Bloating: Switching the focus to diet inclusion over exclusion
Bloating and digestive issues seem to be very common amongst young women these days. One thing that most of us tend to forget is that when we eat, the food must go somewhere. It enters and passes along your digestive tract, so it’s only natural that some bloating occurs. Your system gets to work breaking down the food, taking the required energy and nutrients that it needs. By forgetting this fact, an emotional response can be triggered. The feeling of looking like a pregnant woman about to pop can be stressful, but getting worked up over it can further exacerbate the bloating. Instead of spiralling into a frenzied state, you need to ask yourself a few questions. Did I just eat a big meal? Did it contain processed foods? Am I stressed? Am I tired? Did I drink enough water today? Many of these basic things seem to be forgotten and we tend to jump to conclusions like ‘that wasn’t gluten free’. Many people unnecessarily overcomplicate the situation, which can in turn, make it worse.
A common misconception with bloating or digestive issues is that you need to pin-point certain foods or entire food groups, to cut from the diet. While this can be helpful for people with food intolerances to things like gluten and dairy, this isn’t necessarily going to be the case for everyone. Recently, there was a statement published by the Canadian Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (CSACI), addressing IgG food intolerance testing. This is something that I have always thought about getting done, as I thought it would solve the answers to all my problems. I did my research between different clinics and companies and I came to the conclusion that I would give it a miss. I was pleased to read the statement released by the CSACI, in which they say that there is no scientific evidence to back the testing and it is a waste of money. False diagnoses can also lead to a decrease in quality of life, with the introduction of unnecessary dietary restrictions.
By eliminating food groups, you are running the risk of reducing the diversity of your gut bacteria and causing further stress to the digestive tract. I will do another blog post on the gut microbiome, but for now the important thing to note is that there are different types of bacteria, living in your gut. Certain strains are responsible for assisting with the digestion of particular foods, leading to a variation in strains from person to person, based on your diet. For example, a vegetarian will not have the same strains of bacteria present as a meat eater, as those bacteria were not fed their preferred nutrient source, causing death. That is why when people ‘trial’ veganism for a while – eg. Veganuary – they find it difficult to digest meat when they eat it again. This can lead to a false conclusion that meat is the cause of their digestive discomfort, when in fact it is because the microbes that assist with the break-down of meat, are now dead or in low supply.
Another downfall to cutting out food groups is that you run the risk of being deficient in essential nutrients. By cutting out meat, you run the risk of eating inefficient quantities of protein. By cutting out carbs, you run the risk of not getting enough fibre. By cutting out certain vegetables, you run the risk of missing out on vitamins and minerals. The list goes on. Sure, certain foods can cause bloating as they are more difficult to digest, but instead of cutting things out, why not try and see what you can work to include? Take a look at your diet and see are you getting adequate quantities of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fibre and vegetables. Are you skipping meals? Are you eating enough food? I have noticed a lot of young women think that to be ‘eating healthy’ you need to eat meals like chicken salads for lunch, and chicken with vegetables for dinner. It amazes me that the majority are undereating because yes, it’s all healthy food, but that is simply not enough calories to survive. As well as that, too much of the insoluble fibre found in veggies can lead to digestive issues, if it’s not balanced with the soluble fibre found in some carbohydrate foods. The ‘before and after’ picture linked to this post was taken in 2016. The reason there are 9 days in between each one, is because it took a full 9 days for the bloating to subside. This was back when my IBS was at it’s worst. I was completely uneducated about nutrition and what your body needs. You need to eat your carbs. They will not make you fat. You need to nourish your body, not starve it. Bloating is your bodies way of telling you that something is wrong, so don’t just ignore it.
While diet is a major player in bloating, there are a few more non-diet related things that you can start implementing to combat bloating. They are regularly over-looked, but can be very effective:
- Water – Aim for 2-3 litres spread out over the day. Drink a ~ 500mls upon rising in the morning and try your best to drink a small glass of water before each meal.
- Sleep – We all know we should get 7-8 hours sleep a night, but most of us aren’t reaching that. Set yourself a bed time every night and begin to see the difference when you get sufficient sleep.
- Caffeine and fizzy drinks – I will do another post on caffeine, but try to reduce, if not cut out these drinks all together, as they can cause digestive stress.
- Manage your stress – So important due to the release of the hormone cortisol and the Gut-Brain axis .
- Don’t eat when you’re angry, stressed or on the go – This ties in with the Gut-Brain axis.
Hopefully this post gives an insight into what could be causing any digestive discomfort you may have. Obviously, conditions such as IBS and IBD have more complex elements to them, but even so, this may be useful. A lot of people are desperate to find the ‘cure’ to beat the bloat, but instead, go back to basics and take it from there.