Eating a meal should make you feel good. When you eat, your body releases endorphins and you should walk away feeling satisfied and full, but not stuffed. And you definitely shouldn't feel any sort of pain or discomfort.
Contrary to what many of us have been lead to believe, bloating after every meal is NOT normal. (And neither is super smelly gas!) There are a lot of influencers posting before and after pictures of how their bellies look and I think it's sending the wrong message. Yes, it's absolutely normal for your belly to expand a little after a meal but you shouldn't look like you're growing another person.
What Happens When You Eat
You may find it strange that digestion actually begins with your nose (I know I used to.) When you smell food, you start salivating. The saliva is used to coat and help the food slide down your esophagus smoothly. As you chew, more saliva is generated and with it, a host of microorganisms begin the process of breaking down the food. And so digestion really begins.
The food goes from your mouth into your stomach where it gets broken down into smaller pieces. From there, it gets moved to the smaller intestine and then the large intestine. All the while, what’s left of the food is being flooded with enzymes to help break it down and assimilate the nutrients before what’s left is eventually eliminated from your body.
Undigested food particles are a feast for bacteria in your digestive system. The longer they sit there, the more they'll produce gas and cause bloating.
Bloating in Brief
Bloating is when your belly is swollen and often accompanied by gassiness or a feeling of fullness. Your belly can be tight and distended in a way that leaves you feeling uncomfortable. As I said before, it’s entirely normal for your belly to expand throughout the day as you eat. There is food there after all. It is; however, NOT normal for you to feel any sort of discomfort after every single meal.
So what could be the culprit? Let's find out.
Possible Causes of Bloating
Bloating and gas can occur for a number of reasons. It can be helpful to have an understanding of why it could be happening in order to help manage symptoms. Here are just a few causes of your discomfort.
This can be caused simply by eating too quickly and therefore swallowing too much air or even drinking carbonated beverages. Additionally, chewing gum and smoking can be big contenders.
Gas is also produced by microorganisms in our colon that thrive on poorly digested food. The longer the digestion process takes, the more likely bacteria will ferment the food and cause foul-smelling gas.
Eating too much causes your body to leave more food undigested and therefore left up to the bacteria in your colon to feed on and cause unwanted gas and excessive discomfort.
Beans, for example, are starch and protein. This odd combination makes your body work harder and can cause more discomfort. Fatty foods can slow the process down considerably and can trigger the fermentation process which leads to bloating. Some other examples are cruciferous veggies, caffeine, spicy foods, artificial sugars, and sugar alcohols. (I can’t have a bite of anything containing sugar alcohols!)
Constipation causes stool to get backed up which can block gas looking for a way out. Not to mention, all that extra time is a feast for methane-producing bacteria.
Too Many Processed Foods
An excessive amount of processed foods usually means not enough fiber. Soluble fiber is needed to bulk up your stools to help them pass through your colon and insoluble fiber adds hydration to make them softer and easier to pass. Processed foods also often mean lots of salt and high fat. The three of these aspects combined are a recipe for bloating.
How to Stop Bloating BEFORE it Starts
01: Eat Real Food
To begin, eat real food. I’m willing to bet that you’re not eating enough protein and you’re not eating enough veggies. By these accounts, you’re not getting enough nutrients and fiber to help the food pass through your system properly. If you’re looking for step-by-step guidance as to how to do this, check out our new course.
02: Slowly Increase Fiber Intake
That being said, it’s important to slowly increase your fiber intake. Too much fiber or too much too quickly doesn’t give the friendly bacteria in your digestive system a chance to adjust to the change.
03: Chew Your Food
This may be the most overlooked remedy on this but potentially the best. Taking the time to chew your food gets your digestive juices flowing. The more time you spend chewing, the more saliva your body generates to help soften and break down the food. The saliva contains special digestive enzymes like lipase and amylase. Lipase helps break down fats and amylase breaks down carbohydrates.
04: Eat Without Distractions
When your focus is elsewhere while you’re eating like answering emails or watching TV, your body shifts its focus just as you do, which means it’s not going to digest your food as well as you’d like since your blood is pumped elsewhere. Additionally, you’re less likely to get the sense of fullness and end up eating more than you would otherwise.
05: Cook Your Food Well
Certain foods can cause far more discomfort than others. Take, for example, cruciferous veggies and dark leafy greens. Many of these vegetables contain anti-nutrients that are dispelled when they're cooked well. In turn, the cooking process makes these foods far easier to digest on your system. If you’re a fan of salads, as I am, it doesn’t mean don’t ever eat them. Consider opting for something like romaine more often and cook your spinach and kale when you have the time.
06: Move More
If you have gas stuck in your system, a simple movement like walking after your meal may be all you need to expel it from your body. Core exercises like bicycles are also another great option to help release it.
07: Soak Your Legumes, Nuts & Seeds
Soaking (and sprouting especially) makes this category of foods far easier to digest and leads to far less. Less gas = less bloating. This ancient traditional process decreases the phytic acid content significantly. As humans, we don’t have the enzyme to digest phytic acid properly, so this can make a world of difference as to how well we can tolerate legumes.
08: Eat Fermented Foods (or Take a Probiotic)
I’m a huge fan of fermented foods. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I make my own sauerkraut pretty regularly. (Check out my highlights for a tutorial!) A tablespoon of sauerkraut is said to have more probiotics than several capsules of a probiotic supplement. But if you have a hard time tolerating fermented foods, then consider supplementing with a probiotic supplement to start and then slowly add and increase fermented foods into your diet. This will give a chance for the bacteria to adjust accordingly. (Use code PRETTYHEALTHY to save 10%.)
09: Utilize Carminative Herbs
Sometimes you just need to take something to help you feel better. Carminative (gas expelling) herbs like ginger, fennel, and peppermint can all do the trick when you need relief. Digestive bitters are another excellent option.
All of these recommendations are meant to supplement a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you’re looking for more guidance to help get your metabolism functioning the way it’s meant to and your gut to be relieved of discomfort, our Pretty Healthy Metabolism course will provide you with the exact steps you need to restore your metabolism and rid yourself of continuous digestive discomfort.