Bloating after eating is incredibly common. Depending on how it affects you, bloating can range from being an inconvenience to a debilitating condition, but either way, it's unpleasant.
Although there can be a number of health issues linked to consistent bloating, there are also some simple, everyday habits you might have that are causing your stomach to swell - without you even realising.
"Bloating is a commonly reported digestive issue, with up to 15-30% of the general population experiencing discomfort," Hannah Braye, nutritional therapist at Lepicol told Cosmopolitan UK.
Explaining that "bloating is a physical clue that our digestive system isn’t working quite as it should be", Hannah notes that is can happen "for a variety of reasons, including a number of common everyday habits." Such as...
1. Not chewing properly
Does anyone else remember being told as a kid to chew your food 30 times before swallowing? While this seemed pretty tedious at the time, it actually makes a lot of sense. "Eating too quickly and not chewing properly can significantly contribute to bloating and other digestive symptoms," said Hannah. Explaining why, she said: "Chewing helps to mechanically break down food and release digestive enzymes such as amylase in saliva. Bypassing this important stage of digestion puts more pressure on the rest of the digestive tract, meaning food may sit longer in the gut fermenting and producing gas.
"Try to chew your food at least 20 times before swallowing," the expert advised.
2. Eating too quickly
You might be starving, but wolfing down your food will only leave you regretting it later. "Inhaling your food means you are likely to swallow more air," Hannah explained. One way to help you control the pace of your eating, Hannah suggested, is to "put your cutlery down between each mouthful." Give it a try and see.
3. Not eating mindfully
You might want to catch up on Netflix while you're eating, but it's not a good idea, warns Hannah. "Eating on the go, in front of the TV or at your desk in front of a computer also has a detrimental effect on digestion," she said. "The cephalic stage of digestion starts in the brain and occurs even before food enters the stomach. It results from the sight, smell, thought or taste of food and stimulates around 20% of the digestive secretions needed to digest a meal. When we are focused on other things rather than our food, the cephalic phase is inhibited which can contribute to bloating."
What we should all be doing, the nutritional therapist advised, is starting to "view your meal times as a time for mindfulness, where you give your food the attention it deserves. Turn off the TV and computer and get away from your desk at lunch," she suggested. "Focus on the anticipation of eating along with the flavours, textures and smells or each mouthful."
4. Not drinking enough water
"Constipation and sluggish bowel are commonly associated with bloating," Hannah pointed out. "We need to stay well hydrated in order to soften our stools (¾ of which are made up of water), making them easy to pass. Aiming to drink around 2 litres of water a day is recommended, along with daily gentle exercise to help get things moving," the expert said.
5. Drinking too much liquid with meals
Of course, there's a downside to taking the previous point to an extreme. "While staying hydrated throughout the day is important, a common mistake people make is to consume too much liquid just before or with their meals," said Hannah, who explains that too much liquid can dilute stomach acid, "which is needed to break down food (especially proteins) and kill pathogenic microbes.
"Low stomach acid is a common cause of bloating and reflux, as food may sit in the stomach for longer periods, so avoid drinking large quantities of liquid for around 30 minutes before and during meals," Hannah advised.
6. Eating foods you are intolerant to
While bloating isn't always linked to certain foods, for some people, they are. "Foods most commonly reported to exacerbate symptoms are wheat and dairy, so if you are eating buttered toast for breakfast, a sandwich at lunch and cheesy pasta for dinner, you may well be overwhelming your system," the nutritional therapist explained.
"Alternatively, if you seem to react to a variety of different foods (even some of the healthy ones), then it may be certain types of fermentable carbohydrates known as FODMAPs which are causing the issue," Hannah added (you can read more about FODMAPs here). "Consulting a registered nutritional therapist, who can lead you through an elimination and reintroduction diet and advise on further steps to support the health of the gut is advisable if you suspect hidden food intolerances."
7. Holding on to stress
"Our digestive system is particularly susceptible to the effects of stress, as it is linked to the brain via the vagus nerve," said Hannah. "When we are stressed we produce less stomach acid and digestive enzymes and our gut bacteria can be negatively affected, increasing the risk of bloating," she added.
Therefore, it's important to make time for stress-reducing activities such as gentle exercise. It's also vital to get enough sleep, and it's always worth talking to a professional who can advise on relaxation techniques and/or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) if stress becomes overwhelming.
8. Eating too late at night
We live busy lives, and that often means we end up eating later on in the evening. "While this may allow you to work late or pack more social events into your evenings, eating too close to going to bed puts additional strain on the digestive system," noted Hannah. Ideally, our bodies should be using the overnight period to repair and carry out much needed spring-cleaning (a process known as autophagy) but if they're working hard to digest food, this can't always happen.
"Emerging evidence suggests that having a longer overnight fast of 12-16 hours (known as time-restricted feeding), could have a number of digestive and other health benefits," the nutritional therapist added. "This may mean bringing your evening meal forward a few hours and delaying breakfast slightly."
9. Not looking after your gut bacteria
"Fibre plays a number of important roles in digestion, helping to form stools, remove toxins and, importantly, providing a food source for beneficial species of bacteria in the gut," explained Hannah. "Eating a diet low in fibre can starve our friendly bacteria, allowing more pathogenic strains (which produce a lot more gas) to thrive. Those suffering with bloating and other digestive symptoms are often found to have dysbiosis (an imbalance of bacteria in the gut).
"Increasing fruit and vegetable intake and taking a gentle fibre supplement is therefore recommended. When increasing fibre, either through diet or supplements, it’s advisable to do this gradually over a period of time, as overwhelming the system too quickly could exacerbate bloating in the short-term," she added.
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