What is bloating and why does my belly look so fat?
Well generally speaking, bloating is that uncomfortable overstuffed feeling that most of us have experienced at one time or another. Usually after overindulging at the dinner table or maybe after a bout of excessive drinking. However for some people bloating is an every day occurrence that can make meal times a constant battle.
What causes bloating?
There are several factors that contribute to stomach bloating and most of them are food or drink related. If you are a sufferer you need to find out what is your ‘bloat trigger’ in order to help you deal with the problem and treat it properly. The four most common culprits are:
- Fluid Retention/Water Retention
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Food Intolerance
Fluid Retention/Water Retention
For many women, bloating may be hormone related and the result of a build up of fluid especially in the week prior to menstruation. When an imbalance occurs in the body, excess fluid can build up in spaces between cells. Quite often a bloated abdomen may be accompanied by puffy eyes and swollen ankles.
How to test for water retention
A quick way to test for yourself if you suspect you may be suffering from fluid/water retention is to press your thumb onto your lower leg for a couple of seconds. When you release the pressure gently feel to see if the skin has sprung back or if you have been left with an indentation. If you can feel a dent this may be a sign of fluid retention.
If you suspect you are suffering from fluid retention you should consult your doctor.
Irritable bowel syndrome
This is a common cause of abdominal bloating. Treating IBS and digestive problems can be difficult and treatments should be discussed with your GP. However many home remedies and over the counter treatments are available and well worth trying.
If you suffer from IBS you will more than likely also have additional symptoms such as
- abdominal bloating
Some of the more common remedies you may be prescribed include anti-spasmodic tablets. As the title suggests these work by acting directly on the smooth muscle in the gut, causing it to relax. This relieves painful muscle spasms of the gut, without affecting it’s normal motility.
Over the counter remedies such as peppermint oil capsules and peppermint tea are also useful for soothing the symptoms. Charcoal products which are available from most health food shops are a popular choice for bloating and excess wind in the lower abdomen. Other popular products containing Simethicone, can be extremely helpful in dispersing excess gas and are available in a variety of forms including strips,soft gels and chewable tablets.
Probiotic drinks and yoghurts may also be helpful by encouraging good bacteria and helping to maintain a healthy gut. It’s worth incorporating these into your daily diet to assist digestion and keep ‘everything moving’. The recommendation is to consume one or two pots per day for at least a fortnight. After this time the manufacturers are confident you will feel better with a noticeable reduction in bloating.
This too can be a factor in abdominal bloating. The link between the digestive system and emotions is well documented. Many people suffer from a ‘nervous tummy’ and most of us are familiar with that stomach lurching feeling or that urgent need to rush to the toilet when we are anxious or under pressure.
Gulping food down too quickly can also create bloating by allowing too much air to be swallowed. Remember how you have to ‘burp’ a baby when he guzzles down the contents of his bottle?
Chewing gum and drinking fizzy drinks can all cause the same problem. Taking time to eat slowly and chewing food properly can be helpful. Try eating smaller portions and putting the fork down between mouthfuls. You should also avoid drinking through straws.
Relaxation techniques or hypnosis may be the best long term solutions to help to deal with bloating caused by stress. When we are under severe stress the brain releases hormones that put an enormous burden on our digestive systems. But different people may react in completely different ways and while some may be unable to eat a single morsel others won’t be able to stop themselves raiding the fridge and gorging on comfort foods. It’s no wonder that stress has been implicated in digestive disorders including cramps, diarrhoea, heartburn and bloating.
Probably the most common cause of stomach bloating is food intolerance.
Not to be confused with Food Allergy which is a more serious condition where the immune system responds disproportionately to a certain normally harmless food, provoking in some cases, a severe and occasionally life threatening reaction. Food intolerance on the other hand is the inability of the body to properly break down and digest certain foods and ingredients.
One common cause of food intolerance is lactose found in cow’s milk. This occurs in some people who have a shortage of the enzyme lactase. Lactase is needed to break down milk sugar and allow it to be absorbed into the bloodstream. The symptoms of lactose intolerance can be mild or severe and include nausea, cramps, diarrhoea and bloating. A range of tests are available through your doctor to detect lactose intolerance. Anyone found to be intolerant to lactose will need to modify their diet and reduce their intake of milk and other dairy products.
Nowadays, lactose reduced milk and other products are available at most supermarkets. For those whose symptoms are more severe, lactase enzyme may be prescribed in liquid or tablet form to aid digestion.
Certain other types of food are well known to cause excess gas, for example: onions; broccoli; cabbage and beans etc.
There are also a number of ‘hidden’ foods and food additives that can also contribute to bloating and the best way of isolating those responsible is to follow a careful elimination diet for 3 – 7 days. The Flat Stomach Diet is a recommended source of information. This diet plan will help you achieve and maintain a flat stomach quickly, easily and permanently.