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3 main reasons you might be feeling bloated, and how to prevent it

Updated: Jun 6

Man sitting on couch holding distended bloated belly

Ever felt like you're carrying an extra load around your midsection? Welcome to the world of bloating, where even the simplest tasks can feel like a struggle. From uncomfortable distension to the dreaded big belly, bloating affects more than just our physical comfort—it takes a toll on our mood, energy, and even our social life.

 

Bloating is one of the most common and uncomfortable conditions that many of our client’s experience. It is characterised by a feeling of fullness or tightness in the abdomen and is often accompanied by visible distension of the belly. Some people say they can look heavily pregnant and have even been asked when the baby is due!

 

Occasional bloating after a heavy meal for example is not cause for concern and everyone has experienced this I’m sure. But persistent and severe bloating can have a huge impact on quality of life. Let’s delve into some of the causes of abdominal bloating and look at strategies to help to manage and prevent it.

 

Food intolerances and sensitivities that can cause bloating

Bloating from food intolerances can be especially frustrating because it often involves everyday foods. This occurs when your body has trouble breaking down and digesting certain foods or drinks, leading to an accumulation of gas in the digestive system.

 

Food intolerances and sensitivities can make meal planning and social eating tricky, leaving you feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious. It’s tough when you have to avoid certain foods at social gatherings, and that can add stress to what should be enjoyable moments.

 

Full glass of milk on blue background
Undigested lactose ferments in the gut, causing gas and bloating

Lactose intolerance

If you feel very bloated after eating ice-cream or cheese or drinking milk then it’s possible that you have lactose intolerance. This is where the body lacks the enzyme lactase, necessary for breaking down lactose (the sugar in milk). Undigested lactose can ferment in the gut, leading to excess gas and bloating. You could try switching to lactose free milk and seeing how you do with the lower lactose cheeses such as parmesan and cheddar rather than the higher lactose types like ricotta and cream cheese.

 

Gluten intolerance

You don’t have to be coeliac to struggle with gluten. Gluten is found in breads, cereals, pasta, crackers and many other grain-based foods. Some people are sensitive to just wheat and others to all of the gluten grains like rye, barley and oats (unless they are gluten free of course).

 

Gluten intolerance is different than coeliac disease which is an autoimmune condition where gluten must be avoided for life. We dive into gluten sensitivity and coeliac disease in a way that's easy to understand and relatable in this article What is gluten and is it bad for you?

 

Cup with teabag tags hanging over the side nd artificial sweetener dropping in
Sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol can ferment in the intestines, causing bloating

High FODMAP foods

FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that some people have trouble absorbing in the small intestine. These can be found in everyday foods like apples, pears, onions, garlic, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, dairy products, wheat, and legumes such as beans and lentils. When these carbs reach the intestine, they get fermented by gut bacteria, which can cause gas and bloating.

 

Artificial Sweeteners

Certain sugar substitutes, such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol, are not fully absorbed in the intestines and can ferment, causing bloating. These sweeteners are commonly found in sugar-free chewing gum, sweets, protein powders and diet drinks.

 

Other potential bloat causing foods can be carbonated drinks, fructose and very high fat foods like takeaways or anything deep fried.

 

Underlying health conditions that can lead to bloating

Certain health conditions can also lead to bloating, making it a frequent and frustrating issue for many people. Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and even chronic constipation can disrupt the normal digestive process, causing discomfort and bloating. Hormonal changes, especially in women, can also contribute to this feeling.

 

It's important to remember that you're not alone in this, and understanding the underlying causes can help you manage and alleviate the discomfort more effectively.

 

IBS

IBS is a common functional digestive disorder that can cause several gastrointestinal symptoms including bloating, gas, pain, constipation or diarrhoea (or both!).

 

The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but it is thought to involve a combination of gut-brain axis disturbances, altered gut motility, and visceral hypersensitivity. Visceral hypersensitivity is a heightened pain sensation in the digestive organs. It is one of the hallmarks of IBS. Check out Getting to the Bottom of IBS to explore the 5 main root causes of IBS.

 

Wooden jigsaw pieces depicting the letters IBS
IBS often causes bloating due to irregular bowel motility and heightened sensitivity in the digestive tract

SIBO

SIBO happens when there's an unusual rise in the number of bacteria in your small intestine. These bacteria can ferment food too soon, causing lots of gas and noticeable bloating. It's a common issue that can affect how well your body digests and absorbs nutrients. Often, it's linked to conditions like IBS and motility disorders, making it even more challenging to manage.

 

Constipation

Bloating and gas are common symptoms of constipation. The longer your poo stays in your large intestine, the more opportunity bacteria have to act on it. This action produces gas as a byproduct. Gas can become trapped and accumulate in the abdomen causing the belly to distend.

 

Other symptoms of constipation are straining during bowel movements and passing hard and lumpy stools.

 

Often addressing the constipation and getting the bowels to move well sorts out the bloating and brings great relief. Read How to manage constipation the natural way for our top tips on how alleviate constipation and maintain digestive health.

 

Hormonal Bloating in women

If you notice bloating cropping up around your period like clockwork, hormones could be playing a big role. During the menstrual cycle, hormonal shifts can really mess with your abdomen. In the luteal phase, right after ovulation and before your period, progesterone and estrogen levels rise. These hormones can make your body hold onto more water and salt, which spells bloating. Plus, progesterone tends to slow down your gut's movement, leaving you feeling backed up and uncomfortably full.

 

Lifestyle factors that contribute to bloating

In today's fast-paced world, our lifestyles can inadvertently contribute to bloating. Rushed meals, irregular eating patterns, and stress can all wreak havoc on our digestive systems. This discomfort can manifest as feelings of heaviness, discomfort, or even pain, making everyday activities a challenge!

 

Overeating and eating too quickly

Man eating spaghetti surronded by lots of food
Undigested food can ferment in the intestines, creating gas and bloating

Eating large meals or wolfing down our food too quickly can overwhelm the digestive system, leading to incomplete digestion and bloating. When food is not adequately broken down, it can ferment in the intestines, producing gas.

 

Swallowing a lot of air when eating is another factor, when chewing gum for example.

 

Chew your food and slow down, taking a couple of deep breaths before eating when possible helps to bring the body into ‘rest and digest’ mode.

 

Stress

Our gut brain connection is involved here. Stress triggers the release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline which can alter gut motility and increase gut sensitivity. This can lead to symptoms such as bloating and gas. Under stress the body’s fight or flight response cause changes in the digestive process diverting blood away from the digestive tract slowing everything down and leading to build up of gas and bloating. Feeling bloated and “big” does not help our stressed mind, and so the cycle continues.

 

How can I prevent that heavy bloated feeling?

Feeling bloated can range from a mild full feeling in the abdomen to prolonged pain and discomfort. It differs from person to person and also depends on the underlying cause. It’s one of those conditions that many people accept and think they have to live with it until it gets really bad. But there are strategies to manage and prevent bloating.


Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to comfortably wear your favorite outfit without worrying about feeling heavy or looking pregnant, or get on with everyday tasks without the distraction of bloating.


These small adjustments can make a significant difference in your day-to-day life and overall well-being.

  

Watch what you eat

Start by identifying and eliminating trigger foods through a food diary. For instance, if dairy products cause bloating, consider switching to lactose-free alternatives. Additionally, focus on maintaining a balanced diet rich in whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, which can support digestion and reduce bloating. Chew your food slowly and avoid carbonated beverages and chewing gum, as they can introduce excess air into the digestive system and exacerbate bloating.

 

Get moving

Picture of woman walking through green grass followed by labrador (c) Ciara Ryan Nutrition
Regular physical activity can help to stimulate bowel movements and improve digestive health

Adopt healthy eating habits like mindful eating, which involves focusing on the sensory experience of each bite and listening to hunger and fullness cues. Make time for meals and avoid eating on the go to prevent overeating and indigestion. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day, which can prevent constipation and promote regular bowel movements. Make a plan to include regular physical activity into your routine, it can be as gentle as walking, swimming, or yoga, to help stimulate bowel movements and improve digestive health. Aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.


Look after your gut

Probiotics play a crucial role in managing bloat by restoring balance to the gut microbiome. Make sure to include probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut into your diet, every day if possible. If you feel you need more support in this area consult a professional nutritional therapist or healthcare provider about probiotic supplements. Experiment with fermented foods such as kimchi and kombucha to find options that suit your digestive system and provide relief from bloating. these are easily found on most supermarket shelves these days. We covered the importance of probiotics and prebiotics in this article The Good, the Bad, and the Bacteria: Understanding the Importance of Probiotics and Prebiotics.

 

Manage your stress

Stress management is very important in helping to alleviate bloating, so incorporate relaxation techniques like breathwork, meditation, or gentle stretching into your daily routine. You shouldn’t feel guilty about regular self-care activities that help reduce stress and bring down your cortisol and adrenaline. Small actions can snowball into a big impact. These can be as simple taking a warm bath, reading, or enjoying a quiet cuppa by yourself.

 

When to see a doctor

If you experience persistent or severe bloating along with concerning symptoms like abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, or unintended weight loss, it’s time to consult a healthcare professional. They can help identify underlying medical conditions and suggest suitable treatments.

 

Bloating isn’t always the easiest symptom to deal with as it can have various dietary, lifestyle, and medical causes. Understanding these factors is the first step towards managing and preventing bloating effectively. As a nutritional therapist, I emphasise the importance of personalised dietary interventions, not overly restricting your diet, mindful eating habits, and addressing any underlying health conditions to achieve long-term relief from bloating.

 

If bloating is a persistent and aggravating problem for you get in touch for a free health review today. Together we can discuss your symptoms and possible causes and explore if we can help get to the root cause of the issue.


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