Bloating is by far one of the most common complaints I hear from patients whether or not that is what actually brought them into my office. It is always one of the first things that we work on, because if you are bloated then your digestive system is not working as efficiently as it should be. The good news is that the solution may be simpler then you think.
Rest & Digest.
Digestion is a resting action. I cannot stress this enough. If you are not in a state of rest and relaxation then your body cannot properly digest your food. Digestion is a function of the parasympathetic nervous system, also aptly called our “rest and digest” state. This is when we recover.
Contrast this to our sympathetic nervous system or our “fight or flight” system. Our sympathetic system gets fired up when we are in states of acute stress. It shuts off all our non-essential functions (like digestion) to prioritize addressing your stressor. Problems arise when we live in a chronic state of stress because our digestive system is continually turned off to the point that it is unable to function correctly. Cue bloating regardless of how healthy your meal may be. A dysfunctional digestive tract won’t break down food as effectively as it should and then undigested food will be eaten by your good gut bacteria which produces gas and subsequent bloating.
The Smell of Cooking.
Think about the smell of your favourite food. When you smell something delicious, your mouth starts to salivate and your stomach grumbles. Your body is getting ready to accept and digest the meal that you are smelling. Many of us don’t experience this on a regular basis, especially if we chronically stressed. We tend to eat on the go, while sitting in front of the TV, or in between answering emails. We don’t dedicate time to our meals (with the sometimes exception of dinner).
We no longer provide our brains with the proper signal to say that we are about to eat something. This is exacerbated by eating too frequently or if we have erratic eating schedules.
When You Just Can’t Poop.
If you are constipated, you are going to be bloated. You have waste product just sitting around in your system for your good gut bacteria to eat and produce unpleasant gas. You should be pooping a minimum of once per day – no exceptions. Constipation can be the result of a sluggish or turned off digestive system from chronic stress. However it can also be due to dietary factors. You should be drinking at least 1-2 L of water per day. You also need a minimum of 6 servings of vegetables which are your primary sources of fiber.
How to Beat the Bloat:
How we eat can be just as important as what we eat. This may sound simple but I can have a huge impact of your digestion.
Try these easy strategies to beat the bloat!
1. Sit Down to Eat.
This is the first and most important rule!
Sit at a table to eat all your meals. No eating in the car, no eating as you run out the door, no eating while you answer emails.
If you are in motion, you will not be digesting. Your blood flow and energy gets shunted away from digestion to allow you to focus on your other tasks. This reduces the amount of acid and enzymes released into your digestive tract which leads to undigested food and then bloating.
Your meals should be their own event. Give yourself the time and break to actually enjoy your food. Establish that meal time is for eating, chewing, and digesting.
2. Take 3 Deep Breaths before Eating.
Take a deep breath in and audibly exhale. This stimulates the vagus nerve, which is a parasympathetic nerve that activates digestion. This helps signal to your brain that you are ready to eat digest which stimulates the release of stomach acid and digestive enzymes which are crucial for good digestion.
3. Keep a Relatively Consistent Eating Schedule.
Our digestive systems thrive best on consistency. When you eat on a consistent pattern, your body starts to anticipate your needs. If you are eating lunch around 12 pm every day, your digestive system will learn to turn on around that time each day. This is part of what signals hunger.
4. Cut back on snacking.
Evaluate how often you are eating. Are you eating 3 meals plus 2 snacks because you heard that it is better for your metabolism? Are you actually hungry for those snacks? Each meal that you eat should be able to keep you full for 3.5-5 hours. If you are hungry every two hours, you may need to eat more at your meals or add more fat/protein. By eating more frequently, you are not allowing your digestive system a break which can lead to less efficiency and effective digestion.
5. Make friends with bitters
Bitter foods are great for your digestion. They make you salivate which then activates your digestive system to start producing stomach acid and subsequently release digestive enzymes into your intestines.
Incorporating bitter foods into your diet can help reduce bloating throughout the day. Some examples of bitter foods include arugula, kale, endives, citrus (lemon & lime), broccoli, ginger, and green tea.
You can also get herbal bitters in supplement form to take before meals to help retrain your digestive system.
6. Eliminate the packaged foods.
If it is in packaging, it generally has preservatives and additives. Our microbiome (good bacteria) does not fare well with these add-ins. Preservatives and additives lead to dysbiosis, an unbalanced microbiome, which can lead to an increased amount of gas producing bacteria which ultimately leads to bloating.
These easy strategies are an excellent place to start when it comes to addressing the daily bloat. However, for some, these might not be enough to completely eliminate the bloat. This is when it is a great time to consult with a naturopathic doctor to get advice that is tailored to you and your needs.
Leave your comments & questions below!