Feeling bloated is a common complaint – after all, no one likes that annoying feeling of tightness and distention! In addition, many people are concerned that bloating makes them appear bigger in the stomach area and it can also come with some embarrassing side effects, so it’s certainly a topic worth raising.
From simply eating too much to medical issues, there are many potential reasons for feeling bloated. For most people the causes of bloating are harmless and can be minimised with simple lifestyle adjustments – and today, we’re going to discuss those.
But first, ask yourself…
Are you REALLY bloated?
Many health and medical terms – “bloating” included – get excessively used outside of correct context, which can cause confusion and misconceptions.
So, let us get this straight – just because your stomach looks or feels bigger at certain times of the day, you’re not necessarily “bloated”! There are many completely normal sensations related, in particular, to consuming and digesting foods and beverages.
For instance, it’s completely normal to feel mild distention and grumbling in your stomach immediately after eating. Soon after, when carbs and fibre start being digested in the gut, gases are likely to form, potentially causing similar sensations. And of course, due to the sheer volume of food, your stomach will protrude more as the day progresses than in the morning when you’re fasted.
Repeat after us: human stomachs aren’t supposed to be flat 24/7, and it’s completely normal!
Common causes of bloating
If your bloating is persistent and doesn’t fit into the above description, it’s time to brainstorm some potential causes!
The most common reasons for bloating include:
Excessive gas formation. This is probably the most common reason for feeling bloated! Often, excessive gas formation is temporary and can sometimes be attributed to your nutrition. For example, some people react this way to certain foods, such as cruciferous vegetables (e.g. cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage). If you’re experiencing excessive gas formation, start a food diary – and record your meals, mealtimes, and symptom development. This way, you will soon see patterns and find out which foods to go easy on! Typically, the “gaseous” feeling subsides on its own within a few hours. However, if it’s persistent or appears to happen randomly, make an appointment with a doctor to rule out any more serious conditions.
Stress. Stress can be a serious contributor to poor digestion and subsequent bloating. While it can be difficult, successfully managing your stress levels can have a huge impact on your overall digestive wellbeing even without making any adjustments to your diet. Taking some time for yourself each day and implementing good self-care habits is a fantastic commitment to improving the health of both your body and mind.
Swallowing air. Everyone swallows air when talking, eating or drinking – but due to some habits, this otherwise normal occurrence can cause a bloating sensation! In particular, some people swallow more air than others due to chewing too much gum, eating or drinking too rapidly, going heavy on fizzy drinks (diet or not, as the bubbles are to blame!), or smoking. If any of these habits ring a bell, modifying them may help beat the bloat!
Constipation. A common digestive concern, constipation can also promote bloating. In turn, one of the most common causes of constipation is insufficient fibre intake, so try upping your veggies, wholegrains and other fibre-rich foods and see if it makes a difference. Don’t go too hard too fast though, as sudden increase in fibre intake can lead to gas build-up, which is the opposite of what’s needed in this situation! Another strategy to reduce constipation is ensuring you’re drinking enough water throughout the day – aim for around 2-3 litres as a general guide.
Food intolerances. Some people experience adverse reactions to certain foods or food groups, which may exacerbate bloating. One example is lactose intolerance, a condition where a person lacks enzymes to break down natural sugars specific to dairy products. Consuming dairy in this case often results in cramps, gas, bloating and pain. If you suspect your bloating may be caused by adverse reactions to food, make an appointment with your doctor for further diagnose.
Fluid retention. Several lifestyle factors, such as a high salt intake, may cause significant fluid retention, which sometimes contributes to bloating. Addressing the factors that cause water retention (e.g. reducing sodium consumption) can help get rid of the sensation. It’s worth noting that tweaking your nutrition plan, e.g. adding considerably more carbohydrates to it, can also cause natural fluid retention, but it’s usually temporary and quickly goes away on its own once your body has adjusted.
PMS. Before your period, certain hormonal changes occur that can make you retain more water, therefore causing temporary bloating. As annoying as this is, fortunately for most women it only lasts a few days each month!
Quick tips for reducing bloating
Above are just some of the most common reasons for feeling bloated – of course, there are more potential culprits. Unless your bloating is caused by more serious reasons (more on that later), try the tips below to help reduce the unpleasant symptoms!
- Lifestyle changes such as eating more mindfully (e.g. not rushing through your meals and eating without distraction), reducing carbonated beverage consumption and ensuring adequate hydration, can do wonders for beating the bloat
- If you suspect certain foods may cause bloating, start a food diary and record what you ate, when, how much, and any symptoms you’ve experienced. This can help identify likely culprits! Remember - you don’t have to cut these foods out entirely but reducing the quantity and frequency of consumption may be worth a try.
- Increasing the plant diversity in your diet can assist in populating your gut with healthy bacteria which may assist with managing bloating. Aiming for 30 different plants varieties across the week is a great place to start! HINT: this includes grains such as bread, pasta and rice as well as fruits and vegetables.
- Surprisingly, abdominal massages can help reduce bloating, even when it’s caused by serious medical conditions. Fortunately, your own stomach is well within your own reach, so get rubbing and kneading for ~15 minutes a day.
- Physical activity can boost digestion and help the bowels move more regularly – even a little walk around the block can get things going sometimes! Or for something different, try a few yoga poses, such as Child’s Pose or Happy Baby.
- Implementing regular stress relief practices such as soaking in a warm bath, journaling and breathing techniques can both relieve stress and promote healthy digestion.
- If you find yourself experiencing bloating after bigger meals, try breaking them down into smaller meals each day or opting for more higher calorie, lower volume foods to meet your targets.
- Peppermint oil is a proven remedy for many digestive issues, including bloating – take its preparation as directed to find relief. Peppermint tea may have similar effects, although it hasn’t been studied as extensively – so have it instead if capsules and pills aren’t something you enjoy.
When to see a doctor
Very rarely, bloating can be a sign of a medical issue, so make sure to check with your doctor if:
- The symptoms are persistent, and the remedies above don’t bring any relief
- You are experiencing severe discomfort or pain
- There are sudden changes in your appetite, or you’re having trouble eating
- You are losing or gaining weight rapidly and unintentionally, and it can’t be explained by any known factors
- You have severe GI symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or unusual changes in your stool
- Or if anything at all is unusual and bothers you – better safe than sorry!
After an exam and perhaps some tests, your doctor will be able to rule out or confirm certain conditions, as well as potentially prescribe supplements, medications, and lifestyle adjustments to assist with your concerns.
Don’t delay making an appointment if you think something’s not right, and always listen to your body!
While bloating is very common it can also get very uncomfortable and upsetting – but it doesn’t have to be that way! Try to get to the roots of the potential causes, implement the tips above, seek medical attention if you’re not sure what’s going on, and you’ll beat the bloat in no time. But also remember – some distention is completely normal, and no one has a flat stomach 24/7, so let’s keep it real and not stress unnecessarily about our natural quirks and bodily functions!