Social distancing (or physical distancing) has us all experiencing many changes, including what we eat, how much we exercise and how we go about our day-to-day routines. With so much change happening at once, it’s no wonder we sometimes have symptoms we don’t normally have, and that includes bloating.
Bloating is a feeling that your stomach feels uncomfortably full. Some people describe bloating as a feeling that they have a balloon in their belly. Often times, bloating will go away on its own. But if it lingers, here are some common causes I tell my patients and ways to relieve the discomfort at home.
- It could be constipation
- Hormones may be the culprit
- Excess gas can build up
- Eating more calories than usual
- A more serious condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome
1. It could be constipation
While you’re spending a lot of time at home, you may not be moving as much as you usually do. You may also be eating different foods. This can lead to constipation. You may be constipated if you experience:
- Fewer bowel movements than normal for you
- Stool that is lumpy or looks like pebbles
- Difficulty passing stool or a feeling that you still need to go after you’re finished
Fortunately, you can make a number of at-home changes to help relieve your constipation. These include:
Mix up your diet.
If you can, increase your intake of fiber. This includes foods like whole grains, beans, fruits with the skin, vegetables and nuts. As you increase your fiber, make sure to drink plenty of water or clear liquids, such as broth. Doing so will help soften the foods you eat so you can pass your stool easier.
Try stool softeners or fiber supplements.
The next time you run to the grocery, grab over-the-counter stool softeners or fiber supplements. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label and again, drink plenty of water to help you flush your system.
Don’t forget to work out.
Regular exercise helps your body run more efficiently. It can also help tone the walls of your large intestine to help you move stool through.
2. Hormones may be the culprit
Women may experience bloating, abdominal pain and cramps just before and during their period. This is normal and usually due to hormonal changes that regulate the menstrual cycle. If you’re bloating just before your period, try the following prevention methods:
Eat low-sodium foods.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting salt intake to 2,300 grams per day. This is equal to about 1 teaspoon of salt. Challenge yourself to flavor foods with herbs such as oregano and thyme, or natural acids such as lemon and lime.
Fill a water bottle and sip on it throughout the day. Drinking water actually helps you flush your system of excess salt and water that may lead to bloating during your period. Aim for 48 to 64 ounces of water per day.
Drinking alcohol affects your sleep cycle, which in turn leads to inflammation and swelling. Excess alcohol can also cause diarrhea, which contributes to bloating and abdominal pain. In the days leading up to your period, replace alcohol with decaffeinated tea or water.
Even low-impact exercise like walking and yoga can help you break a sweat and release powerful feel-good chemicals. You might also consider taking a class online or try some creative ways to get your daily steps in.
3. Excess gas can build up
Gas is a normal part of digestion, but if it builds up in your intestines, it may cause bloating and pain. Gas happens when food that is not digested is broken down in your colon. This process produces methane and hydrogen, which you pass naturally as gas.
If you do experience bloating due to gas, modifying your food intake may help. Here are some common drinks and foods that can cause bloating:
- Foods high in fiber or fat
- Fried and spicy dishes
- Carbonated drinks, such as soda or beer
- Lactose found in milk, cheese and yogurts
Over-the-counter supplements can even trigger bloating.
4. Eating more calories than usual
Let’s face it. When you’re off your schedule, sometimes the most interesting thing you can do is bake. But consuming excess calories — especially those found in cookies, cakes and bread — can pack on the pounds and cause your belly to bloat.
If cooking is your jam while sheltering in place, reserve high-calorie recipes for special occasions, or cut it back to one meal a week.
5. A more serious condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common condition that causes abdominal pain with bloating, diarrhea or constipation. The cause of IBS is unknown, but it may be brought on by certain triggers, including:
- Bacterial infections
- Food sensitivity
- Stressful events
If you think you may have IBS, reach out to your doctor for an evaluation. Many times, lifestyle modifications and medicines can help ease symptoms. You may also try some at-home techniques to relieve your bloating.
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