When I was younger I struggled with feeling bloated on a daily basis, so much so, that I would not want to hang out with friends socially. It was straight home and to bed, no matter what time of day it was. I knew that I had to finally take control of my lifestyle and make some changes. And it wasn’t just one particular change that helped, it was a combination of a few that I want to talk about today.
Bloating is an uncomfortable condition that can make you feel sluggish, heavy, and can cause abdominal pain for some. Occasional bloating is part of normal life, but if it becomes chronic, it is time to dig deeper and understand why and what is causing this to happen.
Before I review the ways to minimize bloat, let’s look at some common causes:
Low Stomach Enzymes: When it comes to our digestion, it is important to produce the proper digestive enzymes to break down proteins, fats and carbohydrates so they can be absorbed into our bodies. Without them, food is not digested properly, causing slow motility, which leads to bloating.
Stress: with chronic or ongoing stress, our central nervous system shuts down (or slows down) our digestive system and puts all efforts to the perceived threat or stressor. That means you stop producing stomach acid and digestive enzymes making it difficult to digest food effectively increasing the risk of bloating.
Dysbiosis: gut dysbiosis is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the colon. When we have an overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, the bacteria will ferment and produce gas and inflammation. This disruption can cause inflammation, constipation, diarrhea and abdominal pain; all common symptoms associated with bloating.
Constipation: Constipation is a common digestive issue that can make you feel bloated. Common causes of constipation include poor diet and lifestyle habits, lack of physical activity, dehydration and certain medications.
Not Chewing Slowly or Enough: Did anyone ever tell you to chew your food 30 times before swallowing? Or to chew your food until it was applesauce? There is good reason for that! Digestion starts in the mouth; chewing helps release a digestive enzyme in your saliva called amylase. Bypassing this important stage of digestion puts more pressure on the rest of the digestive tract, and food may sit longer in the gut fermenting and producing gas.
Food intolerances: occurs when a person has difficulty digesting a particular food. Big offenders here are dairy and gluten.
Now let's review 4 strategies to help reduce or prevent chronic bloating:
1. Sip ginger root tea after meals (2-3x/day)
Ginger is a carminatives herb. Carminative herbs are herbs and/or spices that move gas through the digestive tract and prevent it from forming. Ginger speeds up gastric motility (the movement of food from the mouth through the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines and out of the body) and hence improves symptoms of bloating and gas.
My go-to ginger root tea recipe:
2. Take digestive bitters or ACV 15 min before meals
Digestive bitters are a concentrated blend of bitter herbs. Think: dandelion and arugula. Bitters help stimulate your digestive system which increases stomach acid, enzymes, and bile to help break down food and digest properly.
One of my go to Digestive Bitters: Click Here
Apple cider vinegar works in the same way and it is also known to stimulate a hormone called gastrin which tells your stomach to produce more acid. This helps with digestion and hence less bloating! Side note: it also helps maintain blood sugar levels by slowing the breakdown of carbohydrates into glucose. Win/win in my book!
3. Nervous System Support
There are multiple different tools out there that will support us getting into a parasympathetic rest and digest state before meals.
There are a few to consider such as journaling, meditation, and yoga. But my favorite to start out with is deep breathing. By taking a deep breath from your belly you stimulate your vagus nerve. Taking about 6 breaths over the course of a minute is a great way to relieve stress. You should breathe in deeply from your diaphragm - not your chest. When you do this, your stomach should expand outward. Your exhale should be long and slow. This will allow your body to rest and properly digest the food coming its way!
But remember: none of these tools will work unless there is consistency in practice. Try to commit to 10 mins daily at least every day to see any results. The more you can do the better results you’ll get.
4. Eat a balanced diet
Incorporate fruits/veggies that are rich in natural digestive enzymes such as papaya, pineapple and kiwi fruit.
Remove large amounts of processed foods high in processed fat and sugar as these foods can slow down intestinal movement. It is also worth mentioning that if you have gut dysbiosis, sugar free substitutes will cause an immediate reaction.
And remember that a diet lacking adequate fiber (25-35g per day) also contributes towards bloat and constipation. Fiber acts like ‘scrubbing brushes’ inside our intestines helping push material along and encouraging regular bowel movements.
Other factors to consider: proper hydration, sleep, and exercise!
When to take it further:
If you've implemented these tips and are STILL experiencing GI upset, it might be time to investigate the underlying root cause together.