You probably know that over-full and uncomfortable feeling of bloating, especially after a big Sunday lunch or at certain times of the month. For some people bloating can be a daily drag, it can be painful, embarrassing and leave you feeling utterly miserable.
Most of the time bloating’s an issue with the ‘workings’ of your digestive system, or an imbalance of your friendly gut bacteria. In some cases it’s caused by hormonal fluctuations. Luckily, all of these problems can be resolved with a little know-how.
Occasionally, bloating can be a sign of something more serious so it’s always worth getting it checked out if symptoms persist. Dietician Nigel Denby www.nigeldenbydietitian.co.uk details his recommendations to keep bloating at bay.
Why the round tummy?
Your large intestine contains nearly 1kg of healthy bacteria to help manage your digestion. Poor gut bacterial balance can be the cause of bloating. If you have a build up of gas, your diaphragm pushes the gas down to your abdomen to protect your internal organs – this causes the abdomen to become distended and bloated and gives you that characteristic pregnant tummy or ‘football belly’ look.
Is a low FODMAP diet the answer?
A low FODMAP diet is often heralded as the cure-all for bloating. Dr Marcus Harbord, consultant physician and gastroenterologist specialising in digestive problems like Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), colorectal cancer and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) (londongut.com) explains “FODMAPS are fermentable carbohydrates found naturally in a wide range of foods including wheat, pulses and beans, vegetables and fruits, artificial sweeteners and milk.
Bloating and other digestive symptoms can happen in people who struggle to deal with some of the high FODMAP foods. The Low FODMAP diet is designed to help you work out which foods are causing you the problem. The diet goes through phases of exclusion and reintroduction, it’s complicated and not something I recommend you try on your own.
It can be incredibly helpful, but you really need the help of an experienced dietitian to do it properly. There are some useful apps which tell you more about FODMAPs.”
FODMAP FM app is available to download from the App store or Google Play and costs £3.99. Also check out www.foodmaestro.me
Flat tummy tip 1: Try a simple exclusion
While you may not want to try a full Low FODMAP diet (see previous page) you can cut down on naturally windy foods to see if that helps: AVOID these for two weeks and see if it makes any difference: beans, onions, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts and cauliflower.
Once you’ve excluded the foods for two weeks you can reintroduce each food individually. Test one food (about 1 tablespoon) over three consecutive days. If, after three days, you haven’t felt bloated you can assume that food isn’t a problem and move on to the next.
Flat tummy tip 2: How's your gut bacteria?
Your gut bacteria is directly involved in helping you digest food properly and bloating is a common sign that the digestive process isn’t working as well as it should. If the balance of your bacteria is disrupted after taking antibiotics or a bout of gastroenteritis or food poisoning it may need a little help to reset.
Symprove (symprove.com) is a water-based probiotic recommended by dietitians and gastroenterologists for people with poor gut bacterial balance. Studies by University College London looked at the different types of probiotics and showed that only the water-based product (Symprove) delivered the bacteria intact to the large intestine. You’d need to take a 12-week course to put things right.
Flat tummy tip 3: Don't talk with your mouthful
Your parents were right when they pulled you up for this. If you talk while you’re eating, you increase the air you take into the digestive system. This can lead to a gas build up and bloating. Save the chat until after lunch. If you chew gum, stop for a while and cut back on fizzy drinks and carbonated water to reduce the gas you ingest as well.
Flat tummy tip 4: Exercise your gut
Your digestive tract is the largest organ in your body after your external skin. It’s squashed into a relatively tiny space under your ribcage. Most of us sit down far too much, if you don’t exercise regularly everything can start to slow up, leading to trapped gas and painful bloating.
You need to exercise your gut just like you do the rest of the body. Aim for at least 40-50 minutes brisk walking each day (around 10,000 steps) especially good at lunch time.
Flat tummy tip 5: Don't be a stress head
Just like some people grind their teeth when they are stressed, others can direct their stress to the gut causing the muscles to contract trapping gas and air and leading to bloating. If this is you, you need to take some time out: regular walks, meditation, a soak in the bath or some mindfulness coaching are all great stress busters. Yoga and Pilates are also fantastic for exercising the body and relaxing your mind
Flat tummy tip 6: Give yourself a tummy rub
Abdominal Massage can be a really affective way to ease uncomfortable bloating. You need to lie down on your back, and start on the right side of your abdomen, work upwards to the bottom of your rib cage and then across horizontally to the left side, then down to the top of your pubic bone and across again to where you started. Carry on these circular motions for five or six minutes. The pressure needs to be firm but not hard and you should be relaxed and comfortable.
Flat tummy tip 7: Don't skip meals
When your stomach is empty and waiting for food it is still churning away and producing digestive acids, if you go for long periods without eating, this will cause bloating and make you feel uncomfortable. You are also far more likely to over eat at the next meal which leads to – you guessed it – more bloating.
Flat tummy tip 8: Eat regular
Three small meals and two snacks a day can be helpful at preventing bloating. Your digestive system needs a routine. A good rule of thumb is to eat something small every four hours. If you’re someone who’s prone to bloating, intermittent fasting is not a great idea. It may even make the problem worse.
Flat tummy tip 9: Get minted
Peppermint tea helps the digestive system to relax and promotes the flow of bile which you need to digest fat. You can use pre-prepared tea bags or use your own fresh garden mint to make an infusion.
Flat tummy tip 10: Drink
One of the signs of dehydration is constipation, wind and bloating. The fibre in your diet needs water to do its job. They work together to make your stools soft and easy to pass. If you don’t drink enough, the fibre slows everything up.
Check your pee to see if you need to drink more. It should be pale, the shade of dry white wine –any darker and you’re not hydrated enough. Aim for about eight 200ml drinks of water, regular or herbal tea, or juice a day. On the move? Grab a reusable water bottle.