You’re all ready to dazzle in that form-fitting frock, but your belly’s got all embarrassingly bloated in a blink, just half way through the night. Sounds familiar? We’re not talking about extra fatty bulges here, but the uncomfortable and unsightly abdominal distention that plagues everyone from time to time.
Bloating is a common annoyance of diverse causes. Lucky for you, there are just as many counter-solutions to keep you looking lithe (not pregnant) in the bandage dress and sexy jeans. Here are 5 common reasons behind the bloat and how you can cut the puff:
YOU’RE A GULPER
It is a myth that tummy bloatedness is from water retention or “water weight” in healthy adults (abdominal fluid accumulation occur with serious liver, heart or kidney problems). The belly is not a place where fluids accumulate first. Instead, you would see it in your under eyes feet, and ankles assuming you’re are upright like most. The real cause here is intestinal gas.
Beware of habits that can cause you to swallow air and balloon up without realising: Chewing gum, sipping through a straw, puffing a cigarette, talking excessively while you eat, and knocking back your drinks or wolfing down your meal. Besides, studies show that you tend to eat less if you chew more and take time to savour your food too!
YOU’RE TAKING GAS-FORMING FOODS
Some foods are more difficult to digest and naturally produce more gas in the intestines, giving you a belly pooch and embarrassing flatulence (wind passing). Besides eliminating the obvious fizzy sodas, carbonated seltzers and beer, notable gas-forming culprits include beans and pulses, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and onions. So if you’re planning to slip into skinnies today, try not to crucify yourself by piling on the cruciferous. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on these super-nutritious vegetables all together. Just work them into your diet slowly until your body gradually adjusts.
If the bloating only strikes when you order a pasta at cafes or when you take yesterday’s leftovers and ready-packed frozen meals (these tend to be loaded with puff-inducing sodium too – read: not-so-pretty eye bags and pufferfish face), another prime suspect would be reheated starches. Reheating the pasta and potatoes changes its molecular structure into resistant starch, which some people face problems digesting. Similarly, overloading your system suddenly with large amounts of natural resistant complex carbs (brown bread, brown rice and bran) in those with slower digestion can cause your switch to a healthy diet to backfire too. Opting for freshly cooked carbs, going slow initially when you convert to unrefined carbs, and chewing your food properly would help you here.
Although ‘sugar-free’ snacks and drinks may disguise themselves as a healthier alternative, artificial sweeteners (sorbitol and xylitol) can be fermented by gut bacteria and commonly contribute to the awkward symptoms in the bloat-prone. Experts recommend consuming no more than 2 or 3 servings of artificially sweetened foods and drinks per day.
FOODS THAT DEFLATE: Stock your kitchen with bloat banishers. Try popping probiotics (found in live-cultured dairy like yogurt, and supplements), or nibble on parsley, throw dandelion greens into your salads, and end your meals with a peppermint or ginger tea to aid digestion and de-bloating. Fruits like pineapple and papaya are your ideal desserts after a protein-rich meal, as their digestive enzymes will lend an extra hand in relieving your tummy overload. Potassium-rich foods like bananas, avocados and oranges, and ‘water’-ful produce such as watermelon, cucumbers and tomatoes are your BFFs to flush out the excess sodium in your system for a quick de-puff.
YOU’RE LACTOSE INTOLERANT OR HAS UNDIAGNOSED FOOD ALLERGIES
Food intolerances can cause gas, a distended, queasy tummy, and even loose stools. Genetically determined lactose intolerance (a reduced ability to digest milk sugar) is the most common form of food intolerance, especially in our Asian population. Limiting dairy products in your diet would relieve your symptoms. Aged cheeses and yogurts are also lower in lactose content. Others, especially young children, may have problems breaking down fructose (fruit sugar) as well. Putting a stop to glass after glass of fruit juice would often suffice in many instances.
Less commonly, undiagnosed coeliac disease (an actual allergy to gluten, a ubiquitous protein found in wheat, barley and rye) can not only lead to digestive symptoms, but also systemic issues like lethargy, unexplained anaemia, fertility problems and joint pain. While the rest are basically ‘plumbing’ problems due to slow or poor digestion, allergies are caused by an immune system reaction. Food diaries are great tools if you suspect possible food intolerance and allergies. But food allergies like coeliac disease need to be properly tested and confirmed by your doctor before strictly eliminating large number of gluten-containing foods.
There is a clear link between the brain and the gut, so angst can make any digestive symptoms worse.
In individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), this connection is exaggerated and the gut is over sensitive to factors such as stress, diet and hormones. In fact, stress is one of the biggest triggers in those who are predisposed. IBS sufferers often say that they’ve always had a bit of a funny tummy for a long time, but the problem has got really troublesome (typically recurrent abdominal bloating that might even cause their waistlines to fluctuate a few sizes quickly and without warning, in addition to tummy pain, constipation and/or bouts of loose stools) since a stressful event a year back.
Speak to your doctor if you are suspicious. While there’s no cure for IBS, you can definitely manage the symptoms effectively. Medications can effectively ease disruptive symptoms. Unless you’re intending to shift to a stress-free island for good, physical exercise provides a natural and healthy shot of feel-good endorphins to cope with life’s constant stresses better. Watch out for bloat-inducing foods as described above, eat in smaller but more frequent portions, and include gut-balancing probiotics and foods will help calm the cranky gut as well.
YOU’RE A COUCH POTATO
Not only will skipping your gym classes effect your fitness levels and fat-burning metabolism, it can result in a sluggish gut. That means a ballooned up midsection and constipation.
What are you waiting for? Time to get off your butt and get your entire system moving! Don’t forget to hydrate your system (by drinking enough good ol’ water, thank you very much) and ensure you are taking in your daily dose of antioxidant-packed and fibre-rich berries and vegetables too.
– By Claudia Lin