If you constantly feel like you’ve swallowed a balloon or look like you’re heavily pregnant on the reg, you friend, have bloating. And you’re probably wondering what the hell is going on with your insides, because belly pain really sucks.
So, what’s the go? According to clinical nutritionist Michaela Sparrow from The Longevity Remedy clinic in Newcastle, stomach bloating can mean a few different things. “Stomach bloating is when the digestive system is filled with trapped gas, fluid, inflammation or delayed breakdown of food leading to extended time the food sits in the stomach,” says Sparrow.
This often makes you feel like you have a full, tight stomach (even if you haven’t eaten), and can result in pain or cramping, burping or gassiness. Although bloating can sometimes be caused by serious medical conditions, it’s most often triggered by your diet and some foods or ingredients you might be intolerant to.
Common causes of bloating
#1 / Eating too quickly
Slow down, son! If you’re one of those people who shovels their food into their mouth (guilty!), it’s likely that you’re swallowing a lot of air at the same time and not chewing your food properly. “Eating too quickly doesn’t give our digestive system time to be prepared for the food we are consuming,” says Sparrow.
#2 / Hormones
Fluctuating hormones promote fluid retention, so as your oestrogen levels rise, your stomach holds onto liquid, which in turn causes bloating. Yay! “Sometimes women can get bloated just prior to their period, and women with endometriosis can often experience bloating,” says gut health nutritionist Kate Spina from Kate Spina Nutrition.
#3 / Too much bad gut bacteria
Too much bad gut bacteria or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) is probably one of the most common causes of bloating. “When the gut bacteria is imbalanced (due to stress, poor diet, antibiotics, pain killers), these bacteria can create excessive gas that builds up in the stomach, causing bloating,” says Sparrow.
#4 / Low stomach acid and digestive enzymes
If you’re stressed or your body is lacking zinc or B vitamins, this may lead to low stomach acid – which is a trigger for poor digestive activity. “Stomach acid is needed to adequately breakdown and absorb food and nutrients. When this is low, digestive enzyme production is also impeded, and the food sits in the stomach for a longer period of time. The longer the food sits in the stomach ‘fermenting’, the more bloating you will feel,” explains Sparrow.
#5 / Food intolerances
Food intolerances are a very common cause of bloating and other associated symptoms. “Gluten and dairy are the biggest culprits, but also fructose - they cause bloating by disrupting gut bacteria and triggering inflammation and immune response in the gut,” says Sparrow.
Easy ways to reduce bloating
#1 / Eat more fibre
“Add some fibre to your day,” recommends Spina. Consistently eating nutrient-rich high-fibre foods will help prevent belly bloat. “A bircher muesli made with oats, flaxseeds and grated unpeeled pear would tick this box,” says Spina. Just be careful not to overdo it, though! Too much fibre can have the opposite effect – so go slow and work your way up to your ideal daily fibre intake over a couple of weeks. This way, your digestive system will have time to adjust.
#2 / Chew your food well
“Chewing slowly and trying to chew each piece of food 30 times will ensure the food is properly macerated and the digestive system has had time to produce the acid, bile and enzymes needed to speed up transit time in the stomach and breakdown and absorb food,” says Sparrow.
#3 / Try herbal tea
Switch out your usual coffee for a herbal tea! Spina says it’s perfect to drink before, during or after a meal because it relaxes the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. “Try grating some ginger in warm water with some lemon. [Ginger] is a potent digestive spice. It stimulates digestive enzymes and also reduces inflammation and supports a healthy stomach lining. It can be used as both a preventative and for symptomatic relief,” says Sparrow.
Peppermint tea is also great for soothing the intestines, relieving abdominal pain and reducing bloating. If you don’t have bagged or loose peppermint tea , you can add a drop of pure peppermint essential oil into a cup of herbal tea or a cup of hot water.
#4 / Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is very helpful in treating gas and the feeling of bloating. Sparrow recommends drinking apple cider vinegar in a small amount of warm water before each meal. “This will stimulate digestive juice, acid and bile production, readying the digestive system for the food you are about to consume. Bile and digestive juices are needed to breakdown, emulsify and absorb nutrients. This also helps in relieving symptoms quicker [if] you are already bloated. Try [drinking it] 30 minutes before each meal.”
#5 / Avoid chewing gum
If you’re one to chew gum during the day, you might want to stop the habit if you’re constantly feeling bloated. Spina says some chewing gums contain chemicals that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine: “The sugar-free ones contain a high-FODMAP sugar alcohol, and the chewing can cause you to swallow air,” she says. Chewing gum also makes your body think you’re about to eat food, so it starts producing enzymes necessary to break it down. But when there is no food to process, bloating occurs because you end up have too much stomach acid in your belly.
Long term solutions
If you’re still feeling less than your usual self, Spina recommends taking a look at any potential allergies or intolerances. Try keeping a food diary to track what foods are triggering discomfort. “Rule out food allergies (like gluten) or intolerances (like FODMAPS). This may require an elimination diet and reintroduction period, blood tests or more investigative testing. Get your gut bacteria tested to see if you have enough of the good bacteria or too much of the bad,” says Spina. “There are many tests available to help figure out the bacterial balance in your digestive tract,” adds Sparrow. “It is recommended you see a functional doctor, naturopath or nutritionist who is experienced in digestive and microbiome health.”
You could also focus on healing and repairing your digestive wall. “Increased intestinal permeability (where the gut wall is compromised and allows toxins and bacteria to pass into the blood stream) caused by stress, poor diet or food intolerances will all impact bloating,” says Sparrow. “Regulating intestinal permeability by reducing inflammation and repairing it can help target the underlying cause of bloating. Slippery elm, gelatine and glutamine are great for this, but it is best to see a professional who can tailor a plan to your specific health needs,” she says.
“If you are experiencing substantial pain, cramping or nausea alongside the bloating, or the bloating and pain comes out of nowhere, it is important to see a doctor as these could be linked to more serious complications,” says Sparrow.
Looking for some tips on how to improve your gut health? Check out some of the best beauty supplements that come with MAJOR benefits.
What’s your go-to solution for bloating? Share with us in the comment section below.
Main image credit: @georgiafowler
Erin Docherty is a Beauty Writer for BEAUTYcrew, Beauty Editor for Women's Health magazine and a Grooming Writer for Men's Health magazine. She has a keen interest in cosmeceutical skin care and is currently working on minimising her 9-step skin care routine – because ain’t nobody got time for that. When she’s not writing about the latest beauty news, or applying copious amounts of serum, you can find her spending all her money in Sephora.