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Why You Are Feeling So Bloated (And How to Beat It!)

25 Feb, 2020
By Daniela Massenz
Everything you need to know about stomach bloating - what it is, what causes it and how to get rid of it.

You're slipping on your LBD for a special night out, and it looks great - except for that bulge in the middle. Worse yet, you don't know if you can get through the night without a desperate dash to the loo. Sound familiar? Welcome to the world of bloating.

Why Do We Bloat?

It's a common problem, and women seem to suffer more than men. As quoted by, gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan, author of The Bloat Cure. "It's sort of that common, non-specific way for the GI [gastrointestinal] tract to let you know it's unhappy."
But what causes the gut to be temperamental? "People don't appreciate how specialized it is," explains Dr. Chutkan. "There are so many different things happening in different parts, and so many things that can go wrong." This complexity is the reason it's tricky to find and treat the causes of our bloating. Read this very helpful feature on what causes belly bloat and pain.
Experts in gut health agree, however, that the two main reasons for our bloaty bellies are water retention and gas.
If gas is the cause, the abdomen feels full and tight, and this is often caused by eating gassy foods, too much salt or fibre, or simply swallowing excess air - a main culprit for this is chewing gum, so maybe you need to give this a miss for a while.
Water retention is an excessive build-up of water in our body's tissues and cavities. Our bodies are designed to store water - we are 70% H20, after all - but sometimes we store too much, in the wrong places. This may be caused by inactivity or our diet (salt again!), but it could also be caused by (mostly uncontrollable) things happening with your kidneys, heart and blood capillaries. If you're retaining large amounts of water in your legs, for instance, you may need to see a doctor for a check-up.
The reason women get bloaty is the hormonal changes associated with menstruation and menopause, which affect water storage in the body. And then we make it worse with bad diets and when we don’t properly control conditions like gluten sensitivity or lactose intolerance.
Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all solution. Because the way our bodies function is unique to each of us, the causes of bloating may vary greatly from person to person - so what causes bloating for you may be no problem for someone else. Basically, though, lifestyle choices - such as the amount of exercise we get, the amount of stress we're subjected to and, of course, what we eat - can all determine just how much of a problem bloating is.
Read More: Why a Healthy Gut Is the Key to a Happy Skin, Body - and Life

How to Get Rid of Bloating

So if it's hormonal, or caused by stress or diet... just grin and bear it?

Hells to the no! You absolutely CAN get rid of bloating, or at least improve it dramatically. Obviously, avoiding things that cause bloating is a no-brainer, but get to grips with these other tricks and tips:  
  • Drink (water preferably) 30 minutes before you eat. Making sure you're adequately hydrated is important for all sorts of reasons, but from a bloating point of view, proper hydration allows your body to make enough hydrochloric acid, which is essential for digesting your food. The 30 minutes is important because you will be hydrated, but there will be no water in your stomach to dilute the hydrochloric acid, making digestion much more efficient. For the same reason, it's recommended you don't drink while you're eating.

  • Watch what you drink... after your meal. It's definitely a good idea to ease up on the fizzy drinks, which may cause gas to be trapped in your stomach. Rather drink something like tea (see below), or even just water flavoured with lemon or cucumber - much more cleansing.

  • Add some spice. Cayenne pepper stimulates digestion and helps to ease gas and cramping. Turmeric is detoxifying, so adding one (or both) of these to your meal or a smoothie will go a long way to easing the bloat.

  • There's a reason why we put cinnamon on pancakes... It tastes amazing - yes, but cinnamon also helps our bodies digest fats more easily, so that's another ingredient to regularly add to your smoothie.

  • Another remedy passed down from our grandparents was to chew on some fennel whenever feeling a 'little out of sorts'. Once again - good advice. Fennel has anti-inflammatory properties that actually allow the intestinal muscles to relax and get rid of excess gas more easily.

  • Try eating spinach and asparagus. Asparagus is a great natural diuretic, as long as you don't add salt! Spinach helps to push fibre through the digestive tract, which reduces bloating. If you can't stomach eating either of these, try adding them to smoothies, along with the great spices mentioned above, as well as ginger - not only great for de-bloating, but also useful for relieving menstrual cramps.
  • Watch what - and how - you're eating:

    Eat slowly and mindfully - no scrolling through Instagram as you eat. You not only eat more, take in more air, you're also not concentrating on chewing, and you don't savour your food.

    Chew your food. Your mother probably told you this ad nauseam, but she was right. By the time you swallow your food, you should almost be able to drink it. Why? Chewing stimulates the secretion of digestive juices, as well as ensuring that your food is swallowed with less gas. On the other hand - and this will sound weird - make sure you chew your soup! Liquid foods need a certain amount of chewing to produce enough enzymes for digestion.

    Don't skip breakfast. And eat several smaller meals rather than 3 big meals. If the gut is off duty for long period, it becomes a bit 'lazy', making bloating more likely when you do eat.

    Most of us know we should avoid gas-forming foods such as beans, pulses, broccoli and cabbage. Other culprits can include wheat (plus its cousins, rye and barley), and dairy if you’re intolerant. Make sure you include salads full of cucumber and tomato, which hydrate and do not cause bloating.

    Avoid salt - as much as possible. Salt increases the amount of water that the body retains - and so exacerbates bloating. Artificial sweeteners are just as bad.

    Snack. Yes - snack, on celery, cucumber and carrot. Celery is both a diuretic and a laxative, carrots (also a diuretic) prevent constipation. Cucumber (yes - also a diuretic) is basically water you can eat!

  • Tired after all of this? Make yourself a cup of tea. Try some peppermint, ginger, fennel or dandelion tea between or after meals to help support digestion.

Read More. Why You Might Need A Gut Reboot (And How to Do It)

Fun fact – not!

Do you still have your appendix? No? Are you Ms. Bloaty? We thought so.

While we think of the appendix as a leftover from our evolutionary past, Dr Chutkan explains that it stores a reserve of gut friendly microbes for emergency situations. For the same reason, keep your gut microbiome healthy by only using antibiotics when you really need to, for a genuine bacterial infection.

Supplements for Bloat - Mamma’s Little Helpers

Basically, proper digestion and adequate hydration are the keys to avoiding bloating. But why not get a little extra help from supplements?
  • It's been said that activated charcoal, which is able to absorb many times its own weight in toxins, is a useful supplement after a meal. Take Natures Choice Activated Charcoal from Dis-Chem.

  • Probiotics help to detox and balance the flora in your gut, and regulate and normalise bowel movements. They're found naturally in certain fermented foods kefir, kombucha, yoghurt - but only the ones with live cultures, sauerkraut, etc., but can also be taken in tablet form. We recommend Solal Probiotic Maximum Potency.

  • The bacteria in probiotic supplements need colostrum to multiply and flourish in the intestinal track. Take Solal Colostrum Super.

  • Pick up prebiotics, the stuff the probiotics in your gut feed on. Essentially fibre, start stocking up on prebiotic-rich foods such as dandelion greens, asparagus, artichokes and leeks. Or you can get them in supplement form: Biogen Pre&Pro-Biotic 9 Strain contains both probiotics and prebiotics.

  • Use digestive enzymes. Check for a blended formula which breaks down a wide range of foods, e.g., amylase, protease, lactase, bromelain and papain, and look for one that says it's blended for max effectiveness across pH ranges. Try Dis-Chem Gold Digestive Enzymes.

  • Many people, even without knowing it, are unable to digest lactose properly. A lactose enzyme supplement can take care of this problem and make digesting dairy products easier.

Read More: How to Fix Your Metabolism to Achieve a Healthy Weight

Beating the Belly Bulge

  • Stay away from chewing gum. While it may keep your mouth busy and avoid you eating all those things you think you shouldn't eat, what it does do is allow you to swallow air. End result = bloat. Second reason not to chew gum - it stimulates digestive enzymes, which can then stimulate hunger, and so the cycle continues...

  • Get moving! Many of us have jobs that keep us tied to our desks all day, then we flop around after hours. This is causing your gut to s-l-o-w down. So try a standing desk, which forces you to move around, go for a brisk walk at lunchtime, or schedule a workout at some point in your day. Working up a sweat is great for getting rid of excess water and making you feel good about yourself as well.

  • Manage your stress. Yep, besides all its other 'crimes', chalk up bloating as well. Stress not only diverts blood away from our gut, slowing it down, to our heart and legs so that we can run away, it can affect enzyme and acid secretion. So time to take up that yoga and/or meditation or get some talk therapy.

Read More: All You Need to Know About Losing That Belly Fat - Forever
Visuals: Pinterest

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