Decoding the Bloat

Everything you ever needed to know about bloating.
Published September 24, 2017

We all know that bloated feeling – it’s nothing short of pure discomfort. Wouldn’t we all love it if we never felt like that again? We asked around for some advice, and here’s what we found.

What is it?

“Bloating is a feeling of fullness, tightness or distention in your belly area, that often makes one feel overly full or uncomfortable,” says Catherine Crow, a holistic Nutritional Therapy Practitioner.

What causes it?

“In most cases, bloating is caused by the foods that we eat,” says Shantea Johnson, owner of DHW Nutrition and Fitness in Atlanta, Georgia.

Johnson explains bloating can be a result of consuming foods our stomachs have a difficult time digesting, or foods to which we have an intolerance. Bloating can also be tied to consuming too much salt, having Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and even to chewing gum, she says.

“Common dieting and food restriction are common causes of bloating because it tells your body to slow the metabolism, dialling down your digestive juices over time,” says Crow, who runs Butter Nutrition out of Seattle.

Slowing the metabolism essentially means weaker digestion, Crow says, offering this analogy to explain:

“Think of your body like a house,” she says. “If you’re not making enough money to pay your electricity bill, what do you do? Well, you turn down the heat in your house to compensate, you may not turn the lights on as often, or you may fail to perform regular maintenance. The body operates in a similar way. When there are not enough calories coming in, the body saves energy by reducing body temperature (slowing the metabolism), turning down digestive juices (making digestion weaker), reducing the pulse and slowing thyroid function (resulting in less energy). This is a built-in survival response by the body, to help you go longer on less food.”

How do we stop it?

To avoid bloating, Johnson recommends drinking lots of water to “flush out your system”. As well as limiting your dairy and salt intake, Johnson suggests monitoring the foods you eat and taking note of how your body responds.

“If we really take the time to see how our body responds to certain foods, your body will tell you what it likes and dislikes – we only need to slow down and pay attention!” Johnson says.

Crow offers these additional tips to avoid bloating:

  • Consume enough nutrients and calories to support your body’s cellular metabolism and energy production.
  • Avoid over-exercising – “Too much exercise, especially when the diet is poor or restricted,” Crow explains, “is a sure way to send your body running for safety by slowing the metabolism, and that means weaker digestion.”
  • Reduce stress around meal time – “Stress decreases your digestion significantly, as your body directs energy elsewhere … to survive the stress,” Crow explains. Think back to our primal roots – digestion would not be a priority when our bodies think we’re being chased by a lion, she explains.
  • Avoid foods that can be hard to digest, such as dairy (especially if you are lactose intolerant) and gluten.
  • Eat things that are easy to digest, especially when it comes to carbohydrates – think fruits, root vegetables, and squashes.