We know how distressing and uncomfortable bloating can be – it’s something that we get asked about on a daily basis. Often food from the last meal gets the blame, but that’s rarely the sole cause.
What is bloating?
Bloating is the feeling of increased abdominal pressure which is different but often accompanied by distension, which is the physical expansion of the abdomen.
It’s sometimes accompanied by other bothersome symptoms such as:
- abdominal pain,
- increased flatulence
- burping and a noisy, gurgling tummy.
What causes bloating?
The truth is there’s no single cause or one size fits all answer, as there may be many different triggers, including:
- The sheer volume of food you’ve eaten
- Gas produced by our GM (gut microbiota) when it’s fed large amounts of fermentable carbohydrates
- Intestinal sensitivity, e.g. in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Food intolerances
- Tight clothing (tight pants syndrome is really a thing!)
- Lack of movement
- Uncoordinated abdominal wall muscles
- SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
It’s actually rarely the case that specific foods alone cause bloating. A common reason can be the sensitivity of your intestine. A heightened sensitivity, known as visceral hypersensitivity, is common in people with functional gut disorders like IBS. Susceptibility to bloating can also depend on the balance between how much gas your unique GM produces and how efficient your body is at absorbing it.
It’s important to remember that occasional bloating is totally normal, especially after a big or high fibre meal, and is just a sign of well-fed gut microbes! Intermittent or occasional bloating is most common, where people often find symptoms are worse towards the end of the day or after a meal.
Avoid cutting out foods if you suspect they’re triggering your bloating. Often, that isn’t the answer and can lead to increased confusion about what’s going on. Moreover, a diet that slowly becomes more and more restricted isn’t great for our microbes in the long run.
Most importantly, if you’re continuously bloated, with no daily fluctuations or association with what you eat, it’s best to check with your GP. He/she will rule out any underlying medical conditions such as some cancers. We know early detection is best, so please don’t hold back from seeing them.
What can you do about it?
You don’t have to put up with bothersome bloating – many simple diet and lifestyle strategies can help relieve the bloat and release trapped gas:
- Chew your food well (aim for 10-20 chews per mouthful)
- Avoid large amounts of food at once (split your intake into smaller meals throughout the day)
- Cut on fizzy drinks and chewing gums
- Avoid wearing tight clothing, which can contribute to symptoms
- Consider stress levels – try some mindfulness, breathing exercises or yoga – start with a few minutes per day and try to build this up over some time
- Gentle stretching, abdominal massage and heat packs can provide some relief.
If these strategies don’t provide relief and you suspect food intolerances, that’s where you should be seeking additional support rather than trying to self-manage the issue. Please avoid food intolerance tests that aren’t supported by science and so are not recommended! Our team of expert dietitians is here to help with suspected intolerances.
We take a holistic and evidence-based approach considering diet, lifestyle, and sometimes medications to help with your case.
It’s not always food that causes bloating and distension.
It can come down to eating habits, diet and lifestyle, but the causes vary across individuals.
To understand the cause, it’s best to work with your dietitian and gastroenterologist to develop a sustainable and evidence-based treatment plan.