Changes I’ve made to tame a bloated belly – Part I

how to tame a bloated belly - part 1 - eat spin run repeat

Recently it seems a large number of my friends are either getting married or having babies. I’m far from either of those life events, so wrapping my head around the fact that some of the lovely ladies I know are mamas-to-be just feels weird. Some of them post photos of their baby bumps, and I can’t help but laugh because even with little humans growing inside of them, I’m pretty sure my non-pregnant belly could rival theirs depending on the time of day you catch me at! Well, at least that’s how it was up until I made a few dietary changes.

berry smoothie

I don’t really remember having major gut issues until the middle of 2103. They’ve been pretty under control recently, but I attribute this to a non-stop curiosity about the potential causes, experimentation (some of which was rather painful), a lot of time spent reading, and asking heaps of questions.

Around this time last year, I decided to go to a naturopath because I was dealing with some extremely uncomfortable stomach situations. I already had a good grasp on the foods that were known troublemakers for me – anything fried, some dairy, and foods with high sugar content – and avoided them at all costs. My breakfasts typically consisted of smoothies packed with raw greens (mostly kale and spinach), among other superfoods. Lunches and dinners were usually great big salads with a rainbow of veggies, some sort of lean protein, a bit of healthy fat, and occasionally a small portion of whole grains like quinoa or rice. At first glance, one might think I was doing it all right.

Sweet n Spicy Thai Rainbow Salad - Eat Spin Run Repeat

After getting an allergy test done, I learned that I had a strong sensitivity to gluten, crab (which I rarely eat), and to my great horror, spinach. The naturopath also suspected that I had leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability. In case you missed it, I wrote a great big post on my diagnosis here. While there’s some controversy regarding whether or not the allergy test I had done (an IgG test) is actually valid, I decided to go along with the naturopath’s recommendation which was to eliminate spinach, one of my favourite greens, from my diet for at least 6 months.

You might be wondering “did she stop eating greens?!” and the answer is no. I don’t think I ever could! But I learned about the importance of rotating greens in order to limit my exposure to oxalates found in raw spinach, which is an undigestible compound that occurs naturally in order to protect the leaves from environmental dangers.

spinach and kale

Because I’m a nutrition and wellness nerd, I didn’t want to stop there. I certainly don’t claim to have it all figured out and still experience the occasional bloated belly, but the difference is that now, the pain is gone and if anything, it’s usually just a watermelon baby in there! With that said, there are a number of things that have helped and if you experience similar issues, I think you’ll find these useful.

***Once I got typing, I realized this was going to be one of the longest posts I’ve ever written so I’ve split it into 2 parts. Part II will be posted soon, so stay tuned!***

how to tame a bloated belly - part 1 - eat spin run repeat

1. Hydration – drink water!

You already know this, but hydration is essential for so many of the body’s functions, from nourishing the skin to aiding in digestion, to being able to think properly. Water helps to move food along the digestive system, and without it, partially digested food will take longer to move along, leaving you feeling sluggish, full, and yes, potentially very bloated. Contrary to what you may think, water will not bloat you up. Drink lots!

2. Watch your fibre intake…

I’m not just talking about the fibre in whole grains, but also the fibre in fresh produce. A lot of people don’t get enough, but getting too much can be problematic too. Back in my weight loss days, I was all about getting the most bang for my calorie buck which meant eating huge amounts of fruits and veggies. I still have a big appetite for these two food groups and they regularly make up about 70% of my grocery cart. The thing is that plant based foods contain a mix if soluble and insoluble fibre, which requires work on the part of the digestive system to break down.

speedy big-batch meal prep: asian broccoli slaw salad | eat spin run repeat

While fibre is great for “keeping things moving”, gas is produced while fibre-rich foods are being broken down and in some cases, it can do the complete opposite of keeping things moving. As I mentioned in my post about my Quest bar addiction and why I gave them up, all the fibre in the bars (which comes from IMO, or isomalto-oligosaccharide) is a surefire recipe for backing up the pipes…. if you know what I mean. 😉 Quest bars aside, fresh produce is high in fiber and can cause issues if you consume lots of it.

3. …And be careful with raw foods.

There’s also the issue of raw vs cooked vegetables. There are a few ways to decrease fibre content, including cooking and peeling these foods. Have you ever tried switching from your usual way of eating to an all- or mostly-raw diet? If you experienced digestive discomfort, specifically with cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy, this could be the reason. Yes, cooking can decrease the amount of health-boosting phytochemicals in these foods, but we are what we absorb and if you can’t digest the food you’re eating (or if it’s zapping you of all of your energy in the process), then that’s probably worse, right?

brussels sprouts

Based on what I’ve learned, I think raw foods were part of my leaky gut problem. As mentioned earlier, raw spinach contains oxalates and I was exposing myself to LOTS of them by going through several pounds of spinach in my smoothies each week. There’s also something called goitrogens, which are substances found in foods that can suppress thyroid function if eaten raw and in excess. Which ones? The cruciferous ones, including raw kale, which I was also consuming plenty of in my smoothies. Just like cooking can decrease oxalate content in spinach, it can also dramatically cut the goitrogen content in foods.

chard

If you want to learn more about goitrogens, oxalates, how these impact the thyroid and gut, and how to heal it, Dr. Chris Kresser is one of my go-to experts and has a whole bunch of super valuable information on his website. I recommend starting with this podcast episode (which has a transcript if listening isn’t your jam) and this blog post.

To sum up this point, f belly bloating is a problem for you, try cutting down your raw veggie portion sizes, chewing your bites more before swallowing, and steaming or stir frying veggies rather than eating them raw all the time.

4. Aim to eliminate as many artificial sweeteners as possible

This was a big one for me, especially since a lot of the products I got used to eating while losing weight in my late teens were laced with aspartame. I won’t lie – I still chew gum and actually find that it helps me concentrate sometimes. However, if you’ve ever chewed through an entire 60-piece container, you’ll know about the gut pain all that aspartame and air-swallowing causes. NOT fun.

I found my stomach issues were significantly reduced when I cut back on gum chewing and got rid of the other artificially sweetened “foods” in my diet. Watch out for them in yogurt, protein powders, drink mixes, bars, and condiments. Now if I add sweetness to anything, it’s either a bit of stevia, or a small amount of maple syrup or honey. But ultimately, sugar is an aging food, so I’ve done a few things to tame the cravings and aim to keep most of my sugar intake to fruit.

raspberries and blackberries

5. Make time to relax and de-stress

Food is important, but I can’t emphasize enough the effect of stress on the gut. If you’re a long time reader you’ve already heard me talk plenty about this hereAnd while I’ve seen the effects of stress on my digestion several times in the past, this summer’s trip to Vancouver was even further proof that the gut really is a second brain. Prior to leaving, I felt puffy and tired. I’d had some busy weeks both at work and socially, and was also studying for an exam at the time. The trip couldn’t come fast enough, and within a day of arriving in Vancouver, my stomach distention had gone down significantly. I was absolutely amazed. My focus was on maximizing every moment of the vacation and all the tension I felt prior to leaving was the last thing on my mind. Has this ever happened to you?

walking along kits beach, vancouver

 

Obviously, we can’t be on vacation every day. Therefore, since coming back I’ve committed to unwinding time at least 3 times per week where I just chill out and do things that relax me, like reading magazines, journaling, cooking (not for photography purposes) or giving myself a mani/pedi. None of these things involve electronics, which seems to be a pretty important factor that contributes to whether or not I actually feel more relaxed afterward. In addition, I schedule more time with my friends because they always make me happy and it feels so good to have others to talk to. Often times, they’re going through the same issues and in the end we always find things to laugh about.

before seawheeze with danielle ashley and christina

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Right, that’s enough for part 1! Part 2 will be coming up in a couple of weeks with another 6 tips, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’d like to know…

  • If you’ve dealt with ongoing bloating, stomach distention, or other gut issues, what have been some of the most helpful things for you?
  • What are your favourite ways to de-stress? Do you find a significant difference in your digestive health when you do/don’t make time to do these things?

31 thoughts on “Changes I’ve made to tame a bloated belly – Part I

  1. Great post! As you know, I am a big proponent of the Alcat food sensitivity test, and was also dismayed to find spinach among my long list of intolerances. (And as you also know, your spinach post was a big reason I ultimately bit the bullet and actually got tested!).

    So, rotating greens has been key for me. Adding in probiotics, digestive enzymes, gelatin, and lots more healthy fats have also really helped my digestion. I’ve always been good on the water, so that hasn’t really been an issue. De-stressing is a HUGE one … and while I try my best, there are still some times when I get stressed out, and notice a direct correlation!! Keep up the healing work!

    1. I know you can definitely identify with this Megan! I’m so glad you found my post back then and went and had your allergy test done as well. Healthy fats have been a huge help for me as well (and I’ll take those extra skin-boosting benefits too, thank you very much!) Sounds like you’ve got a great little combo of things to help your digestion now. Wishing you a very low/no-stress day! 🙂

  2. I’m so glad you are feeling better! Last fall/winter I was experiencing terrible stomach cramps and bloating and could not figure it out. I started eyeing foods like they were the enemy 🙁 but this past spring I was diagnosed with an arrhythmia and my doctor prescribed adding Salt to my diet (to help absorb all the water I drink) and Potassium. I feel great and haven’t had anymore stomach issues.Who knew everything was connected? 😉

    1. Oh wow, I’m sure it was definitely a shock to find out that it was an arrhythmia – I definitely wouldn’t have suspected that with the symptoms you were having. That’s awesome that you’re feeling good again though, and good for you for getting it checked out! 🙂

  3. I used to have the same exact issues for the longest time – I got blood tests, saliva tests, tried cutting out various food groups. Eventually it wasn’t until I ‘relaxed’ with my nutrition/extreme healthy eating that they went away. It’s amazing how our bodies can adapt and relax when they know we’re giving them permission too.. If that makes sense! Obviously you love eating tons of fruits and veggies with little grain based carbs, and you work out hard. So you could always try adding some extra fat and brown rice, whole grain breads, etc here and there. I’m not expert but that’s just what helped me:)

    1. It’s funny you mention that Kaiti, because eating more fats is one of the tips coming up in part 2! I’ve found that it’s been a huge help, and I’ll take any excuse to enjoy more salmon and chia pudding. 😉 I’m glad you found a solution that works for you!

  4. This is an amazing post! I am going back to see my naturopathic dr to get food allergy testing in a few weeks. I am sick of avoiding foods not knowing which ones are causing me issues. Can can you please mention the brand of iron that you are taking? I haven’t found one that doesn’t make me feel badly. My naturopathic dr recommended a food based one so I will try that but I am curious as to the one that you liked.
    Your blog is my favorite one and I will be enjoying this topic!

    Good luck on your journey to healing your body naturally!

    1. Aw thank you Susan! I’m so glad you found it helpful. I’ve been on several iron supplements – some plant based, some not. I started on Floradix, then Genestra liquid iron, and one that I can’t remember now but it was the worst of them all so I wasn’t on it for long. Since February of this year, I’ve been taking EuroFer ferrous fumarate capsules which contain 300mg ferrous fumarate each. This may seem like a very high dose but my ferritin levels were exceptionally low (<4 nanograms per mL, which makes me anemic). EuroFer is the generic version, and Palafer is the brand name version. This is the only one I've had long-term success with, and have experienced zero digestive upset or constipation with it. I'd definitely recommend asking your doctor about it. I know a lot of vegans who swear by Floradix but it just didn't work for me. Good luck, and I'd love for you to keep me posted with the results! 🙂

  5. Such interesting information. A while ago, I was having a lot of bloating and digestive issues and one of the things that my nutritionists said was that I was eating too much fiber which kind of shocked me. I didn’t realize that was possible. Recently, I’ve noticed that I will also get bloated when I have raw kale so good to know that there’s an actual reason for that!

    1. I believe it, Christine! Not sure if you’ve tried this, but even just massaging the kale in olive oil can help to break down the fibre. I’m not sure it does anything to reduce goitrogens, but it should at least help to make it a little more digestible. I’ve been steaming mine now and it’s helped a lot.

  6. Oh I’ll definitely have to use some of these tips! I have some serious problems with bloating and sometimes it is actually painful. I know that dairy and too much raw broccoli are some things that trigger it for me but I am really looking forward to part 2 for more tips!

  7. or you can read 801010 by dr doug graham 😉 he advocates raw vegan diet of ripe raw fruits and veg…NO BLOATING! follow simple food combining rules and always eat fruit first and alone (without fats) and your digestion will be super smooth. it is a myth that raw foods are ‘hard to digest.’ since the proteins, enzymes and nutrients are not de-natured from heat, the raw produce is easier for the body to assimilate, absorb and digest leaving your body with more energy. just some more nerd research for you 🙂 i hope you look into it! even applying some of the principals are helpful. x

  8. Such a great post. I have suffered from digestive issues in the past, but I have pinpointed them to consuming too much dairy and sugar. And stressful weeks like this certainly add insult to injury.

  9. Such a great post, Ang!

    I am thinking of getting one of those tests done too. Between the colonoscopy and the blood tests, no one has been able to find anything. There’s gotta be something these doctors are missing! I woke up with a bloated belly today and I have no idea why. I’ve been eating so clean and I’m two weeks sugar-free now so I have no idea whats going on. I made the mistake of wearing a fitted top to work today and I look pregnant! 🙁

  10. Yep I have had those days where I’ve looked pregnant and it is just so uncomfortable, especially when you think you are eating well! For me, I have had to watch my Greek yogurt intake; broccoli and brussel sprouts; and tame my gum intake. Like Lindsay Cotter, I’ve added a lot more fats. I’m all about peanut butter and avocados and recently added tahini. 🙂

    1. I hear ya on the Brussels sprouts….. they’re just SOOOO good! 🙂 Love that you’re into PB and avocados. I too adore both, and can’t believe that up until about 2 years ago, I couldn’t stand avovado anything – not even guacamole. Thank goodness for changing taste buds!

  11. Super helpful! I tend to get a very bloated tummy at times and have the hardest time figuring out why. Just recently did I start to link my raw veggie intake (which is a TON) with my tummy discomfort. Also, the stress thing is huge! I had a similar belly de-bloat situation while on vacation…crazy. Thanks for such amazing tips 🙂

  12. Hi Angela,

    I stumbled across your blog post while I was looking for possible causes of abdominal bloating. I eat a lot of veggies as well as Quest bars and think that this might be the cause of my bloating. Did you find that your bloating significantly diminished once you stopped eating Quest bars? Thank you so much!

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