Let's talk about BLOAT. And Gas. And feeling full after eating. More specifically, let's talk about why these things happen, how to know if what you're experiencing is normal, when to see a professional, and 10 of my best tips to both help with feeling bloated after eating and handling bloat!
What Causes Feeling Full And Bloated After Eating?
There are SO many reasons why you might be feeling bloated after eating. What is considered "bloating" is highly up to the individual as it's something that is tricky to "diagnose". There is no specific test or biomarker to say. "Yes! You're confirmed to be bloating!" like there is for, say, having high cholesterol.
When we talk about bloating a lot of times we're talking about gas. As your foods are being broken down after eating a lot of times gas is created in the digestion process. Again, totes normal. I mean, the average person passes gas up to 25x a day, did you know that?! And other things can contribute such as eating too fast, carbonated beverages, and STRESS!
I'd say start with focusing on those things first, if you're feeling bloated after eating. We don't always need to jump to dietary changes which can actually wind up hurting you more, since a lot of times these diets are necessarily restrictive and could cause nutritional deficiencies or malnutrition.
What Is "Normal" For Feeling Full & Bloated After Eating?
One thing to keep in mind is that we should feel different after eating a meal, snack, etc. Having your stomach expand after putting food in it only makes sense, right? Your digestive system has to do a lot of work in order to convert that food into usable energy and nutrients for you, it doesn't just happen with the snap of your fingers!
We've been taught by diet culture that this feeling full after eating and any changes in our stomach protrusion (i.e. bloating) is bad. We have. been conditioned by society to feel like we're doing something "wrong". But, like I said, this can be 180% normal! And, actually a GOOD thing. I mean we WANT out bodies to have useable energy and nutrients, right? Right. Because of this, especially when you stop dieting and actually giving your body adequate nourishment, it can feel so strange to feel full and satisfied after a meal. This can take some getting used to. This is normal!
When you stop dieting, or are recovering from an eating disorder, there can also be a normal period at the beginning where your gut is taking time to adjust. Our guts are smart things, they notice changes and need a little time to get acclimated. Our guts microbiome, which is essentially the environment of your gut, changes depending on what we eat.
If you've read my post on what to expect when you stop dieting, you'll know how your eating habits will change during this time. You may be eating a lot of foods that you aren't typically used to eating, which causes your gut to adjust and there may be some extra bloat, feelings of fullness and, well, GAS. This is totally normal and typically subsides after your gut adjusts and you get to the stage where you can incorporate some gentle nutrition.
One important thing to let go of, which is so hard I know, is how the fullness and bloating LOOKS. Like I said, it's normal and totally understandable for our stomachs, that now have food in the, to look more rounded. Many times people complain of bloat because their stomachs look different and they don't like THAT. It's not that anything is necessarily wrong or irregular, it's that they're feeling that something is wrong because their body has changed. Change is normal. Our bodies are meant to change throughout our lives. If this is the case then working to overcome negative body image is key.
How Bloated Is "Normal" And What Isn't?
Now, bloated and feeling full after eating CAN go beyond the point of "normal". But... how the heck do you know what?! You bloating may be past the point of normal if....
- You have nausea any time you eat
- You're continually constipated
- Or you have continual diarrhea
- You have physical discomfort after every meal that is debilitating
Now, this list is just scratching the surface of symptoms, but if you have any of these or are unsure if your bloating is normal I'd recommend chatting with your doctor or a gut health specific dietitian, my friend Amanda is fabulous and actually helped me with her expertise in writing this post!
So, What Should You Do About It?
First, see if you can identify the cause of the bloating. I suggest a “food and mood journal”. This is not a food journal where you track every morsel you eat. Rather it’s saying, okay what are the types of foods I am eating, or the pattern, and how am I feeling with that? For instance, if you notice you’re eating tons of cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, kale or Brussels sprouts), which can cause that excess gas, maybe you try swapping them out for other non-cruciferous veggies and seeing if that helps. You’re just a scientist observing your body without judgement! Try to see when your bloating comes on and what it is correlated to.
Another example of how to use a food and mood journal would be if you're feeling extra full after eating and bloated in the afternoon, back track your day. Do you usually eat lunch super fast? Do you have a soda with it? Maybe you usually skip breakfast and that causes your lunch to be extra large. Try to experiment with those things and say "What would it look like if I slowed down and used a mindful eating exercise with lunch? Would I notice a reduction in bloating and fullness?" or "Let's try adding a breakfast, like overnight protein oats or maybe a banana carrot muffin, and see I reach a more comfortable fullness level after lunch. Make sense?!
And, like I said, be very cautious of restrictive diets. I’d suggest working with a gut health specific Registered Dietitian (RD) 1:1 (like Amanda!) if you have concerns. When we do this on our own of without the supervision of a trusted professional, like an RD, it's likely you will over restrict, which then can actually lead to worse health- both mental (food fear) and physical (possible malnourishment and suboptimal nutrition)
When Bloated What To Do - 10 Tips
Alright now let's get into my top 10 tips to handle the feelings of being full and bloated after eating to help you be much, much more comfortable with this normal digestion process!
Tip #1: Stress Management
Like I've said, our guts are smart! A lot of people call them our second brain and they can get thrown out of whack if we're feeling extra stress at home, work, etc. So, I think a good first thing to do is check in with your stress level and to learn how to cope with that. I love journaling to help work through my stress and anxieties. If you don't journal you should! I talk more about the benefits of journaling and give you over 40 prompts to start with in my blog post on how to journal!
Tip #2: Wear Lose Fitting Clothes When Bloated After Eating
Clothes that are too tight won't benefit you! They'll be physically uncomfortable and they can contribute to that mental discomfort and feeling like you're judging your body for doing it's normal digestion duties. I have a rule of thumb for clothes shopping that if I couldn't be comfortable in an outfit after eating a large meal, I don't buy it! Give those gas bubbles some room to move around. That way you can pass them and feel LESS full and bloated!
Tip #3: Think Warm
This is a tip from Amanda, who say to use warm drink, warm compresses and warm thoughts. You’ll want to reach for warm liquids, warm compress, warm thoughts. Warm liquids like hot tea can be very helpful for bloating. Try ginger, chamomile, or peppermint tea. Also try warming up a compress, a bag of beans or a hot water bottle and set it up on your tummy. Lastly, think warm thoughts. A lot of the time our mind immediately goes to the negative (aka automatic negative thoughts) which can only make the pain feel worse. Try slow and deep breaths to help break the cycle of automatic negative thoughts.
Tip #4: Address Constipation
Another Amanda nugget of wisdom: oftentimes bloating goes hand in hand with constipation so getting the bowels moving will help alleviate the bloating. You can try adding in some fiber with some whole grains like oatmeal, beans try some black beans or veggies like broccoli. And also be sure you're drinking water, which actually helps the fiber do it’s job in getting things moving. (I have a YouTube video all on hydration and how much water we REALLY need a day, be sure to check that out!!
Tip #5: Probiotics
So, probiotics could help improve gut health, if that is where your bloat is coming from. There are SO many strains of probiotics and it’s really important to do your research to make sure that the probiotic strain you’re taking is actually aligned with research to the problem at hand. You also want to look at the quality and quantity of the probiotic. It should be third party tested and have above 50 billion CFUs, but a higher CFU doesn’t necessarily mean better.
They’re also not a “quick fix” and it can take several weeks to see an improvement in symptoms. I’d recommend doing research and chatting with a registered dietitian to determine the best probiotic for your unique needs. Always be careful with supplements!
Tip #6: Get Moving
Now this one, be careful with. I don't want you to move because you think you need to "burn off" your food. However, getting moving can help get things...well... moving! Try going to a leisurely stroll or doing some stretching or yoga. I'm not talking about doing a HITT workout, here!
Tip #7: Using Digestive Enzymes (Or... rather not!)
Digestive enzymes can be helpful but I chatted with Amanda about this one and her approach is if it makes you feel better and you are always taking them then you need to dig deeper as to why that is. The enzymes are often used as a band-aid. Generally speaking the average person shouldn't need digestive enzymes.
Tip #8: Simethicone (Gas-X!)
I usually do have simethicone (AKA Gas-X) in the house to help when I get gassy. Does it fix it in a second? No. Does it help? I think to a degree. It’s supposed to bring together the smaller gas bubbles and create a larger one that you can pass. Always be sure to chat with your doctor before beginning any new medicine!
Tip #9: Focus On Improving Sleep
Research has been done in the area of sleep on those with IBS. One thing you can do is limit blue light exposure at night. Blue light has been shown to suppress melatonin up to 2x that of non-blue light. Melatonin helps with sleep and regulating your circadian rhythm. Try avoiding your phone ideally 2 hours (or try for 1) before bed and/or wearing blue light blocking glasses. You can also increase your light exposure to bright lights during the day to help you sleep at night.
Tip #10: Remember It's Normal & Temporary!
While in the moment it can seem like feeling bloated after eating is the worst thing on the plant, remember... it's not. And it's likely only temporary. Do these tips to help with feeling full after eating until the extra fullness passes. Remember that this can be a normal part of the digestion process. YAY! Your body is working! Be kind to yourself. Like Amanda said, think warm thoughts!! I like to use mantras and affirmations to help, I have a list of my top 20 fave intuitive eating affirmations here!
If you've gotten this far and you're still unsure about the extent to which you're feeling full and bloated after eating, here is my advice: Be sure you don't have food rules. Food rules are a HUGE cause of digestive upset. Be it you're only eating the same foods over and over because you feel safe eating them, or you're yo-yo dieting and going through the restrict-binge cycle (this takes a HUGE toll on our gut) the first step is to truly learn how to get rid of your food rules, listen to your body and eat intuitively. I have a free e-book that you can download that will take you through the 5 steps that myself and now thousands of others have taken to learn how to nourish their bodies in a way that feels good- mentally and physically. You can snag your copy of that e-book, The Ultimate 5 Step Guide To Food Freedom, here!
Leave a comment if you have any tips to add to this list, or if one of them works really well for you! I love hearing from you all!