I see many people with a wide range of digestive digestive issues - heartburn, constipation, stomach pain, cramping and diarrhoea.
But what the one thing that gets mentioned most often?
Even people who don't have any of those other issues can still complain of bloating. It's such a common issue. So if stomach bloating is something you struggle with - read on to discover: one of the main causes of stomach bloating.
Admittedly there are many reasons why you may be suffering from bloating but there is one thing that you can do to help reduce stomach bloating that I recommend to almost every client I see. And it couldn't be more simple! If you want to reduce bloating after eating then ...
Chew, chew and then chew some more!
Is that all there is to it?
Yes. And here's why.
Digestion starts in the mouth. It's where the food gets physically broken down by your teeth. But it's also where it gets chemically broken down by the enzymes in your saliva, particularly the carbohydrates.
The longer the food stays in the mouth the more the complex carbohydrates get broken down into simple sugars - the form they need to be to be easily absorbed.
When you think about it - it makes perfect sense. If you swallowed something whole you wouldn't be surprised if you got a painful, bloated stomach. You'd expect your digestive system to struggle.
Yet the majority of us quite happily swallow whole pieces of food and then wonder why we become bloated after eating.
We eat far too quickly.
We chomp, chomp, swallow and the food makes only a passing acquaintance with this vital, first stage of digestion.
If you eat too quickly, only giving passing lip-service to chewing, you essentially miss out the first stage of digestion. The food doesn't get broken down adequately either physically or chemically, and this can only cause digestive problems.
Problems in the form of gas and stomach bloating often with pain or discomfort.
If you think of your digestive system like a factory - a production line with a specific function taking place at each stage along the line. The raw materials come in at one end - all packed-up. They need to be separated out before you can start to build anything with them.
The first thing to do is to unpack them. If you don't do this you can't expect the factory to run smoothly. Similarly, if you don't break down the food in your mouth you're likely to experience problems further down the line.
We do chew our food. We just don't chew it well enough. And it's usually the carbohydrates that we have difficulty with.
Have you ever tried chewing spaghetti?
I mean REALLY chewing it.
Chewing it till it is indistinguishable in your mouth, broken down by your teeth and 'dissolved' by your saliva. It doesn't happen unless you take time to think about it. And usually we don't think about chewing because we don't appreciate the importance of it.
We eat mindlessly.
In fact for many of us, the one time we don't think about food is when we are eating it!
It's not just spaghetti that poses a problem.
Do you chew mashed potatoes?
Probably not. We generally swallow those things whole.
What about soup or the ever-fashionable smoothie?
Physically broken down - yes. But chemically broken down - NO.
So the carbohydrates are still in their complex form. They haven't been broken down in to simple sugars which are easily processed further along the digestive tract.
So your digestive system struggles. If the carbohydrates are not absorbed they can begin to ferment in the gut, causing gas and bloating. Especially if your gut flora is out of balance.
I'm not suggesting you chew soups and smoothies but slowing everything down will certainly help. Keeping food in your mouth long enough for the first stage of digestion to take place can make a huge difference to how you feel later on.
This all sounds very simple
Chew your food. It's a simple remedy for bloating that doesn't involve changing what you eat or taking medication.
Is that really all there is to it?
Well ... no.
There are other reasons why people experience abdominal bloating and I would always recommend being checked by your GP to rule out anything serious: coeliac disease, issues with the pancreas, gallbladder, liver, ovaries or a serious gastric condition such as Crohn's disease. Stomach pain and bloating may also be the result of a food sensitivity or intolerance.
But for many people it is simply down to the fact that they're eating too quickly.
Taking time to chew food well is something you can do in your own time, to improve your digestion and ultimately improve your health.
We live in a society where little time is given to eating.
This is unnatural.
As a small child you probably ate slowly, chewed everything well and stopped eating when you were satisfied. That's how it should be. Of course modern life often dictates that our eating gets squashed in to a time frame that doesn't allow for long lingering mealtimes.
And so you've probably been eating too quickly for most of your life.
When my children were small, I was as guilty as anyone of encouraging them to eat too quickly - waiting impatiently with the next spoonful before they had finished the last. I trained my children to eat fast - because that's what I did. For me food was often eaten on the run!
And when you get in to that habit even when you do take the time to enjoy a meal your chewing is still going to be too fast.
Sometimes people do take a long time to eat but they are simply taking time BETWEEN each mouthful rather than taking time OVER each mouthful. (This might be you. Especially if you're the chatty one at the table.) But there is a difference. It's the length of time that the food is in the mouth that counts.
Allow the food to be digested in your mouth and you're much less likely to experience a stuffed, bloated stomach after eating.
So ask yourself ...
If you answer 'yes' then you've got lots of opportunities to make a difference.
If you answer 'no' to those questions you're heading in the right direction.
But do you swallow food that's still recognisable?
If you do, then try slowing down the rate that you chew being sure that all the food in your mouth is mush before you swallow it. That could be all it takes to get rid of bloating for good.
Easier said than done eh? You've been eating to quickly for your whole life.
How do you change the habit of a lifetime?
The first step is to develop an awareness of what's happening when you eat.
Understanding the process of digestion will help you to eat more mindfully and therefore more slowly.
And to practice.
It can take three weeks of concentrated effort to develop a new habit. But this is one that's really worth developing, particularly if you're suffering from bloating and pain.
Knowing that eating quickly could cause you to experience bloating and gas makes it so much easier to develop the good habit of eating slowly and chewing your food well.
Why not experiment?
Go from one extreme to the other. Eat something really quickly and see how you feel. Then eat the same thing the following day really slowly. Chew until it's liquid in your mouth and see how you feel after that.
If you are bloated then I recommend looking more closely at what you're eating as you may be intolerant to something such as cow's milk or wheat.
You may be over-eating or you may be eating the wrong combination of foods for your system. You may also have an imbalance of gut flora which can be treated with dietary changes and good probiotic supplements. (More on that later)
But for some people eating mindfully and chewing food well is all it takes to stop getting a bloated belly.
It's amazing the difference chewing can make to stomach bloating.
What else would help?
Taking smaller mouthfuls so that the ratio of food to saliva improves.
Always putting your cutlery down between mouthfuls.
Thinking about what you're eating.
Stop eating as soon as you're comfortably satisfied. Don't eat in front of the TV or at your desk. Oh and did I mention ... ?
Are why exactly does eating too quickly cause stomach bloating?
Well, yes. There are a number of reasons. When you chew, not only are you beginning to digest your food in your mouth so that it's in the right form when it arrives in the stomach and small intestine, you're also sending a message to your stomach that food is on its way.
In fact this process begins as soon as you anticipate the food in front of you, even before you've taken a mouthful. Just thinking about the flavour and smelling the appetising aroma will cause you to salivate.
And as you salivate and then begin to taste and chew your food your stomach responds - preparing to accept the food that's about to arrive.
This process takes time.
If you bolt your food your stomach won't be ready to receive it.
Your digestion will suffer. And you'll get abdominal bloating. You need to give your body time to create the right environment to digest your food properly - time to release enough stomach acid, digestive enzymes and bile.
If food is not broken down properly in the initial stages of digestion (the mouth and the stomach) when it arrives in the small intestine it can cause a lot of problems including gas, bloating and acidity.
Basically the chemistry is all wrong. The particles of food are too large for the small intestine to cope with and so they begin to ferment, cause inflammation that affects the lining of the gut, or be so unrecognisable that they're treated as allergens.
But the good news is ...
Uncomfortable and painful belly bloating can be reduced dramatically simply by chewing your food well.
The other thing to be aware of is that it takes a good twenty minutes for the brain to register that the stomach is full - so if you eat too quickly you'll probably eat more than your stomach can cope with.
So slow down your eating.
Pay attention to the sensation of fullness.
And stop eating when you feel comfortably full.
As you take the pressure off your digestive system you'll naturally eat the amount your body needs. This is a great way to reduce abdominal bloating and a healthy way to look after your weight too!
Maybe, like I did, you think that you do chew properly. Well here's some guidelines you can follow to see if it makes a difference. It's a good idea to practice this on your own so you can really focus on what you're doing. Once it becomes a habit it's easier to do it in company.
It can take some time to develop a habit. Once you have - the habit will stay with you.
How to get rid of bloating and chew your way to a flat stomach -
Admittedly this is pretty extreme. And it might take you twice or even three times as long to eat - so you do need to make time for that.
But there's a lot to be gained from making time to eat properly.
Often when we are developing new habits it pays to go from one extreme to the other so that when you relax about it you drift in to a happy balance somewhere in between - never fully returning to the old bad habit.
If you practice eating in this way consciously you will find that, in time, it becomes unconscious and natural. And having a flat stomach free from bloating and gas can become natural too.
So there you have it.
Want to be free from stomach bloating?
Perhaps all you need to do is ... CHEW.