Bloating... I know we've all been there
bloating: uncomfortable abdominal fullness or distention
That's according to my nutrition textbook*, I would just add in there the additional: may cause one to look pregnant and trigger a desire to get out of tight clothes ASAP.
But how rude of me, first, Happy New Year to you! (Can you tell I was supposed to publish this almost a year ago? But good news for me - it's almost that time again!)
The end of the year is always my favorite epoca- just doing feel good things and eating all I want. But as a consequence to that (I am very gulosa and eat with my eyes) with the coming of each new year, my bloat is right there as well…. yes my barriga (belly) does actually get THAT big, no one's pregnant here *does little ritual to not bring attract those vibes*
As I’ve gotten to know myself more and what goes well with my body, I’ve noticed when I stay on track, my bloating is significantly reduced. On the other hand, when I go off the rails – I always get my stomach like this – which is painful and uncomfortable.
In my case I get bloated by:
refined carbs (including: soda, white rice, white flour...)
"normal" animal protein (I'm not used to eating much meat and when I do it is usually organic, farm-raised, all that good stuff that makes me seem high maintenance *aqui somos finas* feel free to make fun of me haha)
fried things - I had all the fried yuca on New Year's Eve to content my heart
Needless to say, my New Year's Eve consisted of ALL of that. As per my last blog post, I already knew what my consequences were for eating everything, but I did it because I wanted to AND I was enjoying it.
So then what?
The enchantment of the end of the year passed and I was committed to get on track.
First off was getting out of my uncomfortable bloated state.
But before getting to that, let's first learn about why bloating occurs.
There are many causes of bloating, sometimes it can be because of a meal you ate or other times, it’s an underlying issue such as your period, IBM, low stomach acid, or being lactose intolerant. In this blog I am not covering that, I am only talking about some of the reasons bloating occurs due to food we have consumed.
Let’s break it down…
There is water bloat, gas bloating, and then just the discomfort where you just have a lot in your stomach to digest. Water bloating
is when your muscle tissue retains more water instead of expelling it. Other than seeing our familiar bloated tummy, this is like when we see our face a little more puffed up, or our feet seem to be too big for our strappy heels. This can be due to simply consuming more sugar, other refined carbs, and/or sodium than your body needs.
When table sugar or carbs are broken down, they become glucose. As you eat more than what will be used, it is stored as glycogen. Now this tends to happen when we eat our meals, which is fine, but when we overeat (especially quickly digestible refined carbs), then a higher quantity of glycogen is stored. With every stored gram of glycogen we have, we also store 3 - 4g of water.
As for sodium, just like glucose, it is essential to our body. However, consuming a meal or meals in a day with lots of it will cause a fluid shift the body, as it is an electrolyte- as opposed to glucose- this just means it has more osmotic power than glucose. Since there will be more sodium circulating in the body, creating an imbalance in the body, water will then be retained to even it out until the body is back to its normal sodium levels**.
Being dehydrated also causes our bodies to store more water. This can be due to drinking less water than you need, but also by consuming things that do dehydrate us like caffeine and alcohol - two things we drink without thinking they dehydrate us.
The other bloating is the one I am super acquainted with. It's the infamous "food baby", where our belly grows to twice its size and little relief is offered through the gases passed. Other than having your stomach and intestines full with food, gases are also taking up space in there - resulting in the incredible expansion.
So what causes gas bloating?
According to WEBMD (and personal experience) carbonated drinks and eating at a fast rate are both culprits. If you drink too many carbonated drinks, or even if it’s just a little, but your body isn’t accustomed to it, it causes bloating. The gas we consume in the drink goes to our intestines and then stays there until it passes. As for the pace of eating, as a nutrition coach, I always ask about it because it does have an effect on your well-being. In this case, it means more air is swallowed with your food and ends up going to your intestines and filling them.
Eating fiber rich foods such as beans, some raw vegetables, and raw nuts can also cause bloating. I say some raw vegetables because a few may personally be easier for you to digest raw than others. Also some ARE easier to digest such as a salad made of lettuce, spinach, and arugula vs some raw broccoli and carrots.
These foods cause bloating because some fibers are prebiotics- that’s what the probiotics (your gut bacteria) feed on. The byproduct of them feeding on it is - you guessed it – gases. However, with no underlying health problem, the body can become more efficient in digesting them over time, causing less discomfort and bloat.
This is one of the reasons plant-based protein powders have been said to cause bloating; because they use bean proteins such as pea or chickpea powder.
In my case I’ve been eating beans all my life and I don’t feel any bloating when drinking/eating them. On the other hand, I have also always eaten nuts and I’ve noticed, when I eat nuts on an empty stomach, it gives me too many gases. So remember each body is different and you should see what works with yours.
So now that we know the causes… what can we do?
There are many courses of action, some to do WHEN you’re bloated and others to AVOID it.
WHEN you’re bloated
1. Take a light walk. Sitting with bad posture as we often do can compress our stomach and intestines, and not ease the discomfort. As opposed to walking, which will promote passing gas as well as reduce nausea. When my mom and I used to work in an office we would always eat our lunch and go for a small walk, not only to get outside of the office atmosphere, but also because working at a desk, eating at a desk, and then continuing there is not good for anyone’s digestion. There was a tremendous difference in our mood and ease of digestion when we started doing so.
At home, my mom has always said, after eating the best thing you can do is wash dishes – it’s not a walk, but you are standing and helping your stomach, as opposed to sitting.
2. Make a tea. Recently, I was going through a big pain and discomfort from bloat and decided to make a green tea. I was just marveled again at how LITERALLY when I finished my cup I was back to normal. Green tea is rich in flavonoids, antioxidants which have anti-inflammatory properties.
You can opt for something as simple as:
an already packaged green tea
hot water with lemon
hot water with anise or any other one ingredient listed below
a DIY tea with 2 or 3 of the ingredients listed below as well
Spices you can use for your tea:
Ginger root (you could use ginger powder if that’s all you have)
Once the tea is done you can chew on the fennel seeds to further help you with digestion; they also help freshen up your breath. When my mom and I used to work in an office this was something nice to have after lunch or in the afternoon as a little pick-me-up.
I personally love ginger, anise, and a little bit of turmeric. You can also make ginger, lemon, and turmeric. The possibilities are endless – there is no need to mix a lot of ingredients together, two or three is just fine.
3. Listen to your body's hunger cues. I've noticed that days I end the night with a bloated belly, I tend to not be as hungry for breakfast as I usually am. However, when I do get hungry I focus on foods that help to de-bloat. These tend to be simple, gut friendly foods to help relax the GI track. This doesn’t mean eat these foods when you’re full – but bloat does persist for a long time, so when you are no longer feeling “stuffed” and a bit hungry, try to have one or some of the items here. Below are just a few options, there are many more, but you would look for something that is: hydrating, anti-inflammatory, a probiotic, or potassium rich (helps flush out extra sodium).
You can use the spices mentioned in the tea section as ingredients for your food as well as incorporate the ones listed below.
For example, you can make a salad with arugula, spinach, cucumbers, and some grated ginger, olive oil, and lemon on top, or a fruit bowl with mint.
A green juice would also be a good idea (wink wink) here’s my guide!
Most of these foods overlap in their amazing properties, but I just wanted to break it down a little.
Leafy greens (arugula, spinach, kale, lettuce)
Cucumber (also anti-inflammatory)
Fennel/Fennel Seeds (also diuretic)
Dark leafy greens
Apples (also very hydrating)
And now to AVOID it
1. Avoid foods you KNOW makes you feel very bloated.
2. If you are getting accustomed to eating raw vegetables, try eating them in smaller portions and/or lightly boil them until they are a bright color to make the fiber softer.
3. Don’t drink too much liquid right before/after, or with your meals. This is something I've seen that personally helps me to not feel overstuffed. Of course, whenever I do want to drink something to accompany a meal every now and then, no problem. But I just don’t make a habit of drinking while eating and instead make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
4. Regularly expel waste from your body. Your body’s natural detox is peeing and pooping; make sure you are doing each regularly. When you are constipated, you physically have something causing build up and discomfort.
5. Stay hydrated so your body doesn’t feel the need to retain water, and if you have anything dehydrating, such as alcohol or coffee make sure you make up for it with additional water intake.
6. Take care of your gut health by regularly having probiotic rich food such as yogurt and sauerkraut.
7. Add exercise into your lifestyle. Remember there is no need to exercise right after you've had a meal that bloats you, instead it should be one more thing you do in your daily routine. Exercising regularly helps to reduce any daily bloat accumulated by helping our bodies function more smoothly (any trapped gases will thank you) and by improving lymph and blood circulation. Many of us have heard of lymphatic massages; lymph is extra liquid that seeps from "our tissues and into the bloodstream"**, it can accumulate and lead to a more swollen look before it leaves the area. Unlike blood, it is not pumped quickly throughout the body. It only moves due to skeletal and smooth muscle contractions, as well as pressure changes from breathing; three things exercises help with!**
So now that you've learned a little about bloating and have many ways to deal with it, I'll say my adieu for now.
*Whitney, E. N., & Rolfes, S. R. (2016). Chapter 3. In Understanding nutrition. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
**Moini, J. (2020). Anatomy and physiology: For health professionals. Burlington (Mass.): Jones & Bartlett Learning.