Let’s talk about the best ways to stop bloating in its tracks. Here are my client tested tips for immediate and long term relief.

Bloating is an uncomfortable, hard, stretched out tummy and is a sign that gas is trapped (not moving through smoothly) in your digestive system. Clients often describe it like having a beach ball trapped in their gut. This can happen with too much gas production, or not enough steady movement of the digestive system muscles (a rhythmic squeezing action called peristalsis).

What causes too much air?

Too much air or gas in the gut can happen two ways. One, is you’re taking in too much air while eating. This one is surprisingly common in fast eaters, those who are working, talking, or doing other things while eating. If you often finish first, quickly jam in lunch while you’re standing over a plate in the kitchen or at your desk while you’re putting out fires in your email, this might be you. Carbonated drinks, using a straw and chewing gum can also increase the amount of air you swallow.

The second way too much air or gas happens is “dysbiosis”. Dysbiosis is an imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria. Sometimes the bad guys will take otherwise healthy foods and produce LOTS of gas (some gas production is normal) and that stretching will cause discomfort.

What causes slow motility?

Motility is the speed and regularity that your gut moves at. Slowed motility can be caused by constipation (not enough fibre and fluids), not enough activity, and one of the more common is dysbiosis we mentioned above.  Some of the “bad” guys are methane producing, and too much methane actually interacts with the cells lining the gut wall, telling them to slow down.

So now we know what causes it, what can we do to stop bloating?

Quick Fixes for occasional bloating

  • Movement: Go for a walk, do a yoga or pilates video online, or even sit and stretch at home. Moving the big muscle groups can stimulate better motility and help free trapped gas.

  • Peppermint or ginger tea: Peppermint can help soothe the irritated gut lining (skip if you have acid reflux) and ginger has a mild direct effect on increasing motility to help free that trapped gas. Make a cup with two tea bags steeped for 5 minutes. I really like the Traditional Medicinals digestive tea found at most of our local grocery stores for occasional digestive upset.

  • Abdominal massage: If gas is trapped, helping to break it into smaller bubbles and stimulate the gut tissues can be helpful. On bloaty days, spend 2-3 minutes a few times throughout the day with a medium pressure moving in a circular pattern (Start at the top, move down to your left, down, up to the right, back to the top).

Normal vs abnormal bloating

Occasional bloating is completely normal, some foods are naturally more fermentable and actually really wonderful for our “good” gut bacteria. If you have mild, occasional bloating don’t sweat it. We should have a small amount of expansion after each meal – both in the stomach right away, and a couple hours later in your lower gut as your good gut bacteria enjoy the meal.

Abnormal bloating is characterized by frequency (often, once or more per day), discomfort or pain associated, and the size of expansion – often my gut clients feel like there’s a beach ball underneath and their pants are uncomfortably tight after eating a normal size meal. This is not something that should happen on the regular and you may want to get some help.

Too much air coming in: 

  • Slooooooow it down. If you struggle with this, put your fork down between bites, use chopsticks or another device to help your brain find a new speed.

  • Chew, chew, chew. We’re aiming for the consistency of applesauce.

  • Try cutting out your sparkling water, kombucha, soda or other carbonated drinks for a few days

  • Swap to a water bottle that doesn’t have a straw and see if it helps

  • Make sure you’re sitting down, away from the desk while you eat so you don’t power it in without thinking.

Slow Motility – not enough fibre or fluids

Cover your basics first. Are you getting enough fibre and fluids? If you’re not sure, check out this post for tips on how to get more.

  • Aim for 2.5-3 L of water per day (if you’re low to medium active)

  • Get 2-3 cups or big handfuls of non starchy veggies at each meal

  • Try 1-3 prunes daily if your poops aren’t soft, regular and easy to pass.

  • Try double strength ginger tea daily

Find any food triggers: Look for patterns (don’t micromanage the day to day)

This should be  your last step after testing out the above. Removing a variety of plant foods from the diet for any extended length of time is closely associated with worsening symptoms and a decline in the balance of good and bad bacteria in the long term. So you might stop bloating and feel better initially by removing a bunch of foods, but keeping your safe food list short will make it harder for your gut to heal if that elimination lasts for a long time.
Food triggers are more complex than it seems at first. We may blame the dairy if eating a dinner with cream sauce bothers us, but there are lots of other common offenders. Let’s break it down:
  • Ravioli with alfredo sauce

  • Garden salad with Italian dressing, sliced red onions, tomatoes, and cubed apples on top.

That alfredo sauce is the obvious choice, but there are a number of other common triggers in this meal! Onions, garlic in the dressing, apples and wheat (in the pasta itself) are all highly fermentable so may cause problems in an imbalanced gut.
How to use a food and symptom journal

So we need to look at the big picture and find patterns, foods that repeatedly cause symptoms when we eat them. We do this with a food and symptom journal! I encourage my clients to collect the information but review it no more than every few days  or weekly so you’re not tempted to rip out every food you’re suspicious of.  You can do this by:

  • Keeping a written diary of what you ate (don’t forget details like dressing, salad toppings, sandwich fillings, and drinks) and when you had symptoms of bloating or discomfort.

  • Using a note in your phone to do the same

  • An easy to use food and symptom tracker like Cara – its an app designed for people with digestive symptoms and is really easy to use. One of my favourites with clients!

You’ll need at least 2-4 weeks of information to help identify food triggers. Common ones are:
  • Garlic and onions

  • Beans, lentils, and legumes

  • Dairy products (lactose) like milk, creamy sauces, ice cream (and if more severe yogurt and cheese)

  • Tree fruit like apples and pears

  • Wheat – bread, crackers, pasta, baked goods

  • Cruciferous veggies – cabbage, cauliflower, kale, brussel sprouts, cole slaw, sometimes broccoli

These are all high “FODMAP” foods, ones that are fermentable by the bacteria in your gut (good and bad) and given the right conditions might create too much gas.

Pro Tip: 
Don’t remove these foods forever – for most people these are intolerances, not allergies, which means they may be linked to a temporary imbalance in your gut bacteria or an overactive immune and pain response in your gut cells. Our goal is to remove offending triggers for a while, work on nourishing our gut with safe fruits, veggies and fibres and then experiment with how you feel adding them back in. There may be some that are no-go’s for good, but you may also be surprised at how tolerant a healthier, happier gut is.

I hope this was helpful for those of you struggling with occasional or chronic bloating. It is SO uncomfortable. If you’ve been struggling with digestive issues for a long time or feel like everything causes issues, I’d love to help you. Complex digestive issues are hard to solve on your own, an experienced Dietitian can strip down the overwhelm and get you on the path to feeling good.

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