Bloating is the worst, but here's how you can beat it
Cut the carbs, get into downward dog — and try not to stress
Packing for a vacation gives me panic attacks. Not because my wardrobe looks like Marie Kondo’s worst nightmare, but because I never really know how my body is going to behave. Will it be cooperative and respect the geographical limitations of my skinny jeans? Or will I look like I just wiped out the Majestic Thali at Rajdhani when, in reality, all I ate was a salad.
A few years (and a third of my life’s earnings spent on different pant sizes) later, I realised that it wasn’t weight gain, hormonal fluctuations or a poltergeist in my cupboard that was sewing my clothes tighter. I was suffering from a chronic case of bloating. The neon billboard of bad gut health, it was fuelled by terrible lifestyle choices like staying up till 3am, binge drinking and putting my body into a carb-driven sugar rush. “The gut is the biggest part of our immune system, and any negative emotions, stress, eating habits, lifestyle changes or diseases can have an impact on it,” says Harvard-educated immunologist Dr Amy Shah, whose client list includes make-up giant Bobbi Brown.
“But those aren’t the only factors. I’ve also had cases where external agents like long-term medication, food allergies and processed foods make things worse,” she adds. If you’ve been anxiously Googling how to avoid bloating, we suggest you pay close attention.
Bloating v/s weight gain
It’s often hard to tell the difference between the two. But Shah has a hack, “Pick a tight dress or a fitted pair of pants and try them on the days you feel good about your body. If you experience an uncomfortable sensation or tightness in the belly area when trying it another time, you’re probably retaining gas or fluid in the abdomen.” Consider this is the most obvious indicator of bloating.
Cut the carbs
You can still be friends with rotis and rice, just unfriend refined options like white flour. “Processed carbohydrates that come in the form of naan or pasta are very difficult to digest by your gut bacteria, and might cause inflammation. This is because the human body is not designed to effectively break down such advanced food options,” she says. Another reason to avoid processed foods is because the tiny particles are able to permeate the gut lining and get into your bloodstream, where they’re treated as pathogens by your immune system which then goes into attack mode. So the next time you opt for butter naan, remember you’re literally biting off more than you can chew.
Ignore the jalebi counter
If there’s one thing Shah recommends to all her patients who notice chronic bloating, it’s to cut out all forms of sugar from their diets. “Sugar is the prime cause of bloating for most people. Bad gut bacteria feeds and thrives directly on it, causing gas,” says Shah. The same goes with dairy products like milk, cheese and even dahi, to some extent, because most of us find it difficult to break down the lactose in dairy.
Shah also prefers to avoid fruits like apples, apricots, cherries, figs, mangoes, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums and watermelon in large quantities because they are high in fructose and have a similar effect as eating lots of sugar. To avoid bloating, opt for fruits like blueberries, kiwis, mandarins, oranges, papayas and strawberries that ease inflammation.
Quit the weekend binge drink sesh
Looking forward to countless rounds of mimosas at Sunday brunch? Be ready for the bloat to hit big, says Shah. “Alcohol slows down digestion and causes fluid and acid retention in the body,” warns Shah. The high calorie count and dehydrating effects don’t help us either. If you do feel like indulging, avoid high sugar options like sangria or beer. Pick options like vodka that are low in sugar, and avoid mixing them with aerated or sugary drinks to avoid bloating.
Skip the sodium
Most of us think avoiding sodium equals avoiding table salt in our food. But there is a huge difference between the two. “Table salt used in small quantities in our everyday cooking is very safe, and required by the body,” says Shah. “On the other hand, sodium is an additive that is found in almost every packaged food like canned soups, microwave meals and pre-packaged chicken stock.” Sodium, being an artificial additive, contributes to puffiness since it dehydrates the body. “Restaurants also cook with high amounts of packaged food and preservatives, so eating a heavy meal outside can result in severe bloating the next day,” says Shah. To avoid bloating, pay closer attention to what you’re consuming.
Track your period
Those jeans getting tighter a week before your period? Hormonal bloating is just another sneaky PMS symptom (cause mood swings, surprise acne and insane cravings weren’t enough). “It’s a completely natural cycle, but in severe cases, you can tackle it by introducing vitamin D, magnesium and omega 3 supplements into your diet, and by making sure you get adequate sleep and avoid stress about seven days before your period.”
Don’t give in to fads
Fermented foods were the biggest health food trend in 2018 and the science behind it made perfect sense — eat probiotics to increase good gut bacteria for better health and less bloating. But most people reported counteractive effects.
“Introducing fermented foods (like kombucha, sauerkraut and kefir) into your gut suddenly, is like expecting someone who has never run before to complete a marathon,” says Shah. “This is because these probiotics cannot help to improve your gut health on their own — your gut health already needs to be in great condition to metabolise these foods, or else they worsen the situation and cause bloating.”
Work it out
There’s nothing that regular exercise can’t beat, including dreadful puffiness. Since gas usually collects around the abdomen area, any core exercises like crunches and sit-ups can help relieve the feeling. Shah also recommends a daily dose of yoga to avoid bloating, as the twisting movements can apply pressure on the stomach, release gas and improve the digestive system.
Eat all your greens might not be as universal a claim as you thought. Limit hard-to-digest foods like lentils, beans, broccoli and cauliflower, that are packed with nutrients but require the digestive system to work extra hard. Instead, stock up on bloat-fighting foods like avocados, asparagus, ginger, celery, cucumber, fennel seeds, lemon and apple cider vinegar.
If your doctor has ruled out chronic bloating as a symptom of an underlying medical condition, and you’ve managed to make all our suggested lifestyle changes like an over-achieving Monica Geller, there’s a good chance that the sneaky food baby isn’t going to haunt your dreams any longer. While I did have to cut down on the cocktails, and resist the urge to binge eat sugar as much as I used to, life without the bloat keeps my wallet more well-rounded — and packing is a whole lot easier.