A good meal is something to savor and enjoy, especially on holidays such as Thanksgiving. But filling up at the table often comes at a price. And that cost is often that bloated feeling. That’s when you’ve filled your stomach with a hearty meal before you finally push away from the table wondering just how ‘fat’ you’ve gotten and how hard it will be to even stand up. You’re not busted; you’re bloated, and you feel like busting at the belt!
Bloating is a sensation typically confined to your abdomen area. It describes a sensation when you abdomen feels (and looks) fat and tight, as medicalnewstoday.com puts it. What you are feeling, and likely loosening your belt over, is a buildup of gas within your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Such bloating – also referred to as ‘distention’ – can make your belly look bigger than usual, and it might also be accompanied by some pain and tenderness in the area.
What Else Causes Bloating?
While many instances of bloating are the result ingesting (gorging?) the familiar big meal (or holiday feast) and a resultant buildup of gas in your GI tract, the bloating itself could be a symptom of a bigger underlying condition, per health.harvard.edu, such as one of the following:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This can last for several months and include other symptoms such as cramping, diarrhea, and constipation.
- Inflammatory bowel disease. This is a condition characterized by an inflammation of the GI tract lining. Such diseases can include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Celiac disease. This is kick-started by the dreaded (for some people) gluten protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. This disease is an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attacks your small intestine.
- Constipation. This is an issue in which a person has fewer than three bowel movements a week and/or needs to strain to move the bowels. If you’re not emptying your bowels, there’s no space in your abdomen, and the result often is distention.
- Gastroparesis. This entails a laggard movement of food from the stomach into the small intestine.
- Cancer. Types of cancers that can include bloating as a symptom are colon, ovarian, stomach, and pancreatic.
Other factors involved in bloating can include difficulty for your body in digesting sugars or an overgrowth of bad bacteria in your small intestine. In some cases, per health.harvard.edu, it can be an abnormal response to a normal amount of gas, the result of a hypersensitive nervous system.
How Big a Problem Is Bloating?
No pun intended, but in many cases that bloating you experience giving you that extra-full sensation will usually subside gradually, as long as you don’t keep stuffing food down your throat. Your pants might feel a mite snug for a few hours or even a day or two, but give it time and your unwanted bloat should go away on its own.
However, if you have an ongoing bloating problem, it’s time to see your doctor for an examination and get some questions answered, on both sides of the table. Per medicalnewstoday.com, here are some other symptoms that could indicate that that visit to the doctor is something that should happen sooner than later:
- Eating difficulties
- Changes in appetite
- Unexpected weight loss
- Severe abdominal pain
- Blood in stool (bright red)
- Black or dark maroon stools
Tips for Preventing Bloating
The trick to dealing with bloating is to prevent it in the first place, or at least try to. Here are some tips to consider:
- Take a hike. Seriously, physical activity, to include walking, can keep the bowels functioning more regularly. This should allow you to more efficiently release excess gas and stool, per medicalnewstoday.com.
- Change your diet. Focusing on a diet that is low in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAP) can diminish the symptoms of gas and IBS, per hopkinsmedicine.org.
- Use probiotics. When it comes to your gut bacteria, these are the ‘good guys.’ Having plentiful good bacteria in your intestines is a great counterpunch to the bad bacteria looking to stir up trouble by contributing to gas and bloating, per medicalnewstoday.com.
- Avoid sugar-free foods. An excessive consumption of the sugar alcohol found in artificially sweetened foods and drinks can produce bloating, per webmd.com.
- Lots of fiber and water. These can help you overcome constipation, which can be a source of that bloating you are experiencing.
- Gas relief capsules. These can help move excess gas out of the GI tract, but be sure to follow the directions on the packaging.
- Essential oils. A study referenced at medicalnewstoday.com indicated that supplements that feature a mix of fennel and curcumin essential oils showed success in easing the bloating and abdominal pain in test subjects with IBS.
- Eat slowly. Take your time, enjoy the food. Otherwise, eating quickly and not chewing your food thoroughly can lead to swallowing too much air that leads to bloating, per webmd.com. Good rule of thumb: make meals last at least 30 minutes.
- Go easy on the sodium. Too much sodium (salt) is a no-no for people with high blood pressure. It can be a source of bloating as well, such as in highly processed foods that have an abundance of sodium as well as a deficiency of fiber, per webmd.com.
- Keep a food diary. Food intolerances are frequent causes of bloating. By tracking what you eat, your diary can come in handy for identifying guilty food culprits if and when you start experiencing bloating. The diary will help you work through a process of elimination to find which food(s) is/are causing the bloating.