This is one of the most important sections of this condition center. If I could get people to change their nutrition and lifestyle the problem of gas and bloating would disappear. Most of our gastrointestinal symptoms are a byproduct of what we put in them. Through proper diet, exercise and lifestyle changes we can positively affect how we feel. These are some of the best changes we can make.
What We Eat
One of the biggest offenders in gas production is overconsumption of carbohydrates. And it’s easy to do — some of the best-tasting foods we have are packed with carbs. Many diet plans are based on a reduction of carbs, so finding information on how to do this is readily available. When I work on carbohydrate reduction with my patients we do slow, gradual changes. The main reason most diet plans fail is they make eating not very fun. If you cut out everything you like you’re not likely to stick with it for long.
I have patients list all their most common carbohydrate-rich food and then work on cutting the intake of those in half over two to three weeks. Everybody can tolerate some amount of carbs in their diet, so if we minimize them enough gas production usually improves. Spend time trying to identify your trigger foods (those that when eaten cause gas production). Most people have them, and the best way to figure them out is with a diet and symptom diary. Try it, it works.
How We Eat
Many of us do things as we eat without even knowing it, and that can make gas and bloating worse as well. Eat only when hungry. This sounds like common sense, but many people eat just because it’s that time of day, not because they are hungry, and this can lead to overeating. Eating small portions at mealtime helps because our stomachs can process and empty small meals quicker and we don’t get as full and bloated. Chew your food well. Taking the time to chew well and grind your food up into small particles also helps digestion. Large pieces of food empty the stomach slower and lead to more bloating.
Don’t talk while eating. The majority of swallowed air comes from talking while we are swallowing food and leads to feeling bloated. Don’t eat a big meal then lay down on the couch. Get up and go for a 30-minute walk. Light exercise like walking after a meal helps relax the bowels and gets the food moving, making it less likely to sit there and get fermented. It also helps us burn off some of the calories we just ate. Avoid carbonated drinks while eating. The carbonation is a bloat-inducing gas itself. This is why gas and bloating is most common over the holiday season. We overeat, drink soda and laugh and talk with our friends and family while eating. We fill ourselves with high-carbohydrate foods and desserts, and then we lie down on the couch to watch football.
Relaxation and Stress Reduction
Lifestyle matters with gas and bloating as well. Things like stress at work, the drive in rush-hour traffic, problems with your boss or significant other, issues with family or friends — whatever the stress is, it adds up. As the body deals with stress and anxiety, it uses neurotransmitters (chemicals that communicate information throughout the brain and body). These neurotransmitters include ones like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. They exist both in the brain and the bowels. So when we get stressed or anxious it affects the function of our bowels and can result in cramps, pain, diarrhea, gas and bloating.
“Just relax” is an easy thing to say, but it’s sometimes a hard thing to accomplish. However, if you can find what works for you to reduce stress you will see the benefits health-wise and in how your bowels function and feel. Meditation, exercise, yoga, a hot bath, cruising down an old country road (that’s mine): Whatever helps you decompress and relax, find it and do it regularly.