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  • Writer's pictureAliza Beer MS, RD, CDN

Why am I so Bloated? Causes and Cures for a Common Ailment

Bloating is when the belly feels swollen after eating. It is usually caused by excess gas production or disturbances in the movement of the muscles of the digestive system. Bloating often causes pain, discomfort, and a “stuffed” feeling. It can even cause your stomach to look bigger, and inflate the number on the scale! Bloating involves excessive amounts of solids, liquids, and/or gas in the digestive system. About 16-30% of people report that they regularly experience bloating, so this is a very common complaint. Let’s discuss some potential causes and possible cures for this issue.

• Too Much Fiber: I always counsel my clients to eat more fiber since it helps regulate the appetite, promote weight loss, control blood sugar, and assists in regular elimination. However, we sometimes make the mistake of taking in too much fiber. When someone is attempting to eat healthier and increase their fiber intake, they should go about this lifestyle change slowly, and gradually increase their fiber intake over the course of a couple of weeks. When your body isn’t used to fiber and you suddenly switch to a diet full of salads, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, you are likely to experience painful bloating. Replace your low fiber foods with high fiber ones slowly, one at a time, and the transition to a healthier lifestyle will be a lot more comfortable.

• Liquid Overload: Hydration is very important, but it’s much better for your body to sip water throughout the day then guzzle down a liter in a few minutes. Drinking small sips of water regularly will encourage healthy digestion, but consuming water too quickly can cause painful bloat because the body can’t absorb that amount of water at once. The stomach ends up storing the excess fluid, hence the bloat. Another effect of drinking too much water too quickly is that it can actually cause you to lose hydration rather than gain it. Ingesting a large quantity of fluid will have a diuretic effect on the body because it will trigger urination and clear the body of stored fluids. If you’re thirsty, you are better off taking small sips of water over an extended period of time (an hour or more), then gulping down a massive amount at once.

• Constipation: If the belly is rock-solid, then that indicates the possibility of impacted bowel movements and constipation. Relieving constipation can be done naturally, by increasing water intake and eating foods high in insoluble fiber. Bran, seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables with the skins intact can all encourage your body to pass a bowel movement. I generally find ground flaxseeds and prunes, figs or dates work very well. If natural interventions fail, then you may need some over-the-counter stool softeners or laxatives. If the constipation persists, then seek medical advice from your primary care physician.

• Acid Reflux: If the bloating is affecting the upper belly (just below the rib cage), and intensifies after meals, then you may be suffering from acid reflux. Acid reflux is the result of stomach acid pushing its way into the upper abdomen and esophagus, causing nausea and burning in the throat. There are some natural ways to try to control acid reflux. One is avoiding raw vegetables on an empty stomach. Also, don’t lie down immediately after eating. Avoid fried and spicy foods, as well as carbonated beverages. If these measures don’t improve your symptoms, then discuss with your doctor how to proceed, since there are medications available that will reduce the acid levels in the stomach and help prevent the uncomfortable and often painful symptoms.

• Excess weight around the midsection: Excess belly fat will place more pressure on the midsection, especially when sitting and eating. This can stifle digestion and cause bloat. People that have a “pear shape” or store their body fat primarily around the midsection tend to bloat more than people with other body types. Losing some weight will definitely help with this issue. Another good idea is to take a walk after a meal, since this will help kick start the digestive process. Just don’t walk at too intense of a pace or you might upset your stomach.

• Artificial Sweeteners: Many of us consume sugar substitutes, including sucralose, aspartame, stevia, and sugar alcohols, to avoid unnecessary calories or promote weight loss. These artificial sweeteners are known to cause belly bloat because they contain chemical compounds that the digestive tract has difficulty breaking down. Recent studies suggest that many of these sweeteners actually increase your appetite, thus prompting you to overeat! Most experts recommend that you moderate your consumption of them or preferably cut them out of your diet all together.

• Too Many Vegetables: Believe it or not, something so healthy and nutritious can cause pain and bloat as well. Too much of something good, is still just too much. Some veggies are notoriously known for causing lots of gas, such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage. If you tend to bloat easily, then avoid these veggies and stick to safer alternatives like zucchini, mushrooms, delicata squash, and spaghetti squash.

• Carbonated Beverages: Seltzer is a much healthier option than soda, but when it comes to bloat, avoid them both. Carbonated beverages cause the stomach to expand, and it’s the bubbles that are to blame. Your best option is water, and if you need flavoring then buy a cup with a “cage” in it to hold frozen fruit. Fill the cup with water and the frozen fruit will naturally flavor your water. Unsweetened iced tea is another good option.

• Gastrointestinal Diseases: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth(SIBO) can cause significant gastric distress including bloating. IBS and SIBO need to be diagnosed by a physician and will require treatment that may include change of diet and medication.

• Food Intolerances: The most common ones are to lactose and gluten. If you suspect that you have a food allergy or intolerance, then seek advice from your physician. Once it is determined that you are intolerant to a food, the best way to manage it is by avoiding that food. Once the food is eliminated for at least 2 weeks, the bloat and any other symptoms should disappear.

There are numerous reasons that some people experience abdominal bloating. Change of diet will be crucial to managing and possibly eliminating the bloat. In addition, several clinical studies have shown that certain probiotic supplements can help reduce gas production and bloating in people with digestive issues. If you have chronic bloating, or if your bloating has worsened all of a sudden, then it is imperative that you seek medical attention in order to rule out a serious medical condition, and to diagnose any digestive problems. It’s very possible that there are simple fixes you can easily implement in your diet that will ease your bloating. By becoming familiar and aware of various factors that contribute to this, you can begin to deflate that bloating and feel much better after eating and drinking.

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