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The Most Common Reason You're Always Bloated, Say Dietitians

If your belly always feels like a balloon, this might be why.
bloating

Bloating, often caused by excess gas, constipation, and diet issues, can not only cause you to feel self-conscious about your appearance, but it can also be physically uncomfortable. Thankfully, it's not impossible to banish bloat and feel more comfortable in your favorite pair of pants. The first step to get rid of bloating? Identify the root cause.

As mentioned, there are many reasons why you may be experiencing bloating, from overeating to water retention, but dietitians tell us that that one of the most common reasons that you're bloated is that your gut microbiome balance is off—and stress may be to blame.

Your gut microbiome and bloating

"For some individuals, they may experience bloating due to the fact that their microbiome is unbalanced; in other words, there is too much of the 'bad' bacteria versus the 'good,'" says Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, a registered dietitian and author of The Small Change Diet.

The gut microbiome is a community of trillions of microorganisms that inhabits your large intestine. These microbes help your body break down food, produce vitamins and hormones, support your immune response, promote a healthy digestive system, and can even modulate your mood and cognitive health.

"Gut health has an influence on our overall well-being and is determined by the bacteria in there, which can influence our energy and mood, immune health, and even our ability to focus," says Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD a Kansas City-based Intuitive Eating Registered Dietitian.

When your gut health is disrupted, Harbstreet says that bloating and other digestive issues may be side effects. (Related: We Just Discovered the Best Hack for Digestion.)

How stress can cause poor gut health

An imbalance between good and bad bacteria in your gut microbiome may be caused by several factors, including antibiotic usage, a low plant food diet, and even stress.

"When we are stressed we often experience changes in our digestion which can be the cause of bloating. Psychological stress can cause changes in intestinal sensitivity, our ability to move food through the digestive tract, and digestive secretions to name a few. All of these changes may impact bloating," says Colleen Christensen, RD registered dietitian and founder of the brand no.food.rules.

It may sound odd at first to think that stress is actually making you sick to your stomach on a molecular level, but it won't be as surprising once you understand that the gut and the brain are directly linked.

"Ever 'felt nauseous' over a situation or experienced 'butterflies in your stomach?' These feelings are the [gut and the brain] talking to each other!" says registered dietitian Jillian Smith, RD, LD.

"Our digestive tract (aka our gut) and our brain communicate intimately via millions of nerves and neurons, running in both directions. We call this line of communication the Gut-Brain Axis. Gut health will affect brain health and brain health will affect gut health," says Smith.

"This is to say that stress and anxiety often manifest in digestive distress, with uncomfortable bloating being a common culprit. This is why nutrition alone cannot be the only thing considered when trying to heal the bloat. You can eat the perfect diet but if your stress is not managed, your bloat cannot be resolved!" So now you know that one of the Major Side Effects of Being Too Stressed Out, Says Science is bloating!

What can you do to support your gut microbiome health and reduce bloating?

There are a few different angles you can take to heal your gut microbiome.

Reduce stress whenever possible. "To beat the bloat, engage in daily stress-reducing activities: take 4 deep breaths before meals to relax your mind and your gut, eat slowly and without distractions, and chew your food to applesauce-consistency (chew 20-30+ times per bite)," says Smith.

Eat more probiotics. "[One way to mediate excess bloating is] by introducing beneficial products into your diet that help to support your gut health. Probiotics—live microorganisms that positively impact the gut bacteria—help to maintain a healthy gut. Probiotics have been shown to improve the symptoms associated with IBS including bloating and abdominal pain." says registered dietitian nutritionist Hayley Miller, MS, RDN at Persona Nutrition. Miller recommends either probiotic supplements or eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurts, fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso, and fermented teas like kombucha.

Ask a registered dietitian about a low FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrate that is not well absorbed by most people and can cause additional levels of intestinal distress in those with sensitive digestive tracts. "Since FODMAPs are rapidly digested and fermented by colonic bacteria [in your gut microbiome], this rapid fermentation can result in excess gas production resulting in bloating and abdominal discomfort," says Miller. "One way to mediate this is to follow a low-FODMAP diet, which has been shown to significantly reduce abdominal pain and bloating in individuals with IBS." Please note that it's highly recommended to work with an expert if you want to try a low FODMAP diet; it is a restrictive diet that is only meant to be temporary, and if done improperly, can result in some undesirable side effects.

For more ways to beat the bloat, don't miss these 24 Ways to Get Rid of Bloating in Less Than 24 Hours.

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Olivia Tarantino
Olivia Tarantino is a senior editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in nutrition, health, and food product coverage. Read more