Do you ever have those days when you need a little extra elbow grease to get your jeans buttoned up, that dress that fit you so well at the store suddenly makes you self conscious, or that not-so-tactful (and absolutely nosey) relative of yours asks if you’re expecting?
Then you’ve experienced bloating. It’s an uncomfortable and downright unflattering symptom that we’ve been told since puberty is a normal part of being a woman.
But here’s the thing, even though bloating is common, it is by no means a normal or necessary part of being a woman.
Unfortunately, doctors, a quick Google search, and even our friends will tell us the same story. The solutions are things like “eat less sugar and carbs, avoid salt, avoid carbonated drinks,” or even “stop swallowing so much air.”
You might cut out all the food triggers and practices you can think of, and while it might offer brief relief, it won’t eliminate bloating in the long run.
Bloating is a sure sign of a deeper problem, and until the root cause is identified and addressed, you will continue to battle it.
What is a Bloated Stomach?
When you’re bloated, it will feel like you’ve eaten so much food that you can’t fit in anymore. Your lower abdomen might feel and look swollen, and you might even look pregnant.
The difference between belly fat and bloat is that belly fat is soft and squishy, while bloating will feel more firm to the touch.
You may also notice that when you wake up in the morning, your stomach is relatively flat, but by late afternoon, evening, it looks and feels like you’ve gained fifteen pounds. Such a drastic fluctuation is a sure sign that you’re not gaining weight but that you’re bloating.
Bloating eventually goes away again. So if you ever get frustrated that your size changes throughout the month, or even the day, most likely bloating is to blame.
The good news is that bloating isn’t permanent and is much easier to get rid of than excessive belly fat once you identify the cause.
What Causes Bloating?
Bloating can be caused by something as simple as overeating at a family dinner. But if bloating is something you regularly experience after every meal or even just drinking water, then it’s worth looking into a deeper cause.
Food Sensitivities and Allergies
Sensitivities to certain foods could cause bloating.
For example, some foods are more complex to digest than others, including wheat and dairy. When your gut is damaged and your digestive system isn’t working correctly, it can’t process these foods.
Your digestive tract then reacts to these triggers and creates gas resulting in bloating. If your digestive system can’t digest food properly, it could lead to your bowels backing up and even trapping gas, causing further bloating.
If you have severe food allergies, your immune system kicks in and releases antibodies. The immune system attack leads to abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and, ultimately, more bloating.
It’s worth noting that food sensitivities are different than food allergies, yet both can lead to bloating.
Common food sensitivities and allergies include:
- Tree nuts
If you suspect a food sensitivity, you can eliminate it from your diet to see if it makes a difference. The fastest way to confirm your suspicions, though, is to take a food sensitivity test.
You might be surprised by what you learn.
You might have heard that food sensitivity tests aren’t very accurate. And that’s true in many cases. Not all food sensitivity tests are created equal. Finger pricks or hair sample tests you can buy at the store or online won’t give you a complete picture of what’s going on in your body and will inevitably tell you to avoid gluten, dairy, and soy.
But just because dairy or soy are common food sensitivities, it doesn’t mean YOU are sensitive to them. The more food you cut out unnecessarily, the more stress it will put on your body and mind.
Skip all the guessing and inaccurate testing and test using a Mediator Release Test or MRT. An MRT test measures the changes in white blood cells when a food is introduced.
I offer MRT food sensitivity tests because they are the most accurate tests available. They allow you to clearly identify what’s causing irritation and save you time and money in the long run.
Additionally, many women also bloat and experience gas when they eat raw fruits and vegetables. If that happens to you, it could signify an underlying gut issue and not necessarily sensitivity to these foods.
Instead, your body is having a hard time breaking down the food in its raw form. Cooking your vegetables first can help because it starts the breakdown process of the foods, making it easier for your body to digest.
Gut infections are caused by pathogens. A pathogen is any microorganism living inside you that’s harming your wellbeing. It can be a parasite, bacteria, fungi, or virus.
Contrary to popular belief, we all have parasites. Yes, all of us, even if we’ve grown up in a first-world country with plenty of access to “clean” water, hand washing, and healthcare.
You can get parasites from swimming in lakes (and pools!), playing with your pets, eating undercooked meat and fish, drinking raw milk, eating fresh vegetables, touching farm animals (especially pigs), and even from simply rinsing your contacts out in tap water.
So don’t think for a single second that you can’t prevent parasites entirely or that you don’t have any.
True, not all parasites are three-foot-long tapeworms. Most of them are microscopic, so we don’t have to experience the horror of passing them necessarily.
But as tiny as they are, they can still wreak havoc on our digestive tract and cause nutritional deficiencies.
A common parasite found in the US is Giardia. Because it attaches itself to the lining of its host’s small intestine, it causes gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea and bloating.
Harmful bacteria can also cause bloating. While our gut is made up of bacteria and fungi that are beneficial and necessary, when the bad outnumber the good or even essential good bacteria are missing altogether, it can lead to gastrointestinal issues and inflammation, including bloating.
Our gut bacteria are extremely sensitive to our diet, and we can actually manipulate which species is dominant by what we eat.
For example, diets high in low-quality fats, processed sugar, and sodium will feed “bad” bacteria, resulting in constipation, gas, and yep, bloating too.
Meanwhile, adding more prebiotic foods like garlic, onions, bananas, and asparagus to your diet promote “good” bacteria, keeping your gut microbiome balanced and diminishing gastrointestinal symptoms.
As mentioned above, our bodies are full of good that create this jungle-like ecosystem that helps us function.
However, some types of bacteria are invaders that are only in our bodies to cause harm. One common bacterial infection I see in my practice is H.Pylori. In fact, about 60% of the labs I run report positive for H.Pylori.
H.Pylori is a bacteria usually found in contaminated food and water and can also be passed from person to person from sharing drinks and food or kissing. It infects your stomach, irritates your stomach lining, reduces stomach acid, and leads to ulcers, gas, and bloating. Many of my clients who deal with anxiety and migraines have an H.Pylori infection.
Not everyone experiences symptoms right away and can have H.Pylori for years without knowing. So if you struggle with bloating, it’s essential to get tested.
Fungal infections, including candida, can overtake your gut as well. Candida lives in our mouths, throats, guts, skin, and in our vaginas without causing problems as long as it stays balanced with the good bacteria in our body.
When things like antibiotics and hormonal birth control disrupt our good bacteria, candida can overgrow, resulting in fermentation that makes your abdomen rise and expand, much like how yeast affects bread dough.
The longer we let candida and/or yeast infections go without addressing it, the harder it is to eradicate them. In newer cases, we can get rid of it within just a couple of months. In those who have had it for a long time, it can take up to 6 months to get rid of it.
Identifying Gut Infections
Your bloating won’t improve until you identify what pathogens are causing it, if any. That’s why screening for pathogens is so essential as stool samples only look at a small piece of the puzzle and can easily miss certain pathogens.
If you’ve ever been curious what the results of a gut pathogen test can look like, click here to watch a video I recorded of me going over a client’s results.
Most women notice more bloating as they approach their periods and are correct in thinking their hormones play a role.
Just after ovulation, during the luteal phase, progesterone spikes.Progesterone is thathappy, calming hormone that, when balanced, makes us feel peaceful and at ease. Unfortunately, it also calms down our digestive system and, in some cases, makes it a little too calm.
Your digestive system slows down considerably during your luteal phase, which can lead to bloating.
Also, during the luteal phase, estrogen begins its second rise. Too much estrogen during the luteal phase can lead to water retention, which results in bloating and sore, swollen breasts.
Taking steps to make sure you ovulate regularly, so your hormones are balanced will improve bloating symptoms just before your period.
You can also reduce water retention by drinking electrolytes and eating food high in potassium, taking magnesium glycinate and vitamin B6 daily, and reducing your salt and alcohol intake during the week leading up to your period.
If you find that your digestion slows down quite a bit during the luteal phase causing bloating, make sure you’re staying hydrated, eating enough fiber (21-25 grams a day), and exercising regularly.
How to Reduce Bloating
Bloating is no fun. The sooner you can identify the root cause, the happier you’ll be. In the meantime, however, what can you do to reduce bloating while your gut and hormones take time to heal?
Specific herbal teas are known to aid in digestion and relieve gas buildup. Try chamomile, ginger, turmeric, fennel, peppermint, or a combination of two or three.
Dandelion tea is also helpful for bloating because it relieves water retention, especially that week before your period. It also supports liver detox, which is essential to flushing out excess estrogen that could be contributing to bloating.
Magnesium relaxes intestinal muscles, neutralizes stomach acid, and softens stools. You can get it through magnesium glycinate capsules, put on magnesium spray or lotion, or take an Epsom salt bath.
Take or Eat Daily Probiotics
Probiotics help you recolonize good gut bacteria and improve digestion overall. You can take a supplement or incorporate more fermented foods in your diet like sauerkraut and yogurt.
If you tolerate dairy and enjoy yogurt or kefir, be sure to pick plain yogurt that doesn’t have added sugar. Instead, add berries, chia seeds, and ground cinnamon.
Move Every Day
Exercise helps your digestive tract keep moving, but it also increases circulation around your gut, encouraging healing of damaged gut lining. Plus, it promotes the growth of helpful bacteria and balances hormones, improving digestion and reducing bloat.
Avoid Overly Processed Foods
Food high in unhealthy fat and low in fiber slows down your digestion and cause water retention, both factors that lead to bloating. When you eat high-quality fats, pair them with fiber and water to avoid slow digestion.
Remove Food Triggers
Ultimately your goal is to heal your gut so that it can digest these foods again. However, avoiding the food you are sensitive to while your gut lining repairs itself and your digestion improves will keep bloating to a minimum.
Beat the Bloat
Not only does bloating take a toll on our self-esteem, but it’s uncomfortable, inconvenient, and a sign of a deeper problem.