Spoiler alert: bloating is completely normal. Too many of us expect that our stomachs (and bodies… but that’s a topic for another day) should look and feel a certain way at all times, but to be honest, that’s just not the case. Many of my clients are looking for tips to reduce bloating, and here’s what I typically say.
When we wake up, we likely have little to no food in our stomachs. As the day goes on, we put food into our bodies, that has to go somewhere. It’s completely normal that as the day progresses, our stomachs will expand, particularly after mealtime. It’s important to remember that this happens to everyone. There’s really no way to get rid of this bloating, as it’s just a normal bodily function. With that being said, there may be levels of bloating that is excessive. If you suffer from severe bloating, please reach out for personalized advice from a Registered Dietitian.
1. Take time to eat to reduce bloating
Trust me, I know how tempting it is to do emails at your desk while eating lunch, or watch TV while eating dinner. I’m guilty of it sometimes, too. But taking time to eat our food helps to make sure that we are chewing properly, helping our bodies to do the first initial breakdown of food. Eating mindfully also allows us to recognize more easily when we are starting to get full and listen to our hunger cues. Bloating may be caused by eating past our true levels of fullness, which may leave us feeling overly stuffed and lethargic. While there’ll definitely be times where you may eat past your true levels of fullness- say, when you’re out to dinner with friends and you just can’t pass up the delicious looking dessert- trying to listen to our bodies internal signals of when you’re hungry vs full can help us feel more energized after eating. This is all part of intuitive eating.
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2. Spread meals and snacks throughout the day
Spreading portion sizes of meals and snacks throughout the day can allow our bodies to take the necessary energy to digest the food that we’re giving it. I want to stress that this definitely does not mean that you should be eating less. Try spacing food throughout the day. Distributing these meals throughout the day more evenly avoids feeling too full or sluggish after eating. It’s important to remember to do this intuitively and mindfully, meaning if you are hungry, definitely keep eating, but if you are feeling full, then stop.
3. Avoid stress while eating to reduce bloating
Stress sets off a ‘fight or flight’ response in our body, which diverts blood flow away from our stomachs and to our limbs, heart, and brain. This dates back thousands of years when stress was generally in the form of attack from other animals or people, and the response to that was the need to run away. The problem with this is that when blood flow moves away from our stomachs, our digestion slows down or goes out of whack. This is good for certain situations (say, when you’re exercising) and don’t want to be going to the washroom every five minutes, but not so good when we’re trying to have optimal digestion. Reducing stressful situations when we’re eating, like checking emails, working, or having stressful conversations can help to make sure our digestion is running smoothly. If you’re having trouble calming the body and mind, I always suggest breathing exercises, like breathing in for 3 seconds, holding for five seconds, and breathing out for six seconds.
4. Be mindful of foods that may be challenging to digest
Some foods may be more challenging for some to digest than others. This means that we need to increase our consumption of them gradually for our bodies to become accustomed to them. The most notable of these foods are cruciferous vegetables (think kale, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, arugula) and legumes (chickpeas, beans, and lentils). These foods are so good for us, so I don’t recommend cutting them out completely. Instead, I suggest clients to slowly increase their portion sizes of these foods, starting with just a couple tablespoons of legumes, and just 1/4 cup of cruciferous vegetables and slowing working your way up as tolerated to help reduce bloating.
5. Know how to make certain foods more tolerable
While starting with small portions of less-tolerable foods and slowing increasing as they’re tolerated is a great tactic, there are some ways to make these foods better tolerated. These tips involve breaking down part of the plant fibers of the food, to make them more easily digested. Some of my top tips are:
- Massaging kale with a squeeze of lemon juice and pinch of salt for about 2 minutes, until they’re a deep green color, before eating.
- Roasting, cooking, or sauteing cruciferous vegetables rather than eating them raw
- Eating legumes or cruciferous vegetables in blended form, in foods like hummus, soups, gazpachos, smoothies or sauces.
6. Increase fiber slowly
Fiber is incredibly good for our bodies. Having more fiber in your day has been shown to decrease risk of colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Many people experience negative side effects like bloating or constipation when fiber is increased too quickly. Instead, I recommend increasing your fiber intake slowly. Instead of jumping from a standard American diet to a diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes, try to make the switch a bit more gradual. This is especially important for beans and other legumes. Start with just a couple of tablespoons per day. Once that is being tolerated well, increase to 1/4 cup, then 1/2 cup, then 3/4 cup, etc at a time.
7. Drink enough water
Drinking enough water is vital to making sure we can pass our poop easily, which is important for reducing bloating. I typically recommend drinking at least 35 milliliters of water per kg of body weight per day, which is about 2380 mL for a 68 kg (150 pound) person. We should drink more water depending on our activity level and how much we sweat (based on the climate that you live in and activity level).
8. Focus on soluble fiber to reduce bloating
There are two different types of fiber, which are soluble fiber and insoluble fiber (read more about fiber here). Insoluble is found mostly in vegetables and skins of fruit- this is thought of as roughage and helps to clear out the digestive tract. Soluble fiber is gummier and helps to add bulk to poop, which is good if we are experiencing bloating. Foods that are high in soluble fiber are oats, bananas, beans, okra, eggplant, chia seeds, flax seeds, and oranges.
9. Consider consuming probiotics
Probiotics may help to reduce bloating. Probiotics can be found in fermented food like sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, sourdough bread, and kombucha. Some people may consider a probiotic supplement but check with your Registered Dietitian first to see which is best for you.
10. Recognize that our bodies take time to adjust
Bloating happens to everyone, especially if you are transitioning to a more plant-heavy (read: fiber heavy) diet. Recognize that it takes time for our bodies to adjust to this increase in fiber.
Bloating is a normal part of everyday life, and actually can be an indication that your body is working properly. If you’re trying to reduce bloating completely, know that that will likely never happen. Instead, try to embrace that this is a normal bodily process and isn’t something to be embarrassed or ashamed about.
I also have a complete YouTube video all about my tips to reduce bloating, if you prefer!
This blog post is for entertainment purposes only. If you are someone who experiences severe bloating (i.e. painful bloating multiple times per week, discomfort, inability to do certain activities or live day-to-day life without being impacted by bloating), please reach out to a Registered Dietitian for guidance.