It's unanimous – bloating sucks. Often, though, it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause, so we usually end up silently enduring it or trying to ignore it until it goes away on its own. Some of us might even be so used to it that we fail to recognize we're bloated to begin with - but it doesn't have to be that way. Here is a list of some of the most common reasons for bloat, along with some tips for how to keep the bloating at bay.
The number one culprit behind bloating is overeating. Obviously, the solution to avoiding discomfort caused by overeating is simply to not overeat – but, as we all know, that's a lot easier said than done - especially when things like pizza and cake exist. There are a few guidelines to follow that might make it a little bit easier, however.
First, try eating more slowly. It takes about 12 minutes, and sometimes up to 20, for food satiety signals to kick in. Eating more slowly allows time for these messages to get to the brain. Being more attentive to portion sizes also helps, and using smaller plates can help you achieve this. Being mindful while you're eating, as opposed to eating while absent-minded or distracted, will also help you to be more in tune with feelings of satiety. Lastly, you can try choosing more satisfying foods that are less calorie-dense (foods high in protein, fibre, and water content), which will make it more difficult to eat a surplus of calories.
Nearly everybody has taken antibiotics to cure an infection at some point in their lives. What you might not know is that, while antibiotics are beneficial for treating bacterial infections, they often trade in one problem for another – namely, an overgrowth of yeast in the intestines. A small amount of yeast is a normal part of healthy gut flora, but yeast levels are usually kept in check by other normal gut bacteria. Antibiotics will rid your body of problematic bacteria (like the ones that cause urinary tract infections), but they'll also kill off the beneficial bacteria that help keep your gut flora healthy, providing yeast with the opportunity to grow uncontrolled.
Because yeast ferments food, and the fermenting process causes gas, an overgrowth of yeast in your gastrointestinal tract means you will likely be experiencing bloating, gas, and digestive upset. You might also experience sugar cravings, bad breath, a reduction in energy, sleep issues, headaches, a weakened immune system, and difficulty concentrating.
The best way to handle a yeast infection is to avoid it altogether, which can be achieved by taking medications as directed, taking probiotics and/or eating yogurt to replenish healthy gut flora during and after a course of antibiotics, and avoiding excess sugar. Not to worry, though – if you've ended up with a yeast infection of the digestive tract, there are things you can do to get your gut flora back under control. Treatments include avoiding sugar, taking yeast-killing supplements to get rid of the infection, and taking probiotics to replenish your healthy gut bacteria.
Another reason you might be feeling bloated is because of a food sensitivity or intolerance. It's important to note that a food sensitivity isn't the same as a food allergy; food sensitivities are usually delayed reactions to foods or drinks that, unlike food allergies, do not involve an immune system response. Food sensitivities may prompt gas and inflammation, which can cause discomfort and bloating. Other accompanying symptoms and signs might include eczema, lethargy and allergies.
Foods and additives that commonly cause irritation include eggs, dairy, some fruits, wheat, corn, sulfites, certain dyes, and MSG. Because symptoms are often delayed for up to hours after eating, it can be difficult to discern that a food sensitivity is the cause behind the bloat. Luckily, there is a blood test that can help identify sensitivities. Some people also experiment with their diets and figure out what works best for them by process of elimination. Once the irritating food is removed from the diet, improvements should be noticeable within a few days. By four to six weeks, any bloating and associated symptoms should be completely gone.
Gluten sensitivity, or celiac disease, is on the rise. If gluten is a problem for you, you'll likely experience gassiness, constipation, diarrhea, and/or bloating.
There is a medical test that can distinguish whether or not you have a gluten intolerance, though many people who test negative still report that they feel better after eliminating gluten from their diet. If you're thinking that you might be gluten-intolerant, you can take the test to know for sure. You can also try eliminating gluten from your diet for 5 weeks and then reintroducing it so that you can accurately gauge your body's reaction to it. With plenty of gluten-free alternatives available, you won't have to worry about bloat OR foregoing tasty foods.
Enzymes are molecules that are responsible for helping the body break down food into simple proteins, fats, and carbohydrates so that they can be absorbed by the small intestine and used by the body. If your body isn't producing a certain enzyme, or not producing enough of it, the food that your small intestine was unable to break down will pass into the large intestine. The bacteria in the large intestine are left to metabolize the unabsorbed food, which involves a fermentation process that gives off lots of gas, causing discomfort and bloating.
The most common enzyme deficiency involves insufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase, which results in lactose intolerance. You can check to see if you have a lactase deficiency by either taking a breath test or doing a dairy-free trial of two weeks, and then eating dairy to gauge your body's tolerance.
If you have an enzyme deficiency, you might be able to take enzyme supplements before eating, which will prevent any bloating or other unpleasant symptoms. Avoiding the food that your body cannot break down is also an option.
It's important to note that enzyme deficiencies are sometimes due to a pancreatic issue or a pathogenic infection. If you suspect a problem, see your doctor to seek diagnosis and treatment.
Bloating every once in awhile is normal, but nobody should be dealing with it on a regular basis. The tips and information above should help prevent you from having to unbuckle your belt after every meal. Bloating is usually mild and benign – albeit unpleasant - but it can sometimes be a symptom of something more insidious. Remember to consult your doctor if you're worried about your digestive health, or plan on making significant dietary changes.