Most of us are familiar with having to unbutton a tight pair of jeans after a slap-up meal. But for some people, bloating can be more regular, painful, and distressing. Here we share top tips for easing your digestive discomfort
It’s normal to feel a little bloated and sluggish after overindulging, but some people are plagued with frequent bouts of bloating, which leave them feeling really uncomfortable, and can take a massive toll on their mental health.
Bloating happens when our body retains water and gas, leaving our tummy feeling swollen and full. While it’s not usually serious, the anxiety it can cause is huge.
Since it happens suddenly, and sometimes in the most awkward of situations, many sufferers find bloating can impact their social lives, make them feel self-conscious, and even affect their relationships.
Like any health issue, it’s important to know that when it comes to bloating, you’re not alone. A quick scroll through the hashtag #mybloatedwardrobe on Instagram (started by blogger Lottie Drynan) reveals hundreds of women sharing the daily reality of living with bloating.
But what causes bloating to happen in the first place, and is it fixable?
Registered nutritional therapist Anna Mapson says: “Bloating can stem from many different reasons, but more frequent and longer episodes of bloating can be down to the strength of digestion.
“If your stomach acid, or digestive enzymes, are low, you won’t be breaking food down properly. This can cause partially digested food to ferment in the intestines, resulting in bloating and gas.
“Food intolerance can also be an issue for some people,” explains Anna, who runs a seven-day gut reset course online to help people get to grips with their gut.
Of course, sometimes bloating can be an indicator of underlying conditions (it is a key symptom of ovarian cancer, for example), so Anna advises those with ongoing bloating to always see their GP before making any diet changes.
Once you’ve ruled these out, it could be worth looking at your diet and lifestyle choices to see if these could potentially help relieve or lessen your bloating. Here are some of our top tips...
1. Slow down when you eat
Is your idea of a lunch break wolfing down a sandwich at your desk? It turns out eating too quickly could be to blame for your bloating episodes. Experts recommend we chew food around 30 times before we swallow it, but lots of us eat too quickly – leading us to swallow more air, which can cause bloating.
Anna Mapson explains: “Chewing is really important – there are no teeth in your stomach! Also, there are enzymes to start digestion of carbs in our saliva, so allowing food to start digesting in the mouth can really help. Sit down to eat, don’t eat on the run or in the car.”
2. Tuck into fermented foods.
When it comes to improving your digestion in general, working on our microbiome (the collection of bacteria in our guts) is a great place to start. Instead of taking a probiotic, it can often be just as effective to incorporate fermented foods – like sauerkraut, kefir and kimchi – into your diet.
These foods are teeming with good bacteria to help our digestive system, but a word of warning: take it slow. “Some people may find their bloating gets better with fermented foods, but others can find it makes things worse with more bloating! Start slowly, and build up,” advises Anna.
Fibre is crucial for improving your digestive health, and eating a varied diet that’s rich in fibre will usually make a real difference to your gut
3. Up your fibre
Sometimes bloating is actually caused by constipation, so upping your fibre can kill two birds with one stone! Regardless of whether you’re constipated, fibre is crucial for improving your digestive health, and eating a varied diet that’s rich in fibre will usually make a real difference to your gut.
“The beneficial microbes we want to encourage flourish in a higher fibre diet, so include lots of vegetables, fruits, pulses, and whole grains in your diet,” explains Anna.
As with fermented foods, it’s important to take things slowly, as a sudden increase of fibre may temporarily cause stomach discomfort and diarrhoea. Some individuals with inflammatory bowel disease, or even severe IBS, can find too much fibre may worsen their symptoms – so work with your body, and find a level that works for you.
4. Keep a food diary
There’s no one food that worsens bloating, but if you’re experiencing it regularly, and have been tested by your GP for other causes, a food diary can be a practical way to find out if particular foods are making things worse.
“A reaction to certain foods can trigger fermentation and bloating,” says Anna. Keeping a food diary will help you find patterns in your symptoms – but if you plan to cut food groups out of your diet, always seek support from a qualified dietitian or nutritionist first.
5. Cut down on cruciferous veg
Ever find certain veggies make things worse? Well it could be that they fall into the cruciferous vegetable family. Cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli are all packed with nutrients, but they’re also high in raffinose, a complex sugar that our body sometimes struggles to digest – meaning it can cause gas and bloating in some individuals. It doesn’t mean you can’t eat these veggies, but it might be worth not eating too many of them at the same sitting if you’re particularly sensitive to them.
6. Sip on fennel tea
When you’re feeling bloated, swap your regular cuppa for a cup of fennel tea. Fennel has been a natural digestion remedy for many years, with the seeds of fennel traditionally being chomped on to aid digestion. We think it’s much easier to simply brew a cup of fennel tea instead! Peppermint and ginger are both good alternatives if you haven’t got fennel tea to hand.
7. Pick up a papaya
After a big meal, it could be worth tucking into a bowl of papaya for dessert. Why? Well this exotic fruit is known for containing digestive enzymes, making it a perfect after-dinner treat. Papain – the main enzyme found in papaya – helps break down the food in our gut, making it easy to digest, and thus hopefully preventing bloating. Another enzyme-rich fruit is pineapple, which contains the enzyme bromelain. Both of these fruits are rich in fibre, so they can also help ease constipation, another common cause of bloating.
8. Try the low FODMAP diet
While some of the food choices we’ve mentioned above can certainly help bloating, some may find they need to overhaul their whole diet. The low FODMAP diet limits certain types of short-chain, fermentable carbohydrates that are thought to cause digestive issues in those with sensitive guts. There’s some evidence that following this diet can eliminate bloating and stomach pain but, given the nature of the diet, you’ll need to work closely with a dietitian for support.