Tight waistband after eating certain foods?
Tummy gets bigger as the day goes on? You’re not alone.
Here is what you can do about it.
Eating on the run
If you hurtle out the door with toast in hand then wolf down a lunchtime sandwich at your desk, you’re probably swallowing air with your food, warns Suzie Sawyer, clinical nutritionist ( feelaliveuk.com).
“Instead of entering our lungs, some of that air goes into our oesophagus, then into our stomach, and eventually into our intestines and colon, triggering bloating.” Ideally, take your time and sit down to eat with no distractions.
Aim to chew a mouthful around 30 times before swallowing.
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Carbonated drinks contain carbon dioxide and the gas can puff out your stomach, explains Suzie.
Artificial sweeteners in diet drinks simply add to the problem because they can be hard for many of us to digest.
“Still water is the best go-to beverage, while black, green or herbal teas are good for digestion,” she says. And when you’re out in the evening, try red wine or kombucha instead of beer or cider. They both contain compounds that boost good gut bacteria and alleviate bloating.
Many women suffer bloating just before their period begins and during it.
“As well as causing menstrual bleeding, research suggests that changes in progesterone and oestrogen levels cause the body to retain more water and salt,” explains Suzie.
“As a result, the body’s cells become swollen with water, causing the feeling of bloating.”
Combat this by avoiding salty food and refined carbohydrates (white flour and processed sugar) and fill up on potassium-rich foods such as spinach, sweet potato, bananas, avocados and tomatoes.”
Some people lack the enzyme necessary to digest lactose, the sugar in cows’ milk. As a result the lactose ferments in the colon, producing large amounts of carbon dioxide and hydrogen which may cause gas and abdominal cramps.
Try cutting out all dairy for a week and use milk alternatives to see if things improve.
“The longer your stool stays in your colon, the more gas and bloating you get,” explains Suzie.
“Slowly increase your fibre intake to add bulk to your stool, making it easier to pass. Be warned though, if you add too much too quickly, bloating can get worse.”
Drinking more water and taking regular exercise will also keep your bowels moving, while twisting from side-to-side can help reduce any gas that has built up in the digestive tract, she advises.
If lifestyle measures don’t work, talk to a pharmacist about a stool softener or gentle laxative as a short-term measure. If problems persist, see your GP.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a common condition of the digestive system that can cause bloating, alongside cramps, diarrhoea and constipation.
“There’s a theory that IBS causes a problem with bacteria in the gut and this, in turn, can create toxins that may cause excessive gas,” says Suzie.
“Another theory is that the guts of people with IBS are less able to tolerate and transport gas.”
Try keeping a food diary to identify trigger foods (onions and garlic are common triggers) and Google low-FODMAP diets.
Eat small, regular meals and set aside 30 minutes to eat in order to ‘digest’ your meal, she adds.
Consider a probiotic supplement that survives the stomach acid. Massaging the abdomen from left to right in circular motions also can help, while drinking peppermint tea can relieve trapped wind.
A small Spanish study found that 72 per cent of patients with abdominal bloating had some form of sugar malabsorption. The most common culprit is fructose – a natural sugar found in fruit, honey and in highly processed food.
“Fructose is usually absorbed in the small intestine, but for those with fructose intolerance, some travels to the colon where bacteria ferment the fructose,” explains Suzie.
“This causes the release of hydrogen and methane gases, which cause pain, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea.”
Eliminate high-fructose foods, such as fizzy drinks, certain cereal bars and fruits (such as prunes, pears, cherries, peaches, apples, plums and watermelon), apple juice and apple cider, pear juice, sugar snap peas, honey, ice cream, chocolate and biscuits containing fructose sweeteners.
When patients in the study did this, 81 per cent reported improvements in bloating symptoms after a month. (Don’t rely on sugar-free alternatives as they often contain ingredients which can make bloating worse).
This is an auto-immune condition where eating gluten causes the immune system to attack its own tissues, damaging the small intestine so it is unable to absorb nutrients and causes gas and bloating.
Following a gluten-free diet – even if you have mild symptoms – should provide relief and also prevent the long-term complications of the condition.
“Try ginger tea or ginger ale to settle the stomach and help stop the cramping,” says Suzie.
Drugs known to cause flatulence and bloating include certain laxatives, antacids, antibiotics, antidepressants, statins, and some drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes.
A few women taking the contraceptive pill experience fluid retention as a side effect.
“Watch out for multivitamin brands that contain sugars and ingredients that some people cannot completely digest, which can cause excess gas and bloating,” warns Suzie.
Speak to your doctor and see if your medication can be adjusted.
Changing hormones can cause fluid retention and digestive imbalance so, not only is bloating common when we menstruate, it affects menopausal women and those with endometriosis and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
A study by women’s health app Flo found that bloating was the disorder’s most common symptom, experienced by around 77 per cent of sufferers.
“PCOS bloating can be made worse by foods with a carbohydrate called raffinose, causing more gas production,” says Suzie.
“Being aware of trigger foods can help reduce your abdominal pain,” she explains.
Examples include asparagus, beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. Exercise can help by balancing hormones and controlling blood sugar levels.