Ever have those days when your jeans won’t zip up and your top feels tight around the middle due to belly bloat?
Or perhaps, you may have woken up with a flat belly, but by mid-day, your belly is distended and swollen like a beach ball. Even though you didn't overeat?
You wonder, is it from last night’s dinner? Or too much salt? Did I drink too much? Is it just air? All the above?
Yes, it’s frustrating. But you're not alone, it happens to all of us.
Below are 7 tips to beat the belly bloat (some may surprise you as it has nothing to do with food).
Tip #1 - Slow down and chew, chew, chew
In today’s hectic life, it seems that thoroughly chewing your food is a lost art! By thoroughly chewing vs inhaling your food, you will eat slower. This will help avoid feeling bloated because you will inhale less air and allow time for your brain to realize that you’re full. People who eat fast, will tend to eat more (and feel too full or bloated).
ACTION STEP: Put 20 minutes on your phone timer and eat your meal within that time and no sooner. Eat small bites, slowly and really savour your food. To limit the amount of air swallowed, avoid drinking through a straw, chewing gum, talking and eating at the same time or eating too quickly. Limit or eliminate carbonated drinks. The carbon dioxide in these drinks end up as a gas released in your stomach which will make you look and feel bloated.
Tip #2 - Rule out food allergies and sensitivities (intolerances)
Food sensitivities are digestive related and cause an inability for your body to break down or process a food. E.g. Lactose intolerance means the body can’t break down lactose (main sugar in dairy).
Food sensitivities are not to be confused with food allergies. Food allergies are immune system related and more severe than food sensitivities. Food allergies cause an immediate reaction in the body. In some cases, food allergies can be fatal.
Be aware of foods that you may be sensitive to as it may be the culprit to excess gas, bloating and other reactions. Keeping a food journal will help you track what you ate/drank and how you felt afterwards.
Some common food intolerances that cause digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating and discomfort include:
• Wheat and gluten
ACTION STEP: Try eliminating foods that you suspect may cause intolerances and see how you feel. In a few weeks, reintroduce the foods one at a time and be aware of any digestive symptoms.
Tip #3 - Manage stress
Stress increases the hormone cortisol, which affects water retention. Too much water retention will make our bellies look bloated. So we want to keep our stress (and cortisol levels) in check as the day goes on. Our natural cortisol levels should be highest in the morning and tapering off throughout the day, with its lowest levels at night.
We can’t get away from stress, it’s simply part of life. In fact, having manageable stress is actually good for us - keeps us challenged. However, chronic stress is what we want to avoid.
Stress raises our sympathetic nervous state (fight-or-flight). For example, stressing about our work, our bills, our family, traffic, etc. So the key is to balance that stress out with more parasympathetic states (rest-and-digest). This can be any 30-minute relaxed and worry-free activity to bring your parasympathetic state up
ACTION STEP: To reduce stress and keep cortisol levels in check, plan on a 30-minute activity per day that puts you in a relaxed and worry-free state.
Tip #4 - Catch more zzzz’s
Lack of quality sleep contributes to digestive issues such as bloating, gas, and constipation in various ways.
Sleep affects the kidneys, which regulate water balance. If you don’t get enough sleep, you will retain fluid and weight.
Your body will crave bad carbs and it’s likely you’ll give in to overeating junk food and feel bloated. Eating these empty calories won’t satiate you, meaning you’ll likely end up eating more and gain weight.
Poor sleep also raises your cortisol levels, which can cause bloating and constipation. Cortisol has an inverse relationship with melatonin (sleep hormone). Your cortisol levels should be at its lowest at night, and melatonin should be at its highest to help you fall asleep and stay asleep. High cortisol levels at night mean your body is not sleeping well and won’t repair and rejuvenate as it should.
ACTION STEP: The average adult should get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Use these helpful tactics to help you fall asleep and stay asleep:
- Keep the room totally dark (try blackout curtains)
- Set the room to 68 degrees (keep it cool)
- Avoid blue light at least 1 hour before bed (cell phones, computers, tablets, TV)
- Light reading before bed (nothing too stimulating)
- Take a bath before bed (try Epsom salts and essential oils in your bath water)
- Use a white noise machine (for some people, this is calming)
- Use a sleep mask and/or earplugs to keep from waking up from light or sounds
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine and sugar hours before bed. For most healthy adults, caffeine has a half-life of 4-6 hours. Meaning, it takes 4-6 hours for half of the caffeine to be eliminated from your system.
- Avoid drinking a lot of liquids before bed (this will wake you up to go to the washroom)
- Manage stress throughout your day
- Make it a routine to go to bed every night at the same time
- Get out and get some sun during the day - it helps set your circadian rhythms in order to sleep deeply at night
Tip #5 - Watch your salt intake
A bit of salt in your body is necessary to stay healthy. However, if sodium levels get too high or too low, then your body will experience unpleasant side effects such as gaining water weight and bloating.
If you have too much sodium, water retention and potentially hypertension (high blood pressure) will occur. Having too little sodium will result in water loss and potentially dehydration and cardiovascular issues. So the key is to avoid the extremes and maintain fluid balance.
ACTION STEP: Watch the sneaky sodium content in packaged and prepared foods! This is typically where most people take in too much salt!
If you must salt your food, try Himalayan salt which adds flavour to your food and contains minerals. Avoid processed table salt.
Tip #6 - Drink enough water
It may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s important to drink enough water to avoid water retention. Your body will hold on to water to prevent dehydration. So give your body that internal bath and sip on water throughout the day to keep hydrated. A good rule of thumb is to drink enough water so that you’re going to the washroom every 3-4 hours. For the average adult, this is typically eight to ten 8-ounce glasses per day. Or drink at least half your body weight in water ounces per day.
Water also helps with electrolyte balance. Electrolytes are nutrients or minerals with electrical charges found in bodily fluids. The major electrolytes in the body are calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and chloride. These nutrients are crucial to balance fluid levels and stimulate nerves. When electrolytes get out of balance, water retention and belly bloat will occur.
Drinking water also prevents constipation, which is another cause of bloating.
ACTION STEP: Make it a habit to carry around a 20-24 ounce water bottle. Wrap 3-4 elastic bands around the bottle. Each time you finish one bottle of water, you may take one elastic off. Ensure by the end of the day, there are no more elastic bands around the bottle! You may need to drink more if you’re a larger person, exercising/active, or live in a hot climate.
Tip #7 - Regular exercise
Your body was made to move and sweat. Exercise or just your everyday movements will induce sweating. If you move with some intensity, you can lose north of 16-ounces of fluid in an hour! So sweat it out because that’s the fastest way the body eliminates toxins.
ACTION STEP: Add exercise to your routine to decrease belly bloat. Aim for 150-minutes of moderate-intense exercise per week or 75-minutes of vigorous exercise per week.
If you've tried all or most of these tactics and still feel consistent bloating, then please consult a Doctor or Specialist.
Leave a comment and let me know if you tried any or all of the above tips and how it went. Or if you have other tips to share!