I was at dinner the other night with some fellow nutritionist friends. After we had gleefully stuffed our faces and our bellies, we discussed whether or not it was appropriate for non-pregnant women to wear maternity clothes, since they are so flowy, and feminine, and tend to have extra fabric in places that may also expand on non-pregnant women. We all agreed YES!, and that you should wear whatever your heart desires and makes you feel amazing. And as my own belly started to bloat at the dinner table, I began dreaming of my own pair of skinny jeans with an elastic gusset on the tummy. If you’ve ever stood in front of the mirror after dinner, feeling very full and uncomfortable, and admired your “Buddha-belly”, you might be wondering why do you bloat?
Why do you bloat? And what to do about it.
While bloating and the holidays seem to go hand-in-hand, you might experience bloating a lot more regularly than just around your turkey dinners. While it’s not normal, it can be quite common to experience bloating any time after you eat. Even when you try to “clean” up your diet and eat really healthy, you may still experience the post-meal bloat. I’ve been there too, I get how unpleasant it feels, and how frustrating it can be when you may not know what’s causing it. In my own personal experience, plus what I’ve seen with my clients, here are the top 3 reasons you may bloat after eating:
1. Eating too much or too fast.
Eating too fast can lead you down a very slippery slope to eating too much. Maybe you come from a big family where if you didn’t eat fast you didn’t eat, or maybe you were an active kid that only had minutes between soccer and piano to get in a meal. Either way, if you tend to eat fast you are likely eating more than you should as it takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you are full.
What to do about it:
So after you take a bite, put your fork down, and chew your food. Not only will this help improve your digestion, but you’ll also get to taste and enjoy your food, and it will slow you down letting satiety kick in so you don’t overeat.
2. Food sensitivities & intolerances.
If you’re bloating after you eat, it’s probable that you have undiagnosed food intolerance. Bloating after a meal is one symptom (of many) of a food intolerance, or your body’s inability to fully digest that particular food. It’s this incomplete digestion of the food that leads to unexpected gases building up in the intestine, creating painful pressure, and making your belly distend.
While bloating may not be as severe or immediately dangerous as an anaphylactic reaction that is common in severe food allergies, undiagnosed or ignored food sensitivities and intolerances can lead to long term digestive distress, inflammation, and stress in the body overtime. As we learned in this post here, chronic, systemic stress in the body can cause other unwanted health problems to arise such as weight gain, autoimmune conditions and potential development of disease. So if you believe that a night of feeling bloated and gassy is worth diving into the cheese platter, it’s important to understand that there may be an underlying food intolerance present, which if left unaddressed could potentially lead to bigger problems down the road.
What to do about it:
But at special times of the year, when some of your favourite foods come out, you may choose to indulge and “treat” yourself. If this is the case, you can help your body out by supplementing with a digestive enzyme about 10 minutes before you eat. The digestive enzyme will go to work in your body to complete digestion where your body may lack the enzymes to do the job itself. I recommend trying a plant-based digestive enzyme, as these often have a broad spectrum of action and will work in the acidic and alkaline stages of digestion.
3. Low stomach acid.
Poor diet (or the Standard American Diet), and chronic stress are two huge contributing factors to a depletion in stomach acid, or hydrochloric acid (HCl) levels. So if you’re popping antacids to deal with heartburn, or find yourself belching the alphabet after a meal, or maybe your finger nails and hair are brittle and prone to breaking, it’s possible that you have an underactive stomach or low HCl levels. Adequate HCl levels in the stomach are critical for optimal digestion, and your digestion needs to be in tip top shape to combat the bloat.
What to do about it:
Another tactic you can try is taking a digestive bitters tincture prior to eating. The bitter action of the tincture can enhance digestive secretions in your stomach, liver, pancreas and small intestine to improve overall digestion function. I personally use and really like Canadian Bitters by St. Francis Herb Farm.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are a variety of other factors that can also cause bloating, such as low thyroid function, a bacteria imbalance in the gut, or consumption of specific bloat-inducing foods. However, the next time you unbuckle your pants at the dinner table and you curse down at your growing distended belly, I encourage you to think about the basics such as chewing really well, slowing down while you eat, reducing stress, and eliminating food sensitivities from your diet as the first steps to take to banish the post-meal bloat.