We are well into winter and the lure of eating moreish, filling foods is strong. But your stomach is feeling more stuffed than your thick winter socks in designer boots. We’ve got your debloating solution
Beat the bulge and banish that heavy feeling
There’s a certain feeling that, despite having a rich and varied vocabulary at your disposal, is best articulated as “meh”. You have zero spare cash, your skin’s drier than Jimmy Carr’s wit and, despite staying true to your workout schedule since 2 January, your middle looks like you’ve swallowed a balloon. Winter can get stuffed. At least take comfort from the fact that we’re all in this together. While there’s no evidence to suggest the drop in temperature is to blame for your rounder middle, research does show that you’re inclined to consume more kilojoules when it gets cold. A study published in the European Journal Of Clinical Nutrition found that participants ate 359 more kilojoules per day in autumn than they did in spring – and chose foods that were higher in fat. Start in autumn, throw in festive indulgence (them chocolate Easter eggs) and you’re bound to be feeling the effects round about now. Plus, the foods you reach for are likely to be those of the stodgy, comforting kind – you know, the ones the human body isn’t that keen on digesting. Back in the day, there was a need to store fat during the colder months when food was scarce. Now, you can order grub to your bed in the deepest depths of winter. UNDER PRESSURE
So, along with potentially carrying a few more kilos, you’re fit to burst, which is easier to fix. “Bloating is a symptom, rather than a diagnosis in itself, so there is no medical definition as such,” explains Peter Whorwell, professor of medicine and gastroenterology at the University of Manchester in the UK. “From my experience of treating patients who report feeling bloated, the best way I can describe it is a feeling of pressure in the abdomen. Some people will report discomfort, others will experience distension of the stomach.” First things first, if you always feel bloated after a massive meal, you might just be (whisper it) full. Fun fact: the average adult stomach can expand by up to four times its size and if your belly still looks larger than normal a few hours after eating, it does come with the territory. “What most people experience when they talk about bloating is a reaction to a food or an issue with digestion,” explains nutritionist Amanda Hamilton, co-author of The G Plan Diet: The Revolutionary Diet For Gut-Healthy Weight Loss. “Most of the food you eat is absorbed in the small intestine, but the remains – dietary fibre and some carbohydrates – move into the large intestine, where your gut bacteria feed on and ferment it, releasing gases that can pass out of the body as wind or build up and lead to bloating. What you eat influences the amount of gas you will produce, as well as your gut microbiome composition.” Ah yes, that bloody microbiome. The microbes in your gut have an awful lot of sway for a bunch of bacteria, influencing everything from your immune system to your brain health and – oh, hi – bloating. “If your body is overreacting and food is fermenting too much, it’s a likely sign of an imbalance in your microbiome,” says Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology and author of The Diet Myth: The Real Science Behind What We Eat. While you can influence your microbiome by taking probiotics, your body is a complex network of interactions, with everything from your hormones to your stress levels making their mark.
HARD TO STOMACH
If you’ve unbuttoned your jeans or, er, made some gas emissions in the time it’s taken to read this far (no judgement here), it could be down to what you’re eating. Certain foods, such as onions and garlic, as well as brassica veg – that’s the likes of sprouts, broccoli and cabbage – produce more gas. Your own tolerance of particular foods can change throughout the month too. “Certain foods might cause you to bloat now, but they will ultimately improve the balance of your gut bacteria in the future, so they won’t always make you feel this way,” says Hamilton. In short: there’s no one-sizefits-all rule when it comes to what makes you bloat. Soz. But that means it’s even more important not to exclude any food groups or food with high nutritional value from your diet on a long-term basis. “We can all do without sugary, fatty and processed foods,” adds Hamilton. “But fruit and vegetables, beans and pulses and whole grains are so good for you and fibre is an essential part of your diet. The key is not to overdo it and prep well. Reduce the gas-producing properties of dried beans and pulses by soaking them for a couple of hours then rinsing before cooking. Start small and gradually incorporate them into meals. And try different types, as you may tolerate some better than others.” Still suffering? Munching on the move, chewing while you chat and dining can all leave you bloated. Not being focused on the task at hand means you’re more likely to swallow air, which can build up in the gut. And if