and will not provide your body with the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants it needs to function optimally. Read this post to learn more about reducing sugar.
Eating smaller meals more frequently
When overcoming disordered eating it can be difficult to eat larger meals without feeling bloated. Bloating can then trigger negative thoughts which in turn may result in toxic responses. If you are struggling with feelings of bloating after meals it can be helpful to eat smaller, more regular meals to allow time for the body to process the food you are ingesting.
It is important to allow the digestive system a chance to rest and process the day’s food. Allow time for food to digest appropriately by having a period of time where new food is not entering the digestive system. An ideal time for this is overnight when you are already resting/sleeping. If you are struggling with disordered eating or recovering from an eating disorder it is important to follow the advice of your health care professional.
Making time to go to the toilet.
I know it’s not a fun topic to chat about but eliminating waste is so important. If you feel your bowel movements are not frequent enough (or too frequent) make time to speak to your health professional. Often your bowel movements are diet-related, however, occasionally there can be other underlying issues involved.
Digestive enzymes. – ACV, lemon juice in warm water.
If you struggle with bloating after eating it may be helpful to consume a glass of room temperature/warm water with a small amount of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice squeezed in. Aim to allow 10-20 minutes between the water and meal so that you are not confusing your hunger and fullness signals with an intake of water at meal time.
Reducing stress and practicing techniques such as deep belly breathing or meditation
Reducing stress and practicing stress-reducing techniques regularly can be helpful for so many ares of your life. If you are new to meditation or it feels a little out of your comfort zone, try guided meditation or just a simple short walk in nature without distractions. Make time for yourself, for your health and for your mind. You deserve it. Check out my 4 minute guided meditation HERE.
Ways to relieve bloating that are NOT always helpful, healthy or supportive of a healthy relationship with food.
When I had a toxic relationship with food I would try almost anything to relieve bloating naturally, but aI also tried several not-so-natural and potentially damaging methods. The following methods are often a first point of call for many practitioners, however, I found they did little to nothing for my bloating symptoms and in some cases made my experience of bloating (or my relationship with food) worse. This is likely because the cause of my bloating was damage to my digestive system. If you are struggling with your relationship with food please ensure you are guided by a health care professional who specialises in or understands disordered eating when considering methods to relieve bloating:
I personally found that antacids did not help to alleviate my bloating symptoms. Antacids are also likely to only mask bloating symptoms and not assist you to recognise WHY bloating is occurring in the first place.
While I wholeheartedly believe in mindful eating and intuitive eating (eating with full awareness when you are hungry and stopping when you feel full), when you are overcoming disordered eating it is important to eat regular nourishing meals and snacks.
While these methods may help alleviate bloating, they should only be considered under the guidance of a health professional, especially if you are experiencing or have experienced disordered eating. A more healthful approach may be to eat easily digested foods for a period of time to give the digestive system a break, however, as above this is worth discussing with your health care provider.
NO. Just no. Unless medically prescribed for constipation that requires medical intervention, laxatives can be damaging both to your mind and digestive system. If taken frequently over time, laxatives may impact the body’s ability to appropriately eliminate waste. Look for whole-food alternatives to assist in waste reduction before taking laxatives, and ensure you are consuming enough water and fibre from whole foods.
DO YOU HAVE TIPS FOR BLOATING? Have you struggled with bloating too? What works for you?
If the tips above don’t help or you have frequent, persistent or uncomfortable bloating consider speaking to your medical professional or a naturopath for a comprehensive overview of your gut health. Bloating can sometimes be a sign of a more serious problem and should not be ignored.
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