When you’re wanting to feel your best and you’ve been working hard to do so, there is nothing worse than bloating to ruin how your favorite outfit feels. Or worse still, it knocks your confidence!
If you’re one of the unlucky ones and have experienced that bloated feeling, you know that it can mess up your exercise routine as well as general everyday life. Bloating can be distracting, uncomfortable and in some cases, a symptom of another condition, food sensitivity or intolerance.
If you find that you regularly feel bloated, you’re most definitely not alone. Bloating is one of the most frequent gastrointestinal complaints in the United States, with an estimated 20% of Americans suffering from it on a weekly basis. Whilst you might not be able to avoid bloating altogether, your stomach may benefit from a visit to your doctor or a change in diet.
Bloating: what causes it?
Bloating refers to the pressure, fullness or gassiness in the stomach. When the abdomen has visibly expanded, distension can often occur alongside bloating but is another problem.
There are many factors that could be causing the bloating, from your eating habits to the microbes that live in your gut. Even down to the location and times of your bloating and any other symptoms can offer more of an insight into what could be causing your bloating.
Eating too quickly
If you’re someone who often eats on the go, you’re likely to be taking huge gulps of air with each bite, causing you to swallow large amounts of air. This can also happen if you eat large meals, drinking lots of fizzy drinks or not eating regularly.
Swallowed air is usually excreted before it gets to your intestines via burping, which is where the bloating could be caused. So, if you’ve noticed that you’re belching more after food and then feeling bloated a few hours later, eating your meals slower might make you feel better.
Gas from gut microbes
Did you know that there are trillions of microbes in your gut? Their foremost function is to produce energy via carbohydrate fermentation, which results in gas production. Some carbs are more fermentable than others, obviously then leading to more gas.
The cause of bloating is not always gas. Some of the time, it can be down to irregular or unfinished bowel movements. Much like bloating, constipation can be caused by a variety of factors, from a lack of fiber in your diet to pelvic floor dysfunction or even stress.
If you find that you’re chronically suffering from bloating, it can be a symptom of a bowel disease such as Celiac Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). The causes are still mostly unknown; although, researchers believe these bowel diseases could be caused by imbalanced gut microbes, an altered nervous system, abnormal contractions of the gut wall or a combination of these factors.
Which foods can cause you to bloat?
If you’ve been sitting on your couch looking for ways to control feeling bloated, you’ve probably come across the term, low-FODMAP. FODMAP is fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols.
We lack the digestive enzymes that we need to break down most FODMAP carbs for absorption, so instead they travel through the small intestine staying more or less intact before getting to the large intestine and gut microbes then ferment them. These carbs can also encourage water into the gut, leading to loose bowel movements and bloating.
Beans, grains, vegetables and fruit
Foods that are high in fiber also tend to be the ones that are high in FODMAPs. Some of the highest FODMAP foods are:
- Apricots and other pitted fruits
- Dried fruits
- Milk or other dairy containing lactose
Now, you really don’t want to take these out of your diet completely because even though they might lead to some gas production, they’re also vital sources of energy for your gut microbes and are advantageous to your health.
Protein bars, shakes and dieting foods
Some of the protein shakes and bars as well as meal replacement bars out there, contain ingredients such as whey protein concentrate and Inulin, which can cause bloating. Many of the low sugar, sugar-free and low-carb products are often sweetened with sugar alcohols, these create a laxative effect. Whey concentrate contains laxatives which can cause GI problems in those who suffer from lactose intolerance.
As well as this, Inulin is highly fermentable and is considered a prebiotic, meaning it is helpful to microbes and a functional fiber. However, being so fermentable can cause bloating and gas.
Sorbitol and xylitol are the often used sugar alcohols to replace sugar in foods like protein bars and meal replacement chocolate, syrups, and ice creams. They belong to the P of FODMAPs, polyols.
Should I be concerned about bloating?
This is definitely dependent on how much the bloating is affecting you and your life. If it’s happening infrequently, and you think it may be related to something like swallowed air, it’s probably nothing of concern.
On the other hand, if you find that it is frequent and so bad that your quality of life is suffering because of it, then something else could be happening. If your bloating is joined by other symptoms such as constipation or frequent diarrhea, abdominal pain, unintended weight loss, or bloody stools, it’s time to visit your doctor.
How to stop the bloat
Sadly, there currently aren’t any medications or treatment options for bloating. Most people will experience some gas and bloating at one time or another. However, if you’re noticing that your lifestyle or may be contributing to your bloating, here are some changes you could make.
Regular eating times
If you don’t eat until you’re starved then you’re likely eating too quickly and engulfing your food. Meaning that you’ll also be swallowing lots of unwanted air and causing some bloating. Perhaps eating at regular intervals of the day and not just when you’re ravenous may help.
Drink water and eat enough fiber
Fiber plays a very important role in our bowel movements, and in some cases, a lack of fiber could be the cause of your bloating. It’s recommended that women consume approximately 25 grams of fiber per day. If you’re not yet hitting this target, gradually increase your fiber intake to prevent any further GI distress.
Furthermore, how hydrated you are can also impact your fiber and how it breaks down. Even slight dehydration could increase the likelihood of becoming bloated and constipated.
Take a supplement
Most of the gut health supplements out there make bold claims. However, a few of the options are supported by some evidence, for example, probiotics and digestive enzymes.
Some light exercise
If you’re suffering from IBS, chronic constipation, bloating or other symptoms of a GI condition, then you may find getting out often for some light exercise could help reduce some of the symptoms. For example, a brisk walk or gentle bike ride.
Try a low-FODMAP diet
If you are struggling with the symptoms of IBS and/or bloating, then eating a low-FODMAP diet could be a way to reduce your symptoms. However, it is important to mention that this isn’t intended to be a long-term diet or way of life.
The diet involves three phases where you reduce your FODMAP intake temporarily and then systematically test your tolerance for each FODMAP group before gradually introducing FODMAPs back in. If you’re interested in a FODMAP diet, seek further guidance from a fully trained dietician or nutritionist. Like any restrictive diet, the long-term following of a low-FODMAP diet could make it more difficult to achieve your nutritional needs.
So what’s the bottom line?
There are a whole host of potential causes for bloating, and it is more often than not considered a normal part of the digestive process. Although, it may indicate that something else is going on for some, and if you’re experiencing bloating along with other symptoms, then speak to your doctor.
If you’re just feeling a bit uncomfortable and not quite yourself, then some changes to your diet and increasing your water consumption could relieve you from bloating.
Ready to feel your best?
Banishing the bloat doesn’t have to feel like an uphill struggle! With the tips above, you’ll be well on your way to feeling your best in no time.
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