By Corrie Pikul
Research shows that about twice as many women as men report feeling like their stomach is an inflated beach ball. It doesn't help that we're also more likely to do these belly-distending things.
Besides gulping down your food (which of course you try to avoid), gulping air is the most common cause of bloating, says Patricia Raymond, MD
, a gastroenterologist and an assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. And it's really easy to do without realizing it. If you're drinking your beverage with a straw while reading this, you're doing it right now. You've also been swallowing excess air when chewing gum, sucking on hard candies, chewing on your fingernails or the ends of your hair or talking on the phone while eating. The medical term for air-swallowing is "aerophagia," says Raymond, and the connection is obvious: The air comes in through your mouth, travels down your esophagus and gets trapped in the digestive tract. Fortunately, air that exits from the opposite end of where it enters rarely has an odor, says Raymond, but it still makes you and others around you uncomfortable.
...Which happen to be the wrong foods for your small intestine. Experts have recently determined that some of the most formidable culprits of bloating and irritable bowel syndrome are small carbohydrates that aren't well absorbed in the small intestine, says Cynthia M. Yoshida, MD, a gastroenterologist in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the author of No More Digestive Problems
. They fall under the umbrella term "FODMAPs," short for "fermentable oligo-, di, mono-saccharides and polyols." Yoshida explains that these particles travel on down to the colon and large intestine where they're fermented by normal gut bacteria, forming gases that result in bloating and flatulence. Unfortunately, some of the healthiest foods we know (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, leeks, cherries, avocados, many kinds of beans--including soy, and more) contain FODMAPs. The good news is that there are many other superfoods (berries, pumpkin, leafy greens, to name a few) that are FODMAP-free. If you suffer from frequent bloating or IBS, memorize this cheat sheet developed by UVA Digestive Health Nutrition Support Services
. Yoshida says it's quickly become the go-to reference for GIs and nutritionists around the world.
Almost 50 percent of the women in one study from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine who said they routinely went on strict diets suffered from frequent bloating, compared with 20 percent of those who said they rarely or never dieted. We're not even talking about the cabbage-soup diet
that became famous-by-fax in the 1980s and has since wreaked gastrointestinal havoc
on the lives of millions of women. Anytime you drastically reduce your caloric intake, you're setting yourself up for stomach and intestinal issues, says Yoshida. Our bodies become conditioned to expect food at certain times, so skipping meals on a short-term diet throws off our highly sophisticated digestive system. Yoshida says that this can lead to constipation, which is exacerbated by the fact that many dieters neglect to take in enough water or fiber to help keep food moving. And really, what's the point of any diet that says it will help you lose 10 pounds in 7 days if it makes you look like you gained 10 pounds after one meal?
Women are more likely than men to blame their escalating stress levels
for their upset stomach and indigestion, according to the American Psychological Association. Stress contributes to bloating in a couple of different ways. First, when we're overwhelmed, we tend to do even more nail-biting, gum-chewing and smoking--all result in extra air-swallowing and, thus, bloating. Yoshida says one study found that frazzled volunteers took in three times the amount of air than those who did relaxation exercises. What's more, Yoshida says that stress makes your intestines more prone to irritation, so you'll feel blimpier even when normal amounts of gas are passing through your system. Thankfully, the same researchers found that relaxation techniques can directly slow the rate of swallowing. When your blood pressure starts to rise (or as soon as possible thereafter), try taking 10 minutes to practice progressive muscle relaxation
As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.
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