During high school, I began to struggle with constant constipation and bloating. Often the pain was severe enough that I would feel faint and need to go home. I told everyone I had menstrual cramps because that was relatable and far less embarrassing that what I was really dealing with!
For 15 years, I lived with the constipation, pain and bloating, thinking it was just normal that some people had easy digestion and others like me were destined to have poor digestion. I decided it would be my normal to work from home often, cancel plans, to never wear high-waisted jeans, and to never know what pain a day would bring.
Then I started learning more about healthy eating, and realized others were not dealing with this same issue. I learned about gut bacteria, leaky gut syndrome, healing the gut lining, and the repercussions of letting waste sit in the gut too long (hello liver and hormone issues!). I decided to fix my issue and learn to manage my symptoms. I was also just so tired of allowing IBS-C to limit my life!
It took years. Years of experimenting and researching and learning. It was probably the most frustrating experience of my life. I started with a Whole 30, and while I felt better after 30 days, it did not resolve my IBS-C. So I gave up and went back to my old way of eating. I learned more about the gut lining and the damage I had likely done by unhealthy eating, rounds of antibiotics, a decade of hormonal birth control, and stress, so I decided to try another Whole 30. I then continued to be paleo, and still experienced frequent bloating and IBS-C flare ups. I became even more restrictive with my diet – trying autoimmune paleo protocol – and focused on stress relief. I would experience days of relief and celebrate that I had finally found the answer, only to have flare-ups again. I gave up and recommitted myself so many times.
And just like that, the days between flare-ups increased, and suddenly, experiencing constipation and bloating became a rarity for me! When I became pregnant, I watched my belly expand waiting for the time when it felt just as large as my daily non-pregnant, bloated belly, and I reached that point at 18 weeks and 6 days pregnant! Unacceptable.
Obviously, this belly comes without pain and my body is actively trying to expand to accommodate. But imagine the belly going from flat to nearly 19 weeks pregnant over the course of one day and it is no wonder it was so painful! So for anyone living with the same bloating, constipation, and pain, I understand your frustration and I offer my tips and insight on how I live in hopes that this brings you closer to living a bloat-free life!
Tips For Beating Your Bloating
Learn which foods do not work for your specific body and eliminate them. The best way to do this is through an elimination diet and careful journaling. You can try a Whole 30, a vegetarian diet, a paleo diet, etc., but understand that even foods within the “okay” lists for these diets may cause problems for you (see my list below for examples). Experiment and stick with it, as this is a HUGE factor!
Heal your gut. If you have unhealthy eating habits, took antibiotics in the past, use hormonal birth control, or have constantly eaten foods that do not work for your body, focus on healing your gut. Consume bone broth, nutrient-dense foods, and fermented foods to give your gut a chance!
Reduce inflammation. This means manage your stress, avoid pro-inflammatory foods, and eat lots of anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric!
Hydrate. Drink at least half your weight in ounces per day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces of water per day. Increase with exercise, heat or caffeine consumption.
Exercise regularly. Exercise, especially twisting stretches, can keep things moving!
Prefer warm, cooked foods over raw foods. Warm, cooked foods are easier on the digestion and can help keep you regular.
Eat enough whole food fiber. If you eat a diet full of vegetables and whole foods, you should get enough fiber without needing a supplement. I also add in lots of chia seeds to my diet (through smoothies) to get even more whole food fiber.
My Specific Food Choices
Every person is different, and each person may get bloated from different foods. Just to give you insight on how varied it can be, I have put my particular diet choices to help keep me regular below. As a starting point, I already avoid processed and fake foods, including sugars, white flours, food dyes, etc. as part of a healthy diet.
No dairy. This means no milk, yogurt, cheese, or butter (except on rare occasions). Most people are lactose-intolerant and can benefit from reducing dairy products.
Minimize nightshades. These cause inflammation for me. I will eat white potatoes and paprika a couple times a week, and products with small amounts of tomatoes a couple times a month. I do not eat eggplant or red and green bell peppers.
Avoid gluten. I am not allergic, but I find gluten makes me bloated and tired. I will eat really good bread every now and then, but it is not a weekly occurrence.
Choose my gluten-free grains carefully. I eat sprouted quinoa and wild rice. I do not eat farro, oats (even gluten-free), corn, or other gluten-free grains. I will eat brown rice sometimes when I am dining out and it is the best option.
Avoid legumes, except chickpeas. Chickpeas work for my body and I try to eat them sprouted when I do have them. I do not have them daily though, and I avoid all other legumes.
Watch the gluten-free substitutes. There are lots of gluten-free options out there, and because I cannot eat nuts, most of my options are made from coconut or cassava flour. However, these flours are quite drying and require a lot of water. I make sure to only have small amounts and avoid completely if I am already feeling constipated.
Avoid regular coffee. For some people, caffeine helps with constipation, but if it is causing you anxiety or sleep issues, it is likely also causing inflammation. I personally cannot drink regular coffee anymore without feeling uneasy, so I avoid.
Regularly consume fermented foods. I eat sauerkraut and drink kombucha daily. I also recently started taking a probiotic.
Minimize raw vegetables. I never eat raw kale (that includes all those kale salads), broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, or onion. All of these must be cooked for me. Overall, I also try to prefer warm, cooked foods over raw foods to help with digestion.
Minimize garlic and onions. A little known cause of digestive issues, but are usually found everywhere. If you have tried everything else and still need help, try eliminating or minimizing garlic and onions! When you do have them, try them cooked instead of raw.
Strategies for Flare Up Relief
Even with all of the above, sometimes constipation and bloating hit, especially if I have chosen to indulge in a good piece of GLUTEN bread! I have especially been dealing with this during pregnancy as the hormones impact digestion. Usually continuing with my diet above will resolve any issue, but if I need extra help, I will eat 1 or 2 prunes before bed, drink hot lemon water or bulletproof decaf coffee (for the MCT oil) first thing in the morning, and/or add extra chia seeds (2 tablespoons) to a smoothie.