Feeling puffy? Don't let a bloated belly get you down. Our Fitness Expert, Libby Babet, tells you how to overcome the problem in 8 easy steps.
A bloated belly isn't any fun. It makes you feel crappy and can be pretty painful, even embarrassing for those who suffer severely from it. What’s worse, for athletes who get stuck with a bloated belly on competition day, it can really hinder performance.
Today I give you a bit of a heads-up about some of the major bloating culprits in the hope you can reduce discomfort and rock a flat belly more often. Read on, do a little self-diagnosis, implement change and reap the benefits!
STEP 1: Don’t eat too much, or too quickly
This sounds simple and most of you will say, “I don’t!” but in reality, this is the number one cause of digestive discomfort and the majority of us DO eat far too much in one sitting, and often gulp it all down too quickly!
The average 21st century man or woman could thrive on about half their daily food intake and would likely feel a lot better simply by chewing each mouthful at least twice as many times as they do. So lighten up, or just spread your meals out a bit more – have half your sandwich at Midday and the other half at 1:30/2pm, for example. Your brain is about 10-20 minutes behind your stomach when it comes to registering fullness, so if all else fails, just chill for 15 minutes before deciding whether to go back for seconds.
STEP 2: Watch your food combinations
Different food groups use different enzymes for digestion and if you combine the wrong foods, you can end up with a “food traffic jam” in your belly, with some foods left undigested or fermenting inside of you.
The basic rules are that you can combine non-starchy vegetables (greens and veggies with a high water content) with just about anything (proteins, fats or carbs), while proteins and fats are a pretty good combo too.
However, plating up animal protein and fats with grains (bread, rice, noodles), beans/legumes, or starchy vegetables (potatoes, peas, corn), can end in a digestive nightmare!
This is likely why both vegans and paleo eaters claim to feel great digestively – because their food combinations are almost always spot on! Those of us eating combination diets need to be more careful.
Sugars, fruit and chocolate should be eaten away from all other foods, so give it about 30-40 minutes after you’ve finished dinner before you stick your hand in the chocolate box.
Also keep in mind that dried fruit, bananas and coconut are harder to digest than other fruits, so you might want to give them a little longer to settle.
STEP 3: “Chew” your smoothies
If you’ve passionately taken to the superfood/protein smoothie trend but find you get bloated every time you slurp one down, you’ll be happy to know there is a simple solution. First up, keep your smoothies relatively simple and stick to 1-2 different kinds of fruit, in small serves. I like to stick to the “6 Ingredients Rule”. Half a frozen banana and a few blueberries, plus some water, chia seeds, spinach leaves and a scoop of your favourite protein powder, for example, is about right. Too much fruit equals too much fructose, which can lead to bloating – and too many ‘extra’ ingredients just leads to stomach confusion.
Lastly, my most important rule of smoothie slurping is to make sure you “chew” each mouthful before swallowing. Digestion begins in the mouth and sometimes we forget that smoothies contain real food too and simply slurp them down, skipping a vital step in the digestive process and shocking our organs when all that food hits the stomach. The result? Undigested food bits and lots of bloating. To properly ‘chew’ your smoothies, simply swill each sip around in your mouth until it becomes a little sweeter and warmer, then swallow.
STEP 4: Don’t eat too many raw nuts, seeds, dried fruit/coconut, or un-prepared grains. Likewise for veggies from the broccoli and cabbage families.
Eating too many of these foods raw can cause bloating and digestive issues. Keep your nut portions small, or reach for activated nuts (try the 2Die4 or Star Anise brands) and avoid dried fruits when you can. Prepare your grains properly by soaking them overnight before you cook them (hellooo bircher muesli!). Make sure you steam or otherwise cook your broccoli and cabbage – and if you still bloat after eating them, try cutting these items out for awhile.
STEP 5: As your health care specialist about digestive enzymes, eat enzyme rich foods and don’t eat on the run!
As you get older, the amount of digestive enzymes you have can decrease, making digestion a lot tougher. Smoking and alcohol consumption can make this issue even worse, as can eating on the run. First up, make sure you’re always eating slowly, in a calm state (not on deadline at your computer), eating fresh/raw and bitter foods at the start of every meal (salad, lightly steamed veggies, fermented foods like kefir, apple cider vinegar), or if all else fails, see your natural medicine practitioner for a digestive enzyme or HCL supplement.
STEP 6: Don’t drink too close to meal times (even water!)
Gulping down water or other liquids with your meals can rush foods through the digestive process, leading to indigestion. Try not to drink 15 minutes before and after a solid meal.
STEP 7: Get your hands on a good probiotic
An imbalance between good and bad gut bacteria can mean a bloated belly almost 24/7, which is no fun for anyone. Your bad bacteria may be ruling over the good because of a recent dose of antibiotics, over-eating processed foods and sugar, or something more sinister like yeast overgrowth or dodgy bacteria. See your natural medicine practitioner for a good probiotic recommendation, or just try a general brand like Inner Health Plus and see how you go.
STEP 8: Keep a food diary
Still getting bloated? You’re probably eating foods your body doesn’t agree with – we’re all different, so this could be anything! The usual culprits are unfermented dairy (milk, cheese) and wheat (particularly the refined kind in supermarket breads, biscuits, cake). Keep a diary of what you eat and how you feel in the hours following. Hunt down that bloat culprit and remove it from your diet. Happy days!