Bloated Belly? 3 Surprising Things You Should Avoid
A constantly bloated belly was one of my most frustrating and ever-present symptoms when I first found myself on the roller coaster ride of digestive system dysfunction a decade ago.
Day after day I would wake up with a belly that felt and looked almost normal.
Then, after every meal (or drink, or piece of gum, or snack) the bloating would take over. It would progress throughout the day until some days I went to bed with a tummy that appeared to be 6 months pregnant.
Stretched-out, huge, painful and unsightly. At the onset of my gut problems, my tummy got so bloated one night that I made a trip to an urgent care center because I was convinced that I must have an obstruction of some sort.
‘Functional gastrointestinal issue’ (I had no idea what this even meant) was what the doctor told me. He could give me no real reason for it or advice or treatment (or empathy).
I was told to go home and try Gas-X.
I wish I could tell you that taking a Gas-X solved my dilemma. But, if you have lived with gut troubles for any amount of time, you are aware that they are quite complex, constantly changing and usually require multiple approaches for healing.
Since those overwhelming early days of digestive distress, my body has become an ongoing science experiment of sorts. I am always testing and analyzing what might make my symptoms better or worse and making adjustments along the way.
I have learned a great deal from trying new things, and then carefully observing and listening to how my body responds.
I discovered one key point that I want to share with you today. When you have a ‘sensitive’ (ok… I really mean super cranky, unpredictable, and downright obnoxious) digestive system, you might have to start avoiding some conventional nutrition advice. Instead you have to take control of your own health outcome by listening to your gut.
Keep in mind that it helps to be flexible in your approach. If things aren’t working, don’t be afraid to admit it and move on to try something new.
I have had to remember this recently during a relapse with Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (read about my latest bout of SIBO in this blog post).
When I really started to pay attention to my body, I was able to narrow down habits that were unintentionally making my symptoms worse.
If you need guidance establishing good gut health habits and examples of the habits that I have found the most valuable, download your free Create Healthy Gut Habits Blueprint here:
So here they are…
Three ‘healthy’ habits I have let go of in order to live day to day with fewer symptoms, including less bloating.
1. Eeek! Limit raw veggies
I know, I know! We should all be trying to incorporate more vegetables into our diet. But, in my case, I have identified eating large bowls of leafy green salads as a definite trigger to my bloating.
Which really sucks, because I love salads! They are such a great way to get lots of nutrient dense colorful veggies into your body.
Which is why I was in denial about giving them up for quite a long time. But, with an honest look, it was hard to ignore the connection.
The vegetables found in a typical mixed green salad have a mixture of soluble and insoluble fiber, but tend to be higher in insoluble fiber.
This type of fiber does not dissolve in water and is left undigested as it passes through our digestive system. Insoluble fiber can help to speed up the passage of food through the stomach and intestine and also adds bulk to the stool.
Depending on your unique gut issues, these properties of insoluble fiber, especially if eaten raw, can actually make your symptoms worse.
Fiber tolerance in people with IBS can vary and those with diarrhea tend to not handle insoluble fiber very well. Sources of insoluble fiber include, whole wheat, dark, leafy greans, peas, and beans.
If you are experiencing regular bloating or have a condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) then it might be worth avoiding raw veggies for a period of time to notice how your body responds.
Alternatively, you can try cooking your veg prior to eating it which makes it easier on your digestive system.
Also eating fermented vegetables (mmmm….sauerkraut) is a great option as these foods are ‘pre-digested’ during the fermentation process.
2. Break up with dairy for a less bloated belly
I know I am going to get a lot of resistance to this one. And honestly, in all of my self experimentation, I’ll admit that giving up dairy has been the most difficult to maintain.
I have tried reintroducing dairy back into my diet on several occasions because I love cheese and I love cream.
But, inevitably soon after I do, my symptoms come back or worsen.
Unfortunately, for people with IBS and/or SIBO such as myself, the sugar lactose in dairy products can cause lots of gas and bloating and tummy pains.
Quite recently I found a lactose-free version of half and half cream. This has become my latest experiment.
It is too early to tell right now, but I am hoping that if it is the lactose in the dairy that bothers my belly, the lactose-free version will be something I can indulge in at times!
Time will tell.
3. Don’t ‘graze’ all day; stick to distinct mealtimes
This is a suggestion that I have come across in the last few months and it has been helping me quite a bit.
The theory behind it being that in cases of SIBO or IBS, spacing out meals gives the migrating motor complex (MMC) of our gut time to operate while we are not eating.
The MMC (yes…another acronym).
It controls the strong, repetitive cleaning waves in the small intestine that push all the leftover non-digestible material, waste products, and bacteria further down into the colon.
If this does not occur, the non-digested material can be fermented in the small intestine by bacteria and cause bloating.
Here’s the problem: the cleaning wave can’t move through if we are eating. It is one or the other: eating mode or cleaning mode. If interested, read more about the MMC here.
It has been a popular bit of advice in recent years to ‘graze’ and eat small meals more frequently throughout the day to improve metabolism.
However, it might be a better strategy to space out your meals and avoid snacking if you do suffer from digestive upset and bloating.
So, what do I want you to take away from this?
If you experience extreme bloating every day that gets worse as the day progresses, you may have a condition such as IBS or SIBO. And each of these has its own set of possible underlying causes.
Avoiding raw vegetables and dairy and trying to space out your meals (about 4 hours apart) may alleviate some of your symptoms.
But, most importantly, remember that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to digestive health. Especially if you are suffering from persistent, bothersome symptoms.
Understand that every person’s body is unique and that your path to healing will be unique as well.
But knowing that there are a variety of things that you can try and test for yourself can give you hope during the process. You will eventually find the things that works for you.
Now get out there and be your own detective!