Dancers spend most of their days moving. Because of this, feeling “bloated” can be a major distraction. “Bloat” is a feeling of discomfort that often involves gas, stomach distention, and constipation. Discomfort or “bloat” can result from a multitude of factors like eating past fullness, high levels of stress, and even long-term antibiotic use. Certain individuals, such as those with preexisting digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, might be more prone to bloating than the general population.
We can also experience a distended belly after eating foods that we’ve previously limited or deemed “off-limits.” This physical discomfort is a very normal (and temporary) response when working through the steps towards food freedom. But oftentimes, we confuse this physical discomfort as being intolerant of the food. We’re often instructed to adjust our eating as a way to alleviate the discomfort. Through this “prescribed restriction” can emerge disordered eating habits (a topic I dive deeper into here). Eating past fullness is also an experience that can happen when learning how to eat in attunement with our body’s needs. Through trial and error, experiencing this discomfort might be part of the journey when relearning how to satisfy your hunger cues. But unfortunately, the Wellness Industry conditions us to feel high levels of guilt and shame from such experiences.
#1: Start A Food Diary
The obvious reason? To identify foods that trigger discomfort. Pay attention to how certain foods make you feel. Perhaps you feel more energized from starting your morning with eggs rather than with cereal. Take notice of patterns – this can be a helpful indicator of not only which foods to eat throughout the day, but also of when certain foods might be less likely to cause discomfort. For example, a high-fiber snack minutes before class might feel suboptimal. But starting your day with a high-fiber breakfast followed by ample time to digest is another story.
#2: Keep It Consistent
In addition to identifying trigger foods, hunger in-of-itself is a major trigger of stomach discomfort and bloat. Fuel your body throughout the day with multiple meals and snacks to prevent prolonged periods of an empty stomach. I often encourage a flexible meal plan as a helpful tool for busy schedules.
#3: Banish The “Good” vs “Bad” Thoughts
Counselors of Intuitive Eating sometimes refer to these thoughts as “The Food Police.” Have you ever felt guilty after eating dessert? Maybe you felt shame for overdoing the pizza one night? Rather than viewing foods as morally “good” or “bad,” view them as foods that make you feel physically well versus physically unwell. These demoralizing thoughts can contribute to anxiety, which is shown to worsen stomach discomfort.
#4: Stop Over-Exercising
Joyful movement is not the same as strenuous exercise. Overdoing the latter can direct blood away from your digestive tract as a means to keep up with your moving body. If your stomach discomfort is happening after bouts of hardcore workouts, then consider tuning it down a notch.
#5: Focus on Satisfaction
There are major differences between physical fullness and true satisfaction. Understanding these differences can help to identify a source for your bloat, espeically if occurring after larger meals. Sure, a big ol’ bowl of salad is packed with nourishing vitamins and minerals. But if it’s leaving you feeling uncomfortable physically, then consider a smaller nutrient-dense option like an avocado sanwich with sliced turkey.
#6: Use Gentle Nutrition To Improve Discomfort
There are a few common qualities that might make a food more prone to cause bloating, especially in sensitive individuals.
- Fiber- while the benefits of a fibrous diet are vast, sensitive individuals may have difficulty digesting high-fiber foods.
- FODMAPs, which stand for fructo- oligo- di saccharides and polyols, are a group of carbohydrates found in certain foods like apples, onions, garlic, and some grains. For sensitive individuals, such as those with IBS, FODMAPs can pass through the digestive tract largely intact, ending up in the large intestine to be fermented by gut bacteria. Since FODMAPS are commonly found in various fruits and veggies, the combination with fiber can result in worsening gas and bloat. You can learn more about FODMAPs here.
- Sugar alcohols, such as xylitol, which are commonly used in sugar-free foods, are a common cause of bloating even for those without major gastric sensitivities.
- Carbonation, such as that in seltzer and sodas, can result in the entrapment of carbon dioxide in the gut. The result? Gas and bloat!
- Sodium- Foods high in sodium can result in temporary water-retention.
Furthermore, there are a few common qualities that might make certain foods reduce bloat and/or alleviate discomfort.
- Foods high in potassium, such as tomatoes and avocados, can help to counteract water-intention from foods that are higher in sodium.
- Foods with high water content, such as strawberries, cucumbers, celery, and summer squash can help to flush your digestive tract, speeding the passage of food that may otherwise cause constipation, gas, and bloat.
- Sprouted grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes are soaked and rinsed in a process that greatly improves their digestibility and increases nutrient availability.
- Eating cooked veggies versus raw veggies will help since the cooking process also improves digestibility.
Lastly, in my experience working with dancers, I’ve found some foods and habits to help further alleviate bloat and stomach discomfort. It’s important to realize, however, that much of what we experience is largely individual. As a result, it’s best to assess your circumstance and consult with a licensed practitioner before attempting to remove foods from your diet.
- Drink plain water throughout the day.
- Choose sprouted legumes and/or bread when financially feasible.
- Pair snacks with celery and cucumbers to increase your overall water consumption throughout the day.
- Try avocados. They’re high in potassium and are a great option to combat sodium-related water retention.
- While it’s encouraged to consult with a medical doctor before assuming one has a gluten-intolerance, gluten-free starches like quinoa and buckwheat can be easier to digest for individuals with gluten sensitivities.