Q: "I've been struggling with bloating for about two years now. I have tried cutting out wheat and dairy- which helped a bit- but I still get bloated every day from eating. Certain meals make it a lot worse but I can't figure out what foods could be causing it."
A: Bloating is the most common and definitely the most frustrating tummy issue to deal with. Not only is it uncomfortable but it can be very embarrassing when your pants no longer fit by the end of the day. Finding the root cause of bloating takes some investigative work and it can be a combination of factors. When I work with a client whose main symptom is bloating, this is where I start:
Mechanical Breakdown of Food: are you chewing your food to a paste before swallowing? Are you eating in a calm and relaxed manner? Most importantly, are you eating while distracted (working, driving, walking, watching tv, reading etc.)? Focus on your food while you're eating- this is the easiest way to kickstart the digestive process.
Digestive Fire: are sufficient stomach acid and digestive enzymes being produced? Incomplete breakdown of food is a major cause of bloating.
Gut Micro biome: the bacteria in your gut dictate the health of the digestive system. We want healthy, robust good bacteria but certain things like antibiotics, stress, the birth control pill, and binge drinking can alter the state of the gut micro biome and sometimes cause an overgrowth of the "bad" bacteria and/or yeast organisms. Addressing this imbalance ("dysbiosis") is crucial not only for bloating and digestive health but also for mental and hormonal health. Stool testing through a medical doctor or naturopath is available to assess the state of the gut micro biome.
Food Sensitivities: this is a very individual area but the most common foods that cause issues are soy, dairy, gluten, corn, nuts and eggs. Food sensitivity testing can be done through a blood test though it is not 100% accurate. Another option is to follow an elimination diet and assess your symptoms throughout.
Stress: chronic stress causes your sympathetic nervous system (the "fight or flight" response) to be constantly engaged. When the sympathetic nervous system is engaged, our body's sole focus is to survive. The digestive system can not engage fully when the sympathetic nervous system is engaged. Chronic stress is a HUGE factor with the majority of people I see with tummy issues. Without finding ways to destress and engage the parasympathetic nervous system (the "rest and digest" response), tummy issues won't go away even if the areas noted above are on point.
Lastly, when these major areas are addressed and bloating is still an issue I look at FODMAP sensitivity. FODMAP is an acronym for a group of carbohydrate molecules found in every food. It stands for:
What a mouthful- see why it's only referred to in an acronym?!
Certain people, usually those diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, cannot break down these carbohydrate molecules. This has an osmotic effect in the small intestine: meaning water is drawn into the bowel and causes gas, bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea. As I mentioned, FODMAPs are found in every food so it's impossible to eliminate them completely- the trick is to follow a low FODMAP diet. Every individual has a different limit to which FODMAPs they can handle and how much they can consume in one meal. It takes some trial and error to find the right foods in the right amounts. The good news is often times, certain high FODMAP foods can be re-introduced after a period of removal and gut healing.
If you've been struggling with Irritable Bowel Syndrome I highly recommend giving a low FODMAP diet a try. I myself follow it to keep IBS symptoms at bay. I'll be discussing how to follow a low FODMAP diet at the Thriving with IBS workshop on Saturday, April 23. We'll discuss how to eat, what supplements can help and important lifestyle habits to break free from the symptoms of IBS.
Jessica Mosiuk, Registered Holistic Nutritionist
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