It's totally normal for your belly to expand a little after you eat: your stomach has to expand and contract to accommodate whatever food it's digesting. But if this comes with feelings of fullness, discomfort and wind, or if it doesn't disappear overnight, you might be experiencing bloating. Bloating can be uncomfortable and bothersome, especially if it's happening at times when over-indulgence isn't the issue, for example, first thing in the morning.
Bloating is often experienced after over-indulging in food, maybe eating just a little too much past the full mark. As I said, a certain amount of expansion is normal after eating. However, bloating can also happen as a result of food intolerances, allergies and sluggish digestion or constipation.
Today I will discuss some things that can stop you waking up feeling bloated:
Check meal timings
Avoid fruit after food
Keep a food diary
Choose drinks wisely
Consider herbal remedies
Check your meal timings
The majority of us eat our main meal at the very end of the day, right before we plonk ourselves on the couch for the evening. The extent of our post-dinner activity often consists of nothing more than the short walk from couch to bed. This doesn't require a whole lot of energy output, yet we take in the bulk of our energy from food at this time of day.
It is much better for your digestion, energy and blood sugar levels to switch your meal times around. Have your biggest meals during the day and a lighter meal at dinner time. This leaves you plenty of time to fully digest your food before you get into bed, and can help avoid morning-time bloating.
Top tip: If you really can't avoid having a large dinner in the evening, try taking a walk afterwards to get that meal moving a little and expend some of the energy taken in with your meal.
Avoid fruit after dinner
It's a favourite healthy dessert, but if you are prone to bloating fruit is not a great idea. Fruits are easy for our body to digest and can move through quickly without requiring much in the way of digestive enzymes in the stomach.
If we lob a banana on top of our dinner, it's going to sit there and begin to ferment while it waits for the rest of your meal to digest. This fermenting action can cause bloating and gas. Think of a bottle of fermented beer, all bubbly and full of carbon; this is not what you want your belly to feel like, is it?
Top tip: For dessert, have some plain natural yogurt with a teaspoonful of organic cocoa powder stirred in, and leave fruit as an in-between meals snack.
Take your time to eat slowly and mindfully
Busy schedules and mealtimes don't go well together. You often hear the phrase 'eat mindfully', but what does that actually mean and why is it important to reduce bloating? When we are stressed, our nervous system goes into fight or flight. This takes energy away from our digestive system while our body focuses on increased breathing and bringing blood to muscles.
All very helpful responses, when we were cavemen running from tigers. Not quite as helpful when you are in a rush, stressed and shovelling dinner into your mouth. Your digestive system won't breakdown the meal properly and bloating and discomfort can result. By eating mindfully, we are helping to regulate our nervous system so it can refocus energy on digesting our food well.
Here are my top tips for how to eat mindfully:
Before launching yourself into the plate of food in front of you, take a moment to close your eyes and take three deep breaths. It might sound kooky, but saying a quick thank you before you eat can have a positive impact on how you digest your food. Studies on gratitude found that participants who felt grateful had a marked reduction in their levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Gratitude regulates the sympathetic nervous system that activates our stress response, which affects our ability to digest well.
Notice how your body feels, are your shoulders tense or hunched? How is your posture? Are you sitting tall? Research shows that posture impacts our digestive transit time and potential for bloating and gas. Sit up straight with your shoulders away from your ears to give your digestion a helping hand.
As you eat, notice how each mouthful tastes. Chew each mouthful 20 times. The better we chew our food, the less work our digestive system has to do. Chewing helps the stomach metabolise and break down food, moving it through efficiently and avoiding bloating.
Avoid doing any other activities while you are eating. That means putting your phone away! If you are a dinnertime chatterbox, this can cause you to swallow air with your food, which often leads to excess wind and bloating. Instead of chatting or scrolling, take time to notice and enjoy the flavours and textures of what you are eating.
End your meal as you started. Take three deep breaths and notice how your body feels now.
If I arrive at the lunch table with a stressed head and tense body, I will often take a minute before I start eating to sing a song. This sounds funny but, it regulates my breathing, activates my parasympathetic nervous system, and takes my mind off stressful thoughts. All helpful in making my digestive system work better.
Keep a food diary for bloating
There are some common foods that can trigger bloating. I recommend doing your own investigations into which foods agree or disagree with you. Keeping a food diary is a really good way of investigating which foods work well for you and which foods don't.
How to keep a food diary for bloating:
Find a lovely notebook especially for the task. I recommend one that's small enough to fit in your handbag, glove compartment or jacket pocket.
Record a detailed description of each day's meal and snacks.
Record what time of day you ate each item - breakfast/lunch/afternoon snack.
Keep track of how much you ate - 1 cup of oats/2 spoons of honey.
Track your levels of bloating each morning. Over time this gives you a good overview of patterns that could be causing bloating.
Pay particular attention to how you respond to the followings foods, as people with sensitive digestive systems often experience bloating after eating these:
Cruciferous veg such as broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. These foods are very nutritious, with plenty of health benefits, so you don't want to completely eliminate them from your diet. You could reduce or avoid them at dinnertime, or when your digestive system is not working well.
Wheat-containing foods, things like bread, pasta, crackers, cakes and biscuits. These foods are yummy but don't have much nutritional value and won't be missed from your diet.
Cold and raw foods are a lot of work for your body to digest and can cause bloating if your digestive system is sensitive. Warm, cooked foods are much easier on your tummy, so if you are waking up bloated switch to lots of warm, cooked, easy to digest foods (especially at dinnertime) and see if things improve.
Choose your drinks wisely
Coffee and fizzy drinks, are two drinks that cause bloating. Fizzy drinks are, well, full of fizz; so, it's no wonder they leave you feeling like an inflated air mattress. They are usually full of sugar too, which can wreak havoc with your gut bacteria. Our gut bacteria is sensitive and if it gets upset by too many sugary foods, it can cause bloating.
If you are a copious tea drinker this could have a negative effect as well. Tea and coffee are diuretics. This means you pee more when you drink them. This loss of water can cause your body to get a little scared there might be a drought on the way. So, it reacts by holding onto whatever water it can find, resulting in a bloated, puffy feeling in your belly, and often your hands and feet. You can avoid this by drinking 2 litres of still, plain water every day and keeping tea and coffee to the bare minimum.
On the topic of drinks, make sure you space your drinks away from your meals- ideally half an hour either side of eating to allow for your food to adequately digest and reduce the chance of bloating.
My Self-Care Tip: Drink swaps for bloating
There are so many yummy drinks that help counteract bloating, you won't even miss tea, coffee and fizzy stuff. Have a look at my self-care video where I tell you my three favourite tummy-friendly drinks:
Take herbal remedies for bloating
There are a number of ways herbs can help with bloating. Bitter herbs are my go-to for digestive issues. Bitters like dandelion and artichoke stimulate the production of digestive enzymes, helping to break down the food you eat quickly and thus avoiding bloating.
Additionally, dandelion has a traditional use as a mild diuretic. This means it helps to get rid of excess water, thereby reducing bloating. In the French language, dandelion flowers are called fleur de pissenlit. This translates beautifully as 'flower of pee in bed', which makes it very easy to remember what to use them for!
Want to improve your digestion? Get involved as our Digestion Advisor Ali Cullen takes you through her 5 step plan to improve your digestion and get problem symptoms, from bloating to acid reflux, under control.