No one wants to feel like they just ate Thanksgiving dinner, after every single meal.
Bloating and experiencing that “heavy” feeling in our stomachs is uncomfortable and irritating. Especially when we can’t figure out why it’s happening!
There was a time in my life my belly would expand to what felt like absolute maximal capacity on a regular basis. I was reacting to anything and everything I ate. So I know the feeling. And the feeling is extremely unpleasant.
What my friends and family called my buddha belly, along with a variety of health concerns, re-directed my studies in school to understanding the intricacies of the human body on a deeper level.
Although symptoms and imbalances rarely exist in isolation, a majority of imbalances do originate in the digestive system.
We could be eating the healthiest, most nutritious diet, but if our digestive system isn’t functioning properly—we are not absorbing all those important nutrients. The importance of a properly functioning, efficient digestive system cannot be underestimated.
Although there are a plethora of reasons our bellies bloat, one of the most common causes (and easily fixable solutions) is an under-active stomach due to an HCL (hydrochloric acid) deficiency.
The enzymes that are responsible for digestion are only activated in the presence of HCL in the stomach. HCL is also the first line of defense against parasites, yeast and bacteria. HCL needs to be supplied in an adequate amount to help break down our food, absorb our nutrients and reduce the undesirable belly bloat.
The release of HCL is dependent on a variety of factors:
- Stress. The stress-associated sympathetic nervous system must be switched off and the rest and digest, parasympathetic system must be switched on for HCL secretion to occur. When we’re experiencing stress and therefore in sympathetic mode, blood is directed away from the digestive tract. This reduces the secretions and enzyme activation necessary for digestion.Therefore, relaxing, taking a few deep breaths and being aware of our emotional state before meals is an excellent idea. In addition, reducing the amount of stimulants (such as caffeine) is beneficial as it also puts our bodies into sympathetic mode and contributes to an under-active stomach. Yoga, meditation, taking care of ourselves and all that important mindfulness jazz are great ways to send some love to our bellies and reduce the frequency and severity of bloating.
- Food chewing capabilities. This may sound obvious, but in our fast paced society we are often eating in a rush and lean to the side of inhaling our food versus actually chewing our food. Many of us do our work, take care of our families, drive and eat, somehow, simultaneously. The sight, smell, anticipation, as well as, chewing our food adequately all get those necessary gastric juices flowing! Slow down. Only eat while you eat. Chew your food completely. Eat only when hungry.
- Poor Diet. Processed, food-like food, is extremely devoid in those natural enzymes that living, whole food readily contains. These enzymes are destroyed during processing. Therefore, the body has to work even harder to break down these foods and eventually becomes exhausted and contributes to an under-active stomach. (This principle also applies to chronically eating huge quantities of food at once. Or eating just one big meal a day). Increasing consumption of whole, living, natural foods will naturally take some of the burden off the stomach. As well as eating smaller, more frequent meals. Taking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice before meals will also help to prepare the stomach for food and increase HCL production.
- Age. The production of HCL in the stomach naturally decreases with age. Since reversing time isn’t an option, the importance of taking even better care of our sweet selves as the years go by is of the upmost importance! Keeping stress minimal, eating a nutritious diet, maintaining an active healthy lifestyle are all vital components of the recipe to a functioning digestive system. Whether it be due to age or excess life stress, there are times in our lives we just need a little extra support. Temporarily supplementing with HCL before meals improves digestion and absorption. This strengthens the digestive tissues, reducing bloating and contributes to an all around healthier human.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are a variety of other factors that cause and underachieving stomach and therefore bloating—factors such as low thyroid function, bacteria imbalance or food allergies. But I believe starting with the basics (reducing stress, chewing properly, and eating a nutrient rich diet) is an excellent place to start.
Lessard-Rhead, B. (2013). Nutritional Pathology. Richmond Hill, Ontario: CSNN.
Howell, E. (1985). Enzyme nutrition: The food enzyme concept. Penguin.
Bonus: 11 Tips to Mindful Eating
Author: Alexa Torontow
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Author’s Own