The real reasons you feel bloated & what to do

Most people will experience bloating at some point in their life. Bloating can be caused by a number of reasons, and today we’re joined by Ali Mortimer and Simone Gilbert from the UK Health Coaches to help uncover reasons why you might be bloated and how to fix them.

Reasons why you might be bloated

You’re suffering from IBS

Irritable bowel syndrome is a common condition that affects the digestive system - resulting in symptoms like bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhoea and constipation. Understandably, living with those sorts of chronic issues can have a devastating impact on everyday quality of life so it’s important that you get to grips with what’s making them worse.

While we still don’t have a cure, dietary changes are often the first port of call for soothing symptoms.

There’s been a lot of IBS sufferers are now advised to follow a low-FODMAP diet.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols – groups of carbs known to trigger digestive symptoms like bloating, gas and stomach pain. Cut those down and you’re more likely to rest easy. Although it’s only supposed to be a short-term solution, it’s still a restrictive regime which sees certain fruits and veg, wheat, legumes, garlic, onions, dairy and sweeteners all gone from your diet.

According to a review of six trials, published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Foundation, around 70% of people with IBS respond positively to the diet. That’s why low-FODMAP eating is now part of the NICE guidelines for dealing with symptoms of IBS.

How to start eating low-FODMAP:

  • Visit your GP and ask to be referred to a registered dietician who can help devise a suitable plan
  • Download the Monash FODMAP app from Monash University (they’re the pioneers of the diet) which will help you to decipher which foods to prioritise
  • Keep a journal of your symptoms in relation to what you eat
  • Start by reducing your intake of free sugars, wheat, soft drinks, garlic and onions
  • Then start to experiment with which fruits, vegetables, legumes and dairy products might be playing you up. Again, working with a registered dietician will ensure that you do this in the safest possible way.

Keep drinking plenty of water and make sure that you’re getting enough protein, fats and carbs, vitamins and minerals from other sources. It’s really important that you try to eat a variety of foods that you can eat when following such a restrictive regime.

You’re stressed or anxious

Stress plays a massive part in our digestive system and can alter the way we digest food, which can lead to bloating. In many cases, stress slows down digestion, leading to bloating pain and constipation.

Stress can also worsen digestive conditions such as stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome.

Simone says:

“I suggest that you press pause in an effort to let go of the stress that surrounds how you're currently feeling. In my experience - having suffered gut and other mystery conditions - I remember being so focussed and stressed about it. It can make everything that tiny bit worse. Simple breathing exercises that have you nose breathing down into your belly for an inhalation/hold/exhalation count of 4/7/8 will help calm the stress response as it arises.

You may find that regular gentle exercise (so no daily marathon gym workouts required) will help your digestive process and help you to feel better in yourself. If you don't already, consider embracing the habit of going for a morning walk, or 20 minutes of yoga. Exercise supports optimum digestion.

Also, be sure to take kind and gentle care of you. Remember what you love to do and do it. A quiet cuppa, a movie, massage, chat with a friend, diving into a good book...make time for you. It's not a luxury, it's an imperative to our health and well-being.”

Find out more ways to reduce stress

You’re not getting enough sleep

Sleep is imperative to us in so many ways as human being, and when we don’t get enough, our bodies release a stress hormone known as cortisol. This disturbs your digestive system and causes bloating. A lack of sleep can also cause us to overeat and feel bloated as a result.

Simone says:

“We humans need 8-10hrs every night and without it most systems (think, digestive, hormonal, endocrine etc) are all unbalanced. It helps you deal with stress - of any kind - better and helps us keep a steady mindset and motivation to make the small changes we decide to make.”

You’re dehydrated

Bloating can also be caused by dehydration, which usually happens when you’ve been in the sun too long. Dehydration causes your body to retain fluid, which is why you feel bloated.

Simone says:

Be sure you're drinking plenty of water throughout the day - though leave a window either side of your meal of half an hour (more after you've eaten). Despite that is now quite customary in Western household, drinking water with our meal can seriously impinge on our digestive process and can lead to "the bloat".

Start the day with a large glass (with some water and/or apple cider vinegar) and then sip half a glass of water every 3/4 hr. Leave a window of an hour before bed to stop sipping so your bladder doesn't interrupt your sleep!

Register your interest in our free sleep support programme and get expert support in a weekly email

Other reasons why you’re bloated

You’re eating too much & too quickly

Rushing down food too fast almost always lead to bloating. This is because you tend to inhale more air and you’re not chewing your food well enough. Plus, you’re not giving your body a chance to send messages to your brain that you’re full.

The result? You end up with large pieces of food sitting in your belly and gas, which equals bloating.

The solution? Slow down and enjoy your food and really take the time to chew your food properly. Eating slowly will not only improve your digestion and reduce bloating, but it will also give your body chance to register that you’re full to avoid overeating and more bloating!

You’re about to get your period

Bloating before and during your period is completely normal, but it can be uncomfortable and there are ways to reduce swelling.

Avoid salty foods, as they will cause your body to retain water, when you want to try and debloat.

Foods such as bananas, rich in potassium and dark leafy greens with essential minerals will help counteract high levels of sodium in the body and lessen your bloating.

You’re constipated

Constipation is very common and basically means you’re having trouble passing stools regularly or you’re not completely emptying your bowel.

Common causes of constipation include:

  • not eating enough fibre from food such as fruit, vegetables and cereals
  • a change in your eating habits
  • side effects of certain medications

And many more reasons. Constipation can affect people of all ages and many people experience it only for a short time. However, it can be long-term, chronic condition that causes lots of pain and affects quality of life.

If bloating persists, visit your GP and discuss your symptoms, as it could be a sign of something more serious such as coeliac disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

You’ve recently had a stomach bug

A stomach virus or bacterial infection can really upset your gut’s bacterial balance and may be the reason you’re experiencing bloating.

When you travel to foreign countries, you’re more likely to be exposed to parasites and tummy bugs like Giardiasis, which are known to cause symptoms such as diarrhoea and bloating.

This is caused by things like drinking water that hasn’t been treated to kill germs, swimming in swimming pools, lakes and rivers, eating unwashed food and more.

See your local pharmacist to see what they can offer and drink plenty of water to flush out any remaining infection.

For extra support and guidance, register now for our free well-being and IBS support programmes, which can help give you tips on general health, diet and questions to ask your doctor.

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence based articles are accredited by the PIF TICK, the only UK quality mark for trustworthy health information. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.

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Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 23 August 2019
Next review: 23 August 2022