Bloating is more than just a nuisance preventing you from zipping up your trousers. It can be a source of physical discomfort and a sign that something is not digesting properly in your gut.
According to the NHS, bloating is often associated with abdominal distension, which is usually due to the abdominal muscles unconsciously relaxing in a bid to relieve discomfort.
Not to be confused with water retention, bloating is when your stomach feels swollen or enlarged after eating.
Though some bloating may be a symptom of a serious medical condition, most bloating is temporary so your problem won’t last for long once you find the cause.
Read below for five common reasons behind stomach bloating…
One of the primary causes behind a bloated stomach is excess intestinal wind. This can be triggered by foods such as as beans, onions, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, as well as dairy products including milk, cheese and ice cream.
These foods contain fibre, sugars and starches that not everyone can digest easily.
If you haven’t had a bowel movement in the past few days, or found it hard to go to the toilet, chances are you’re constipated.
Constipation can be caused by not eating enough fruits and vegetables, not drinking enough fluids, not exercising, stress, anxiety or depression or a change in routine.
Constipation is also common during pregnancy and for six weeks after giving birth.
Irritable bowel syndrome
IBS is an increasingly common condition that causes stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
According to the NHS, between 15% and 20% of people in the UK will experience IBS at one point in their life. The condition usually develops in the twenties or thirties, and women are twice as likely to suffer from it than men.
People with IBS tend to go through ‘bouts’, meaning the symptoms come and go over time and can last for days, weeks or months at a time.
Although there’s no known cure, experts recommend diet changes and medicines that can help manage the symptoms.
Irritable bowel syndrome has also been linked to stress, anxiety and depression.
Food intolerances can be a cause of bloating. Two of the main offenders are gluten and dairy.
Unlike allergies, food intolerances don’t affect your immune system and the symptoms occur more gradually.
Eating quickly and not chewing your food properly leads to more air being swallowed, which in turn leads to bloating, according to Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, author of The Flexitarian Diet.
Drinking fizzy drinks or chewing gum can also lead to trapped wind and bloating.
How to beat bloating
If you’re constipated….
The NHS recommends increasing your intake of fibre – in wheat bran, oats or linseed, for example – and fluids, and avoiding alcohol if you want to alleviate your constipation.
Also increasing your activity levels may help. Taking a brisk 20-30 minute walk four times a week can help improve bowel function.
If you’re intolerant…
If you suspect you’re intolerant to something in your diet, the best way to check is to eliminate it and monitor how you feel for a few weeks.
It also helps to keep a food diary noting what foods you eat and any symptoms you have after eating.
But don’t get rid of large food groups long-term without speaking to your GP.
If you have excess wind…
If you struggle with bloating after eating beans, try soaking and sprouting the beans, or swap to easily digestible types like pinto and black beans.
Swap your usual dairy products for lactose-free versions or alternatives such as almond or coconut milk.
If you have irritable bowel syndrome…
Try a low FODMAP diet.
Ask your doctor for antispasmodic drugs that can reduce the gas-causing spasms.
Peppermint oil is an excellent treatment for calming gut spasms and masking the odour of flatulence.
If your bloating is caused by swallowing air…
Blatner recommends eating slower and chewing foods more thoroughly. Ideally, a meal should last at least 30 minutes.
He adds that digestion begins in the mouth and you can decrease bloating just by chewing your food more. You may also end up eating less.
If your bloating is persistent, or accompanied by pelvic pain, unexplained weight loss, loss in appetite or bleeding, speak to your GP as it may be a serious condition.