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Bloating is a common concern that many of us experience. It’s that uncomfortable, swollen feeling in your abdomen that can affect your daily life. It is important to understand that some degree of bloating is normal and we cannot expect to never be bloated. However, if it is regularly having an impact on you then it is important to look into what could be going on.
There are several factors that can contribute to bloating:
Physical health problems: Gut conditions such as IBS, IBD and coeliac disease are common, almost 50% of the population experience a gut condition. These can be the cause for bloating, it is also important to be aware of red flag symptoms, these are listed in the next section.
Dietary Change: Significant changes in diet can be responsible for bloating, such as rapidly increasing your fibre intake, going on a diet or when travelling and eating new foods.
Eating Habits: Eating too quickly, or skipping meals can disrupt your digestion and result in bloating. Fibre can also play a role in bloating- too much fibre and not enough fibre can both contribute to bloating to it is important to find a balance.
Food Intolerances: Some individuals may be intolerant to certain foods, such as lactose or gluten, leading to bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort.
Constipation: When stool builds up in your colon, it can cause bloating. Being adequately hydrated and having plenty of fibre can really help. Some people suffer from long term functional constipation and may also need laxatives to help.
Eating Disorders: It is very common for people with eating disorders to experience bloating, often due to the impacts on your gut-microbiome and the structure of your gastrointestinal tract.
Gut bacteria imbalance: We have a colony of trillions of microbes in our gut that play an important role in digestion. There are times in life that the balance may change and this can cause bloating. This could happen following a course of antibiotics, after travelling to a different country or after food poisoning or having an infection, to name a few examples. Managing gut bacteria imbalances is still an area of medicine that is being researched, but I have listed some possible probiotics that may help below.
Tight clothes: Did you know that tight clothes around your abdomen can worsen bloating? Many people try to wear tighter clothes or ‘hold in’ style underwear to hide the bloating but this can actually make it worse and leave you feeling very uncomfortable.
Stress: Our brain has a direct link to our gut via the vagus nerve, this means that our gut can be very sensitive during times of stress and for many people stress can be a contributing factor in bloating.
Red Flag Symptoms
While bloating is common, it’s essential to recognise when it may be a sign of an underlying issue. If your bloating is accompanied by severe pain, blood in your stool, or unexplained weight loss, it’s crucial to seek medical attention promptly. These symptoms can indicate a more serious problem, such as inflammatory bowel disease or Coeliac disease.
Bloating During Eating Disorder Recovery
For those on a journey of eating disorder recovery, bloating can be particularly challenging. The process of nourishing your body after disordered eating can lead to temporary bloating. This is because your body has to adjust to a regular eating pattern and the dietary changes that come with recovery.
Eating disorders can lead to changes in the balance of microbes in the gut microbiome. Studies have shown that there can be an increased presence of gas-producing bacteria, which can cause bloating and wind.
Registered dietitians play a crucial role during eating disorder recovery and supporting you to continue going, despite feeling uncomfortable and bloated. They can help you plan meals that minimise discomfort and promote healing, ensuring that you’re nourishing your body while also considering your mental health and emotional well-being.
Bloating and Body Image
For many people, bloating can impact body image and self-esteem. It’s essential to remember that bloating is natural and that everyone experiences it. It is important to show your body respect by wearing comfortable clothes and continuing to nourish yourself well. Some people may restrict or diet in response to bloating but this can make it worse.
I really love Lottie Drynan on Instagram– she has IBS and experiences bloating. Her account is dedicated to showing bloat- friendly outfits and focusses on feeling comfortable and confident.
View this post on Instagram
If you are really struggling with your body image, then it is important to get some support. I support people who have body image difficulties and you can get in contact with me here.
Managing bloating is possible, and it often involves a combination of lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments. It is very important to avoid overly restrictive diets to manage bloating as this can make things worse.
Here are some tips to help you reduce bloating:
Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to help your digestive system function optimally.
Chew Your Food: Slow down and chew your food thoroughly to aid digestion.
Eat regularly: Long gaps between meals and skipping meals can worsen bloating, so it is important to have three meals per day and snacks in between.
Ensure you have a balanced diet: It is important to consume enough calories to meet your needs, and include a balance of carbohydrate, protein, fat, and fibre. If you already eat a high fibre diet, it may be worth slightly reducing your fibre intake and see if that helps. If you don’t eat much fibre, it may be worth trying to gradually increase your fibre intake.
Monitor Trigger Foods: Identify foods that trigger your bloating. Common trigger foods include protein shakes, protein bars, artificial sweeteners, beans and legumes. When trying to avoid trigger foods only trial cutting one food out at a time and if there is no benefit then make sure you include it again so that your diet is not limited.
If you struggle to digest beans and legumes, you can try using digestive enzymes. Bean Assist is one that many of my clients have found helpful.
Gentle Physical Activity: Incorporate some gentle movement into your routine such as short walks and yoga can help to promote healthy digestion.
Avoid tight clothes around your abdomen: Wear clothes that you can comfortably move around in and expand your diapragm in.
Manage stress: If you recognise that you experience a lot of stress, consider encorporating stress-management strategies such as mindfulness and medititation.
Consider hypnotherapy: This may seem a little left-field but there is emerging evidence that hypnotherapy can be a helpful intervention in managing IBS and bloating. I think this is really exciting! If you want to look into this there is an app offering gut-directed hynotherapy called Nerva.
Consider trying a probiotic: There are a number of probiotics on the market that may help improve the balance of your gut bacteria. We need more evidence to make official recommendations about specific brands but below are a list of good quality products that you may wish to try:
Symprove – This is a liquid probiotic and one of the most studied probiotics. I have personally have used this one in the past and got on well with it. Symprove gave me a code for you to get 50% off: CORBETT50.
Biokult – This is another well studied probiotic and is also one of the more afforable ones.
Your Heights Smart probiotic- This probiotic is newer to the market and has been developed by a gut health dietitian.
Consider peppermint oil tablets: Some studies have found that peppermint oil could be helpful for bloating, especially in people who have IBS. You can buy these online/ over the counter and they can also be prescribed by a GP in the UK. The recommended dose is 0.2 -0.4 ml, 3 times per day. Here are some I found online that are the appropriate dosage: Peppermint Oil Capsules.
- Bloating is a normal experience, however many people experience uncomfortable bloating that may be linked to their diet or lifestyle.
- If bloating is accompanied by weight loss, severe pain, or blood in your stool then it is important to see your doctor.
- Bloating is extremely common in Eating Disorder recovery and it can worsen negative body image.
- You can try a number of things to help bloating such as: Dietary change, Chewing food well, Understanding trigger foods, Including gentle movement, Trying hypnotherapy and mental health interventions, Probiotics, Digestive Enzymes and Peppermint oil.
- Having a dietitian supporting you through this process is important to ensure that any dietary change is safe and appropriate for you.