What’s All The Bloat About?

I forget I’m lactose intolerant a couple times a month.

Well, let me be honest, I probably just ignore the dire fact.

Last night was one of those times. I ate a slice of pizza, some fries, some dinner rolls and a chocolate chip cookie. I was craving bready, sugary stuff. The food was yummy, however an hour later I started feeling it. My stomach began to look as though I was carrying a three-month-old baby, but instead of having my baby kicking, my stomach was just grumbling. Like internal burps and farts, my insides did not know how to digest these unknown foods.

I am a vegan, so typically I eat very healthily, lots of fruits and veggies and nuts and beans. I do this mostly because I know these foods work well with my digestive system; fatty, sugary foods do not.

Last night was no different. I felt weighed down and my energy started to fade.

Sound familiar?

This is my definition of bloating. What’s yours?

Simply put, bloating is a sensation of tightness, accompanied by a build up of gas, within the gastrointestinal tract. Our digestive system is very sensitive. While some people are aware of this, others are not. This is why people (like I), even when they know certain foods won’t digest well, still eat them. And why others, who don’t realize what they’re doing to their bodies, unconsciously drink soda, both regular and diet, eat artificially flavored foods, and chew sorbitol-sweetened gum, to name a few.

Let’s explore why this happens:

Whenever you take a bite of something, the food goes on a journey. It is chewed while your saliva enzymes start to break it down, then swallowed, then broken down by acid in the stomach, then sent into the liver, and then moved through the intestines. The end result, poop, the unwanted leftovers, is finally expelled from the body.

If you have eaten easily digestible foods–non-dairy, gluten-free, non-starchy foods–your body is essentially happy. If you haven’t treated your body well, this is when bloating may result.

Dr. Mehmet Oz recently explained that 20% of bloating results from the air we swallow and the other 80% is from indigestible foods. Certain vegetables and fruits, including lentils, broccoli, beans, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, bananas and raisins, contain complex sugars and starches, wheat, and dairy are hard to break down and can cause bloating.

(This is not to say such foods will do this to every person. Personally, my body “sings” happily when I eat many of these foods!)

Just as a consistent pooping schedule greatly affects your mood, the state of your gut is also critical to your mental health. Your gut affects the production of gastrointestinal hormones, melatonin, serotonin, and dopamine.

When we feed our bodies such indigestible foods, it doesn’t have the right enzymes to break them down properly. This feeds the bacteria which lines your intestines and results in more gas and flatulence. Here are a few natural remedies to heal or avoid such bloating:

1. Consistently eat digestive-supporting foods

2. Drink ginger or peppermint teas

3. Boil water with one teaspoon of ground cinnamon

4. Drink lemon water (the acid helps break down food and flush the system)

5. Take a detox bath daily to activate bowel movements

6. Take Probiotics daily

Probiotics seems to be the new “it” word. Probiotics are “good” bacteria strands. Taken in either pill or liquid forms, this bacteria helps remove bad bacteria from your intestinal tract. The refrigerated brands are best because it prevents most of the bacteria from dying. Speak to a health food representative at a local market to identify which brand would work best for you.

Everything aside, the topic of bloating is important to discuss mostly because of how it affects self and body image. Just as Allison says, “Feeling bloated can totally destroy and distort how we feel about and see ourselves. Bloated makes us feel fat, ugly, miserable. Not bloated makes us feel happy with our body. It is then when we consider ourselves to be beautiful and on top of the world!”

But, these beliefs promote imbalance. Finding what works best for our bodies is part of the journey. Instead of shunning the go-between–the experience of going back and forth from feeling great to out-of-sorts–we, as women, must try to celebrate and enjoy the ride. It is there and then that we find the most growth and understanding.

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