I’m a lawyer turned certified personal trainer and author with an accredited certificate in nutrition. I’ve been running Fitness to a Tee since 2013, customizing holistic health programs for clients all around the world.
And the biggest area of concern my clients have? Bloating!
It takes only a quick Google search to bring up millions of results for “best exercises/diet for belly,” but when it comes to your gut, it’s crucial to look deeper than the aesthetics.
How you look is not the most important factor in understanding your health. In fact, without a mirror, the root annoyance of bloating may just be sensory! But if it gets to the point of discomfort, we’ve got to talk about it.
First, let’s figure out what’s happening.
When I ask people where their stomach is, many point right above where their waistband sits. But did you know that your stomach is actually below your sternum/chest? On average, it’s about 10 inches long and 4 inches across when empty, but it stretches according to the amount of food in it.
The areas we often identify as “bloat” are the small and large intestines — the organs that absorb the nutrients our bodies need from food and excrete what we don’t need. And when they’re at work, these long organs can expand. It only makes sense that a little bloat appears around your belly when your body is working.
After food breaks down in your stomach, it’s sent to your small intestine for more processing. To aid in digestion, your body sends water to your intestines. Digested nutrients go into your bloodstream, and water is absorbed to help push the rest into your large intestine.
Hence bloating, which is also a sign of waste (yes, poop) in the making! (An average person, even with IBS, will pass gas 14 to 18 times a day. So toot on!)
But that’s just functional bloating, which is normal until it feels uncomfortable and your digestion is too slow. If that’s the case, it could be a sign of something else.
Constipation happens when your large intestine’s movements are too slow and too much water has been absorbed. This makes your poop hard, dry, and more difficult to pass through your large intestine and into your rectum to be eliminated. Eating certain fibrous foods regularly can help with movement.
But if your constipation is chronic and you’re experiencing an abnormal amount of pain or frequency with bloating, you might want to call a doctor to check if it may be:
- a dietary incompatibility (like gluten sensitivity or a food intolerance)
- celiac disease
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- gastric obstruction
- a side effect of an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia
- a disturbed microbiome
If you’re sure bloating is your only issue, focus on some lifestyle changes, such as diet, exercise, and posture.
Tips to help ease your digestion:
- Avoid gassy or fizzy foods.
- Eat slowly.
- Avoid drinking through a straw.
- Reduce your portion sizes if you find you’re eating big meals and feeling too full afterward, which can feel like bloating.
- Consider adding probiotics, like Lactobacillus acidophilus or Bifidobacterium lactis, to your diet. But add them slowly — too much too quickly can make bloating worse.
- Incorporate more fiber from fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes (this can prevent or reduce constipation for some people, but certain fruits and vegetables may make bloating worse).
Practicing diaphragmatic breathing may also help with future bloat! Research has shown that in folks with IBS, the diaphragm, a muscle in its own right, may contract in the opposite way than is comfortable for them, which can increase abdominal swelling. So exercise that muscle as you would any other to keep the memory strong!
How to get in touch with your diaphragm again:
- Sit or lie down comfortably.
- Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose, counting up to 6 seconds as you inhale.
- Hold that breath for 4 seconds, and then slowly exhale through your mouth for 6 seconds.
- Repeat 3 times.
Plus, research on stress shows that breathing from the diaphragm can help improve your attention while reducing cortisol, a hormone your body produces when you’re stressed. A deep breath allows your mind to calm down, strengthens your breathing muscles, and helps with muscle tissue oxygenation — and all this contributes to your quality of life.
Working out your core tightens your deeper abdominal muscles and increases blood flow in that bloat area. It will help reduce the uncomfortable feeling.
You can do this core activation technique at home:
- While on your hands and knees, inhale through your nose and let your belly hang.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth while drawing your belly button in.
- Hold your belly button in tightly for 5 seconds, breathing gently.
- Repeat up to 5 times.
To treat more serious pain, you’ll need to differentiate between bloating and abdominal distention — the former being a natural body process and the latter being a functional disorder. A visit to your doctor can help you decide if a lifestyle approach will do the trick or if there are more doctor’s orders to follow.
Teurai is a lawyer turned holistic health coach, international personal trainer, and author. She has an e-book about blasting belly bloat and a newsletter about practical health advice. Find it all on her website.