I GET IT. Bloating is NOT fun.
Clients often come to me desperate to resolve their digestive bloating. They have removed entire food groups and experience fear and hyper focus around every food choice they make.
I see their diets whittled away to short lists of foods that end up on repeat as “safe foods” that make eating in social environments nearly impossible and strain their relationships with loved ones as many choices start to revolve around symptoms and what foods they tolerate.
Not only is their bloating not fun, but it is straight up exhausting and darn right distracting from living a joyful life.
I most often see food taking the blame for bloating… but here’s a PSA. It is not the food’s fault, I REPEAT, it is not the food’s fault! The way we engage in eating and the environment in which food enters the body is just as important—if not more important—than the food we actually eat. Diversity of food is actually magic for the gut, the immune system, and providing increased enjoyment at mealtimes!
Ready to get on top of your bloating and stop villainizing food? Here are some of the top reasons why you are experiencing bloating outside of the food you are actually eating. Try them for yourself and create space to give some of those historically offending foods a fair chance.
1. Eating too quickly
There are multiple stages involved in digestion, one of which is the cephalic phase of digestion that relies on a brain-stomach connection. Inputs from sight, smell, and taste of food send messages from the brain to trigger salivary enzymes as well as digestive juices that prepare us to break down our food as we start to eat. When these functions aren’t prepared OR aren’t properly working, food cannot digest efficiently, and we see increased symptoms of bloating, gas, reflux, bowel changes, and other digestive distress.
2. Not chewing your food
Your stomach does not have teeth! Chewing your food is an essential part of the digestive process. When we ignore this phase of digestion and swallow large particles of food, the belly has to work that much harder to break the food down.
To step into the science for a quick minute, as food reaches the stomach, it combines with gastric juices that are expected to help break down proteins and turn our food into chyme to then move through the small intestine. Low stomach acid levels are common as a result of stress, lower protein diets, use of prescriptions like H2RA and PPI’s, and grazing throughout the day.
A few signs of low stomach acid include burping, reflux, sore throat or cough after meals, and bloating. When we neglect to chew well, we are already challenging the digestive process in the mouth! As poorly chewed food comes into the belly, those digestive juices are also expected to do a lot more work. These factors can drive up belly inflammation, increase fermentation of fibers in the small intestine, encourage maldigestion and cause bloat.
3. Grazing throughout the day
When constantly nibbling on food throughout the day, we challenge the body’s migrating motor complex (MMC). The MMC is the “housekeeper” of the stomach and small intestine. It primarily acts as a cleaning crew, sweeping away debris and bacteria when you are not eating. This process starts after 90 minutes and can take up 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete its four phases. When the MCC can’t do its job, it leaves behind leftover food particles and bacteria to ferment. Over a long time of practicing this habit, one may start to see bacterial imbalances that can impact not only bloating, but bowel movements, reflux, and skin symptoms too.
4. Eating when stressed
When a stressful event presents, hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine rise as a result of the sympathetic cascade, AKA “fight or flight.” The body is best suited for digestion in the parasympathetic state, where our body can “rest and digest,” dedicating resources and energy to the digestive process. If you’re eating while walking around, worrying about an e-mail that just came through from your boss, or replaying your to-do list before a deadline while eating, then the body is preoccupied with the stress and is not going to be fully present to the process of digestion. HELLO, bloat!
5. Food fear anxiety
Mindset is tremendously important to the eating process, and there is an undeniable connection between emotional health and digestive symptoms. Whether it is butterflies before an anticipated event or feelings of being digestively sick with upsetting news, it is not uncommon to have digestive symptoms with emotional experiences. So why would we think this could be any different with the emotions we have around food itself?
When you are feeding yourself judgement around food, like the cupcakes you “shouldn’t have caved” and eaten at the party or the pizza you were “bad and binged on” over the weekend, you are already feeding your body negativity about the food coming in. The same goes for foods you worry you will tolerate poorly if you have a sensitive stomach. The more we can approach eating with intention, confidence, and kindness, the better the body has a chance to work with you and positively respond!
6. Gut bugs
The environment that the food enters the body has everything to do with the way we digest it. If there are bacterial imbalances (dysbiosis), yeast, or parasites, the digestive environment is going to be highly reactive to what you eat. By collecting data with a stool test, uncovering the underlying imbalances, and starting a plan to rebalance, repair, and restore diversity, we can address the root cause to your bloating and the poor responses to food.
7. Out of whack hormones
Digestive health and hormone health are also very interconnected. Bacterial imbalances can impact the way we detox our hormones, and fluctuations in hormones throughout the month can increase water retention and affect bowel motility. When hormone levels are imbalanced, digestive symptoms may persist throughout the cycle contributing to bloat, fatigue, and bowel dysregulation.
If you feel that hormones may be playing into YOUR bloating story, I recommend assessing your levels with a with a saliva or urine hormone collection kit and building a plan for balance from there.
Your body is meant to process and nourish itself with an abundance of foods. Take these common digestive offenses to heart and as you do, remember to treat your body with love and kindness first—that’s truly the root of good health.