Why You Might Be Bloated and What You Can Do to Minimize Symptoms
Updated: Jan 10
A little bloat never hurt anyone. It’s completely normal to feel bloated during your period or even after a meal, as your stomach is expanding and your GI tract is getting ready to digest your food. While it doesn’t always feel great, it goes away soon after eating. But what about when you feel extremely bloated to the point of discomfort and constantly wonder, "why do I feel bloated ALL THE TIME?!" Let’s dig into some reasons this can happen and what you can do to give your digestive system some TLC, no matter the reason you’re bloated.
For normal bloating, usually just giving your GI tract time to digest can be helpful. Drinking water and light movement (yoga or walking) can also help you digest easier. The “Golden Rule” of water drinking is usually eight 8 oz. glasses, or 64 oz. of water per day. Depending on your activity level or if you’re menstruating or not, you may need more or less. Consuming enough fiber in your diet can also help GI distress. Most Americans do not get enough fiber in their diets, so increasing fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains can aid in normal digestion. The recommended minimum amount of fiber is 25-30 grams per day, and most people only consume half this amount. Try slowly increasing your fiber intake and see how this makes you feel!
Now let’s move on to more complex issues. You drink plenty of water and have been increasing your fiber intake, but that painful bloating still sticks around no matter what type of meal you eat. So what could be the culprit? Likely, there is some sort of imbalance, intolerance or stressor going on in your body that is causing this painful side effect.
Lactose intolerance is a common disorder among many Americans. Symptoms of eating foods with lactose (the sugar in dairy products) can include bloat and discomfort, often leading to diarrhea. This is because the person’s body has reduced amounts of the enzyme that breaks down lactose to be digested, therefore it cannot digest adequately and discomfort occurs. In some people, this only occurs with milk, others it is all dairy products. Each person is different in how their body responds. In today’s world, there are MANY lactose/dairy-free options available for whatever dairy products you love to consume.
Celiac disease is when the body cannot digest the protein gluten, which is a component of wheat. The body has an auto-immune response to the protein, thinking it is an invader and attacking the protein and the intestines. Because of this, the villi (where many nutrients are absorbed) are broken down and aren’t able to absorb nutrients as well. This can cause nutrient deficiencies, diarrhea, and possibly bloating. If you bring this concern to your doctor, they can refer you to be tested for celiac disease. Unfortunately, the only cure for this is to remove all gluten from your diet. However, like dairy-free items, there is an abundance of gluten-free items available in most grocery chains and there are many grain options that are naturally gluten-free.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common condition of the GI tract that can cause bloating and constipation or diarrhea when someone with the condition eats certain foods. Unfortunately, each person can be different in which foods may bother them. In this case, it is important to work with a registered dietitian to see which foods may trigger a flare up and to learn how you can eat a balanced diet while limiting the trigger foods. Limiting too many foods on your own can cause nutrient deficiencies and gut microbiome imbalances.
An abnormal gut microbiome itself can trigger symptoms as well. This means there could be an imbalance in your good vs. bad bacteria that live in your intestines. While the gut microbiome is still under a lot of research to understand it fully, we know even the slightest shift can cause some serious issues in gut function. One easy way to increase your “good bacteria” is to consume foods with probiotics. Yogurt, kombucha, or any other fermented and aged foods contain probiotics that are helpful with digestion and regulating your gut health. However, additional testing with a specialist may be required for serious issues regarding these imbalances!
Lastly, psychological conditions like anxiety and depression can lead to increased sensations of bloating or GI distress. Your gut and brain work closely together, so reducing stressors and finding stress relief methods can benefit your gut health too!
While there are dozens more GI conditions that can cause distress, these are some common issues that many people struggle with regarding bloat. If you follow some of these tips and still have found no relief from your symptoms, please see your doctor and/or dietitian for testing and personalized care! And if you have seen a doctor, and they have dismissed your symptoms, seeking a second opinion is never a bad idea.