You know the feeling…you indulge at lunch and shortly after need to sit with your pants’ unbuckled. You take over-the-counter products to reduce gas, but your belly still feels bloated. Resolving bloating and gas may not be as simple as taking a pill. And you can’t figure out the root cause of why you are bloated? Here are five surprising reasons why you’re bloated:
1. Food Allergies or Sensitivities
You may have food sensitivities or allergies. The most common allergies or sensitivities that can cause bloating are gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, shellfish, and fruits. Allopathic practitioners can test your blood for allergens, but sensitivities are harder to diagnose with Western medicine. An elimination diet and food journal to track how you digest and feel after certain foods is usually the way sensitivities are found. Whereas food allergies are something to avoid throughout life, food sensitivities may be resolved by a time of food elimination and some digestive healing.
Some people have trouble digesting certain types of fats. For example, some people cannot digest medium chain triglycerides, so their bodies can’t digest things like coconut fat, even though they may be able to digest other types of fats. There are health coaches who can help pinpoint this issue for you.
Certain dietary philosophies, such as the body ecology diet, would say that it’s the chemical mixture of foods that form methane when combined improperly. This can cause bloating and upset stomach. Most fruits, according to this philosophy, should be eaten 30 minutes separate from other foods so that it doesn’t ferment in the body, causing bacterial infections in the intestines. It’s about transit time in the colon and making sure there aren’t chemical reactions that are counterproductive to digestion.
2. Eating Under Stress
Eating under stress causes some degree of digestive shutdown. When we eat under stress it reduces stomach acid (though you still feel acid indigestion in your esophagus) making our whole digestive tract work harder to break down foods into usable nutrients. Lack of the chewing can tax our organs and force them to work harder than they’re supposed to.
Our body has a rest and digest mode and a fight or flight mode. When we eat, the optimal state to be in is the former. When we eat under stress, in the fight or flight mode, our body thinks it’s under attack and starts to respond to food as if it were a foreign invader. The blood rushes out of our bellies and viscera and into our limbs, making digestion more difficult.
The food doesn’t get broken down into small enough protein chains in the bloodstream, so foods start to look like pathogens (a disease producing agent). Eating under stress, therefore, plays a role in the development of food sensitivities. See number one for how to attend to food sensitivities and allergies.
No matter how rushed we are, slowing down and becoming present during a meal has many beneficial properties for overall health and less bloating. From a digestive perspective, it’s better to eat less in a more mindful state than to eat more while disconnected from your body. (This rule is to be ignored if you have an eating disorder or some other diagnosed contraindication.)
3. Too Much Food
When we overeat, it can cause a localized stress response in the digestive system, which can lead to bloating. Our digestive system is like a wood-burning furnace. We want fuel, but if there’s too much wood and not enough oxygen, fire won’t happen. If all our resources are attempting to manage a large amount of food, the body registers this as a stressor, not fuel. Digestion slows or stalls and we feel tired, rather than energized.
Excess food slows the transit time it takes for food to go from mouth to anus. When this happens, we don’t use our food efficiently. Food sits in the digestive tract longer and can ferment, leaving opportunistic bacteria to capitalize on your body’s resources. Bad bacteria in the gut can cause gas and as a result, bloating occurs.
4. Antibiotic Use
Antibiotics destroy not only bad bacteria, but healthy gut bacteria as well, and commonly cause bloating for many users. The good bacteria living in a healthy colon help us to synthesize certain essential vitamins and minerals and recycle electrolytes in our bodies to stay hydrated. They fight off local infections in the gut. When we take antibiotics, we kill good gut bacteria, which contributes to bloating, decreased mood, depressed immune function, and constipation.
If you need to take antibiotics for a specific infection, make sure you combat the dying of good bacteria with a probiotic. These need to be taken at least 2 hours apart so the antibiotics don’t kill the probiotics. Eating fermented foods (you might want to start out slow if your body isn’t used to these to avoid bloating) and foods grown in rich, organic soil will help cultivate good gut bacteria.
If you’re relying solely on yogurt for this, and still experiencing bloating, make sure you don’t have an allergy or sensitivity to dairy and make sure there isn’t a lot of sugar content, as this will counteract the probiotics.
5. Unprocessed Emotions
We don’t just eat food on our plates. At the Institute for the Psychology of Eating we believe that we have emotional, psychological and spiritual hunger as well. All of these aspects require feeding or nourishment. We get this through connection with others, through self-expression and exploration, play, work, family, and meaningful spiritual practices.
Emotions start first as physical sensations. The root of the word emotion is “e,” meaning “outward” and “motion,” meaning movement. So, emotions literally mean “outward movement.” They’re designed to move out of our bodies and inform us of our needs. But if our emotions get ignored by others or blamed for conflict or abuse, we begin to push them down.
But because they’re designed to move out of us, we spend a lot of our energy trying to repress them. Then, when we least expect it, or we let our guard down, they pop up like a beach ball in water. The field of Dynamic Eating Psychology teaches us that when we have feelings that aren’t getting the attention they deserve, this can lead to stress, which can lead to bloating.
Similarly to eating too much food, when we have too many emotions stored up, they can fester. Turning our attention away from our emotions, downplaying their importance, we can sometimes substitute extra eating to act out what we are not attending to in our emotional lives.
There is such a thing as psychological inflammation. When our social, family, or work environment is toxic to our soul or our values, we can get a bloating or inflammation in our soul, which can manifest in physical form. If you’ve tried all the other suggestions and are still experiencing bloating, you may want to look at your life for the assaults on your psyche and see where you might be able to make improvements.
Become a Mind Body Eating Coach
Now enrolling for October 2023.
Make real, lasting change - in your life and the lives of others using eating psychology coaching tools.
Subscribe to The Psychology of Eating Podcast
Get notified when new episodes go live.