The ins and outs of gut health, part two

By Jackie Rainford Corcoran
Explore Big Sky Health Columnist

Belly bloat is a common complaint these days. Even my clients with wholesome diets express frustration with their protruding abdomens.

It’s important to recognize the difference between belly bloat and belly fat. According to Dr. Robynne Chutkan, a gastroenterologist and author of the book “Gutbliss,” bloating often changes the shape of the abdomen throughout the day, while belly fat stays fairly consistent.

If you’re not sure which you have, Chutkan suggests measuring your waistline every morning and evening for several consecutive days. With belly fat, the number shouldn’t change by more than an inch. However if you’re bloated, the number will vary quite a bit.

If belly bloat is expanding your tummy like a balloon, rest assured that diet and lifestyle can often resolve the issue. Let’s look at some common reasons why bloating happens and what we can do about it.

Eating too quickly can cause food residue to get caught in the colon and the body can’t fully break down certain foods (which are different for everyone). The partially digested food then begins fermenting and creates gas. Prevent this by chewing thoroughly and noticing which foods trigger bloating.

Imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gut due to medications like antibiotics can wreak havoc on the digestive system as well. While antibiotics wipe out the bacteria that make us sick, they also destroy good bacteria that aid digestion. Probiotics can help.

According to Dr. Andrew Weil, a pioneer in integrative medicine, when taking over-the-counter probiotics – as long as you’re not allergic – choose brands that contain Bacillus coagulans (BC-30) or Lactobacillus GG with “colony forming units” in the billions are best. Check the expiration date to ensure the bacteria are still alive. Foods like yogurt with active cultures, kefir, natural pickles and sauerkraut can also help rebalance gut bacteria.

Constipation happens when the bowels are packed and gas is getting trapped. Staying hydrated with filtered water – unfiltered water may contain irritants that further disrupt digestion – exercising regularly and eating naturally high-fiber foods like vegetables helps prevent constipation and its companion, belly bloat.

Stress can cause inflammation in the digestive system, which leads to bloating and other digestive disorders. Learning simple techniques including conscious breathing and muscle relaxation is an incredibly powerful, safe and free way to promote gut health.

Severe belly bloat should not be ignored. If you’re experiencing abdominal pain, bleeding, unexplained weight loss or gain, constant constipation or diarrhea, see your physician.

“All disease begins in the gut,” said Hippocrates, often considered the father of Western medicine. While we can be strong and beautiful without perfectly flat abs, we should pay close attention to belly bloat, a clear signal from our bodies something is not quite right. The good news is that while diet or lifestyle can often cause belly bloat, they may also be its solution.

Stay tuned for my next article that takes a closer look at the gluten debate.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, public speaker and health activist. Contact her at jackie@thetahealth.org, or find more at thetahealth.org.