A bloated belly now and then happens to everyone. But when we experience frequent bouts of gastrointestinal distress, whether we know the cause or not, pain and discomfort can really begin to build up. Officially speaking, ‘bloating’ in our belly is the result of too much gas, or simply gas that is blocked on its path. There can be several causes of this blockage — some that seem obvious, others less so — yet oftentimes even lifestyle changes such as diet or medications don’t work. Not only can this be frustrating, but when we consider that a happy gut is tied to a happy life (scientists have linked healthy diets to lower levels of depression), our distress just makes it worse. Here are several causes and solutions for defeating stomach discomfort that can take the mystery out of the misery.
The culprit: What we eat & when
Sometimes it’s not just what we eat, but how we eat it. And according to experts, if we’re under hydrated, the digestive tract has to work extra hard to process even a moderate meal. Many foods that are good for us, like fiber-rich, raw veggies, are also difficult to digest. (That’s one reason we feel full after we eat them.) If we’re experiencing bloating on a regular basis, there may be a chance we have an underlying food intolerance.
The fix: Keep track
Finding out which foods are giving us distress can be hard to pin down. The first step to solving the mystery is to start a food journal. Keeping track of how we feel after a meal (even hours later) can help us pinpoint which items might be leading to a bloated belly. Even if the obvious culprit is that double scoop of mint chocolate chip, chances are that the raw broccoli probably didn’t help either. Avoiding foods rich in fiber before bedtime, cutting out greasy fried foods or working in extra cups of water can help – especially when we keep track.
The culprit: Our new normal
Although many of us are spending less time on the road commuting to work these days, we’re actually spending more time sitting around than we were 18 months ago. One study found we’re actually sitting an average of four more hours every day than in pre-pandemic years. Sedentary lifestyles lead to higher rates of back pain, health problems and digestive issues. Our diets are suffering, our posture has taken a hit and our guts are compressed.
The fix: Get moving
While there are a myriad of medications available to reduce inflammation of the bowels that our doctor can prescribe, a good start to building better belly health is to simply get moving. Blocking out some time daily, amidst an already busy work schedule, to take personal breaks is essential to our mental and physical well-being. Even just a walk around the block can reduce the amount of gas built up in the gut. Plus, it will increase blood flow and help move things through the digestive tract.
The culprit: Cancer therapy
The bacteria within our guts – the microbiome – is responsible for keeping us healthy (up to 70% of our immune system lives within our guts), and eating a combination of essential nutrients and vitamin-rich foods can be the key to staying vital. Yet the reality for many of us going through any stage of cancer treatment is that our guts are extra sensitive to foods – especially the healthy, highly nutritious fruits and veggies that pack cancer-fighting antioxidants. Gastric surgery, ‘Chemo Belly,’ radiation and other medications can make it nearly impossible to tolerate certain foods and beverages. When it comes to managing a painful bout of belly bloat, cancer therapy can be extra disruptive.
The fix: Be kind
When it comes to mitigating these impacts, the best course of action is to be kind to ourselves. Stress can send signals to the gut that cause a negative feedback loop. So take a pause and lean into traditional therapeutic treatments like herbal teas and relaxing epsom salt baths. This can help lower stress hormones in our body. And don’t overlook advice from the community like old-fashioned hot water bottles that help with circulation. Eating smaller meals that replace large workloads on the digestive tract can ease discomfort, too.
Our diets, lifestyles, stressors and medications influence our gut each and every day. Sometimes, it feels manageable. Other times, not so much. When it comes right down to it, our gastrointestinal tract is one of the most complex systems in our body. Our best bet is to take small steps toward better health, every day. Here’s to a happy gut!"Every day we live and every meal we eat, we influence the great microbial organ inside us – for better or for worse." – Giulia Enders