Beating Belly Bloat in the New Year
by Catherine Morris | January 11, 2021, updated about 2 years ago
If rich meals, sweet treats, and decadent desserts have your stomach swelling, you're not alone—the season for over-indulging has come and gone, but many of the treats remain in our cupboards, and there's something about swearing to go on a diet that creates the perfect environment for over-eating (reverse psychology).
Bloating is a very common problem which occurs when the digestive system fills up with air or gas and you get that stuffed, can't-eat-another-bite, feeling. It can happen when you overeat, overdo rich fatty foods, splurge on sugar, or because of a specific digestive complaint like food allergies, IBS, Crohn's Disease, or gluten intolerance.
Whatever the cause, there are ways to get some quick relief. So next time you have one too many helpings of turkey, or have to dig out the extra baggy pants buried at the back of the wardrobe because that cake was irresistible, try one or two of the below suggestions, and beat the bloat.
1. Try Yoga — Try a Triangle
Moving is often the last thing we feel like doing when we're bloated (unless you count lying on the couch and moaning as movement), but a few minutes of gentle yoga can really help.
Most people practice yoga for flexibility, strength, balance and stress relief, but it's also great for keeping your digestion humming along—so much so that it's now a well-documented and recognized treatment for IBS.
There are specific poses designed to get things moving down below, and the good news is that you don't need to be an expert yogi to get the hang of these easy asanas. Kneeling on all fours and moving through cat and cow pose (where the spine arches and bows) gives the guts a soothing massage while the standing twist of triangle pose gets the blood flowing through your torso.
Extended puppy pose (kneeling with chest extended down to the floor and forearms outstretched) stretches the belly to help relieve stomach cramps, and get sluggish digestion back up to speed.
Pavanamuktasan, also known as wind-relieving pose, is exactly what the name suggests—a great way to...ahem...expel any trapped gas. Simply lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. You can bring your head up so your nose meets your knees and take a few deep breaths or, for greater relief, bring the knees slightly apart, squeezing right knee to right shoulder and left knee to left shoulder.
2. TCM for the Tummy
We don't generally have an acupuncturist on hand to give us a quick session after Christmas dinner, but if you suffer from poor digestion and know that this time of year will be tough on your tummy, it might be an idea to book an appointment over the festive season.
The philosophy behind acupuncture, and Traditional Chinese Medicine as a whole, is to bring balance to the body by releasing any stagnation and restoring proper energy flow. It does this by stimulating certain points along the body's meridians or energy lines.
Studies show acupuncture can treat gastrointestinal disorders, indigestion, and IBS symptoms such as bloating and stomach pain.
3. DIY Massage
If seeing an acupuncturist isn't an option, you can still target digestion-stimulating acupressure points with some self-massage.
Applying gentle pressure to the point in the webbing between thumb and forefinger is said to help relieve constipation and stomach cramps. Just above your belly button and below your ribs is your solar plexus—a powerful point in both TCM and chakra healing. Gently rub this point in a circular motion to encourage blood flow to the digestive system.
If you've got essential oils on hand, use them in your massage. Scents like peppermint and lavender can relax and soothe sore stomachs. Consult with an aromatherapist if you're unsure of how to use or blend them.
4. Show Your Feet Some Love
Just as massage stimulates digestion points, so can reflexology. This healing practice works on the principle that certain parts of our feet correspond to organs of the body so while it seems odd to be rubbing your feet after a big meal, you might want to give it a try (out of sight of squeamish dinner companions obviously).
While working with a trained reflexologist is best, you can also identify and target the known digestion points on your feet. Look at the sole of your foot, the area towards the bottom of the foot and in the middle is the pressure point for your colon and intestines.
You may also want to give the big toe a quick rub – this corresponds to the thyroid, which controls metabolism, so may help you burn off that big meal a bit quicker.
5. Be Mindful
Bloating is a form of stress—it is a signal that all's not well with our digestion. Stress is a huge contributor to a host of stomach problems, and we all know the powerful connection between the gut and the brain, so give your brain a break with some mindfulness meditation.
Find a spot away from the kitchen to be still and quiet for ten minutes. Relax, concentrate on breathing deeply and let go. This mindful practice not only ensures you're oxygenating your body properly (most of us aren't breathing correctly), it also improves IBS symptoms such as nausea, pain and—you guessed it—bloating.
6. Get Cold
Bloating often occurs when our digestion slows down, because it’s overwhelmed by too much food. Since it's our metabolism that converts that food to energy, it makes sense that boosting our metabolism also helps beat bloat.
So what boosts your metabolism? Well, you're not going to like it but cold exposure is a pretty good kickstart to your system. Bonus points if you go for a walk in the cold within 30 minutes of your last bite as that will help regulate your blood sugar and decrease your risk of the dreaded bloat.
Dehydration can also cause bloating so chug a glass of icy cold water and stimulate your metabolism while making sure your system is hydrated. Just don't sip throughout your meal, save that glass until after you're done—drinking while eating can flood the stomach and make it swell.
7. Chew (or Sip) on Healthy Herbs
If you have a few herbs hanging out on your kitchen window sill, now's the time to use them. Mint is the star of the show when it comes to digestion, with studies showing that it's effective at reducing inflammation, easing digestive pain, and eliminating bloating.
Parsley is another good digestive tonic and anti-inflammatory, and digestive bitters such as dandelion can also help. Fennel and chamomile are also known stomach soothers.
If you just can't face eating one more thing after a big meal, you can always get your peppermint, chamomile, and the rest, from herbal teas and sip instead.
Relax, Eat, and Enjoy!
The holiday season has come and gone, you're working on resolutions now, but if you find you're over-indulging in comfort foods and derailing your diet, try not to worry. Falling off the wagon in the short-term is not a big deal, and your body is good at adjusting.
If your bloat is a chronic problem however, or you're experiencing other poor digestive symptoms, then it might be time to get the professionals involved. A dietitian or nutritionist can help you create an eating plan that will heal and restore your gut, while setting up healthier habits for the long-term.
The gut is increasingly becoming known as the epicentre of our health, and keeping our digestion system at its best can help our overall wellbeing, so here's to good guts and good health in 2021!
If you're looking for resolution support, or you find your guts are griping, check out Which Doctor and book with a naturopath, nutritionist, or dietician.
Catherine Morris is an award-winning journalist with a bad case of wanderlust and a passion for all things health and wellness. Originally from Northern Ireland, she worked as a news and feature writer for media outlets in the UK, South Africa, France and the Caribbean before settling in Canada. Catherine now lives in Alberta with her husband and rescue mutt and spends her time happily exploring the great outdoors with both.