What it really means & why your body does it

Bloating is something that even the healthiest of eaters can and often times do, suffer from. Your gastrointestinal tract, or gut, is very temperamental and can cause this terribly uncomfortable feeling whenever you eat something it just doesn’t agree with. As much as we would like to think there is a certain list of foods we should stay away from, the truth is, it’s personal and the foods that make me bloated might be completely different for you. Another reason that is is so important to listen to your body.

One of the main reasons I started blogging about health and wellness was because of my bloating, constipation and stomach issues. Initially I thought I was gluten intolerant or even could have celiac disease. It just seemed that everything I ate would leave me feeling bloated for hours, constipated for days, and tired all the time. At this point in time I was still eating white breads, pastas, sugary cereals, and lots’ of synthetic protein bars so I thought it had to do with the ‘carbs’ – yes, I thought gluten was carbs. So, I jumped on the bandwagon and cut all gluten (carbs) out of my diet for roughly 2 years and lived off of fruits, vegetables, eggs, deli turkey, and protein shakes. Yum.

My stomach issues were far from over and truthfully, they were much worse than ever. Though I was getting a lot more fiber in my diet from the fruits and vegetables, my intestines were constantly in this “inflamed” state. I can remember having a meal or raw veggies for a snack and just watching my lower stomach grow to where I looked like I was pregnant! At this point, I had already left for collage and had to deal with that whole journey of itself. But the bloat, bathroom irregularity, and fatigue just never went away – I thought this was just how ‘clean eating’ made you feel and “I’ll feel better in the morning.”

I didn’t and couldn’t understand why my body was fighting healthy foods. I kept thinking to myself, “This cannot be right!” and if you say the same thing to yourself – you’re right! It’s not right and there is a way to fix your bloat, become more regular, and feel good after eating healthy foods. I want to keep this explanation very basic, easy to understand, and in a way that would’ve helped me four years ago:

How Your Digestion Works

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract, or gut, is a system of organs that breaks down and digests every ounce of food that we eat. Digestion starts in your mouth and branches out into your esophagus, stomach, and intestines. It has the very important job of breaking down foods by releasing hormones and enzymes that are needed for proper digestion and breaking down nutrients.

Along with enzymes, hormones, and fluids, our intestines also have their own little ecosystem (microbiome) that is home to millions of microorganisms, or the ‘good’ gut bacteria. This bacteria helps to break down foods, aid with digestions, and ensure absorption of nutrients into the body. This is where prebiotic and probiotic foods and supplements come into play! Making sure you have enough of these microorganisms, as well as making sure they are taken care of, is crucial for a healthy digestive tract. Digestion starts in the gut and without healthy workers, the right hormones and very important enzymes – our bodies are unable to efficiently absorb and digest nutrients. This is why our intestines fight back and become inflamed and irritated (bloated), or even leave you constipated, uncomfortable, and fatigued.

The process of breaking down foods typically depends on the food itself and the state it is in. Raw vegetables, beans and grains are often times referred to as ‘inflammatory foods’ because of their raw state. It is much harder for your body to break down these foods so bloating and irritation can occur in the small and large intestines. This can also be caused from the amount of fiber that these foods have. Insoluble fiber is indigestible, meaning your body doesn’t digest and break down the foods, rather just passes them on through close to their original form.

This is why many people choose to ‘juice’ or cook many raw vegetables when consuming them. By doing so, you’re actually taking some of the work out and starting the digestion process itself.

Digestion problems can also stem from food intolerances. I’m sure you know someone who is ‘lactose intolerant’ meaning he or she cannot drink or eat any kind of dairy products without having a negative reaction. Food intolerances are usually caused from a lack of enzymes needed to break down certain foods and nutrients. They can also develop over time when you aren’t regularly consuming certain things such as dairy or even gluten. For example, I was never diagnosed with celiac disease, but because I avoided it for so long, it took me almost a year to eat most carbohydrates regularly again. Once I decided to start eating whole grains and whole wheat products again, my stomach was like oh hell no, so I did have to ease back into it with the help of high quality whole grains and my probiotics.

If your diet works without dairy products, than just keep doing that. You don’t need to fight intolerances or try to heal everything that upsets your stomach. Understanding digestion and trying to ease bloat for your day to day life is going to take some food elimination. Like I said before, what doesn’t work for you, might work for someone else and that’s totally okay.

Key Notes:

  • Digestion is the process in which your body breaks down, absorbs, and digests the foods you eat. Healthy and proper digestion is important for both absorbing nutrients so the body can use them, and so you feel as good as you eat.
  • Probiotics are the good gut bacteria that helps to break down and digest foods. You can take probiotics in supplement form or through a healthy diet, however; I would recommend both to ensure you are getting and keeping enough in your gut at all times! Prebiotics feed probiotics and mostly come from food sources such as garlic, onions, asparagus, and under-ripe bananas.
  • Bloating is caused by inflammation in the gut and can be caused from foods you eat or drink. Generally, these foods are hard for your body to break down and this is why your gut becomes irritated.
  • Fiber is indigestible – meaning your body does not break it down like other foods. This can cause a minimal amount of bloating and is normal. Raw vegetables can often times leave you feeling bloated because of their fiber content and raw form. Slight cooking will help if raw foods irritate your stomach beyond a normal bloat.
  • Food Intolerances can occur when your body is lacking enzymes needed to break down certain foods and nutrients. They can also develop over time when you aren’t consuming certain foods regularly.

What To Do About It

It’s a bit crazy to think we have a working world inside each and every one of us. Every organ has a job, or jobs, and they are always on the clock. Our bodies are fascinating, complex, and completely unique. What worked for me, might not work for everyone because what inflamed and irritated my gut, might not inflame and irritate your gut. However, there are a few steps you can take to first, figure out what exactly irritates your gut and second, how to prevent that irritation from occurring.

My first suggestion is regularly taking a quality probiotic. Probiotics are essential for a healthy digestive system but unfortunately, many of our diets still aren’t contributing to the amount of probiotics we actually need. The quality of our food has gone down; we spray and preserve just about everything with harsh chemicals. Here is one of my favorite probiotics that is both affordable and effective, Garden Of Life Probiotic. {Women Specific Favorite: Garden Of Life Women’s}

My second suggestion is to pinpoint what irritates you. Pay close attention to everything you eat, and maybe even write it down for a few weeks. Think about how each meal made you feel and why you might be feeling that way. It is important to remember that minimal bloating after consuming a fiber-rich meal is completely normal. You should be able to tell the different from a small amount of bloating, compared to a food intolerance or gut irritation.

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If you are taking a quality probiotic daily and still having these issues, it’s time to just eliminate these foods from your diet. Once you know what upsets your digestive system, simply avoid those foods and notice how your body feels after a few weeks.

If you’re in the process of trying to figure out what it is that’s causing your bloat, I know it can be extremely uncomfortable at times. Here’s what to do when you’re in that bloated state:

  • Drink water or natural herbal tea – Drinking water is the best thing you can do for your digestive tract when your gut is inflamed. Water is essential for a healthy digestive system to begin with, so by drinking water when you’re in that state, it will slowly begin to regulate what’s going on. Certain herbal remedies such as ginger root tea is another great way to both get some water into your system, as well as calm your stomach for the time being.
  • Walk, yoga, stretch – Staying active always helps to alleviate the digestive system. By moving around, even if its a slow walk in your neighborhood or a quick yoga session, you’re going to make your organs work a bit harder to digest that food. I personally can tell such a difference in my digestive system when I get up and move around, in comparison to sitting or even laying around.
  • Have some probiotics – If you’re not seeing much improvement from the water and a quick stretch, you might want to try consuming probiotic rich foods or even taking a supplement. I like to have a kombucha, though carbonation doesn’t always help with bloating, and it always seems to help. I know some people are more carbonation-tolerant than others, so take precautions and know it might not work for you. However, eating foods that are high in probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, and kimchi might alleviate that uncomfortable feeling.

Understanding digestion and eliminating inflammatory foods is key to controlling your bloat and irregularity. You can also improve daily digestion by taking a probiotic supplement, as well as eating pre and probiotic rich foods. Water is also extremely important for digestive health and necessary for proper absorption and digestion of nutrients. Drinking water before, during, and after every meal will not only help to eliminate bloat but also prevent it from happening in the first place!

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My personal journey with bloating, food intolerances, and figuring out what works for my body has taught me a lot about the foods we eat and how our bodies can and cannot digest certain nutrients. It’s an ongoing journey and learning experience about myself, the human body, and the foods that are accessible in era. As much as we like to praise our ancestors and their clean diets, we need to shift the focus on what we have available to us today, how these foods are effecting our digestive tracts, and what we can do to improve and work with what we have.

Listening to your body and being honest with yourself is the most important first step you can take. What works for me, might never work for you, and that is okay! I just recently realized raw almonds and my gut just do not mix. And though almonds are supposed to be one of the most beneficial sources of healthy fats, I have to avoid them and anything that contains them because I instantly get bloated, uncomfortable, and constipated. I am constantly listening to my body and willing to change when things don’t work in my favor.

Bloating can be confusing, bloating is uncomfortable, but bloating can be cured! I hope I was able to touch on a few things that can help you. As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below, email me at thehealthiestmeblog@gmail.com or message me on Instagram (@thehealthiest_me)

I will also leave a list below for some of my favorite probiotics and probiotic rich foods!

 

6 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Bloat”

  1. Hi Hanna,

    I wanted to like this post but I don’t know where the dang like button went! Anyway, amazing post!! So much great info! I didn’t realize that raw veggies were considered inflammatory foods.

    Also, you said that you had a rough time transitioning back to eating gluten foods after cutting them out for a while. Although you had bad reactions, what made you persevere? And how did you know those reactions weren’t actually an intolerance?

    1. Hi Lindsey! I’m sorry about the like button, I’m not sure if it has something to do with my website being wordpress.org now or maybe a glitch. Anyways, thank you so much for your comment and taking the time to stop by! To answer your question, and I have to be completely honest, understanding ingredients and choosing higher quality options was the only way my stomach could and still can tolerate gluten. I really try to stay away from any ‘enriched’ whole wheat flours or anything that is over processed. Whether that’s because of the actual protein or just being super processed – I still just try to listen to my body and avoid it. So, once I figured all of this out by trying different breads, pastas, etc., I knew what I could and could not have. For example, I feel great after I have a slice of sprouted grain bread but awful after a bowl of oatmeal. With that, I can’t necessarily blame ‘gluten’ rather just understand that my body processes certain things differently than others.

      I hope this all makes sense! If you have any questions, feel free to let me know! Thank you again!

  2. Thank you for this. I’m really interested in gut health so naturally loved this. Happen to have ordered the Garden of Life probiotics you recommended. Hope they’re good!

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