If you follow me on social media, you would have seen a few belly-bloat before and after photos! Due to my sensitive gut, and a few food intolerances, I battle with bloat quite a lot.
If my DMs are anything to go by, plenty of you feel my pain! Sometimes bloating can be quite severe, and can interfere with daily tasks and can make you feel frustrated and down.
To help you battle the bloat as best you can, I’ve got the top eight common causes of a ballooning belly, and what you can do about it. If your symptoms persist, or you have ongoing pain, you should definitely see a healthcare professional to make sure it isn’t anything more serious.
Yep, this is my biggie. Maybe your trigger is gluten or dairy. Or maybe cruciferous veg (broccoli, cabbage and so on) create a gassy reaction. You might even have a sensitivity to high-FODMAP foods, causing Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms. FODMAPs are certain sugars that aren’t absorbed properly in the gut. If you’re going to try cutting back on high-FODMAP foods or things you think you might be intolerant to, it’s best to do so with guidance from a gastroenterologist or dietician, to make sure you don’t end up low in certain nutrients as a result.
Feel like a balloon that’s about to pop as your period approaches? You’re not alone! Bloating is one of the most common menstrual cycle symptoms, usually attributed to fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone in your body. It’s a fact of life, and there’s not much you can do about it – just keep away from any other bloating triggers that might make it worse. You might also find gentle exercise can help.
Fibre is great: it keeps you feeling fuller and can help maintain a healthy gut. Most people don’t get enough, but it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Bloating caused by fibre is especially an issue with people making a switch to a plant-based diet, or those transitioning to a healthy, whole-food way of eating with lots of fruit, veg, whole grains, nuts, seeds and especially legumes. If you find beans have become your ‘musical fruit’ when it comes to gassiness, try pulling back the number of legumes you eat or spacing them out in smaller serves.
Gentle exercise, like one of my recovery sessions, might help you fight bloating.
Along with cramping, diarrhoea and vomiting, bloat is a common symptom of tummy bugs where the digestive system gets infected and inflamed. The bad news is that you just have to ride it out. However, you may need to see a doctor if the bug won’t budge, especially if you need antibiotics or if you are at risk of dehydration because of fluid loss.
Are you the type who feels like a meal isn’t complete without an extra pinch (or three) of salt? Unfortunately, your favourite seasoning could be the source of your bloating. Research has found that a high-sodium diet can increase the risk of bloating by up to 27 per cent. How much salt should you be eating? The World Health Organization recommends no more than 5 mg (the equivalent of about a teaspoon) a day for adults.
Remember, your salt intake isn't just the pinch you add to your dinner, it’s hiding in plenty of packaged products, and restaurant meals usually include a hearty serving.
The low calories of non-sugar sweeteners might sound great, but they’re not always so great for your gut. Artificial sweeteners like xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol, as well as natural stevia-based sweeteners, can cause digestive issues for some people, including (you guessed it!) bloat. Remember to check your protein powder for additives, and monitor how you feel after consuming products with artificial sweeteners.
Fizzy drinks can also cause bloat, even without artificial sweeteners. If you think this is an issue for you, just pull back on the bubbles for a bit and see if it makes a difference. If you’re just looking for a sweet flavour burst then fruit-infused water or herbal teas will be much more gentle on your belly.
As I mentioned above, the artificial sweeteners contained in most mint-flavoured gum can cause gut issues and bloating for some people. But that’s not the only reason that gum can make your stomach swell. When you chew gum, you swallow air – and extra air can mean extra gas. If you’re using chewing gum for fresh breath, make the switch to fresh mint leaves instead.
Emily Skye is a strength training expert and the face of FIT, the digital fitness app that helps women worldwide build strength and confidence, stay active through pregnancy and rebuild post-pregnancy. Emily holds a Certificate IV in Fitness and Master Trainer qualification from the Australian Institute of Fitness. She is also co-founder of James Cosmetics and a mother of two.
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