Stomach bloating is so common these days it has recently been labelled as an “epidemic.” About 16-30% of people report that they regularly experience bloating. Bloating is temporary and mostly caused by air becoming trapped around the abdomen, making it distend outward. Simply put, being “bloated” is the feeling of having built-up gas in your digestive system that makes your stomach protrude uncomfortably. This excessive gas can be caused by a number of factors from inadequate protein digestion to imbalances in gut bacteria. Furthermore, modern life is increasingly characterized by poor diet, high levels of stress, daily medications and exposure to various pollutants, all of which can trigger an experience of bloating. Around the festive season additional factors come into play with higher levels of stress, travel, overindulgence, lack of sleep and lack of routine, which makes bloating that much more common.
No one wants to feel uncomfortable or unwell around the holidays. Luckily, there are a few natural ways to avoid bloating and to treat the symptoms to help alleviate the discomfort. Try these simple remedies to feel well throughout the festive season and beyond.
In the digestive tract there are trillions of healthy and unhealthy bacteria that compete, and when the “bad bacteria” outweigh the good, an imbalance can lead to abdominal bloating and excessive gas. Probiotics act like friendly gut bugs in your digestive tract, killing off bad bacteria that can trigger digestive issues and reactions. Over the holiday season you may like to invest in some good quality probiotics that will not only assist your gut health but also your overall immunity. Several clinical trials have shown that certain probiotic supplements can help reduce both gas production as well as bloating in people with digestive problems. Try to also include natural probiotic-rich foods in your diet like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir and kombucha.
2. Herbs & Spices
For thousands of years people all over the world have turned to natural digestion-soothing herbs like ginger, dandelion, aloe vera and fennel to soothe bloating and assist digestion. Many herbs act like diuretics and help the body release extra fluid, while some, like ginger, can also help relax the muscles in the digestive tract which relieves constipation. Ginger’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties work wonders on bloating. Sipping a hot ginger tea before, during, or after a meal will help your body stimulate saliva, bile, and gastric juices that aid in digestion. It also has a relaxing effect on your intestines, reducing inflammation in the colon, and in turn can reduce bloating and gas. Just like ginger, chewing on a small amount of fennel seeds (half a teaspoon) has been a remedy for gas and bloating for thousands of years. Fennel seeds have antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties that relax intestinal muscles and allow trapped gas to dissipate.
3. Eliminate Common Culprits
Each person’s reaction to food differs, yet there are several foods or food groups that are known to trigger bloating or digestive comfort in individuals. Sugar and artificially sweetened snacks can easily ferment in the gut and contribute to candida overgrowth and promote inflammation. Dairy products can be challenging when it comes to digestion and gut health, primarily due to modern-day manufacturing processes which remove important enzymes in dairy that assist assimilation. Gluten is difficult for many people to digest, so steering clear of refined grains and grain products can also be helpful. Try to avoid vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onion and garlic that contain sulfur and certain types of FODMAP carbohydrates. Beans and legumes can promote gas and are best eaten after being properly soaked and cooked. Finally, fermentable fruit including apples, stone fruit and avocados are also known to lead to bloating.
4. Stay Active
Being active and mobile assists your digestive system to function optimally. Movement helps to prevent constipation, assists circulation and moves lymphatic fluid throughout the body, which essentially helps the body to naturally detox and eliminate. Simple exercise can help move gas through your system and ease the pain often associated with bloating. Even over the holidays, try to stay mobile and keep a routine in place by moving for at least 30-60 minutes most days of the week. Choose an activity that you enjoy and that you can do socially with family or friends. Certain yoga poses can also specifically target digestion.
5. Stay Hydrated with Lemon Water
Many people tend to skip water when they are bloated, when in reality the opposite is best. Retaining water is your body's way of holding on to fluid to avoid dehydration. So when you are feeling bloated, having a greater intake of fluid is actually beneficial. Lemons are a natural diuretic and a gentle laxative when added to warm water, and the composition of lemon juice also helps relieve symptoms of indigestion such as bloating and belching. Drinking lemon juice supports the body to move things along faster and more efficiently. Infusing your water with a few lemon slices, fresh mint leaves or frozen berries also makes for a little extra festive cheer!
6. Reduce Stress
Digestion is affected by feelings of stress, anxiety, fatigue and overwhelm. The gut and the brain communicate very closely. Within the lining of your gastrointestinal tract lives a network of circuitry tissue that communicate with the central nervous system, called the enteric nervous system (ENS). Your brain triggers the ENS to produce enzymes, saliva and secretions to help with digestion, along with controlling hormones responsible for your appetite. Stress disrupts this line of communication. Your brain then diverts attention away from digestion so that the body can focus all its energy on facing the perceived threat. High amounts of stress also affect cortisol levels, blood sugar levels and hormones, which can result in you feeling overly hungry, constipated and bloated. Although the holiday period can be a stressful and emotional time for many people, try to practice mindfulness and find ways to alleviate stress. Gentle exercise, meditation and breathing practices can assist to help you feel grounded, balanced and at peace.
7. Avoid Overeating
There is a temptation to overeat around the holiday season, yet overeating leads to physical discomfort and digestive disturbances as the body struggles to function optimally. Try to practice self-control around meal times, opt for regular portions or eat smaller portions more frequently as opposed to overindulging with one main meal. The best advice is to only eat when you're hungry and stop eating when you're satisfied - not when you're full. Aim to feel about 80 percent full so that 20 to 30 minutes later you won't feel bloated.
8. Be Mindful of Alcohol and Carbonated Drinks
The holiday season can often be a time where overindulgence with alcohol is common and accepted. Yet alcohol is a serious gut irritant. Alcohol also leads to dehydration and fluid retention. Consuming high volumes of alcohol causes stress on the gut function and can even lead to thinning of the gut lining. Fizzy drinks contain high volumes of sugar and also contain some form of carbonation. This is created using carbon dioxide, which, once ingested, forms pockets of gas within the intestinal tract and colon, producing wind and belching. Another additive to fizzy drinks is phosphoric acid, which produces a burning feeling when consumed quickly. The pH levels in the stomach are altered, creating an acidic environment which affect digestion, assimilation and proper elimination. Try opting for naturally flavored water or kombucha for a healthy fizz!
9. Chew, Chew, Chew
Chewing your food well can have a two-fold effect. It reduces the amount of air you swallow with the food which is a common cause of bloating, and it also helps you eat slower, which is linked to reduced food intake and smaller portions. Mindful eating will also help reduce levels of stress and anxiety when it comes to meal times. Practicing how you eat and slowing down to really savor each mouthful assists the body to function at its optimal level, triggering each process of digestion as it naturally should occur. Holidays are the perfect time to sit and enjoy a long meal with people you love, so savor this special time and focus on quality over quantity when it comes to filling up your plate.
10. Peppermint Oil
Bloating can be caused by altered function of the muscles in the digestive tract. Peppermint oil is a natural substance that can help to assist and reduce muscle spasm. Numerous studies have shown that it can reduce various symptoms of digestive discomfort including bloating. Ensure you are using food grade peppermint oil and follow instructions carefully. Alternatively, you could try a hot peppermint tea which also has been proven to provide relief when it comes to digestive discomfort.
A few gentle reminders…
When it comes to the ‘big day’ and festive cheer is in full swing, remember a few simple tips. Look for the healthier options and sides that are usually fresh salads and vegetables, go easy on alcohol, and stay hydrated with water. Take some time for meditation or exercise of some kind that will help you to feel at ease and enjoy a natural endorphin high! Above all, savor this special time of the year with those you love. Enjoy having a few special treats and not over analyzing or being too hard on yourself. Take time to enjoy the non-food aspects of the season such as spending time with family; try having music on for people to dance or some games for kids and adults to enjoy. There are many ways to have fun and celebrate without disrupting your healthy lifestyle.
*If bloating persists, it is always best to seek medical advice.