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What the Bloat!?

Is that post-meal belly bulge or that need to unbutton your pants after eating becoming all too familiar? Let's explore why this happens so often and is common to so many of us.

Bloating: the sensation of gas being trapped in the digestive system. Unlike weight gain in the belly, bloating tends to come and go, typically occurring after meals. Bloating can coincide with similarly unpleasant symptoms of excess burping, flatus, reflux and/or indigestion

Common causes of post-meal bloat can include:

Poor eating habits

Eating on the go, in front of work or while watching TV is one of the most common ways to disrupt our digestive process. Distracted eating shifts our body’s nervous system into “fight or flight” and out of “rest and digest” mode. Eating in “fight or flight” mode directs blood away from the digestive system to the brain and muscles and interferes with the release of digestive enzymes and the coordinated movements of the gastrointestinal tract.

Mindful Eating is the first step to healthy digestion. It starts with eating on a regular schedule, without distraction, while taking time to see, smell, taste and connect with your food. This helps to get your body into “rest and digest mode” and to properly kick-start the digestive process.

Low stomach acid

Our stomach produces acid for the purpose of killing bacteria in our food, to activate digestive enzymes, break down protein and absorb nutrients. Without healthy levels of stomach acid, our digestive tract is vulnerable to infection and bacterial fermentation which is often the source of excess gas production and bloating.

Low stomach acid is a major factor in SIBO and food sensitivity, both common causes of bloating (see below). Bloating caused by low stomach acid tends to be felt in the upper digestive system and is often accompanied by symptoms of indigestion (feeling like food is stuck), reflux and heart burn.

Food sensitivity

Unlike a food "allergy" where the immune reaction is severe and immediate (ex. anaphylaxis, hives, swelling), food sensitivities are immune reactions that tend to be delayed and moderate in nature.

Whereas food allergies are immediate and can be life-threatening, food sensitivity reactions can occur hours after consuming food, and the symptoms tend to be more moderate and easily missed. Often times, food sensitivities translate into symptoms such as fatigue, joint pain, headache, eczema, and brain fog in addition to bloating and digestive discomfort.

Food intolerance

Unlike a food allergy or sensitivity, food intolerance is not an immune reaction but an inability to digest certain foods (ex. lactose intolerance) due to an insufficiency of enzymes to breakdown certain foods (ex. lactase for digesting lactose sugar in milk). Whereas bloating caused by food sensitivity tends to occur hours later, bloating caused by food intolerance tends to occur within a few hours along with nausea, flatulence and/or diarrhea.


Our large intestine houses trillions of bacteria, from over a thousand species, all of which work to keep our digestive system in check. In addition to our gut health, these bacteria play a significant role in keeping our immune, hormonal and nervous systems functioning properly.

When our gut bacteria is out of balance, usually due to stress, poor diet, and antibiotic use, dysbiosis can cause bloating, irregular bowel movements and digestive upset. However, because our gut bacteria also influences our immune and nervous system, dysbiosis has also been associated with autoimmune disease such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), depression and anxiety, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.


As more research is coming to light, what we once knew as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) is now being associated with SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). SIBO is when bacteria improperly colonizes our small intestine and wreaks havoc. One of the key signs of SIBO is bloating that worsens through the day as we eat more meals, and diarrhea, constipation or an alternation between the two.

What to do?

Many of us have suffered from the discomfort and embarrassment of bloating, but the key to the cure is figuring out what the cause is. Set up an appointment to figure out what the bloat is when it comes to your belly and how to effectively treat it without the daily Pepto.

In Health & Wellness,

Dr. Sophia Ma, ND


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