Swollen. Distended. Bloated. Yuck. We can feel miserable when our bellies are bloated. Nothing fits. You may feel fat. You may feel like there is a volleyball in your stomach. You’re self-conscious. You feel two sizes larger than you are. You want it to go away. NOW. Or is this just me?
A clinical diagnosis of bloat means a presence of gas in the abdominal cavity, or actual abdominal distention. Not all instances of bloating are caused by diet. Sometimes bloat is brought on by more serious medical conditions.
A few dietary causes of bloat:
- Carbohydrates. Some people are sensitive to all kinds of carbohydrates. If you feel you’ve always had a sensitive stomach, with painful stomach aches, cramps, gas, belching, or loose bowels, you may want to check in with your doctor regarding FODMAPs. FODMAPs are a group of carbohydrates that some people don’t digest well. FODMAPs include fructose, lactose, sugar alcohols, fructans, and galacto-oligosaccharides. If you don’t tolerate the carbohydrate foods containing these compounds, then a low-FODMAP diet may help you feel much better.
- Constipation. We need two kinds of fiber from food, soluble and insoluble fiber. When we get constipated, though, we want more insoluble fiber because it speeds up digestion. Gradually increase foods with insoluble fiber from bran, oatmeal, seeds and fruit and vegetables (with skins). The best sources are lentils, split peas, wheat bran, pinto beans, chickpeas and raspberries. Drink plenty of water with high-fiber foods.
- Undiagnosed Celiac disease. Get tested if you think you have an allergy to gluten. Gluten is a protein in wheat, and it is in many, many, many foods, beer and food products in the grocery store. A Celiac-associated bloated belly can take a couple days to de-bloat. If you feel like you are constantly bloated, you may want to consider getting tested for Celiac disease.
If your bloat is not a chronic, constant issue, the cause is likely related to eating like the typical American does.
Standard American Diet (SAD) – related reasons you’re bloated:
- Carbonated drinks
- Processed food
- Excess carbohydrates
- Not enough fiber
- Eating too fast
- Rich, fatty food
- Too much dairy
- Too much gluten (wheat)
Tips for Feeling Better
- Get hydrated. It may sound counter-intuitive, but even mild dehydration can cause water retention. Drinking more water while your belly is bloated may be a bit uncomfortable, but it will help in the long run. Don’t down two cups of water at once. Drink about 4-8 ounces of water every hour. To stay hydrated every day, I drink two glasses of room temperature water with a squeeze of organic lemon juice.
- Get some fiber. Insoluble fiber speeds up digestion. Eat about a 1/2 cup of lentils, chickpeas, raspberries, split peas, wheat bran, or pinto beans.
- Avoid the SAD diet. Note everything I just listed above. No alcohol, carbonated drinks, highly processed food, etc. Avoid dairy, wheat, and added sugar. Eat a moderate amount and eat it slowly.
- Move. Exercise! I prefer a 30 minute strength training workout. It’s the most effective workout to promote fat-loss, and feeling all my muscles working reminds me that I’m more than just my bloated belly.
- Find joy elsewhere. If feeling bloated is putting a damper on your mood (hello, women everywhere!), the focus on some things your grateful for. The bloat is temporary. Try not to let it ruin your day.
- Have patience. Follow the aforementioned tips, and realize your bloat will not go away immediately. Depending on how dedicated you’ve been to the SAD diet, it may take one or more days to de-bloat.
- Ginger. Drink ginger tea or use fresh ginger root in your cooking.
- Parsley. Add parsley to your food, or steep some fresh or dried parsley in hot water.
Once you are de-bloated, remember this:
- Begin each day by getting re-hydrated. Everyone wakes up at least mildly dehydrated.
- Eat slowly.
- Eat moderate portions.
- Limit alcohol and carbonated drinks.
- Limit highly processed foods.
- Focus on lean, high-quality protein sources.
- Focus on healthy fats from seeds, nuts, and avocados.
- Focus on a variety of vegetables.
- Be mindful of what you eat and how you feel afterward. You can have an allergy to healthy foods, too, such as avocados or strawberries. Notice if you feel bloated after a particular food. See your primary care provider or physician if you feel like you should get tested for food sensitivities.