Do you struggle with regular bloating? If so, check out these 5 Tips to Beat the Bloat this holiday season!
The holiday season is supposed to be filled with joy, happiness, time spent with family and friends…
While the food can make holiday gatherings even more enjoyable, for many people who struggle with regular bloating or IBS, the food can be a source of anxiety and not-so-joyful symptoms.
Rather than avoid all your favorite foods or skip out on holiday gatherings because you don’t want to feel miserable, give these tips a try so you can join the fun without feeling bloated.
What is bloating?
Bloating happens when the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is filled with air or gas that has been created during the breakdown of food.
The extra air and gas can make the abdomen expand and feel tight, painful or hard. Bloating is often accompanied with excess gas, burping, or that feeling like there is a thunderstorm raging in your gut.
And while bloating is common, our bodies were not designed to experience bloating regularly. Our digestion is supposed to happen without unpleasant side effects.
5 Tips to Beat the Bloat this Holiday Season
While it’s not possible to give specific, personalized tips, there are foundational practices and habits we can all do to help minimize bloating!
1. Avoid Grazing
If you tend to graze all day, or you’ve gotten into the habit of eating every 2 to 3 hours, or if you’ve been conditioned by diet culture to eat 6 small meals per day, listen up!
Our digestive system works best if it does its job of breaking down food and absorbing all the energy and nutrients, and then has a good amount of time to rest and reset before it has to “work” again.
Allowing our digestive system to rest between meals allows it to perform certain functions that have a big impact on our overall digestion.
One of these functions is called the migrating motor complex. Sounds fancy, right?
After we eat and our food passes from the small intestine into the large intestine, our body creates waves of motion through the GI tract to push any remaining food and bacteria out of the small intestine.
It’s like your body is “sweeping up” after a meal. This action helps make sure there isn’t food or bacteria sitting where it shouldn’t in the GI tract.
If this doesn’t happen like it should, food and bacteria can sit and ferment and cause gas to build up in the GI tract.
What does this lead to? Bloating!
The migrating motor complex works best if it has time between meals and snacks. If you’re constantly snacking, your migrating motor complex won’t be able to do its job effectively.
Ideally, wait 3 to 4 hours between meals and snacks to allow your digestion to work in the most effective way.
Holiday gatherings can seem like a sea of never-ending food. But while there may always be food around, that doesn’t mean you have to be constantly eating.
This takes intentional action for sure, but do your best to give yourself longer breaks between eating.
2. Eat Regular Balanced Meals
This might seem basic but let me explain why it’s especially important to help beat the bloat during the holiday season!
Does this scenario sound familiar?
There’s a holiday gathering later in the day, and you know there will be a lot of food or a larger meal. So, you skip eating earlier in the day or just eat way less than normal because you want to “save up” your calories for the larger meal that’s happening later.
Sounds like a solid plan, right?
Here’s the problem and why it can backfire and lead to more bloating later…
Skipping meals or eating way less than you normally would sends your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride.
If you’re not fueling your body properly with food, your body will compensate by kicking out more cortisol (a stress hormone) to help maintain a balanced blood sugar level.
Anytime your body releases more stress hormones (like cortisol), it leads to slowed digestion. When your digestion slows down, what little food you are eating doesn’t move along the GI tract as quickly as it should, which can lead to bloating.
Our digestive systems love consistency, and that means getting fed regular, balanced meals.
Not to mention, skipping meals earlier in the day can make you overeat later. And, I don’t know about you, but when I overeat, I’m much more likely to feel bloated and miserable!
3. Limit Sugar and Alcohol
While sugar and alcohol can be enjoyed in a healthy way at holiday gatherings, overdoing it on these two can lead to excess bloating.
Our gut is the home of trillions of microorganisms (or microbes) that include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and yeasts. This collection of microbes is known as the gut microbiome. Check out this blog post if you want to learn more!
These little organisms are supposed to be there and are super important for our gut to function in a healthy way. While most of these microbes are beneficial, there are some that don’t serve our body in a positive way.
Certain types of microbes can become overgrown and create imbalances in the gut microbiome. Or, your gut can pick up a pathogen or parasite that isn’t supposed to be there.
Both of these situations can cause problems with digestion and lead to symptoms in other systems of the body as well.
Sugar and alcohol are two foods that pathogens and overgrown bacteria in our gut love to digest and feed on (fermentation).
When we overdo it on these two foods, it can lead to higher levels of fermentation in the gut, which can create a build-up of gas and cause bloating.
This is not to say that you should completely avoid sugar and alcohol at your next holiday gathering. Just be mindful of how much you’re consuming, and if you start to feel bloating coming on, pull back a bit on these two foods.
4. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is essential to keeping our digestion moving the way it should.
If your digestion slows down, it can lead to food sitting for longer than it should in your gut. This can lead to more fermentation, which creates a build-up of gas and bloating.
Slower digestion can also lead to constipation, which can result in air getting trapped in the gut. Trapped air can cause bloating and pain.
Drinking enough hydrating fluids (which doesn’t include caffeine or alcohol) can be more difficult during the holiday season if you’re out and about more than normal or if you’re travelling or attending more holiday gatherings.
Make it a priority to drink 8-10 (8-ounce) glasses of water each day.
5. Gentle Movement
Exercise can help keep your digestion moving. Exercising doesn’t just strengthen the muscles of our arms, legs and core. It also helps make our internal muscles work more effectively too.
Our GI tracts relies on muscles to contract and relax to help move our food along. This is called peristalsis, and it’s essential for good digestion.
Regular exercise helps strengthen and tone the muscles that are responsible for peristalsis to happen.
Making sure our food can move efficiently through the GI tract is one way to prevent bloating, since food that moves too slowly can cause more fermentation and excess gas to build up.
Regular exercise also helps lower our stress levels, which results in better digestion.
Here’s the thing…exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective at improving digestion and lowering bloat. In fact, if you exercise too intensely, it can backfire and worsen your digestion.
Gentle movement, like walking, can do wonders for improving your digestion and lowering bloat. Even if you walk just 10 minutes a couple times a day, you’ll get the positive results.
If you’re tired of battling your digestion, bloating, or IBS, and you’re ready to find a solution that leads to lasting relief from your symptoms, consider working with a functional dietitian to identify and address the underlying causes of your symptoms.
As a functional dietitian who not only helps women overcome IBS but who has overcome my own IBS, I know how liberating it can be to finally break free from the frustrating symptoms.
I offer complimentary 30-minute consultations, which you can set up by clicking here. I look forward to serving you on your health journey!
You can also grab a copy of my free guide, which will walk you through 3 common mistakes people make when trying to improve their IBS and what to do instead! Grab a copy of that guide by clicking here!