Bloating is never pleasant. It’s uncomfortable and even painful at times. For some, bloating is a rare occurrence and it only really happens when we’ve eaten too much. For others, bloating occurs daily and is highly disruptive to daily living.
If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD - ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), you will be no stranger to bloating. You might also experience other digestive symptoms, such as excess gas, abdominal cramps, and nausea at times.
Bloating refers to the expansion of your stomach and small intestines, causing distension and discomfort. It’s a normal response to eating large volumes of foods, especially if they are foods that cause excess gas pain and production.
However, there are also many things that can increase the risk of bloating, such as medical conditions and hormonal changes or imbalances.
In this article, we're going to cover why bloating occurs and which positive lifestyle changes you can make to stop bloating in its tracks.
Why Does Bloating Occur?
There are many reasons why you might experience bloating. Let’s talk about these reasons in more detail.
Swallowing excess air
Bloating can be caused by something as simple as eating too quickly. When you eat your meals or snacks without properly chewing the food, it can cause you to swallow excess air, which leads to bloating. Wearing poorly fitted dentures or chewing gum can also increase the amount of air that you swallow while you’re eating.
We briefly mentioned that IBS and IBD can increase your risk of bloating but several other different medical conditions can also contribute to excess gas, including:
- Ascites (fluid in the abdominal cavity)
- Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD)
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)
- Giardiasis (parasitic infection in the intestines)
- Hernias in the digestive tract
- Hormonal changes
- Intestinal hyperpermeability (‘leaky gut syndrome’)
- Kidney failure
- Liver failures
- Poor nutrient absorption in the gut
- Reduced gut motility
If you suffer from any of these medical conditions, it’s important to work with a team of healthcare professionals to properly manage your symptoms. Whether you suffer from bloating or not, expert guidance is essential when you’re dealing with any kind of chronic health issue!
Bloating can also result from excess psychological stress. When you’re highly stressed, your body goes into what is known as ‘fight or flight’ mode and the adrenal glands pump lots of cortisol into your bloodstream.
Your blood gets diverted away from your digestive tract so that your brain and muscles have more oxygen and nutrients, which are required for you to fight against a threat or run away from a threat. We spoke more about this in our recent article ‘Is Stress Causing Your Stomach Issues?’, which you can read here. (link to ‘Is Stress Causing Your Stomach Issues?’ article)
Because there is a reduced flow of blood through your digestive tract, it can slow down the breakdown of ingested food and this leads to bloating.
Traveling or inactivity
When you’re sitting down for several hours, whether it’s in a car, on a plane, or at a work desk, it can slow down your digestion. You can also experience constipation when you’re sedentary for a long period of time, especially when you’re not in the comfort of your own home. You can also experience "holiday bloating" due to the change in diet and pressure changes on the plane!
Dehydration is often ignored when it comes to bloating but it’s one of the main causes of small digestion and constipation.
Your body needs water to properly break down the food that you eat and if you’re dehydrated, your digestive system won’t have enough water to do its thing! Your stool is partially made out of water too. If you’re dehydrated, you’re so will harden and you’re more likely to experience constipation.
Your diet could be causing you to bloat a lot - from how you eat to what you eat. If you eat too quickly and don't chew thoroughly you could end up with a lot of undigested food in your gut. Bacteria in the gut feast on this and release gas, sometimes a lot of it, and that fills your intestines with excess gas.
The same goes for what you eat - if you eat things that make gas or you struggle to digest then you're going to have an issue. For example, if you are lactose intolerant it's likely that you don't have the enzyme to digest lactose - lactase. This results in undigested food reaching your gut and the bacteria eating and creating gas.
6 Positive Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Bloating
Whether you’re a frequent bloater or you only tend to bloat every once in a while, there are lots of positive lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce your digestive discomfort. From natural remedies to mindful eating, here are six things to try next time you’re bloated.
1) Eat more slowly and chew your food properly
Failure to chew your food properly puts more strain on your digestive system and slows down your natural digestive processes. With a slower rate of digestion, you’re much more prone to feeling bloated and having excess gas.
A simple yet highly effective way to minimise your bloating is to eat more slowly and make sure that you properly chew your food.
Digestion begins at the mouth, where your teeth grind food up into smaller, more easily digestible pieces. When you properly chew up your food, passes through the rest of your digestive system more quickly and you won’t experience that awful post-meal bloat.
2) Move more
Sedentary lifestyles are a major contributor to bloating. Sitting down can make it harder for your body to efficiently digest your food. Adding more movement into your day can do wonders for your digestion.
Physical activity encourages the movement of food through your digestive system, making you feel less sluggish and bloated after eating a meal or snack.
Instead of sitting at your work desk during your lunch break, take a walk around the block. When you get home from work, take an evening jog or head to the gym for a strength training session.
3) Drink more water
Bloating can often result from dehydration. If your body doesn’t have enough water, your digestive tract will struggle to effectively metabolise ingested food, leading to slow digestion and bloating. Simply drinking enough water throughout the day to keep your body hydrated can reduce bloating and constipation.
4) Eat fibre-rich foods
Fibre-rich foods, also known as prebiotics, fuel the beneficial bacteria in your gut. The word ‘prebiotic’ comes from Greek words meaning ‘for life’. The bacteria in your intestines form part of your gut microbiota, and they are essential for your digestion.
Your gut bugs break down fibre into beneficial compounds, such as short-chain fatty acids, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream and used by cells in your body. Without fibre-rich foods in your diet, your gut bacteria won’t be able to grow and thrive.
Plant derived carbohydrates are the primary source of dietary prebiotics. Fruits and vegetables that are high in oligosaccharides, such as fructans (e.g.- inulin; oligofructose), galactans, and inulin, are all high in beneficial prebiotic fibres.
5) Reduce your psychological stress
We mentioned above that high levels of stress are one of the main causes of bloating. When you’re chronically stressed, your body is constantly in a state of fight or flight. It thinks that you are in danger and it will divert blood away from your digestive tract so that you are always ready to face or run away from this danger.
By managing and lowering your stress, you can naturally lower your cortisol levels and take your body out of fight or flight mode. Instead, you can transfer your body into what is known as rest or digest mode, where you feel calm and relaxed.
When there is no perceived threat, your body feels safe to allocate resources to your digestive system. As a result, you’ll be able to digest your food more quickly and you won’t feel as bloated.
6) Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating involves eating with no distractions. This means eating without your phone, tablet, or TV. Instead of being distracted by technology, you can focus solely on the food in front of you and the bites that you are taking. You’ll chew your food properly and boost your digestion.
Mindful eating isn’t focused on the calories, carbohydrates, fats, or protein in your food. It’s solely about the way you’re eating and the environment that you’re in at the time of your meals and snacks.