Tamara Duker Freuman a.k.a. The Bloated Belly Whisperer answers your need-to-know bloat questions so you can have a more comfortable Christmas
Deep-filled mince pies, chocolate covered yule log, sweet candy canes and crunchy gingerbread houses — the most wonderful time of the year is here again. Unfortunately, for many of us, this isn’t always the case. This wide array of rich foods and the temptation to overindulge during the festive season can cause us to feel abdominal discomfort due to bloating. And for those of us who already regularly experience bloating, we can find ourselves in even more discomfort.
According to a recent survey by digestive charity Guts UK, 53% of us frequently experience bloating and 44% of us regularly suffer with flatulence while women experience more of these symptoms than men.
The NHS claim the majority of us will have experienced bloating, describing the feeling to be when your tummy is stretched, puffy and uncomfortable. They confirm it often happens after a big weekend or over the Christmas period. But at Christmas, we don’t want to feel as though we’ve eaten all the pies — leave that for Santa.
So, how can we keep our tummy calm without missing out on the festivities? We speak to New York based dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman who explains exactly what bloating is and what we can do to avoid it.
What is bloating?
The common complaint means excess gas in the bowel can leave us feeling full, uncomfortable and even in pain. It is a symptom characterised by discomfort or pressure in the abdomen, and/or visible abdominal distension, says Tamara — otherwise known as The Bloated Belly Whisperer.
“This is usually due to relaxation of the abdominal muscles in an unconscious way to relieve discomfort,” add Guts UK.
Side effects can include:
- Excessive burping
- Excessive flatulence
- Stomach pain
- Stomach rumbling (noisy gut)
- Swollen belly
What causes bloating?
Like many gut issues, general consensus is that what may trigger bloating for one person, may be completely different for another. Tamara extensively discusses the causes of bloating in her book. She confirms while abdominal bloating is an incredibly common problem, it doesn’t always have a common cause. Some of the digestive causes originate in the stomach while others originate in the intestines which result in either feelings of fullness/pressure (subjective bloating) or visible distension (objective bloating) or both, explains Tamara.
However, she does suggest bloating is typically triggered by one or more of the following three things:
- Gas (either swallowed air or produced by the bacteria in your intestines)
“When someone has bloating, you’re usually trying to figure out whether it’s related to your GI tract’s gas burden, stool burden or its response to the presence of food,” adds Tamara.
Why do we bloat during the festive period?
Perhaps a more obvious reason we can feel bloated during Christmas is due to eating larger portions of food than normal which can lead to feelings of being overfull or acid reflux.
In addition to this, Tamara claims: “A change in diet away from higher fibre daily staples, such as salad lunches and fruit snacks, toward more indulgent seasonal foods that are lower in fibre” can be a reason also.
Consequently, this can lead to constipation, which can have a bloating effect for some people.
This time of year can be particularly challenging for those of us with lactose intolerance, adds Tamara, due to a higher intake than usual of hidden lactose in seasonal treats. Similarly, people who are fructose intolerant can find that fruit-based drinks or desserts can create excess intestinal gas, she explains.
What festive foods are the culprit?
Tamara reveals the seasonal treats most likely to induce bloating
- Christmas cookies — due to their low-fibre content.
- Meat/starch-based meals.
- Egg nogs — due to hidden lactose.
- Trifle — due to hidden lactose.
- Fruit juice.
- Honeyed or dried fruit-based drinks.
- Rum punch.
- Christmas pudding.
- Figgy pudding.
- Mince pies.
How can we deal with bloating without missing out?
Just because these foods are cruel, doesn’t mean we should have to forego the things we enjoy; we just need to go about it in the right way. The temptation to stuff our faces with a dozen Brussels sprouts and second helpings of pigs in blankets may feel good at the time, but can leave us feeling full of regret (and wind) later on. And who wants to feel like that during such a special time?
Tamara, who has been a practicing dietitian for 10 years, says: “I [encourage] my patients to pace themselves with festive meals. Often, we have a tendency to skip breakfast/lunch on Christmas Day to ‘save room’ for our Christmas meal and then we arrive starving, overeat, and feel awful.
“I advise people to try to stick to a normal meal schedule during the holidays, so they arrive hungry but not starving, fill their plate with what looks best and then take a few hours break before even considering dessert.
“Resisting the temptation to slump on the couch in a food coma after the meal and instead dragging a favourite relative outside for a 30-minute walk can also help a lot,” she explains, “some of my patients choose to pack up dessert, rather than eat it that night, then take it home to have the next morning.”
However, if the worst should happen and you feel you have overindulged, health food specialists Holland & Barrett suggest drinking lots — and no they don’t mean more alcohol.
“If you become dehydrated, your body will hang on to any fluids, which can cause bloating,” they explain, “drinking fluid during the day is a really good way to reduce bloating.”
They recommend drinking water, decaffeinated coffees and teas, herbal teas and avoiding too many fizzy drinks as they can make us feel gassy. So for every alcoholic or fizzy drink, why not have a glass of water? Drinking peppermint tea is also a good choice for decreasing bloat.
How can we prevent bloating over the festive season?
Tamara acknowledges avoiding special seasonal delights when they are shoved in our faces at our favourite coffee shops or in our office kitchens can be difficult, but she says: “Making a concerted effort to keep as many meals/snacks during December as ‘normal’ as possible will help keep your bowels moving [regularly].
“The FOMO (fear of missing out) for limited-availability holiday items is real!” exclaims Tamara.
Further, Holland & Barrett recommend going for a brisk walk as it can speed up the passage of gas going through the digestive tract. Plus, there’s nothing quite like walking off the big Christmas lunch in the cold, crisp winter air.
What can those of us with gut issues do when indulging at Christmas?
Many of us can experience bloat during the festive period, but for those of us with diagnosed gut conditions, this can be even more distressing.
”Often, I suggest people who have restricted diets due to gut issues should offer to bring a dish or dessert to Christmas meals/parties and make that item one which you know you are able to tolerate,” advises Tamara.
That way, even people who suffer from high fat or lactose intolerances get to enjoy something yummy, she says. Tamara features a variety of lower fat and low FODMAP gut-friendly dessert recipes including spiced pumpkin biscuits in her book.
Tamara’s top tips for reducing bloat
- Take a laxative each evening — Tamara explains magnesium is beneficial if your bloating seems to be related to constipation.
- Allow it to pass — “Giving your digestive system the gift of time spent upright to let it process the surplus before putting more food or drink into the pipeline is my best advice,” she says.
- Do not eat more food — “Putting more food into the system is not going to make things better,” Tamara exclaims.
- Get moving — She adds: “A walk around the block (or ten) never hurts.”
- Take an antacid or H2 blocker before bed — if you’re prone to acid reflux.
Tamara is a registered dietitian whose clinical practice focuses on the dietary management of digestive and metabolic diseases. She specialises in identifying the causes of gas, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation in patients. For this reason, she has been called “The Bloated Belly Whisperer.” Tamara took a liking to this name and made it the title of her first book which is out now. Find out more about Tamara on her website.
Bloating can occur for a variety of reasons, most of which are nothing to worry about. However, it can also be a sign of something more serious. If you are concerned, seek medical advice from your GP.
Do you experience bloating or have any tips? Get in touch.