What do you do when bloating occurs?
Do you treat the cause? Or just silence a symptom?
In today's fast-paced world, quick fixes are everywhere. Are you bloated? Down some Pepto. Have a headache? Take some Advil. Feeling tired? Coffee.
Although it’s convenient to have solutions at your fingertips, ask yourself: Are you treating the root cause of what ails you? Or are you just masking the symptom of a real health concern?
The human body is a network of finely-tuned feedback loops, so if something doesn’t feel right, it’s not just an annoying coincidence. Due to the availability of band-aid solutions, we’ve lost touch with our bodies and have all but ceased troubleshooting for root-cause answers. In this series, we discuss a few common bodily feedback symptoms and how to start targeting the true underlying causes.
Common problem: Bloating
Digestive discomfort. Abdominal distension. Flat-out feeling gross. Welcome to the wonderful world of excessive bloating. If you suffer from chronic digestive issues such as bloating, you understand that this can put a damper on not only your mood, but your confidence, posture, and productivity as well.
Before we begin, it’s important to state that it is natural for the digestive system to produce gases; some bloating and flatulence is a normal part of daily life. Excessive, painful, or chronic bloating, on the other hand, is not. Although there isn’t one simple cause for this type of bloating, there are several common factors that can contribute to the problem and increase frequency over time.
To best understand the mechanics of bloating, it is first important to understand the inner-workings of your abdomen. From bone and muscles to the organs themselves, daily patterns and physical tension on their own can cause bloat, regardless of food intake. Take a few minutes to brush up on your anatomy here, with Evolve Holistic Self-Care Expert Jackie.
What is bloating?
Bloating occurs when gasses become trapped in the digestive tract. This can happen in two ways:
- Too much air being swallowed
- Gasses being produced are either excessive, or otherwise normal levels are not being eliminated at an appropriate rate.
Symptoms of bloating include:
- Distended abdomen
- Gut pain/discomfort
Identifying the cause
First and foremost, bloating (and worse) can occur as a symptom of medical conditions and diagnoses (Celiac Disease, Crohn’s, colitis, IBS, SIBO, etc.). If you suffer from one of these conditions, you are not sentenced to bloat forever. That said, we ask that you also please consult a medical professional for proper treatment and lifestyle recommendations while considering some of the strategies discussed here.
If you experience discomfort from bloating on the regular, the answer isn’t always what you eat, but how you eat:
- Eating too fast will result in excessive air being swallowed.
- Eating on the go or while stressed will rush and hinder the digestive process, limit the production of digestive enzymes, and push under-digested food into the large intestine where it will ferment, leading to increased gasses and discomfort.
- Mouth-breathing (which can occur when you are feeling stressed) is a big culprit to poor digestion and increases the potential for air swallowing.
- Spending too much time sitting will compact the gut and physically restrict digestion, forcing fermented gasses upstream.
- Busy work days often result in all four of the above factors occurring, creating the perfect storm for uncomfortable bloating.
- Habits like chewing gum, drinking carbonated beverages, smoking, and drinking through straws also contribute to bloating by increasing the amount air swallowed.
This is a fancy term for an overgrowth of bad bacteria in your gut, which often leads to excessive fermentation (and worse). Top 3 causes are:
- Stress (see above)
- Poor diet (high-sugar, high-processed food, low-fibre, etc.)
- Antibiotics/medications (which wipe out healthy bacterial colonies); NSAIDs (like Advil), birth control pills, PPIs, etc.
Bacteria in the gut survive via the normal process of fermentation: When the right foods reach the gut and ferment, healthy bacteria survive. Consequently, when the wrong foods reach the gut and ferment, bad bacteria thrive. It’s important to understand that normal/healthy fermentation can cause some bloating, but that fermentation of the wrong food substrates reaching the gut (and subsequent growth of bad gut bacteria), is what contributes to chronic discomfort from bloating that worsens over time.
Excessive bloating can occur when foods damage the gut lining, or when undigested sugars enter the large intestine (where the normal process of fermentation takes place). Some undigested sugars feed healthy gut bacteria (prebiotics), and can be healthy for the body despite mild bloating, whereas others cause extreme gut distress and mounting health concerns. Common bloating offenders include:
Cruciferous & high-fructan vegetables
Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, garlic, onions, etc. Cooking/steaming your vegetables pre-digests and softens the fibre, which can eliminate or reduce bloating, so keep eating those greens. This is perhaps the only category on this list that you should generally still try to include in your diet, as these prebiotic foods feed healthy gut bacteria. Adjusting the cooking methods, frequency, and quantity in which you consume them can solve many issues.
Beans, lentils, soy, peas, etc. Much like the category above, legumes contain sugars that ferment readily in the gut. Beans have a second strike against them as they also contain phytates and lectins, which not only cause malabsorption of certain minerals but can damage the integrity of the gut lining. Soaking and sprouting beans is the only recommended option for consumption.
Quinoa (and again, soy)
These foods contain saponins, known to damage the gut lining and cause digestive distress. There are also other more serious concerns that saponins interfere with red blood cell production and thyroid function. It is best to pass on these.
Every human produces a different amount of lactase, the enzyme required to break down lactose (the sugar in dairy). If dairy is consumed beyond the amount of lactose produced, bloating and/or pain will occur.
These foods contain fructans. Many people over-consume wheat products, get digestive distress, and simply blame gluten. A little-known fact is that the human body can only breakdown a small percentage of fructans, so eating too many of these foods will cause bloating and digestive distress. Wheat also contains the lectins mentioned above and thus can damage the gut lining and cause excessive fermentation. Limiting dosage and seeking variety in your diet is key.
Much like some people are lactose intolerant, others are fructose intolerant. Every human produces a different amount of fructase, and will therefore be able to digest different quantities of fructose. High-fructose foods include many fruits and vegetables, as well as processed foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup (sodas, juices, cereal, bars, baked goods, etc.). Even though fruit is natural and has benefits, there can be too much of a good thing.
Xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol are sugar alcohols found in many food products labelled as sugar-free or diabetic friendly. Naturally occurring sugar alcohols are present in fruits such as apples, plums, cherries, and pears. Regardless of source, sugar alcohols are poorly digested in the small intestine and readily ferment in the large intestine. As a result, chronic gum-chewing or excessive fruit intake are common forms of bloating.
When looking into the emotional and psychological aspects of certain conditions, we need to take a step back and once again look at the bigger picture. As a society we have been conditioned to separate the physical from the psycho-emotional, but they truly go hand-in-hand.
The abdomen happens to be the number one place the body where we store our emotions- our energetic Grand Central Station, according to many Eastern Medicine practices. This is where we not only digest food, but also process thoughts and feelings. This is why you've heard "Listen to your gut", because it is a powerful place of human intuition.
Emotions such as worry, anxiety and fear reside in the abdomen and can contribute to mindless/emotional eating habits that can result in bloating. The energy centres for the Sacral and Root Chakras are also located in the abdomen and are responsible for:
- Your sense of being grounded and belonging
- Feeling safe, and that all your basic needs are supported
- Relationships with family, lovers, and yourself
- Financial relationships and material things
Energy and emotion can get "stuck" in the body leading to symptoms like chronic bloating, so if you are not allowing yourself to feel, express and release certain thoughts, feelings, or values, this can lead to tangible physical symptoms.
Without acknowledging a potential energetic block, stress levels will keep going up, and symptoms will persist. The human body was not designed to exist under chronic stress, and cannot be expected to digest properly under such conditions; physical, psycho-emotional, or otherwise.
What To Do Next
As you can tell, excessive bloating isn’t a simple matter. There are many possible causes and it requires a calculated approach to find the right solution for each individual.
Finally, if you want to receive monthly self-care recaps for solutions to common health concerns, don’t forget to register for our newsletter below.
Vital Ki Institute of Holistic Education
Shapiro, D. (2006) Your Body Speaks Your Mind. Canada, Sounds True.
Enders, Giulia. (2025) GUT. Canada, Greystone Books.