You eat a healthy diet, you’ve cut out gluten and dairy, and you watch your sugar intake like a hawk. You drink plenty of water, you exercise regularly, you take it easy on the salt, you eat your fruits and vegetables. You’re doing everything by the book, yet you’re STILL bloated. What gives?
I know just how frustrating it can be to bloat like a beach ball after a meal. Or randomly throughout the day, for that matter. I know because I’ve been there myself.
And it was only after years of trial and error (mainly error) that I found the answers. Sorting out my diet helped, but it only took me part of the way. It turned out there were other hidden causes to my bloating – some of which had nothing to do with the food I was eating whatsoever.
It was only when I identified these culprits that I was able to beat the bloat once and for all. Fast forward a few years, and here I am writing this article! I want to share with you 7 of the less talked about things that are contributing to your bloating, and what to do to beat them. Here goes!
7 hidden causes of bloating
Stress is number one in my list for good reason. That’s because it’s the number one cause of digestive problems on the PLANET.
When it comes to bloating, we tend to look at food in isolation as the cause of our problems. So we go on elimination diets, we go on colon cleanses, we cut out gluten, we cut out sugar, we try every diet under the sun to try and bring our bloating under control.
I’m not saying that this stuff doesn’t work. The food we eat is an obvious contributor to our digestive wellbeing, but it’s not the only contributor. And if your stress levels aren’t under control, you can forget about making any progress whatsoever!
Ironically, spending so much time stressing about the food you are eating is just making things much worse! No matter how ‘clean’ your diet, you’re not going to beat your bloating if you’re jacked up to the eyeballs with stress and anxiety.
This is because stress and digestion work like a seesaw. When we’re stressed, blood flow is diverted away from the digestive system to the vital organs such as the heart and brain. Our gut health becomes compromised and our ability to break down food impaired.
Not only that, but stress also messes with our gut microbiome, causing an imbalance in the ‘bad’ bacteria such as candida, yeasts and parasites.
The more we stress, the less energy our body diverts to our digestive system and the more things spiral out of control. Work stress, family stress, emotional stress: they’re all contributing to your bloating and you need to fix them. Fast.
Beating stress isn’t easy. But I can tell you without a doubt that getting your stress levels under control is the number one thing you can do for your digestion and overall health. So take a walk outside. Play a sport. Breathe deeply. Laugh. Meditate. Do whatever you’ve got to do to lower your stress levels. And do it TODAY.
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2. Eating too often
We live in a ‘snack culture.’ Food is everywhere, and most of us are eating it from when our feet touch the floor in the morning to the moment we tuck ourselves up in bed at night.
Not only do we eat regular meals, but most of us are also snacking in between. How many times have you mindlessly eaten something just because it was there – not necessarily because you were hungry?
This constant flow of food might be delicious, but it puts a lot of pressure on our digestive system. When we’re constantly snacking and moving from one meal to the next, our stomach is constantly being forced to produce enzymes to digest our food. This depletes our enzyme pool, leaving us short of the enzymes we need to break down our food as the day draws on.
Do you find you get bloated most often towards the end of the day? A depleted enzyme pool is a likely culprit.
The best way to support your enzyme production is to eat less frequently throughout the day. Leave more time between your meals (ideally 4 – 6 hours) and try to avoid snacking in between. This will give your gut more time to rest and properly break down your food before you go in for your next meal.
3. Too many raw foods
Raw (uncooked) foods are beneficial for digestion as they contain enzymes, which are required to help us break down food. So in theory, the more raw foods we eat, the fewer enzymes our body has to produce (because they are in the food) and the better our digestion.
However, in practice, more raw foods aren’t always a good thing. This is because some foods have tough cell walls, which are broken down in the cooking process. The key is knowing which foods are best eaten raw, and which are best cooked.
As a general guide, the following foods are best eaten raw:
- Fruits (all)
- Salad Leaves
And the following are best when cooked:
- Green peas
- Sweet potatoes
This list may look impossible to remember, but really it is just common sense. The foods that are fibrous and hard to chew (think of a head of kale, for instance) are best when cooked, whilst the foods that with a higher water content (like an apple or cucumber) can be eaten raw. For best results I recommend including a variety of both raw and cooked foods in your diet.
If you think that too many raw vegetables are contributing to your bloating, try steaming them for a couple weeks to see if you notice the difference. You can also try eating specific foods raw and cooked at different meals, to see which ones your body responds best to.
Some people also recommend eating raw foods earlier in the day and avoiding them in your evening meal. Whilst there is no particular research to my knowledge behind this, practical evidence both personally and from people I have worked with have shown this to be very effective.
4. Not soaking or sprouting foods
People often tell me that beans, lentils, nuts or grains make them bloated. But usually it is simply a case of preparing them in the wrong way. Soaking these foods overnight is a really easy practice that can be used to make these staple foods instantly more digestible.
By soaking legumes, nuts and grains for a period of time you minimise a compound called phytic acid which is found in these foods. Phytic acid is an enzyme inhibitor that interferes with digestion and prevents us from breaking down the nutrients these foods contain. If beans, brown rice, lentils, chick peas, almonds or anything else makes you bloated, I highly recommend giving the soaking method a try.
Here is a short guide to the soaking times for various nuts, seeds, grains and legumes:
Red lentils: No need to soak
Green / brown speckled lentils: soak overnight
Chickpeas: 24 hours soaking time, add a splash of apple cider vinegar
Beans (black beans, haricot beans, kidney beans etc): 24 – 48 hours soaking time, add a splash of apple cider vinegar
Oats: a little tricky. First you need to buy raw oats, as most oats you buy from the supermarket are steamed. Then you need to rinse them well, and soak them in filtered water for 8 hours. The oats will expand in size so ensure there is plenty of water covering them if you are soaking overnight. You then need to drain them, rinse, and transfer to a glass jar. Cover with a paper towel or cheese cloth. Leave for 24 hours, where the tails of the oats should just start to burst.
You can also buy pre-sprouted oats, this is what I do and highly recommend it if you are short on time.
Brown rice: Similar process to oats. Read this guide for more information. Again, I recommend pre sprouted to save time.
Buckwheat: no need to soak, as it contains a high level of phytase which breaks down phytic acid.
Almonds, Walnuts, Hazelnuts, Pecans: 12 hours
Cashews: 6 – 8 hours
Brazil Nuts: 12 – 14 hours
No need to soak flax, hemp, chia, macadamia, pistachios, pine nuts.
Note: once soaked, nuts and seeds need to be eaten in 2 – 3 days. To extend this shelf life, dry them in a dehydrator or an oven set at 40 - 50C for the same period of time that you soaked them for. They will then be good for up to a month.
As mentioned earlier, you can now also buy sprouted brown rice and sprouted oats from some supermarkets and health food stores. Activated nuts and seeds are also a great option if you don’t have time to sprout your own. Try this simple technique next time you are eating these foods and you'll be amazed at how much easier they are to digest!
People often tell me that eating fruit makes them bloated. I know people that have cut out fruit entirely for this very reason. They’ve stopped eating some of the most nutritious foods on the planet in an attempt to beat their bloating – but there is a much simpler way.
Here’s the thing about fruit. It’s highly unlikely the fruit itself is making you bloated. It’s how you’re eating it.
This is because fruits are the fastest digesting food. They are designed to pass through our digestive system quickly to allow us to absorb all of the nutrients they contain. In most people, fruits digest completely in between 20 – 60 minutes.
However, when we eat them with other foods, our body has to work harder and secrete more enzymes to digest the rest of the food. This slows down the digestion of the fruits and causes them to ferment in the stomach. This fermentation releases gas, which contributes to bloating and digestive discomfort.
The heavier the meal, the longer it takes to digest. This is why I never recommend fruit as a dessert option, as it’s just going to sit there in the stomach fermenting with the large meal you just ate!
If you think fruit makes you bloated, try eating it on an empty stomach and see what a difference it makes. Ideally, eat fruits first thing in the morning or earlier in the day so it can pass through your system much more easily.
Note: There are some cases where an allergy to a particular fruit (such as kiwi or banana) is present, and in which case, that fruit should be avoided. There are also some people who suffer from fructose malabsorption that may also be a contributor to bloating. But 99 times out of 100, eating fruits alone will solve any issue you have digesting them.
6. Drinking with meals
Staying hydrated is one of the most important things you can do for your health, but it is equally important to drink your water at the correct times.
When we drink with meals, we dilute our stomach acid and inhibit our enzyme production. This impairs our ability to break down our food and slows digestion.
The simple solution to this is to avoid drinking at mealtimes. This is something that takes a little practice, but once you get used to it, I guarantee you will feel the difference. I recommend leaving at least 30 minutes either side of your meals before you drink again.
If you absolutely must have something to drink closer to your meals, a herbal tea like ginger or fenel is your best option. Just make sure to sip it slowly. And wherever possible, try and consume your fluids in between meal times – not during!
7. Not chewing your food
The last topic I want to cover is also the simplest: not chewing your food properly!
Chewing your food is the foundation to healthy digestion. The less we chew, the harder our stomach has to work to break down the food we just ate. Want to lighten the load on your stomach and improve your digestion instantly? Awesome. Start by chewing your food properly.
Stop rushing. Your emails will still be there when you return. Take your time, enjoy your meal, eat slowly and mindfully. Remember the old saying, “you are what you eat?” Well, in reality, you are what you digest. So there’s no point in speaking half an hour preparing a healthy meal if you’re just going to spend 10 minutes trying to eat it as fast as you can.
Invest time into eating your food with as much priority as you invest money into buying it. And I promise you’ll feel the difference almost instantly.
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Anyway, that’s all for today!
If you’re struggling to beat the bloat, I hope these 7 tips can help you out.
Catch you soon,