By Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN
My nutrition clients come to me for numerous reasons: training for a marathon, dealing with serious GI issues, trying to get back to their body postpartum, or simply to feel better. While typically no two cases are alike, it is without fail that every single client will come to me at one point with the same question: “How do I get rid of the bloat?”
We’ve all felt it — it’s hard to feel energized and ready to take on the day, let alone feel good in your clothes, when you’re constantly uncomfortable thanks to a distended belly. Beyond the physical, bloat typically manifests through fatigue, moodiness, and that general sense of being in a fog. It’s not fun, and many times it seems like no matter how well you eat, you just can’t shake it.
So where does this dreaded bloat come from? While there is, as in all things nutrition, no silver bullet, most of it can all be traced to an unhealthy gut.
Gut health dictates how you look and feel daily; it is the primary root of inflammation and the core (literally) of good health! Research over the past two decades has revealed that gut health is critical to overall health, and that an unhealthy gut contributes to a wide range of diseases including diabetes, obesity, arthritis, autism, cancer, and depression. (Fun fact: 80% of serotonin, the feel good transmitter, is located in your gut, hence termed the “second brain.”) Unhealthy gut can also contribute to skin conditions like eczema, and ongoing fatigue (a healthy gut = a healthy immune system).
So we have a plan, to cut the bloat we need to get the gut healthy. This can take some time, and varies from person to person. But now how do we do that? While good nutrition is a fantastic starting point, there are three specific steps you can take to get your gut back into shape.
1. Get a handle on your food allergies
Most people have a variety of food sensitivities and allergies, some you know of, but many you don’t. Ever get gassy after eating sushi? Well there’s a chance you might have a soy sensitivity. Now, there are varying degrees of severity to food allergies, and I’m not saying to stop eating soy just because you have some gas, but it’s important to understand which foods are fine for you, and which might pose some problems. That way you can make informed decisions about your diet. The more you know, right? The top food sensitivities I see are dairy, soy, corn, gluten, eggs, and yeast. Many of these are found as ingredients in highly processed foods. Try removing suspected offenders from your diet for 2-4 weeks, and slowly reintroduce and see how you feel
2. Do some cutting
I typically try to counsel my clients to reduce their intake of specific items, not cut things out entirely. However, when it comes to the following, it’s worth going cold turkey.
· Artificial sweeteners and diet (“low-fat” or “low-cal”) food. Cut them out and feel instant relief. Problem foods and ingredients include sugar-free gum, sucralose, aspartame, frozen yogurt, lite yogurts, low-fat mayo, protein bars, and foods with a lot of unrecognizable items on the food label. Not shockingly, the digestive system doesn’t love fake foods.
· Salty, processed food. Limit your intake of foods like frozen meals, chips, canned soups, pretzels, and cold cuts. If choosing salt, go for Sea Salt as it is unrefined and contains over 80 minerals.
· Refined Sugar. Sugar leads to the overgrowth of yeast and bad bacteria in our gut, and overtime also leads to inflammation and damages to the lining of the gut.
3. Eat Gut-Healthy Food
It may seem at first that this recommendation would be filled with fiber-rich foods and green leafy vegetables, but it goes much further than that. There are four types of food I recommend to help repair the gut:
· Healthy Fats. These are vital to gut health as they coat the stomach and allow for ease of digestion, and enhance absorption of essential nutrients. Think avocados, olive oil, and coconut oil, and omega 3’s from, say, fish oil or flax oils.
· Probiotics. A great ingredient for gut health. While easily consumed via supplements, there are numerous ways to get the levels you need through foods like yogurt, kefir — even things like sauerkraut, kimchi, and Kombucha.
· Magnesium. A relaxation mineral that aids over 300 enzymes to work in the body, magnesium is important to regulate blood sugar and for proper digestion. A deficiency can lead to malabsorption, constipation, poor sleep, headaches, a poor immune system, etc. Foods rich in magnesium include pumpkin seeds, cacao/cacao nibs, green leafy veggies, sea vegetables (like spirulina), and halibut. But magnesium isn’t often absorbed well, so you may need a supplement in the form of powder, oil, pill, or Epsom salts.
· Anti-inflammatories. Makes a lot of sense right? Cutting out the inflammation is a major factor in a healthy gut. There are a few fantastic ingredients can supercharge this effort, like Turmeric, ginger, and garlic.
Take these steps individually or take them all at once. Even small interventions can lead to dramatic changes in your health, especially that of the gut. And if the gut is healthy, then you can kiss that bloat goodbye.
Stephanie Middleberg, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder of Middleberg Nutrition, a health and wellness practice based in New York City. Stephanie believes nutrition should be a conversation, not a lecture, and takes a pragmatic approach to eating healthy in a busy world. Instead of restricting her clients’ diets, she helps them build better relationships with food that compliment their diverse lifestyles. She understands that one diet does not fit all, and she works with her clients to create individualized meal plans they can actually adhere to. Her ability to cultivate an open and engaging environment has led to relationships with thousands of clients, and established her as one of the city’s most sought after health experts.
Stephanie is consistently featured in top tier media including Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Fitness, Glamour, Shape, Self, Cosmopolitan, Women's Health, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Women's Day, and MSNBC.com, to name a few.
Stephanie is a native New Yorker, and earned her Masters in clinical science and her RD at New York University. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin, where she graduated with distinction.