“There are so many different causes of bloating,” nutritionist and founder of Artah, Rhian Stephenson tells me. “Food intolerances or sensitivities, disruption of the microbiome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, altered gut motility (from stress or poor diet), stress and side-effects from certain medications (like oral contraceptives, aspirin, antacids and SSRIs), are all common causes.” Your stomach area may also be ballooning after being ill, or due to hormonal imbalances, such as hypothyroidism, endometriosis or menstrual irregularities.
If that sounds like a lot, that’s because, well, it is, in many ways. Bloating impacts us all at some point in our lives, and for many different reasons, but there are ways of dealing with it that can help immeasurably. If you’re experiencing bloating regularly, however, and it isn’t obviously linked to food intolerance, alcohol or stress, then it’s really important to speak to your doctor to rule out any underlying or more serious conditions.
Below, Stephenson shares her five top tips on what to do if you’re bloated.
Start by examining what you’re eating. “A short period of elimination can be a great way to ascertain whether or not your bloating is from a food sensitivity or intolerance,” says Stephenson, who recommends trying the Artah 28-Day Reset. An easy-to-follow modified elimination diet with a clear protocol for re-introducing foods and checking symptoms, it’s a great way to become more mindful about how your body reacts to what you’re putting in it. “It can also help guide you through food timings and how to implement periods of digestive rest, which are important when your system might be feeling overwhelmed or out of balance,” she adds.
Cut out the key culprits
Some of the key foods and ingredients that cause bloating? “Zero calorie sweeteners, like aspartame, maltitol and sucralose are well known for causing both wind and bloating,” says Stephenson. “It’s also a good idea to take a break from protein bars, shakes and processed foods that have thickening agents – for example, gums like carrageenan or xanthan gum.”
Improve your eating habits
Constant snacking, eating too quickly and/or a lack of chewing can all cause bloating – so, yes, even your eating habits are a factor in whether you bloat or not. Try to be mindful when you eat, focusing on the task at hand rather than rushing. After all, stress is also another factor in bloating.
Consume digestion-aiding foods
“Focus on prokinetics, digestive bitters and carminative herbs – all of which are agents that will help with intestinal motility, stimulate digestion and relieve wind and bloating,” says Stephenson. One example of a prokinetic food is ginger, which you can take as a tea, in food or smoothies, or in a supplement. Other carminatives include gentian, dandelion, mugwort and chamomile.
Cooking your food, rather than eating it raw, is also a great way to improve digestion, plus it’s a good idea to reduce heavy meals and things like refined starches, red meat and fried foods – all of which create a digestive burden.
“Fermented foods are important to include, too, but they may not take down bloating immediately,” says Stephenson. “In fact, sometimes a sudden increase in fermented foods can exacerbate bloating (for example, if your microbiome is out of balance), so increase your intake slowly. But in the long term, studies show they have a very positive impact on gut health.
Lifestyle is important
As well as avoiding alcohol, consider taking regular exercise, which has been shown to be beneficial to the microbiome. “Mindfulness, whether it be meditation or yoga, can also help my reducing the stress response, which has a knock-on effect on digestion,” Stephenson says.
This story originally appeared on British Vogue.