Updated: Sep 26
Answering some of the most common questions I receive about bloating including a basic understanding of what bloating is, why you may be experiencing it, and what is considered normal bloating versus abnormal. I’ll also share some of my expertise on how to improve chronic bloating through diet and lifestyle changes.
As a health coach, many of my clients come to me looking for answers and help when tackling their persistent bloating. I myself have experienced chronic bloating and can understand your frustration and discomfort. It was a long road to recovery lined with trial and error but I can say that I now live a bloat-free life. I help women tackle their gut issues, uncover the root cause of their bloating, and work towards healing without all of the missteps and questions that I had to conquer on my own.
Our digestive system is responsible for so much more than we think. Our immune system, skin conditions, joint health, and even our mental health. 95% of your serotonin is produced in your small intestine and with digestive issues your serotonin might not be properly released. This can make you feel more anxious and even depressed. Bloating is just a symptom of a larger digestive issue. Rather than buying another supplement that promises to relieve your bloating, it will only cover up the larger issue. My advice is to dig deep to solve the larger problem you are facing and tackle the issue head-on.
What Bloating Really Is
To begin, it's important to understand what bloating is. A normal and healthy stomach expands to make room for food immediately after a meal. You might notice your stomach is larger when you eat a large meal or after consuming a lot of liquid. But generally speaking, your stomach should return to normal within 30-45 minutes as it continues moving through your GI tract.
But with bloating, your stomach is filled with air along with the food being digested. You might experience extreme fullness or tightness in your stomach. This tightness might make it harder to breathe and also lead to other unpleasant symptoms like unwanted gas, belching, or cramping.
When our digestive system is not functioning at its optimal rate it becomes very problematic for our overall health and vitality and will most likely spill into other issues and will continue to affect our overall health if not proactively working towards fixing the problem. Bloating is a common yet misunderstood digestive symptom that is most likely paired with a much larger problem. Today I see many women quick to blame food (like dairy and gluten) for the reason behind their bloating, and while you very well might have these food sensitivities, in my experience, this is just a surface-level problem and there is usually always something larger contributing to the problem.
3 Common Reasons Why You're Experiencing Bloating
Let’s talk about the three reasons why you might be experiencing bloating.
1. Imbalance in Gut Bacteria
Commonly known as dysbiosis, it essentially means that there is an imbalance in the bacteria in your microbiome. The microbiome stores trillions (3 pounds) of both good and bad bacteria that we need in the right ratios. But when you have too much good bacteria relative to the bad bacteria and vice versa, things start to go awry and spill over into symptoms such as bloating.
2. Food Sensitivities and Intolerances
The next common reason for bloating is food intolerance and sensitivities. Some people do have sensitivities but from working with clients I've learned it's much more common for me to see a case of leaky gut that is mistaken for a food sensitivity. As a result of stress, alcohol, and too much highly refined carbohydrates, sugar, and toxins, over time the lining of your gut will break down. The lining is meant to protect your gut from outside particles of your body. But when your gut lining is weakened it allows those things that shouldn't be in your gut, into your gut. Your system responds with inflammation as a signal.
For those who are interested in learning more about leaky gut should listen to episode 64 of my podcast The Real Raw You where I dive deeper and fully explain the topic.
3. Low Stomach Acid
If you're experiencing bloating within 30 minutes of eating it might be related to low stomach acid. Stomach acid is the proper pH balance that your gut holds to be able to break down proteins and also play a critical role in absorbing your nutrients. It's also responsible for destroying harmful bacteria that are naturally present in your food and other microbes. When someone has low stomach acid they don't have enough to digest and absorb the food they are eating.
Without knowing the harm many people will take Tums right after a meal to combat their acid reflux which actually throws fire on fire and dilutes your stomach acid even further.
Why I Don’t Recommend Food Sensitivity Kits
Many of the clients that have come to me for help have already taken a food sensitivity test thinking the answer to their bloating would be cutting out a specific food. The test would tell them their sensitivities and after spending some time without those foods in their diet they would still be suffering from bloating, which is why I don't recommend food sensitivity kits. I've shared my thoughts on social media and I’m sure the readers of my newsletter have read before that I think food sensitivity kits are a waste of money.
Food intolerance kits will often come back with results of the foods that you ate the day before taking the test. They're showing up as a sensitivity because your immune system is currently in a state of fight or flight and has sent off inflammatory markers. It doesn't matter what you are eating but is actually your gut that is leaky creating an environment where everything you eating is causing bloating and deemed a sensitivity by your test.
Even though I discourage spending money on food sensitivity kits it's essential to complete some testing to find the reason for your bloating. I recommend my client use a stool test and with the results I am able to determine the root cause of their bloating. There are a plethora of options and quality labs that are sent directly to do in the comfort of your own home.
While struggling to find the reason behind my own bloating I used Equi.life but also recommend my clients use Genova Diagnostics and GI-Map stool test and have provided links below.
4 Main Underlying Issues
Your imbalance in gut bacteria, food sensitivities, or low stomach acid is not the root problem. These issues are most likely caused by these 4 underlying issues that are explained below.
The first of the four possibilities could be parasites. Parasites are organisms characterized by attaching themselves to a host. Not all parasites are bad and can even help with certain illnesses, however, the parasites that I’m referring to are those that sit in your gut and are eating the same food and nutrients that you're eating.
Over 25% of people in the world are suffering from parasites.
The most common way of contracting a parasite is through….
Drinking contaminated water
Eating contaminated meat
Farms where the water wasn't adequately tested
Common symptoms to look for when worrying about parasites would be a looser stool, diarrhea and obviously bloating. A simple stool test will help determine if you have a parasite.
2. Pylori H
The next one I want to cover is Pylori H, a spiral-shaped type of bacteria that infects your stomach and is guilty of shutting down parts of your immune system in order to keep the bacteria alive. About 60% of the adult population and many children in developing countries are struggling with Pylori H. A clear indication of Pylori H is a very skinny person who also has a protruding stomach. This is because the bacteria absorb the nutrients from the food you are eating.
It can be transferred by…..
Not washing your hands after a bowel movement
Or being around animals and pets that have Pylori H
Common symptoms to look for are feeling bloated and nauseous 30 minutes after your meals, lack of appetite, heartburn, and trouble putting on weight. It can also cause ulcers and acid reflux and getting sick more often.
If you're worried that you have contracted Pylori H be sure to take a stool test.
3. Bacterial Overgrowth/ SIBO
Next is bacteria overgrowth also known as SIBO which stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. After food passes through our stomach it makes its way to the small intestine which is traditionally much more sterile and larger than your large intestine.
SIBO is often caused by …
Alcohol- Sometimes even moderate alcohol consumption can lead affecting your gut motility (the process of your small intestine moving food through wave-like motions)
Antibiotics- Even one round of antibiotics carries enough power to disrupt your gut health. Antibiotics are responsible for destroying both good and bad bacteria in order to rid your body of infection. But as a result, they also kill both good and bad microbes in your gut. Without purposefully making an effort to rebuild your microbes after antibiotics your microbes will grow to an excess causing SIBO.
Stress- Your small intestine will pass somewhat digested food to the large intestine using a valve. Stress has been known to break down that same valve and cause food to flow undigested to your large intestine and for food to often move its way back again to the small intestine. Through parasympathetic activities like meditation, breathwork, yoga, walking, journaling, and any other activity that helps in calming your nervous system can rebuild that valve and get your back to a healthy small intestine.
Birth control- The birth control pill is known to have a negative effect on your gut microbiome by disturbing the diversity of bacteria and can eventually lead you to suffer from SIBO.
4. Candida Overgrowth
Lastly, I want to go over Candida, which is a fungal growth caused by yeast.
It's often caused by…
Antibiotics- Along with killing infection antibiotics will also kill the bacteria in our guts and allow the fungus the time it needs to grow and flourish.
Birth control pills- Birth control can cause changes in the pH balance which disrupts your body's natural balance of hormones and eventually cause yeast to overgrow.
Refined flour and Sugar- Refined flour is converted into sugar and when consumed in high amounts for a long period of time the sugar will act as a fuel for candida and will lead to an overgrowth in the gut.
Alcohol- consuming alcohol is known to disrupt your digestion of sugars as well as the balance of bacteria in your gut.
Common symptoms of candida are brain fog, yeast infections, sinus infections, and UTIs.
You're able to test for candida through a simple blood test through IGA, but I recommend using a urine test.
Tips to Heal Bloating
It’s been proven through multiple studies that ginger has several beneficial effects for bloating. Ginger is a natural digestive enzyme that helps with nausea, gas, and bloating, and also helps support regular stomach health.
Before and after a meal I love sipping on a cup of warm ginger lemon tea. I avoid using teabags (because they include thousands of different microplastics) and instead use tea crystals. My favorite company is Pique and have provided a link on Amazon here.
If you don't like sipping on tea I recommend making your own ginger pill by filling empty pill capsules that you can find on Amazon and filling them with fresh ginger, lemon, water, and salt.
2. Digestive Enzymes
I am a big fan of digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes assist with the proper breakdown of food after eating. Before a bigger meal, I’ll take a serving of digestive enzymes to help my body break down foods that I know it will find more difficult to digest. I Hilma's products - you can save 20% using code: DITCHTHESCALE20 to save.
For my clients who have struggled with food sensitivities, I recommend taking digestive enzymes before indulging in gluten or dairy products rather than cutting them out of their diet entirely.
3. Limit Eating Processed and Fried Foods & Gluten
Highly processed foods, fried foods, and gluten are all foods that take a toll on your gut health. Over time these foods can compound and cumulate leaving your body with painful symptoms.
But instead of completely cutting these foods out, I recommend just cutting back on them and making sure you eat them in moderation.
Be cautious of antibiotics. Antibiotics are known to cause changes to your gut microbiome such as causing the disappearance of some bacteria networks and the overgrowth of others.
5. Limit Stress
Be wary of stress and most importantly learn how to manage your stress. You can have the perfect diet, perfect exercise routine, and take all the supplements you need but it will all mean nothing if you are suffering from chronic stress. Whether you're overworking or pushing off your emotions the suppression is felt in your body and over time will manifest into physical health ailments, especially in your gut.
Start setting boundaries around people and things that no longer serve you so you can in turn make more time for the things that energize and sustain your happiness and most importantly allow your body to recover.
6. Swallowing Air
Swallowing air could be from drinking from a straw too frequently, drinking carbonated beverages, and even chewing gum. At the height of my eating disorder and even as a coping mechanism I would chew around two packs of gum a day! Both the artificial sweeteners and the excess air you intake are meeting in your stomach and could be causing your painful bloating.
7. Avoiding High amounts of Caffeine and Alcohol
Both caffeine and alcohol in high amounts lower your stomach acid levels.
8. Make Sure you're Eating Mindfully
Avoid eating on the go or eating while distracted. This takes away from your body's ability to feel safe to eat. It's much like having your feet on the gas and the brake at the same time. You can't do both properly.
Also, making sure you properly chewing before swallowing is something I've noticed that I need to emphasize to my clients. It might not be something that you think you need to work on because you have been doing it so often and since you were so young but chewing until your food is a true paste is a crucial part of your digestive process. We often think that the digestive process begins when the food reaches our stomach but it actually begins the moment you smell your food. The smell of your food stimulates saliva in your mouth, which then signals to your body that prepares your digestive enzymes. Without chewing properly or chewing while distracted, food will enter your GI tract with little warning from your body's signals and will make digestion much harder.
A Quick Note of Encouragement
Although it might seem too difficult and daunting, there is a road to healing. Take it from me, someone who sat where you are today and is thankful that I dedicated the time and energy to solving my bloating. Healing not only took the worry of bloating out of my life but also healed my other digestive issues, energy levels, and overall health. With the right tools and support you can get back to a life where uncomfortable bloating isn't normal and part of your everyday life.
Be sure to check out my packages available on my website where I help women one-on-one diagnose their underlying issues and create custom plans that are based on the individual needs of your body and your goals.