Bloating. It’s an extremely common and uncomfortable feeling that many of us experience. In fact, it is estimated that one in six people without a health problem and three in four people with IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome) suffer from bloating.
Bloating is an obvious and clear sign that your body is simply not digesting correctly. So what could be causing your bloating? Well, the truth is, more often than not it requires some trial and error.
Bloating is complex – whether you feel the bloat or not can be down to your intestine’s sensitivity and how efficient your body is at absorbing the gas produced by your unique gut microbiota.
There are a range of different triggers, including the volume of food and fluid you’ve consumed, the backlog of waste in the case of constipation and the gas produced by our gut microbiota when we’ve eaten a bunch of fermentable carbs. Stress, wearing tight clothes all day and lack of exercise/movement are also contributors to bloating – as well as how we eat our food.
It’s important to keep in mind that everyone has different intolerances and gut bacteria. What causes bloating for one person, may not for someone else. The best way to discover what is causing your bloating is to keep a journal about your diet and accompanying symptoms – write down what you eat, when you eat it, and what your stomach feels like in the minutes and hours after consuming it. Sometimes it becomes easy to pinpoint a particular type of food or foods that don’t agree with your body. Other times, there may not be one clear food group that causes your bloating.
Unsure what is causing you to bloat? Here are some of the main causes:
Stress can cause bloating. When we’re stressed our body can go into a “fight or flight” mode and this negatively impacts gut health and hinders our digestion. Unfortunately, when the gut/brain axis is under stress it slows our digestion right down and this can lead to bloating. When we are under stress we also don’t breathe the way we should – this leads to more air being swallowed and trapped air/gas pockets form in the stomach.
Everyone has different gut bacteria. In fact, our gut is made up with billions of bacteria – about 10 times that of all of the cells in the human body. Unfortunately the delicate balance of gut bacteria can be disrupted, causing bloating.
There are a range of intolerances that can contribute to bloating. You may be gluten intolerant or have an allergy to dairy (lactose intolerance) or wheat.
Problems with stomach acid
Our stomach’s job is to help digest the food we eat. One way that it does this is through the use of stomach acid, also known as gastric acid. The main component of stomach acid is hydrochloric acid. Sometimes, a higher or lower amount of stomach acid can be produced. This can result in a range of symptoms, including abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, and heartburn.
Not chewing your food properly
It’s important to chew properly and eat slowly to minimise the chance of bloating. Eating quickly can mean that you swallow air as well. Eating more slowly will reduce the likelihood of this and can also help to reduce how much you eat as you will be fuller if you take your time.
Struggling to go to the toilet? Constipation is a major cause of bloating. It’s usually caused by not eating enough fibre, not drinking enough fluids and/or a lack of exercise. Sometimes medications, illness and pregnancy can also cause constipation so speak to your doctor if these apply to you.
Rest assured the occasional bloat is totally normal, especially after a heavy meal or extra fibre. In fact, a little bit of bloating after a high fibre meal is a good thing. It means your microbes are well-fed and doing their job. I tell clients that bloating is only an issue when it’s ongoing, you can’t explain it and it’s impacting your quality of life. No one should have to live with that.
If you’re unable to identify what is causing your bloating, seek the help of a nutritionist or healthcare professional. They may conduct a stool sample testing or further investigation to determine whether you have another medical condition.