Now I’m not sure of the exact statistic, but I’m pretty sure that everyone out there will have at some point experienced a bloated belly. Whether it’s from eating too much, eating too quickly, eating something that doesn’t agree with you, drinking lots of gas filled liquid or – if you’re a woman – it being around “the time of the month” nothing can make you feel more uncomfortable or self-conscious than when your belly decides to “pop out” from nowhere forcing you to undo that top button on your jeans or do your best to shield it from sight.
But what if I told you that having an ironing board flat stomach actually ISN’T natural – especially for women? It’s the sad truth that, as with much of the rest of “diet culture”, we’ve been led to believe that the achieving and maintaining that perfectly flat stomach is something that we should all aspire to – that it makes us more beautiful, desirable, successful etc. – and some will go to extreme efforts to attain that when, in reality, our figures are supposed to be as varied and diverse as we are, with the female form being curvaceous and often with a naturally rounded belly in order to protect our precious reproductive organs.
I do acknowledge though that not all bloating is natural and that there are times when it could actually be the result of something more sinister being at play. If you believe this to be the case, then the first step is to try and rule out some of the likely offenders including stress, how and what we eat/drink and what we wear (did you know that those very trendy high waisted trousers can actually cause bloating for example?).
If you’ve followed me for a while then you’ll know that I eat and am a fan of a wheat and gluten free diet – not for any “clean eating” or trend following reasons – but because, after lots of experimentation, I realized that these foods simply don’t make me feel good. As a result the bloating (as well as many other unpleasant bodily experiences) is now an irregular occurrence rather than something I have to contend with every day – but that’s not to say the same thing will be the bloating “trigger” for you which is why it’s SO important that you don’t just start cutting things out of your diet all over the place – doing so could just lead to even more – and potentially more serious problems. So what can you do? The answer lies – initially at least – in a spot of “playing detective” – in the form of keeping a food & lifestyle diary for 2 weeks.
In your diary (which, in reality, can just be a blank notebook, an app on your phone etc.) note down the following each time you eat or drink something:
- Where you were
- Exactly what you ate/drank
- How long it took you to eat/drink
- How you were feeling at the time e.g. Were you feeling stressed, anxious or upset? Were you feeling relaxed and peaceful?
- How you felt after eating/drinking – both immediately and in the hours after e.g. did you feel like you’d eaten too much? Did you feel bloated and uncomfortable? Were you “foggy headed”? Did you find yourself visiting the bathroom regularly in the minutes and hours that followed?
- What were you wearing at the time?
Once you’ve done this, see if you can spot any patterns between those factors and your bloating (or other issues). For example, did you notice that your bloating was worse when you ate whilst feeling stressed and anxious versus when you were relaxed? Or when you ate your food faster than when you took your time? Did you seem to experience bloating more when you had certain types of food or drink? E.g. things containing wheat or dairy? Certain fruits or vegetables? Or when you wore certain items of clothing?
At this stage it’s worth taking a trip to your doctor – both to share your findings with them and so that they conduct some additional tests if they feel it’s necessary – this may include ordering some specific tests to rule out conditions such as various forms of bowel disease (e.g. Crohns, Colitis etc.) or referring you to a Registered Dietician or Nutritionist who will be able to work with you further to address the issues you are facing.
However, if you get the all clear from your doctor but are still experiencing some issues then here are some of my top tips to help beat the bloating:
- Make friends with fibre! If your bowel movements are irregular and you suffer with constipation, then this can contribute to bloating. Look to include more fibre rich foods such as wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, beans & pulses as well as nuts and seeds BUT increase your intake of these fibre rich foods SLOWLY to give your body time to adjust.
- Let’s get physical! Physical activity is great for your mood and can help to aid bowel movements so try to move around as much as you can – even things like gentle walking count, it doesn’t have to be vigorous exercise or involve Lycra
- Hydrate Mate! Drinking can help to keep our digestion smooth as is especially important when we’re eating more fibre. Aim to drink at least 6-8 glasses, and preferably of of water, daily
- Savour Those Flavours! Take time when eating your food – eat it slowly and really enjoy it. Eating quickly and not chewing your food properly can mean you don’t digest your food properly and cause you to take in a lot of air – all of which can result in an uncomfortably bloated belly.
- Forget The Fizz! These can be huge contributors to bloating as obviously the bubbles and all that gas have to go somewhere. Try cutting back the amount you drink and, instead, having still water flavoured with your favourite fruits (e.g. slices of lemon, lime or orange) or why not experiment with the huge variety of fruit and herbal teas that are now available?
- Get Gum Gone! When we chew gum we can take in excess air and this not only fools the stomach into expecting food (and starting to release various gastric juices) but can also make us bloat and produce gas
- Probe Your Portions! Over the years portion sizes have gradually become larger and larger whilst the size of our stomachs have pretty much stayed the same (about the size of your fist) so look at the size of what you’re eating and ask yourself if you’re perhaps being a bit overgenerous when dishing up. Some people find that eating smaller meals, more regularly through the day actually works better for them and their digestion than having 3 larger meals so maybe experiment and find out what works best for you.
The one most important “golden rule” that I want to leave with you though is to stay aware of what’s going on with your body and how you’re feeling – there is a reason that the gut is referred to as our “second brain” and that so many of us make decisions based on our “gut feeling” – if something doesn’t feel right to you then it’s definitely worth paying attention and getting things checked – for the sake of your health AND your peace of mind.