9 Reasons Why You’re Bloated All The Time
Occasional bloating after a particularly big meal, a stressful day, or particular food is normal; we all have to leave room to feel the occasional digestive distress. Our gut bacteria can produce gas when they’re busy digesting the food we eat to turn it into the energy that fuels us.
That said, if you’re chronically bloated, that’s a sign that there’s something more going on. Luckily, my job as a functional medicine practitioner is to act as a detective to uncover the root cause of health issues. And after helping literally hundreds of patients with their bloating issues, I’ve found that chronic bloating is almost always caused by one of the following:
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1. You have a FODMAP intolerance
FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols, which are a group of fermentable sugars found in foods like onions, cabbage, beans, apples, and rye. Unfortunately, these sugars are not digested. These short-chain sugars are contained in many different foods and are not fully broken down by our digestive enzymes, which means they can end up getting fermented by gut bacteria in the intestines if you have a sensitivity to them This can cause major bloating and distension. And here’s where things get even tricker: High-FODMAP foods aren't typically excluded when you do a standard elimination diet. If you’ve tried everything to decrease bloat — including an elimination diet — then doing a FODMAP elimination diet is something you should definitely give a shot.
2. You’re eating way too fast
If you sit down to eat like you’re changing tires at a Formula 500 race, there’s a good chance you’re ending up bloated after meals. This is not only because you don’t start the digestion process in the mouth, through chewing, but you also swallow more air when you rush. If you tend to scarf down your food, try scheduling time in your calendar for at least a 30-minute lunch; or, if you really don’t have time for three meals a day, try intermittent fasting so you only have to make time for one or two.
3. You’re a grazer
Speaking of fasting, one of my favorite sections in my new book, Intuitive Fasting, is where I talk about the potential health consequences of our snacking culture. When we’re constantly eating, we’re constantly triggering this huge time- and energy-intensive process that is digestion. Our bodies have to release stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and go through the mechanical process of breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. This isn’t something we should be doing a little bit throughout the day, all the time. So, contrary to the 1990s advice to eat small meals throughout the day, if you’re feeling bloated all the time you might want to stick to three square meals a day and see how you feel.
4. You’re sleeping and eating at weird times
Did you know that your gut microbiome has its own circadian rhythm? It’s true! The bugs in your gut are constantly cycling between different colonies of bacteria throughout the day. When we are sleeping, certain populations of bacteria increase and when we’re awake and eating, others may increase and flourish. This normal microbiome circadian cycle repeats every day but can be hurt when we are eating and sleeping at strange times. The good news is that maintaining a consistent sleep-wake-eat cycle can help. Try spending a few weeks on a regular schedule and see what happens with your bloating.
5. You’re eating when you’re stressed
There’s a proven link between the gut and the brain (In fact, they call the connection the gut-brain axis!) This means that if your gut is a mess with dysbiosis or leaky gut, there’s a good change you’re feeling the effects in your mood, energy levels, and cognition. It also means that if you’re eating during a work meeting, on-the-go, or right after something stressful before you have a chance to calm down, it can lead to major problems with digestion. Why? Because the way your nervous system is designed, you actually send blood away from the digestive system and towards the extremities when you’re stressed, which means that your body is basically abandoning the digestive process to focus on your stress. If this sounds like it might be the cause of your bloat, try doing 10 rounds of the 4-7-8 breath or another type of breathwork before you dig in.
6. You’re going sugar-free
There’s so much health and wellness advice out there that it can be hard to keep up. But one thing we can all agree on is that sugar is not good for your health. Luckily, there are some pretty great sugar substitutes like Stevia and Monk Fruit that can help you enjoy something sweet without sabotaging your blood sugar health. Unfortunately, an overload of sugar alcohols such as xylitol or mannitol can perpetuate bloating as they are difficult for the body to digest. If you’re bloated all the time, check the labels on the foods you’re eating and try cutting out all sugar substitutes for a week or so.
7. You need more good bugs
Your gut is an incredibly complex ecosystem filled with all types of microbes that are smaller than the eye can see — and all these microbes play an important role in digestion. Unfortunately, antibiotic and other medication use, stress, alcohol, and environmental toxins and other factors can reduce the populations of bacteria in our GI tract and leave us vulnerable to bloating. If you think this may be contributing to your bloating, try taking a high-quality probiotic supplement. A probiotic can rebalance the microbiome and help alleviate symptoms of bloat.
8. You have SIBO
SIBO, which stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, can be a very sneaking cause of chronic bloating. In a well-functioning gut, when you are not eating something called the migrating motor complex (MMC) pushes gut bacteria down into the large intestines. But sometimes this process can fail. In cases of decreased MMC function, bacteria meant to migrate grows up into the small intestines where it doesn’t belong. This wayward bacteria will eat what you eat, fermenting the food in the wrong area, causing gas, swelling, and SIBO. To check for SIBO, you can get a SIBO breath test that measures the gases (methane, hydrogen and hydrogen sulfide) released by the bacterial overgrowth.
9. You’ve got hidden food sensitivities
Eggs, soy, gluten, diary — these are all examples of common food intolerances I see among my patients. Having a sensitivity to any of these foods can make them hard to digest and lead to gas, bloating, stomach pain, fatigue, and symptoms like headaches and sinus congestion. Luckily, an elimination diet is a tool that I utilize in my clinic to really determine the specific foods that are contributing to your bloat. By taking out certain foods that are most likely to trigger a reaction such as legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy, and grains for a period of time and then slowly reintroducing them back in, you’ll be able to see what foods are contributing to your bloating.
Feeling bloated all the time can be frustrating, affect your confidence, and make you dread mealtimes. Luckily, there is something you can do about it. Once you identify the cause of your bloating, which is most likely one of the nine things above, you can start looking forward to your meals again!
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.