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Bloating 101: When to Worry and What to Do

At some point, you probably have felt that uncomfortable balloon belly… UGH bloating!

Maybe it was a one-off experience, like that time you chugged some sparkling water or after a Thanksgiving meal and it quickly disappeared. 

For many, however, bloat and distention are chronic, bothersome symptoms that affect body image and quality of life. 

So, while it may be common to chat with your friends about how you’re all sooo bloated, when might this be something to dive deeper into? To better unpack this question, let’s first understand some definitions:

Bloat is a subjective feeling of abdominal distention. It may or may not be accompanied by visible distention. Gassy, full, or inflamed are some terms you may have used to characterize this feeling.

Distention, on the other hand, is a visible increase in abdominal girth. If you’ve ever said, "I look pregnant," this would be distention.

Normal Versus Abnormal 

Bloating is inflammation. It is also information and your body’s way of  telling you something is up internally, or it didn’t like the fuel you gave it, or how you delivered it. ⁣

That said, the signals our body sends us aren’t always pathological. Sometimes it’s a normal physiological response to a trigger. 

Bloat that is within the real of normal

  • Mild, occasional bloating after a big meal/eating too much that subsides fairly quickly on its own

  • Drinking a ton of carbonated water leading to bloat—normal bloat.

  • Mild PMS bloat—normal hormonal fluctuations.

Also normal: feeling “full.” If you come from a background of under eating this may be a new sensation for you as you start eating enough. This is not pathological . 

Not normal

  • Bloat and distention with pain.

  • Waking up in the morning with bloat and/or distention (and it’s not relieved by a bowel movement).

  • Distention that happens after every meal and seems to happen from eating anything or nothing.

  • Bloat and/or distention that’s impacting your gym performance and quality of life.

Chronic, painful bloating that’s having a negative impact on your life is not something you should ignore⁣.

For EITHER of these cases, we will deep dive into a client’s lifestyle and food choices first to improve symptoms. 

From there, we will suggest further testing. This may be a test such as a GI Map which is a stool test that looks at markers of inflammation, digestive health, commensal and pathogenic microorganisms that may be contributing to those chronic symptoms. Serum lab work may also be a good idea depending on other symptoms and can reveal a lot about internal health, including gut health.

Causes of Bloating & Distention

The potential causes of chronic bloating and distention are quite extensive. Here are some of them:

Root Causes Within Your Immediate Control:
  • A diet full of highly processed foods

  • Volume eating

  • Dehydration

  • Poor meal hygiene

  • Acute stress

Other root causes of bloat and distention that require testing to identify and/or more interventions to improve may include:
  • Food sensitivities and allergies (including Celiac disease)

  • Chronic constipation (and the root cause of which would be the ultimate cause of your bloat)

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Poor digestive capacity (low stomach acid, pancreatic insufficiency)

  • Sex hormone imbalances

  • Gastroparesis

  • Gastrointestinal infections (H. Pylori, Candida, parasites, etc.)

  • Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

  • Dysbiosis

  • IBD

  • Pelvic floor dysfunction

  • Stress (including mental/emotional stress as well as things like not sleeping enough, overtraining, etc.)

Whatever your root cause, we want to share with you some interventions that will almost guarantee you feel better in your skin and start laying the foundations for healing.

Starting With What and How You Eat 

It can be frustrating and overwhelming when your digestion is out of whack. With bloating especially, we know it’s easy to jump to wanting to eliminate all the foods or invest into the latest “debloat” supplement you see on social media.  

However, you must keep in mind that what, how and when you eat are all considerations when it comes to making decisions that are supportive (or not) for digestion.⁣

Food Choices For a Bloat Free Midsection 

  • Cook all vegetables 

  • Eliminate excessive volume eating and voluminous foods (cauliflower rice, giant salads, ⁣Shirataki noodles)

  • Find your fiber sweet spot (not too much or too little)

  • Avoid carbonated beverages, sugar alcohols and gums

  • Stick to mostly single ingredient whole foods 

  • Cut out alcohol

  • Be mindful of caffeine intake 

Eating Habits For a Bloat Free Midsection 

  • Chew your food thoroughly

  • Put your fork down between bites and don’t rush through meals

  • Don’t eat when extremely stressed (take a few deep breaths before eating) 

  • Give yourself ~30 min to an hour post workout to calm down before eating 

  • Drink water before and after meals, limiting fluids to sips at meal time 

  • Give yourself at least 2.5  hours between meals

  • Don’t fast for too long in the morning

  • Don't hoard macros for night time. Eat enough during the day

Depending on the situation and root cause, more interventions may be needed. Starting with looking for triggers in your current dietary habits and making changes to your nutrition will always be part of the healing process.

What To Do If You're In the Middle of a Flare? 

Even when diligently working on the above strategies (and we acknowledge these foundations aren’t always an easy change!), bloat and distention may come out of nowhere. Especially if the cause is something like a gut infection or a culmination of chronic stress, you are working on creating a safe space for your body to heal from. For our clients working on the “what’s and how's” outlined above, here are some tips for when the bloat and distention do pop up:

  • Do some diaphragmatic breathing. Sitting in a chair or lying on the ground and focusing on long exhales through your mouth and soft inhales through your nose for 1-2 minutes goes a long way.

  • Try peppermint or ginger tea. Warm lemon water can also work well to soothe the stomach.

  • Gentle yoga. Incorporating some twists can “massage” the gut and move gas along.

  • Simply lying on your stomach or getting into a deep squat with your thighs pressed against your stomach can help you relax, which is going to help the bloat, and the compression can help move gas along.

  • Continue drinking water. Don’t chug, but staying hydrated can also help move food through your digestive tract and ensure you are properly hydrated.

The key to improving your health will always be to remain calm and work with your body, fostering an environment for healing.

Please remember, while bloating and distention are common, they don't have to be your normal. If lifestyle and simple diet changes alone aren’t doing the trick, then it’s time to look a little deeper for potential root causes.

If you are dealing with chronic bloat and/or distention, we encourage you to start logging when it occurs (after meals, in the morning, at a certain time of the month, when stressed, etc.) and combine that information with proper testing to create a more thorough picture to guide your personalized interventions.

Don’t let bloating control your life—reach out to us today for personalized guidance and start your journey to a bloat-free you!


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