It’s been a delicious dinner. Your hostess outdid herself with a spread of delights that would’ve impressed Matt Preston and the bubbly was superb – but instead of basking in the happy satisfaction of a memorable meal, you’re squirming under the pressure of an ever-tighter waistband as your stomach seems to inflate like a balloon.
According to dietician Lila Bruk, that’s exactly what’s happening. “Bloating is a distension of the abdomen. It usually takes place when air or fluid gets trapped in the gut,” she explains. Bloating may also occur if the digestive process is interrupted, causing undigested food to travel to the gut where it ferments and creates pockets of gas.
Dr Ela Manga, an integrated medical practitioner, notes that this may be caused by a number of factors, from the food you eat to medical conditions – like food intolerances, irritable bowel syndrome, systemic candidiasis and coeliac disease – and even how quickly you talk.
Scrutinise your sweetener
You may use them to help keep your waistline in check, but artificial sweeteners could be causing you to blow up, cautions Bruk: "They're hard to digest and thus sit in the gut where they ferment and release gas." Sorbitol and xylitol are particularly blame-worthy, according to Manga.
Stock your medicine cabinet
Manga suggests boosting your diet with probiotics, as these friendly bacteria help to keep the growth of gas-producing microorganisms in the gut in check. Digestive enzymes may also help.
Beat it with exercise
Exercise is an important weapon in your battle against the bloat as it helps to kickstart your digestion. Bruk recommends at least 30 minutes, four times a week. However, light exercise, like walking, is preferable to heavy workouts, which can actually hinder digestion. "Intense exercise raises your body's adrenaline levels. What's more, during a hard session, blood moves towards the extremities and away from the gut," explains Bruk. A brisk walk after your meal may be all you need to feel more settled.
Easy on the alcohol
Ever noticed how puffy you look after a big night out? That's because alcohol is a diuretic and, the more often you run to the loo, the less fluids are available in your body for digestion, leading to constipation.
Relief may be as nearby as your herb garden, says Manga. Ginger, for example, is a good all-purpose digestive aid and is excellent for soothing the digestive system. Peppermint, caraway seed, fennel and aniseed can also be counted on to coordinate digestive processes, while parsley, a natural diuretic, is a good choice if premenstrual water retention has made you puff up.
Hydration is key to preventing puffiness – but, while water will help you keep the bloat away, fizzy drinks are likely to bring it on. Carbonated drinks release carbon dioxide into the intestinal tract, making it feel like you swallowed a balloon. So keep it plain and natural.
"Water helps to improve digestion, so it reduces the risk of constipation, a common bloating culprit," says Bruk. Two litres a day will keep your system working smoothly.Say no to salt
Gas isn't the only cause of bloating – water retention has a role to play too. One solution is to cut down on salt. You can also stock up on foods rich in potassium – think avos, bananas, yoghurt and salmon – as these help to counterbalance sodium. They're also natural diuretics, says Manga, so can ease water retention.