I hear this question a lot: "No matter what I eat I feel my belly is bloated and I feel uncomfortable. What can I do?"
An uncomfortably bloated belly is a common sign of indigestion and since it is very common, for many, this silent and sometimes not-so-silent problem is just a symptom we get so used to.
If you can relate, and you suffer from a bloated belly often, this post is for you. Occasional gas and bloating happen as part of normal life. But if it's making your day-to-day life less enjoyable, It's important to address it, find the cause and try things you can do to reduce it.
On my own journey, there was no one single remedy that fixed my digestive issues. It was a combination of strategies and today I am sharing a few of them for you to try.
What is bloating and why does it happen?
Bloating, or abdominal distention, is a feeling of fullness in your abdomen due to either excess gas, inflammation, or gut disorders. It can become a source of self-consciousness, and cause discomfort and pain.
It is helpful to understand some potential root causes for chronic bloating and gas:
1. Food Allergies and Intolerances: Not to be confused with food sensitivity, food intolerance causes an immediate digestive reaction. For example, you eat gluten or dairy and get bloated within hours.
2. Low Enzymes: In order to digest your food you need stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, and adequate bile flow. These can be depleted by stress, and nutrient deficiencies, so taking digestive enzymes is only a Band-Aid.
3. Dysbiosis (an imbalance between the good and unhealthy bacteria in the gut): An overgrowth of bad bacteria will ferment food and create a by-product of gasses. Yeast overgrowth and parasites can also disrupt the microbiome and cause gas and bloating.
4. Eating too fast & not chewing enough: Eating on the go with distraction results in not chewing the food thoroughly. This leads to indigestion and undigested food particles ferment causing gas and bloating.
5. Stress and tension: Digestive enzymes or gastric juices are not produced in a stressed-out state. Stress literally shuts down your digestion.
6. Other medical problems: Liver disease, Hiatal hernia, Gallstones, H. pylori infection (which can lead to stomach ulcers), Ovarian cancer, inflammatory bowel diseases, and other medical issues can involve bloating. Always consult your doctor (especially if you experience a sudden change.)
7. Constipation: Not being able to eliminate the waste from the body frequently can cause a build-up in the gut creating a distended stomach and bloating.
6 Ways to Naturally Reduce Bloating
So, what can you do about it? Here are some simple habits you can build starting at your next meal to prevent gas and bloating before it starts:
1. Try to eat mostly cooked foods
Raw foods can be harder to digest and increase gas and bloating. Cooking your foods, even for a short period of time helps to "pre-digest" and break down some of the fibers and cell walls in plants that are harder to digest in their raw form.
Another super simple tip for you which I am always doing for better digestion is soaking grains, legumes (beans) seeds, and even nuts.
I have an article all about anti-nutrients in these foods you can read here. Soaking certain foods before cooking and/or eating them makes them easier to digest. Plants have evolved ways to protect themselves! According to Dr. Gaundry plants keep the nutrients locked up until the conditions are just right for their growth and this results in nutrients being locked up in them.
When a seed, bean, nut, or grain is soaked, the chemical binding nutrients like zinc and iron are reduced and become more bioavailable, helping the plant to grow. The fiber and protein in beans also become easier to digest.
2. Bring your body into a relaxed “rest & digest” state
It's important before we eat to make sure that we're in this optimal state, so we can properly digest our food, absorb nutrients, and avoid discomforts like gas and bloating.
“Rest and digest” mode is activated by your parasympathetic nervous system and the ideal state where your body best digests and processes the foods you eat. When we're in the sympathetic nervous system, or "fight-flight mode, digesting the food is not a priority for your body and it gets shut down.
Tip: I use a couple of deep belly breaths before I sit down to eat to bring all my awareness and attention to the act of eating food and the present moment, and this simple technique makes a big difference.
3. Get out of the habit of not snacking between meals and spacing out meals by 3-4 hours.
Eating too frequently won't allow your body to finish its job of digesting. By eating too often you impair the migrating motor complex or (MMC) which is a mechanism to sweep up and clean the intestines. Impaired MMC results in increased fermentation and leads to gas and bloating.
If you disrupt MMC, you tend to have lower motility and become susceptible to bacterial or yeast overgrowths in the small intestine (SIBO & SIFO), excess gas production, bloating, and distention.
I highly encourage you to give your digestion a break overnight (at least 12 hours).
Learn more about this in my Intermittent fasting article
4. Take digestive bitters on empty stomach before eating.
Digestive bitters are a tincture of bitter herbs that can be taken in a small glass of water 15-30 minutes before a meal. They help to increase stomach acid, bile flow, and enzymes which all help better digestion and minimize gas build-up and bloating. They also support liver and gallbladder health and can be used daily.
I have an easy-to-make DIY digestive bitters recipe here.
5. Try to eat your protein first and away from carbs (vegetables and grains)
Your stomach’s hydrochloric acid is produced in order to digest your food, absorb nutrients, and protect you from parasites and infections. This acid is the most potent digestive juice to break down the proteins you eat. Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is required to convert pepsinogen to pepsin (a protein-digesting enzyme).
As the stomach fills with food, it naturally "dilutes" the stomach acid levels. Eating your proteins first will allow the stomach acid and pepsin to start acting on it, before you continue to fill your belly - this will help to reduce associated gas and bloating.
6. Sip ginger tea during or after your meal.
Carminative herbs are one of my favorite ways to prevent and relieve gas and bloating. These herbs contain volatile oils that help increase gastric emptying and peristalsis (motility), relieving cramping with wonderful anti-bloating effects.
Here are the best digestive teas I always have as part of my tea ritual:
· Peppermint (avoid if prone to heartburn/reflux)
· Lemon balm
· Licorice (avoid if you have high blood pressure)
Here's how to make the herbal infusions:
· Add 1/4 cup loose herbs (or 2-3 tea bags) to a French press or tea pot.
· Pour 1-2 cups boiling water over herbs and immediately cover.
· Steep for 15-30 minutes before drinking.
It is important to cover when steeping so that the volatile oils do not escape with the steam - drip any captured steam from the lid back into the cup.