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Health and Beauty Articles

Beat that bloated feeling!

Are you still struggling to close your normally loose fitting jeans after your mammoth Christmas and New Year’s Day scoff? Join my club, its leggings all the way until the de-bloating begins! Over-indulging is a sure fire explanation as to why we get so bloated, but it’s often not as simple as that and many other factors can propel us into that uncomfortable, frustrating place where our confidence can plummet. Identifying what’s causing your bloating can be quite tricky but a thorough look at lifestyle factors or addressing an underlying health issue will find you your answer and solution.

What is bloating and what causes it?

Generally bloating is caused by types of foods that we eat and foods that are insufficiently broken down in the digestive system, which in turn can cause symptoms such as: a swollen gut, gurgling in the stomach, stomach pains, bad breath, burping, nausea and not forgetting the dreaded passing of wind!

But what can we do about it? We need food to survive after all, so unlike other problems within the body (i.e. I’m out of breath – STOP SMOKING THEN!) total elimination isn’t an option!

Some obvious explanations for bloating are:

  • Food intolerances (foods your stomach does NOT like!)
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Not chewing your food properly
  • Eating too big a portion at one sitting
  • Drinking too much liquid with a meal (this upsets the digestive enzymes)
  • Over-indulging in rich foods or foods/drinks that are high in salt, sugar, additives and colorants.
  • Using a medication over a long period of times i.e. antibiotics, steroids, hormone replacements etc.
  • Fluctuating hormones
  • Chewing gum
  • Stress

If you have no underlying health problem present (see IBS and food intolerances below) then it’s time for you to address your eating habits and behaviour: how you eat, what you eat and how much you eat.

How you eat: Sitting down to a meal when you are ravenous is definitely not a good idea. Bursting through the door after work after not eating since 1 clock means one thing – you’re either going to do some serious damage in the crisp and sweetie cupboard in the space of 10 minutes or you’re going to wolf down your dinner (that is if you’re as lucky as my husband to have it placed in front of you the minute you walk in!) If you feel like this then I suggest having a small bowl of soup or a slice of bread before your main meal, this will take the edge of your hunger and allow you to take your time with your meal – having something sweet will mess with your metabolism and energy levels. Try to take your time when eating - putting your knife and fork down regularly to allow your brain to catch up with your stomach (ever felt devastatingly full half an hour after eating? That’s why!)

What you eat: Avoid eating large quantities of starchy foods such as white bread, pasta, rice and cakes. These foods tend to be harder to digest and can cause the intestine to expand. Good ingredients to include in your diet would be: Probiotics such as Acidophilus and Bifido, peppermint, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera, ginger, fennel and camomile – you’ll find a lot of these in herbal teas and herbal supplement drinks/capsules. I love Forever Living’s Aloe Vera gel drink!

Also, eating out can be a trigger for stomach bloating. This is due to food being re-heatened – look out restaurants we have you sussed! Re-heating food changes its molecular structure, turning it into ‘resistant starch.’ Instead of the food being digested into the small intestine it is passed onto the large intestine – the bacteria that helps break it down produces gas, and wah-lah - now you’re bloated! I’m not saying don’t eat out, just be ultra cautious of where you’re eating and when you may be ordering a food that can be easily re-heatened (i.e. rice, pasta, sauces.)

How much you eat: Time and time again experts will advise us to eat little and often – 5 small meals a day is the recommended. This stops your body going into ‘starvation mode.’ Eating little during the day followed by a massive meal at night will play havoc with your metabolism, causing you to bloat more easily. Furthermore, eating heavily at night will make it harder for your food to digest and can contribute to weight gain. An ideal healthy meal would typically be ¼ vegetables, ¼ carbohydrate (potatoes/rice/pasta) and the rest a meat such as a chicken breast with a sauce (or a vegetarian supplement.) Try to avoid having bread with your meal (if you feel your need to cut down on portion sizes.)

IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

Ahh IBS how I loathe you! I’ve had IBS since I was a child but was only diagnosed as a teenager – It can be diagnosed by your GP if you’re showing symptoms (bloating, stomach pains, constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn etc) but no test will show up this condition. It is largely identified by symptoms of severe bloating. If I eat the wrong foods my stomach can easily expand by 10 inches – the pregnant look as I call it! (A prime example being when I ate far too much sushi and noodles the night before a fitting for my wedding dress – the seamstress was not a happy bunny!) It a condition that affects up to one in five of us in the UK and is basically a functional disorder of the gut. It is unclear what causes this condition but studies have shown that an infection/bacteria in the gut following gastroenteritis (known to you and I as ‘the bug’) can trigger the condition to start. I had regular stomach bugs as a child so it’s no surprise I developed it!

If your IBS is frequent and troublesome then changes to diet can help. Many will suggest to ‘eat a more high fibre diet’; this is pretty vague and somewhat inaccurate. Certain fibres can aggravate IBS and be more of a hindrance – typically insoluable fibres (corn bran, wheat bran, some fruit and vegetables.) However soluble fibres such as oats, nuts, seeds, pectins, apples, barley, pears, strawberries and citrus fruits are highly advised to include in your diet. Ultimately common sense will prevails and you should notice a pattern – i.e. chips with cheese for lunch = a very angry tummy!

Food intolerances and allergies

A food allergy is when the immune system has an adverse reaction to specific proteins found in food. Symptoms can vary from tingling in the mouth, to the most severe when the throat swells up, making it difficult to breathe. You can have an allergy to ANY food but the same foods tend to be the main culprits; such as eggs, milk, soya, wheat and nuts (this food tends to be the most life-threatening.)

Many will claim to have a food allergy when in fact it’s an intolerance – the difference being that an allergy involves the immune system, where as an intolerance does not. Symptoms for intolerances tend to be milder – typically indigestion and bloating that will develop several hours after eating (i.e. you may not experience symptoms immediately like you would with an allergy.) Unfortunately there are no straight forward test to identify what it is you are intolerant to – the best thing to do is to try an elimination diet – if you think, for example, dairy is the cause, try going without dairy for a couple of weeks and see if you notice any significant change in your bloating and energy levels. The most common intolerance is lactose (a type of sugar found in milk and other dairy products.) Second to this you will commonly hear about gluten intolerant (also known as Coeliac disease) which is in wheat and other similar proteins found in rye, barley and oats. IBS can be mistaken for Coeliac disease, meaning it can go undiagnosed for years.

If you feel you have an intolerance but don’t know where to start then visit your GP for a referral to a dietician so they can assess your diet and try and identify what pesky food is giving you problems! Also, keeping a food diary for 7 days and writing how you felt after each meal and day will give you a good indication to what your triggers may be.

Whatever your situation is being bloated is no fun and is an issue that you should address, as your health may be suffering in other ways and you may not be linking food or other factors to it. 

Happy New year to everyone and I hope 2012 is good to you!


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