We have all experienced a bloated belly at some point. Summer is not the time we want to feel heavy. But it is also during the hot summer days that we might become more dehydrated and sensitive to the salt we consume. The warm weather and light clothes expose our bellies more, and so bloating can not only make us feel uncomfortable, but it can even affect our mood and disposition.
What is bloating?
The definition of bloating is swelling or distention that can be accompanied by burping, gas, abdominal discomfort and a feeling of fullness.
A bloated belly can oftentimes be confused with fat, but that is not what it is. It is the gas and water weight that are adding puffiness and increase our waste circumference. If you manage to reduce the bloat you can look significantly thinner, even if you haven’t lost any weight!
What causes bloating?
Bloating can occur after a particular meal, but it can also become a chronic condition, where you constantly feel bloated and heavy after eating. There are many factors that influence bloating, and so it’s important to first know what can cause this uncomfortable state.
Indigestion is one of the most common reasons that can lead to bloating. Proper digestion is the foundation for a healthy body that functions well. You might have already heard the phrase that you are not what you eat, but what you digest and absorb. When digestion is not working well, congestion and bloating begins. When we eat, we need to also think about our gut flora. There are certain foods that feed our friendly bacteria (prebiotics), and some foods that feed the unfriendly bacteria in our gut. When the unfriendly bacteria are overfed (and they like sugars and food that we haven’t properly digested), they produce toxic gases in our intestine. The gas produces from indigestion creates bloating.
Another reason that causes bloating is water retention. We have all experienced this, us women more than man. It can be a very uncomfortable feeling. Some of the reasons to retain excess water are:
Hormones: this applies more to women than men. You might have noticed that the last two weeks of your menstrual cycle you tend to retain more water, which causes swelling not only in the abdominal area, but sometimes also in the breasts, feet and hands. This hormonal change can also affect the digestive system and increase constipation and bloating.
Dehydration: It might sound counterintuitive but when you don’t drink enough water, the cells in your body will start holding on to more water, leaving you feel bloated and puffy.
Some lifestyle choices and stress can also further aggravate bloating and so they should be addressed as well.
How to reduce bloating
The first and most important thing you can do to reduce bloating is to work on improving your digestion. A few simple changes can make a big impact. These include choosing foods that support and strengthen the digestive organs, such as ginger, lemon, cinnamon, aloe vera and others. Eating food that is easier to digest, simplifying your meals and keeping it light are all good strategies that will help improve digestion.
2. Skip the soda
It is not just what we eat that makes a difference, but what we drink as well. If you want to reduce bloating, then you should avoid soda and other carbonated drinks. These include beer, champagne, and fizzy water. The air bubbles in these drinks travel to the stomach and release carbon dioxide within the digestive tract, which creates bloating. Many of these drinks additionally contain artificial sweeteners and yeast, which feed the bad bacteria in your gut.
3. Avoid cold drinks
It is tempting to go for an ice cold drink on a hot summer day to go with your meal. Unfortunately it is not the best thing for your digestion. Drinking liquids with your meals, especially ice cold ones, slow down the digestive process as they dilute the gastric juices, hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes that are secreted when you eat. The result is ineffective digestion and bloating. Drinking cold beverages on the other hand cools down the digestive organs (they need heat to function properly) and can lead to a shock, which will stop the digestive process.
The best thing you can do for your digestion is to sip on room temperature beverages and avoid drinking large amounts of liquids 30 minutes before and after your meal.
4. Avoid salt and processed foods
Salt attracts moisture. When there is too much sodium in your system, the body starts to hold on to water to dilute the concentration. It is not easy to avoid salt, as it is in so many foods, especially processed ones. Use home made vegetable broth when cooking, and a small amount of high quality sea salt, which contains trace minerals. You can also moderately season your food with seaweed, which will give you the extra saltiness, and boost your meal with iodine.
As you know by know, gut health is vital for our overall well being, and probiotics are the building blocks to a healthy gut. The friendly bacteria in our gut help digest food for us, produce vitamins and work together with our immune system to protect our body from pathogens. Including a good quality probiotic supplement can help decrease bloating. Also, adding some fermented foods in your daily menu, such as sauerkraut, kimchi or water kefir, are a great way to introduce more friendly bacteria in your gut.
6. Stress management
You might have noticed that when you are stressed your appetite changes. You might experience a stomachache and indigestion. Stress is linked with digestion. When we are stressed our digestive process shuts down and doesn’t work efficiently. If you are stressed for a prolonged amount of time, this can result in bloating, and stomach discomfort. Pay extra attention in creating a calm and peaceful atmosphere when you eat and implement some de-stressing lifestyle techniques such as yoga, meditation or a calm walk in the park on a daily basis.
7. Sweat it out
Exercise can fix just about everything. It can lift your mood and it can help improve digestion. Physical exercise can stimulate peristalsis, i.e. the GI contractions. Focus on activities that stimulate the abdominal muscles. Crunches and twisting yoga poses are especially beneficial to the digestive system as they have a detoxifying effect.
8. Watch for food intolerances and avoid food that’s hard to digest
Pay close attention to food sensitivities. There might be certain foods that are hard for your body to digest or you’re intolerant to without realizing it. Most food intolerances are connected to gluten, lactose or fructose. Keep a food journal so you can start noticing if there is a pattern, and consider eliminating or limiting these foods for a while.
9. Drink more water
I have already mentioned this above, but it is worth repeating, especially during the warm summer months. Aim to drink 2 liters of water each day. If you add some lemon or chia seeds to the water, then you get a bonus of increased hydration and added nutrients and fiber for improved digestion.
10. Hara hachi bu: eat until you’re 80% full
The mere act of overeating can create indigestion, as the body doesn’t have sufficient digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid to digest all the food you are introducing to it. So instead of extracting all the nutrients from the food you ate, the body turns the excess food to waste and fat. If food is not eliminated quickly enough, it may ferment and rot, creating growth of unfriendly bacteria that further break down the excess food. When these bacteria feast on the extra food, they release toxic gases in the process and bloating occurs. The Japanese practice hara hachi bu, which means “eat until you’re 80% full”. This practice alone can make a big difference not only in your digestion, but in your weight as well. So don’t eat until complete fullness. Stop when you are satiated but still feel light. Remember that it takes about 20 minutes for our stomach to communicate to your brain how full you actually are, so eat slowly and enjoy every bite you take.
Foods that help reduce bloating
Include the following foods in your daily menu to help reduce bloating this summer:
Peppermint: helps relax the muscles of the stomach and improves the flow of bile to properly digest fat.
Parsley: contains minerals and vitamins, and it’s believed to help reduce water retention. It can also act as a natural diuretic, and helps detoxify the body.
Potassium-rich foods (banana, kiwi, oranges, strawberry, celery, coconut water): potassium can help reduce bloating as it balances the body fluids and helps the body get rid of excess sodium.
Ginger: adds fire to the digestive system and improves the transit time of the food we eat.
Warm water with lemon: stimulates the digestive tract and bowel.
Turmeric: stimulates digestion and helps reduce bloating.
Magnesium-rich foods (leafy greens, nuts and seeds): magnesium relaxes the muscles and helps against constipation.