There’s nothing like a case of the bloats to make you completely miserable. Whether it’s because you ate too much, you’re retaining water, your gut isn’t working as it should, or you’re PMSing, it’s hard to go about your day when you feel like a balloon.
That uncomfortable, puffy feeling is enough to send most people to the couch for the duration, but there are many easy, natural ways (including just watching what you eat) to deflate and feel normal again.
What causes bloating
Bloating symptoms stem from digestive issues (a gas or an air bubble in the abdomen, or a problem in your GI tract). Puffiness is due to swelling or edema and is caused by fluid retention from excess salt. Any of these issues—or a combination of them—can cause that awful feeling.
- FODMAP sensitivity
- Excessive salt intake
- Bad circulation
- Overindulging in fatty foods
- Eating too fast
- Sitting or standing for long periods
- Chewing gum
- Using a straw
- Abruptly increasing your fiber intake
- Slow kidney function
- Protein deficiency
- Physical inactivity or overactivity
- Low B vitamin levels
- Food allergies
- Oral contraceptives
- Carbonated beverages
If you have chronic bloating, it’s a good idea to check in with a healthcare professional to make sure a larger medical issue isn’t at play. If it’s occasional or mild bloating that’s plaguing you, avoiding certain foods and drinks (and turning to others) can help you feel normal—and button your pants—again.
What to avoid when you’re bloated
If your belly’s feeling bloated, take a day off from these foods and drinks. This is tricky because many of them (like kale, garlic, cauliflower and seltzer water) are otherwise-healthy staples. But due to their chemical make-up, they can make you feel worse when you’re already bloated.
- If you’re retaining water, you’ll want to avoid salt (which is extra difficult to do if your swelling is due to PMS and you’re craving potato chips…)
- Carbonation can increase discomfort—although I’ve found carbonated water can help you burp, which may help alleviate symptoms (so ladylike, I know)
- Certain spices: Black pepper, nutmeg, cloves, chili powder
- Spicy foods (sorry, Sriracha)
- Limit onions and garlic, and other high FODMAP foods
- Vinegar-y condiments like mustard, barbecue sauce, horseradish, ketchup and tomato sauce
- Dairy products (with the exception of probiotics like yogurt and kefir)
- Tofu and soy products
- Crucifers like Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage and cauliflower (especially raw)
- Legumes like beans, peanuts and lentils
- Sugar and sugar substitutes (including plant-based sweeteners)
- Fruit juices
What to eat + drink to beat bloating
Turn to these foods and beverages to help you deflate:
- Water! Water! Water!
- Chia seeds
- Diuretics like celery, parsley, romaine lettuce, pineapple, grapes, beets, melons, cucumbers and asparagus
- Potassium-rich foods like peas, sweet potatoes, winter squash, kiwi and bananas
- Cooked or steamed veggies (cooking will make them easier on your digestive system)
- Yogurt and kefir
- Dried fruits like raisins take up less space in your GI tract than fresh fruits
- Rosemary, basil, mint, turmeric
- Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa (avoid if your bloating is due to a recent increase in fiber intake)
A day’s worth of bloat-busting recipes
Infused water: Infusing your H2O with fruits, veggies and herbs will encourage you to drink more. Fill a pitcher in the morning, and you’re all set.
Healthy Apple-Cinnamon Chia Seed Pudding: Green apples help regulate your gut, while chia and cinnamon are anti-inflammatory.
Tropical Watermelon, Pineapple and Mango Smoothie: Pineapple is also anti-inflammatory and helps beat bloating, and coconut water includes potassium.
Liver + Gallbladder Flush Juice: Celery, lemon and dandelion greens will provide a ton of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, and will help you to rehydrate. Omit the lemon if the acid will upset your stomach more.
Creamy Vegan Butternut Squash Soup: This vegan soup is filling but won’t leave you feeling even more bloated. Add some rice crackers and steamed/roasted beets or carrots on the side if you like.
Mango-Kiwi Homemade Fruit Rolls: Feel full (and get nutrients) with dried fruit, which takes up less space in your GI tract than fresh.
Ginger Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Tzatziki: Mild romaine, combined with anti-inflammatory ginger, hydrating cucumbers and probiotic-rich yogurt, makes for a substantial but soothing meal. Add a side of rice or quinoa for more sustenance.
Probiotic Smoothie with Kefir: Get your digestion back on track with this hydrating savory smoothie.
Turmeric Tea: Drink this before bed to decompress and de-bloat.
Natural ways to de-bloat
I know you don’t want to hear this, but…exercise is a great way to de-bloat. Plus, that serotonin boost is priceless, which is a bonus if you’re CWB (crabby when bloated) like I am.
Getting a massage can also be a great, and relaxing way, to ease fluid retention. Avoid temperature extremes if at all possible. If you’re retaining fluid in your ankles or feet, prop them up above your heart.
Another way to de-bloat is to do a castor oil pack. Legend (and anecdotal evidence) has it that this simple home remedy helps move everything through the liver and gut, heals inflammation, improves circulation, makes you more regular, and aids lymphatic function. A naturopath told me about this, and it has seriously changed my life.
How to do a castor oil pack
Important: You’re not supposed to do a castor oil pack if you’re pregnant or menstruating. During the pre-menstrual period, cramps are totally fine, though. If your periods are irregular, you might even find doing occasional castor oil packs can help them become more consistent.
- Castor oil – make sure to use a cold-pressed variety like this
- Flannel – you can cut up a piece of clean flannel, wool or cotton, or buy one like this and cut it. You’ll need a small square big enough to cover either your abdomen or your liver area. I usually go with a 5″x5″ piece.
- Hot water bottle or heating pad
- Glass jar or dish
- A large old towel (you may need 2)
- Plastic wrap or a plastic bag – you’ll need enough to more than cover your flannel square
- *TMI, but I usually just get naked to do this—if that’s not an option, wear clothes that you won’t mind getting stained with castor oil. It will stain!
- Set up your towel underneath where you’ll sit or lay: on a couch, on the floor, in a bed or chair, etc.
- Turn on your heating pad (medium heat is good) or get your hot water bottle ready.
- In a glass jar or dish, soak the flannel in a tablespoon of castor oil at a time, until it’s pretty saturated but not soaked.
- Lie down on the towel(s) and place the flannel square over the affected area. You can either put it over your abdomen or over your liver (just below your right breast). Fold over any extra fabric.
- Place the plastic wrap or plastic bag over the flannel, ensuring all the flannel and oil are covered.
- Place the hot water bottle or heating pad over the plastic and let sit for 45-60 minutes while you relax, read or watch TV. (I prop myself up in a chair to do this while I catch up on all the articles I’ve bookmarked throughout the week.
- Remove the pack and gently set aside on a sink, bathtub or towel.
- I usually do a castor oil pack right before I’m going to take a shower, but you can clean the area with water and a bit of baking soda to remove the oil.
- Save the castor oil pack in a plastic bag or glass jar in the fridge, or another cool, dry place. You can reuse it about 5-10 times before making a new one—just add a little more oil next time.
My naturopath recommended doing a castor oil pack 3 consecutive nights/week (for up to a month) during intense periods of bloating.
Right now I do them 2 nights/week twice a month, and I’m sure I feel a difference the days after I do one! I wake up with more energy and definitely feel less bloated and lighter.
Have you ever done a castor oil pack? What did you think?134