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5 common mistakes that cause bloating
Posted 7 months ago by Clare
Bloating is one of the most common symptoms I see in my clinic. There are indeed all kinds of more detailed and complex causes for bloating such as hormones, gut flora dysbiosis, medications etc. However, I think sometimes it’s easy to overlook the simplest possible causes for this problem.
These causes are common and easy mistakes to make, ones that we all make. I would like to suggest that we make these because not only are we no longer mindful about what we eat, we are also not mindful about how we eat. There are varying statistics on how long we spend preparing food now compared to a decade or twenty years ago. Suffice to say, we are not spending long preparing our food and spending even less time actually eating. We are all in such a hurry to get from A to B, to send out yet another email, we are not eating properly or in a healthy manner.
So here is a short checklist of mistakes you could possibly be making that may be causing you to bulge unnecessarily.
1. Eating too fast & on the hop
This is very common. I would include eating in front of your monitor in this one. The pressured environment we live in leads us to believe that taking time to eat your food is a waste of time, or maybe would be frowned upon. Even school children do this now. They have such full lunch hours, places to be, nowhere to sit that they eat walking around. Have you also noticed that when you are focussing on your screen rather than what is on your plate, that you don’t chew or really enjoy your food?
Digestion actually starts in the mouth. This is a fundamental part of the process. Merely looking at, and smelling your food triggers the digestive process with saliva being stimulated and enzymes being released which is the start to digestion. Chewing is vital to break down the food into smaller components for the stomach to act on. Not doing this means that food enters the stomach 'un-chewed' and then is likely to leave the stomach undigested. This then has knock-on effects as the undigested food travels down the gut and immediately causes the process for flatulence and bloating to start in the gut. So try to make time to eat, sit and look at your food, have gratitude and enjoyment, taste it, chew it and swallow slowly rather than gulping it back.
2. Drinking whilst eating
It is entirely traditional in our culture to get a drink to go alongside the meal. Whether a glass of water in a canteen, a beer to go with the pie in a pub or juice at breakfast not to mention a huge mug of tea. The idea you should drink whilst eating to help your food go down is a common myth. In actual fact, this is messing with your digestion. The gastric juices and digestive enzymes that are so carefully excreted to break down the various foods you eat simply just get diluted and therefore can’t do their job properly. This again leads to undigested foods fermenting and generally causing havoc as it travels down the gut. More bloating. To illustrate this point, imagine cleaning a very greasy pan – you would put the washing up liquid directly on and use that to clean the pan and then add water to rinse. If you try and clean that grease off in the same amount of soap but in a huge basin, it just isn’t going to get that greasy pan clean so efficiently. Try to hydrate half an hour before or after a meal. Hydration is also vital to avoid bloating but just not during the meal.
3. Exercising too hard
One of the things that cause us to bloat is stress. Stress is where our body responds to the need to flee. It drives our adrenaline and cortisol up and puts us in an excitatory state – however, this is not a great state for our digestion. It’s natural that should we be in survival mode that our digestion takes a back burner. When this happens blood supply is taken away from the digestive tract, stomach acid shuts down, and the digestive tract can go into spasm causing bloating. I’m not suggesting to cut out exercise as this is also vital for our overall physical and mental health. However, sometimes there is more mileage in choosing a calming, strength building exercise when you are stressed or the digestion is struggling. Pilates and especially yoga are excellent for helping the para-sympathetic (anti-stress) system kick in which relaxes the whole system including the gut, lessening the tendency to bloat.
4. Panicking about your diet
It’s very usual to pick up on every bit of information we get from the media, friends or family. We end up cutting out one food type, then another, then try supplementing with a random array of capsules that a well-meaning person has suggested to you because it was right for her. Then there is the fasting and the follow-up of hunger binging. All in all, we jump from one solution to the next, panic grabbing at advice to try to stop that afternoon bulge. I urge you to stop. Calm down and take some time to think about it. I really recommend keeping a food, mood, bloat diary which can help work out where the trends are. Is it to do with the toast and latte in the morning, or more to do with week day stress, or a row with your mother in law? Does that coffee you crave so much actually then make you bloat? Or does it happen after a session at the gym?
My only proviso here is, if you bloat consistently in the morning and all day, or bloating is new to you with no apparent cause then check in with the doctor.
Taking a deep breath and trying to find the cause of your symptom may help enormously in reducing that frustrating expansion.
Find more tips on a food diary here
5. It’s what you eat, not quantity that matters
I can almost feel people throwing things at me at this point. But the simple fact is that if we eat a big plate of food, huge baguette or just snack often, then it follows that we’re more likely to bloat. About snacking - every time we put something in our mouth it triggers the digestive process. Our gut therefore rarely gets a chance to rest between digestive processes. Also if we eat a huge meal, that is a lot for us to digest. Both of these habits can encourage bloating. After all, we are not designed to eat huge meals or eat all the time. Our ancestors ate small amounts and could go for ages between meals. 'But I’m hungry' I hear you cry. I am with you here. I for one have learned to eat so I don’t get hungry and then either faint or bite someone’s head off. This is all about blood sugar balance, and in fact, what you eat can make a huge difference to that feeling that you need to eat lots or often.
There is probably not space to go into this in detail here. However, in general, the idea is to include a lot more protein and healthy fats in your diet which give you longer lasting slow release energy. This, in turn helps with the energy peaks and troughs and feeling of being hungry. You will feel steadier energy wise and will eventually find you are eating less food, although enough calories to keep you fuelled. This is not a weight loss exercise in this context, however, it may also help you lose weight. But in this context it should help you feel more in control of your relationship with food, stop the binging, snacking and over eating and help reduce that bloat we all hate.
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