Do your trousers dig in after every meal? Or perhaps your stomach resembles a beachball months after summer is over? You could be suffering from bloating, but help is at hand.
First, see your GP to rule out anything more serious such as coeliac disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) if you’ve been suffering for several months. Now find the best ways to beat the bloat!
1. Avoid too much fibre
We’re often told to up our fibre intake if we’re suffering from digestive problems, but too much cereal fibre can actually make your symptoms worse.
Steer clear of brown bread, breakfast cereals and anything made with wholemeal flour, and choose white versions instead. It goes against what we’ve been taught, but tweaking your diet like this has been shown to ease digestive disorders like bloating by up to 40 per cent in IBS sufferers, so it could work for you too.
Try it for three months, but if there’s no improvement make an appointment with your GP.
2. Start taking friendly bacteria
Friendly or ‘good’ bacteria supplements can aid digestion and help counteract the negative effects of bad bacteria in your gut. Best of all, numerous studies have shown they may help ease symptoms of IBS like pain, gas and bloating. There are many different types available, so you may need to experiment to find one that works for you.
Fancy some other supplements? Fennel has been used for centuries to help tame tummies: drink it as a tea or take a supplement. And peppermint oil can help fight IBS symptoms like cramping or bloating – it works by relaxing the muscles of your intestines. Try taking capsules before or during meals.
3. Stay well hydrated
It sounds obvious, but constipation – a major cause of bloating – could be triggered by something as simple as not drinking enough fluids. This can slow your system down, and make your stool too hard to pass.
Aim to drink 1.5litres of water a day, and cut down on hydration ‘robbers’ like caffeine, alcohol, and fizzy or sugar drinks.
4. Enjoy an Epsom bath
Magnesium is a natural relaxant and constipation can sometimes be related to low magnesium levels. Fill up on magnesium-rich green leafy veg, beans, and lentils, and try bathing in Epsom salts – your body can absorb the magnesium in the salts through your skin.
5. Check your hormonal cycle
Many women become bloated and constipated when their period is due, or if they become pregnant. This is when you get a peak in progesterone, which tends to slow your digestion down, making everything sluggish.
Overcome any hormonal hurdles by staying active – exercise helps stimulate natural contractions in the gut – follow a healthy diet, and drink plenty of fluids.
6. Tackle any sources of stress
Our gut responds to modern stress the same way it responds to true danger. So while your gut is trying to process the meal you’ve just eaten, stress hormones mean your body is trying to divert blood away from the gut and into the muscles as part of the fight or flight response. The result? Bloating, indigestion, pain, nausea and maybe even IBS.
Try to tackle any sources of stress, aim to eat lunch away from your desk at work, and make mealtimes a relaxing experience. Yoga, meditation and massage can all help you unwind.
If you’re looking for more tips on improving your digestion, check out our dedicated gut health section.
This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies