Holiday Parties have passed and with it the one day a year where we have camaraderie in feeling bloated. The images of family members loosening their collective belts with a chuckle and swearing, “I’ll never eat again,” are humorous up to a point.
However, if someone’s cause of bloating is simply overeating, they’ll feel better soon enough. For many of us, though, abdominal bloating is a side effect of food intolerance or other serious digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
My journey to understanding bloating began in college when I discovered that my bloating could be reduced by drinking peppermint tea.
I wondered what other simple dietary changes I could make to relieve my symptoms; what are the best foods to eat, which are the best foods to avoid? For example, who would’ve guessed that apple cider vinegar is such a potent tool in fighting bloating? Or that chewing gum can actually lead to bloating?
Many people associate bloating with PMS, because, unfortunately, we don’t have separate words for bloating caused by gassy build-up in the digestive system and bloating caused by water retention. Many people are surprised to learn that most bloating is caused by excess gas or air in the digestive tract.
Too often, belly bloat is blamed on excess water or water weight and one might be tempted to cut back on hydration. However, any doctor, nutritionist, or dietician will always tell you, “drink plenty of water!”
The most common symptoms of bloating are stomach pain, discomfort, and gas. You may also burp or belch frequently or have abdominal rumbling or gurgling. Some foods produce more gas than others. This is important since bloating happens when the gastrointestinal tract becomes filled with air or gas. It can also be caused by lactose intolerance. Other simple reasons for bloating include:
- Swallowing air (this can happen when you chew gum, smoke, or eat too fast)
- Acid reflux (GERD)
- Weight gain
- Menstruation (in some women)
Contact your healthcare provider if your bloating is severe and accompanied by other serious symptoms, such as:
- Blood in your stool
- Noticeable weight loss (without trying)
- Vaginal bleeding (between your periods, or if you are postmenopausal)
- Heartburn that is getting worse
- Fever (due to an infection)
How to Debloat
Yes, I know “debloat” is not really a word. I think the closest antonym to “bloat” is “deflate.” It would be correct to use “deflate” as becoming not-bloated would imply losing gas and air. However, “debloat” is slang used in the health field and I’d hate to think of you feeling deflated! So I’ll stick with this made-up word.
OK, so you’re bloated and uncomfortable. Aside from building a time machine, going back in time, and NOT overeating, chewing gum, using a straw, etc, etc, etc, what can you do to debloat? Here are some ideas:
Let it out: Yes, it’s not very gentlemanly or lady-like, however, holding in gas can cause bloating, discomfort, and pain. The easiest way to avoid these symptoms is to simply let out the gas if you can.
For most of us, it was drilled into us to hold it in. So much so that we don’t even realize we’re doing it now. Be judicious; if you’re at your child’s recital or meeting The Queen, then by all means, employ your holding-it-in skills. Otherwise, pop out to the restroom or hallway and let ‘er rip!
Apply heat: When gas pains strike, place a hot water bottle or heating pad on the stomach. The warmth relaxes the muscles in the gut, helping gas to move through the intestines. Heat can also reduce the sensation of pain. A nice, warm bath will have a similar effect.
Pass stool: A bowel movement can relieve gas. Passing stools will usually release any gas trapped in the intestines. As with passing gas, many of us have grown up with social taboos around defecating. Many of us are shy about having a bowel movement at a friend’s house and/or downright squeamish about using a public restroom.
If you only defecate at home, it means you’re subconsciously holding it during the day. This old programming could be exacerbating your bloating.
Drink tea: It’s really true, some herbal teas aid digestion and reduces gas pain. The most effective include teas made with:
Be advised that anise has a mild laxative effect so avoid it if your gas is accompanied by diarrhea. On the flip side, however, if constipation is responsible for your trapped gas, it can be very helpful.
Peppermint supplements: Like peppermint tea, peppermint oil capsules have long been taken to resolve issues like bloating, constipation, and trapped gas.
Always choose enteric-coated capsules which pass through the stomach intact, only dissolving when they reach the small intestine. Uncoated capsules dissolve too quickly in the stomach and this can lead to heartburn. Peppermint is known to inhibit the absorption of iron so these capsules should not be taken by people who have anemia.
Chew a few fennel seeds: According to an article on Healthline.com, Fennel Seeds for Fighting Gas, fennel is an age-old and globally-known natural remedy for “trapped wind.” Slowly chewing on a teaspoon of the seeds releases anethole which improves digestion and reduces intestinal inflammation or irritation.
Chewing fennel seeds may also relax muscles in the intestines, which can help relieve constipation. They help soothe the muscles in the stomach and intestines which relieves gassiness that’s from constipation or acid reflux.
Add apple cider vinegar to water: “Just a spoonful of apple cider vinegar helps the bloating go down, and down…” Yeah, not quite as catchy as the original, but I bet Julie Andrews could make it work! Seriously, apple cider vinegar aids the production of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. It may also help to alleviate gas pain quickly.
So much so that we offer an Apple Cider Vinegar Supplement. For quick relief, drink a glass of water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar. Or drink it before meals to prevent gas pain and bloating. Either way, be sure to rinse your mouth well with water, as vinegar can erode tooth enamel.
Clove oil: Clove oil has traditionally been used to treat digestive complaints, including bloating, gas, and indigestion. Consuming clove oil after meals can increase digestive enzymes and reduce the amount of gas in the intestines. Add a couple of drops to a beverage or mix with a few drops of olive oil to aid digestion.
Activated charcoal: Activated charcoal is a natural product that can be bought in health food stores or pharmacies without a prescription. It is used for a variety of medical purposes, most notably in cases of accidental poisonings. However, when taken in tablet form, either before or after meals, it can prevent or treat trapped gas.
Check with your healthcare provider to see if it is contra-indicated with other meds you may be taking. Also, start off slowly, gradually building up your intake to prevent unwanted symptoms, such as constipation and nausea. And don’t be too alarmed by the side effect of turning your stool black. This discoloration is harmless and will go away when you stop taking it!
Exercise: Gentle exercises can relax the muscles in the gut, helping to move gas through the digestive system. Walking or doing yoga poses after meals may be especially beneficial.
A Healthline.com article, Say Goodbye to Bloating with This Genius 5-Minute Workout, recommends trying thirty minutes of light to moderate cardio such as a long walk, a brisk jog, a bike ride, or even a jaunt on the treadmill or elliptical machine. They also recommend these yoga positions:
- Torso Twist
- Extended Triangle Pose
- Sphinx Pose
- Extended Puppy Pose
Breathe deeply: Deep breathing may not work for everyone. Taking in too much air can increase the amount of gas in the intestines. However, some people find that deep breathing techniques can relieve the pain and discomfort associated with trapped gas. Try this diaphragmatic breathing technique:
- Sit or lie comfortably with your eyes closed.
- Place one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your chest.
- From your diaphragm, inhale through your nose for about 4 seconds, feeling your abdomen expand. (You may feel slight tension the first few times you inhale.)
- Hold your breath for 2 seconds.
- Exhale very slowly and steadily through your mouth for about 6 seconds. Your mouth should be relaxed.
- Only your bottom hand should move. Your top hand should remain relatively still.
- Repeat for 5-15 minutes.
Over-the-counter remedies: Several products can get rid of gas pain fast. One popular medication, simethicone, is marketed under the following brand names:
- Mylanta Gas
Can Bloating Be Prevented?
There are many ways to prevent and avoid bloating. Here are some food-related tips:
- Avoid the foods that are known to cause gas. These include cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, turnips, cauliflower, beans, lentils, garlic and onions.
- Avoid or reduce wheat and gluten: Many people are intolerant of gluten, a protein in wheat, spelt, barley and some other grains. This can lead to various adverse effects on digestion, including bloating.
- Avoid fried foods.
- Avoid spicy food.
- Avoid salty foods. Excess sodium can increase water retention and make you feel more bloated.
- Avoid chewing gum.
- Avoid using straws for drinking. Drink from a glass, rather than a bottle, to reduce swallowed air.
- Reduce or avoid drinking carbonated drinks.
- Reduce or avoid eating and drinking foods that include artificial sweeteners.
- Avoid foods sweetened with fructose.
- Pay attention to your fiber intake. A diet high in fiber can help prevent constipation. However, good bacteria can also produce gas. If you want to reduce bloating when eating a high-fiber diet, try making it carbohydrate-rich rather than protein-rich, new study findings suggest, according to an article from WebMD.com.
- Avoid dairy products if you notice they cause gas and bloating.
- Avoid overeating.
Here are some positive things you can do to prevent and avoid bloating.
- Eat small meals.
- Drink lots of water to help prevent constipation.
- Eat slowly. Avoid talking while you’re eating.
- Take digestive enzyme supplements. Certain over-the-counter products may also help with bloating, such as supplemental enzymes that can help break down indigestible carbohydrates. Notable ones include Lactase and Beano. Lactase is an enzyme that breaks down lactose for those who are lactose intolerant. Beano contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, which can help break down indigestible carbohydrates from various foods.
- Take Probiotics. Gas produced by the bacteria in the intestine is a major contributor to bloating. Foods rich in Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, the good bacteria, will help replace the bad bacteria and boost your digestion. Yogurt, fermented foods, and supplements are good sources. (Be aware though, that at first, you may experience a short-term increase in gas as your system adjusts.)
- Quit smoking. Always a good idea, but it also helps you swallow less air.
- Keep a food diary. For two weeks or more, keep track of what you eat; how much you eat; symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, flatulence, heartburn, abdominal pain, and indigestion; and their severity. Use this info to sleuth out what affects you most and make dietary changes accordingly.
You Can Do It!
While everyone experiences trapped gas once in a while, some of us experience regular pain, bloating, and other gastrointestinal symptoms. After checking in with your healthcare provider and ruling out the presence of a more serious medical condition, begin to investigate which foods you are more sensitive to.
Investigate which remedies work for you and which preventative measures help. Remember that you are not alone and keep checking in with 1 Body for great products and supportive camaraderie!