Many of my clients come to me explaining severe gastrointestinal (GI) challenges, specifically extreme bloating, which is the uncomfortable sensation of having trapped gas or increased pressure in your gut.
I've had my fair share of them over the years too from struggling with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) ten years ago and also having dairy and gluten intolerances.
Bloating is very common, occurring in 16–31% of the general population. Fortunately, it’s generally a short-term problem that resolves on its own, perhaps triggered by a large meal or a gas-producing food. However, for some, like me in the past, it can be a chronic problem that causes moderate to severe symptoms ad affect our quality of life. It can be debilitating to say the least!
Over the years, I have come up with a series of quick fixes to get myself and my clients quickly on the mend. Here are 12 of my tried, true and go-to's:
1. Identify the cause of the bloating
Bloating is triggered by many dietary and lifestyle factors. This can include:
Eating foods that contain compounds that are fermented in your colon, such as fiber, sugar alcohols, and FODMAPs
A food intolerance, such as gluten, lactose or fructose intolerance
Swallowing excess air
Increased fluid in your bowels
Imbalances in your gut microbiome, or the ecosystem of bacteria living in your gut
This leads me to my second recommendation...
2. Try probiotic supplements
Imbalances in my gut microbiome was a significant factor for me, particularly after contracting COVID-19, which dramatically reduces your microbiome. Taking a naturopathic grade probiotic really helped me get this fixed and fast.
Probiotics are living microorganisms, such as bacteria, that provide tremendous health benefits when consumed. There is a direct correlation between gut health, chronic disease and our immunity.
They can be taken in pill form or in special preparations, but they're also found naturally in some foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso and tempeh.
So if you're not currently taking a probiotic, I recommend hitting your local health food store and getting one. My personal go to brand is Genestra. Incredible, high quality natural supplements. Whichever brand you choose, stick with it for at least four weeks to determine whether it has a positive effect.
3. Limit foods that trigger bloating
Many people experience bloating after eating certain foods that contain high amounts of non-digestible or poorly digestible compounds. These compounds include insoluble and soluble fiber, sugar alcohols, and the sugars raffinose and fructose.
When you eat foods containing these compounds, the undigested fiber and sugars end up in your large intestine where bacteria ferment them, leading to increased gas.
Specific foods that may cause bloating include:
Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage
Fruit: prunes, apples, pears, and peaches
Whole grains: wheat, oats, wheat germ, and wheat bran
Legumes: beans, lentils, peas, and baked beans
Sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners: xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol found in artificial sweeteners and sugar-free chewing gum
Drinks: soda and other carbonated beverages
While these foods may lead to increased gas, not everyone will feel bloated after eating them. I recommend keeping a food diary to track, identify and monitor which foods and ingredients cause your symptoms so that you can avoid these and the discomfort they cause.
As I mentioned above, dairy and gluten are personal bloating triggers for me. I now stay away from those or take digestive enzymes or lactose pills to aid in the breakdown and digestion of these food products to lesson the discomfort and pain that can ensue as a result of consuming them. In general, however, I avoid these foods altogether.
4. Check for lactose intolerance
Lactose intolerance is a common condition that causes multiple digestive symptoms, including bloating. Lactose is a sugar found in milk and your body needs an enzyme called lactase to break down lactose. However, most people don’t produce enough of this enzyme to break down lactose once they reach adulthood. The resulting condition is called lactose intolerance.
This condition causes lactose to pass through your gut, pulling in more water until it reaches your colon, where it’s fermented by bacteria and releases gas. This may lead to symptoms like bloating, stomach pain, increased flatulence, and belching.
If you suspect you have lactose intolerance, reducing your dairy intake may help eliminate symptoms of bloating. As a I mentioned above, when I do choose to consume dairy products, I use lactose pills to lessen and diminish any discomfort from their consumption.
Fortunately, some dairy foods are lower in lactose and may be better tolerated such as Greek yogurt and aged cheeses. And for dairy lovers out there, you now have access to many lactose-free dairy products.
5. Support regular bowel habits to alleviate constipation
Constipation affects about 14% of people worldwide, causing symptoms like infrequent bowel movements, excessive straining, hard stools, and bloating.
In particular, it can lead to bloating because the non-digestible components of food spend longer in your colon and are thus subject to more fermentation by bacteria.
If you struggle with constipation, you can often improve symptoms by doing the following:
Increasing your fiber intake. Aim for 18–30 grams per day of both soluble and insoluble fiber from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Drinking adequate fluids. Drink 6–8.5 cups (1.5–2 liters) per day of water and other fluids.
Exercising regularly. Walking, jogging, swimming, or bicycling for about 30 minutes each day may help keep your bowels moving regularly.
Keep in mind that you may need to increase your soluble fiber intake with caution, as this type of fiber is fermented in your colon and may contribute to bloated feelings. Some examples of foods high in soluble fiber include brussels sprouts, avocados, sweet potatoes, broccoli, turnips, pears and beans.
Also, if you're ramping up your fiber intake, I recommend doing it slowly and gradually as a increase too rapidly may worsen constipation. Aim for an intake of 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men as a base minimum.
Also beware that while constipation may be relieved with medication, certain types like bulk and osmotic laxatives may make bloating worse.
6. Try a low FODMAP diet
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive condition characterized by symptoms like abdominal pain, discomfort, diarrhea, and constipation. Approximately 66–90% of people with IBS also experience bloating and I was one of them.
I have personally found limiting carbohydratess called fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) reduce bloating and other IBS symptoms.
Not only are FODMAPs poorly digested and fermented by bacteria in your colon, but they also cause more water to be retained in your bowels.
Foods high in FODMAPs include:
Grains: wheat and rye
Dairy: milk, custard, yogurt, and soft cheeses
Fruit: watermelon, apples, stone fruits, grapefruit, pears, mangoes, fruit juice, and dried fruits
Vegetables: onions, garlic, leeks, artichoke, asparagus, peas, lentils, mushrooms, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, and Brussels sprouts
Nuts: cashews and pistachios
Other: sugar-free gum and honey
Important to note is that low FODMAP diets are quite restrictive for several weeks before excluded foods are gradually reintroduced to determine which foods you can tolerate and which you can’t.
7. Eat smaller portions, and limit salty and fatty foods
Eating large volumes of food may contribute to bloating in two ways:
First, large portions may stretch your stomach and lead to the pooling of gases and solids along your gut, causing feelings of fullness and bloating _ think that heavy Thanksgiving or Christmas Day meal.
Second, if the foods contain non-digestible or poorly digestible carbs, the more that’s in your colon, the more gases your body will produce.
It's also been found that high salt intake contributes to water retention in the gut and feelings of bloating and high amounts of fats in your intestine may retain gas and increase the sensation of bloating.
Reducing your portion sizes and limiting your intake of foods high in salt and fat, such as fried foods, fast food, chips, chocolate, and confectionaries, may help reduce symptoms of bloating.
8. Try peppermint oil
Peppermint has a long history as a digestive aid. In supplement form, it has been found to reduce symptoms of bloating and distension. Try taking 180 mg of peppermint oil capsules three times a day for sustained release in the intestine to improve symptoms of bloating. I also grab for a nice peppermint tea to ease and soothe my stomach when painful bloating kicks in.
9. Do light exercise regularly
Exercise may reduce your bloating, as it helps eliminate gas from your bowels. So if you're experiencing feelings of bloating and fullness in your stomach following a meal, head out for a 10–15-minute walk.
Exercise can also aid psychological symptoms like stress, fatigue, and depression, which themselves are linked to digestive symptoms through brain-gut interactions. Plus, it offers a host of other benefits, including weight maintenance, and is easy to incorporate into your daily routine, which leads to my final point...
10. Avoid rapid weight gain
Rapid weight gain is linked to bloating for several reasons. First, a buildup of fat in your stomach area may constrain your bowels, increasing tension and contributing to bloating. Also, fat may have inflammatory effects, contributing to hypersensitivity in your gut and unwanted weight gain may cause you to focus attention on your stomach area, which may increase your perception of bloating.
If you are overweight or struggle with obesity and are experiencing bloating, trying some healthy and beneficial strategies for weight loss, such as exercise and limiting portion sizes. You can also schedule a free 45-minute Health Strategy Session with me to discuss your challenges and discover what steps you can take to becoming the most healthy and vivacious version of you.
These are my personal tried and true tips for getting through the pain and discomfort of bloating. Give one or all of them a try to see what works best for you.