Ugh, that bloated feeling. We've all experienced it at some point or other in our lives. The thing is that when we're feeling it, we feel lousy. It's hard to enjoy your day if you're feeling bloated: you're uncomfortable in your clothes, and feeling confident doesn't come easy if you feel like your stomach has grown three sizes in a day.
Sometimes it's hard to pinpoint what's causing that awful bloated feeling. Did you eat too much? Is it excess gas? Are you retaining water? If you're a woman, is it because you are premenstrual? The good news is that there are some commonalities as to how to address the problem of bloating, regardless of the specific cause. Each of the following recommendations will help your body to function the way that it's supposed to function, and therefore keep you from blowing up like an oversized balloon. As you will see, some of the recommendations are quick and easy, while some of them will require a bit more effort. The bottom line is that by taking better care of yourself, you will help your body feel and look its best.
NOTE: There are many medical conditions that can cause a person to feel bloated. If you're experiencing ongoing or persistent symptoms of bloating, it's essential that you see your physician for a full diagnostic work-up.
1. Avoid Troublesome Foods
One of the major factors behind the feeling of being bloated - and its uncomfortable partner in crime, abdominal distension - is excess intestinal gas. Intestinal gas is produced when we consume certain foods that are broken down by bacteria that naturally populate our digestive tract. Of course, most of us know that beans have a reputation for being "gassy." Here you will find some other examples:
If you believe that food is a major contributor to your bloating problem, you may want to educate yourself on the low FODMAPs theory. Although this theory was developed as a way to better understand IBS, its researchers took a close look at certain foods to evaluate the effect that they have in the body. Their theory is that certain foods are more likely to result in an increased volume of both gas and liquid in the small and large intestine. This higher volume may contribute to the symptom of bloating. If you don't have IBS, you may not need to follow a strict low FODMAPs diet, but you might benefit from avoiding high FODMAPs foods in favor of low FODMAPs foods whenever possible.
2. Don't Chew Gum
Who knew that chewing gum could be contributing to the fact that you are feeling bloated? However, there are two possible reasons that there may be a connection. As stated above, intestinal gas can be produced by bacteria interacting with certain foods. Those bacteria seem to love artificial sweeteners that end in -ol (such as sorbitol) — sweeteners that are found in many sugar-free chewing gums. Intestinal gas also comes from swallowed air, and air gets swallowed when we chew gum! Get it? So err on the side of caution and stop chewing gum.
3. Rule Out Food Allergies or Sensitivities
Could the cause of your bloating be a specific class of food? Many people today are talking about gluten sensitivities and lactose intolerance problems, but it's essential to identify such a problem in a scientific way, rather than randomly ruling out a class of foods and possibly setting yourself up for nutritional deficiencies. First, you need to speak with your doctor, who may recommend diagnostic tests. He or she may also recommend the use of an elimination diet, followed by a challenge phase in which you slowly reintroduce the food back into your diet. The following article offers you an overview of the various types of food sensitivities:
4. Try a Probiotic
If you feel that your bloating appears to be food- and gas-related, think about trying a probiotic. Many people have heard of probiotics only through commercials for yogurts with added probiotics. These "friendly" bacteria appear to work by optimizing the bacterial balance within the digestive tract, thus reducing symptoms of gas and bloating. Although research support for their effectiveness has been mixed, in part due to the fact that there are a wide variety of strains, side effects appear to be minimal or non-existent. I would not recommend that you take probiotics in the form of yogurts due to any potential problems with lactose intolerance (as stated above, a potential cause of bloating), but rather in the form of a supplement.
5. Eat Small Meals
This should be the easiest tip, but in our crazy over-consuming society, it seems to be the hardest. Our bodies were programmed for an existence of deprivation, yet most of us live surrounded by abundance - an abundance that we tend to take full advantage of, much to our own discomfort. Why don't we learn?!?! We eat too much and then we feel bloated. Of course we feel bloated! We have literally stuffed ourselves!
Listen to your body. Only feed it as much in a setting as it is comfortable with. If you have the opportunity to spend any time around an infant, you will see the beauty of the system as it is supposed to work. Infants will pull away from the nipple or the bottle when they have had enough. They will lock their lips when the spoon comes back around when their bellies are full. Somewhere along the line, we lose that wonderful feedback loop. Try to get back in touch with it. Pay attention to how you feel after a meal: does your stomach feel sated? Do you feel bloated? Use that feedback to determine your portion size at your next meal.
6. Watch Your Salt Intake
Fluid retention from excess salt can be a major factor in bloating, particularly in premenstrual females. Although salt is an essential part of our diet, most of us are consuming way too much of it. Processed foods, canned foods, snack foods, and restaurant foods are filled with excessive amounts of salt — placed there not to benefit our health, but to benefit the purses of those who stand to profit from the sales of those foods. Minimize your intake of those foods, don't add salt to your foods, and use condiments sparingly.
It may also be helpful to increase your intake of vegetables and fruits. First of all, eating more of these whole foods will mean that you are eating fewer processed foods. In addition, vegetables and fruits contain many micronutrients that help cells to flush out excess fluid. Just be sure to consult the lists in tip #1 to be sure that you are not choosing fruits and vegetables that will create excessive gassiness.
7. Move Your Body
Our bodies evolved based on an active lifestyle, but nowadays, most of us have very sedentary lifestyles. If you are feeling bloated, it means that your body is retaining something, e.g. retaining fluid or gas. Exercise is one of the ways that our body sheds things. Through the movement of exercise, fluid is flushed through our systems, and gas is encouraged to make its way through our digestive systems. So go for a walk, a jog or whatever form of physical activity that you enjoy. If you are stuck at your desk working, you could walk to the water cooler or do some simple twists; the whole point is just to get things moving.
8. Drink Lots of Water
You may be thinking, why would I drink more water if I already feel like a bloated whale? Well, think of water as something that flushes out all the cells in your body, helping them to function more cleanly and efficiently. Water is needed to transport oxygen and nutrients throughout our bodies, as well as to transport toxins and waste material out of our cells and out of our bodies through urine and stool matter. In other words, water is important for getting rid of what our bodies don't need, i.e. all of those things that are causing it to bloat in the first place. So drink your water! And plenty of it!
"Abdominal bloating" Medline Plus Accessed May 22, 2013.
"Water retention: Relieve this premenstrual symptom" Mayo Clinic Accessed May 26, 2013.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed physician. It is essential that you discuss with your doctor any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.