Why do you feel bloated after all that rich food? How do you ease the discomfort?
If you’re planning to indulge yourself this festive month, read this. And take note: It’s not just overeating that leads to bloating – rushing to finish your work before going on leave won’t help, either.
You know you’ve overeaten when you’re feeling as bloated as Harry Potter’s Aunt Marjorie Dursley – the one the teen wizard inflated out of anger over her rude remarks about his parents.
And like Balloon Aunt Marge, it is literally gas that is giving you that uncomfortable, stuffed-as-a-turkey feeling – something you’d want to avoid during the Christmas festivities.
“Eating is a common cause of bloating because when the body digests food, it produces gas. Chronically constipated people normally produce a higher amount of gas,” said Dr Kewin Siah, consultant at National University Hospital’s Division of Gastroenterology & Hepatology. “People also swallow air when eating or drinking, which then enters the gastrointestinal tract.”
Another factor could be your stomach itself. “The stomach may not be able to expand quickly enough to accommodate the large amount of food. The stomach may not be emptying efficiently the contents to the small intestine,” said Dr Gwee Kok Ann, consultant gastroenterologist from Stomach Liver and Bowel Clinic at Gleneagles Hospital.
HOW MUCH FOOD IS TOO MUCH FOOD – FOR MEN AND WOMEN?
If you’re thinking men can, well, stomach more food than women, not really. “The stomach capacity of women appear to be similar to that of men,” said Dr Gwee.
The adult stomach, when it is contracted, has a volume of only 75ml, he said. “But the stomach can expand to as much as four litres. Furthermore, it has been found that people who are used to binge eating may have a bigger stomach capacity than those who are not.”
Maximum capacity aside, bloat can also be determined by how sensitive your stomach is. “Some people feel bloated with a little food, but some will not feel bloated even with a lot of food,” said Dr Siah.
LACTOSE INTOLERANCE ADDS TO THE BLOAT
As much as 90 per cent of Singaporeans may have varying degrees of lactose intolerance. “This is a situation when we may feel bloated, nauseous, and could even experience abdominal pain, diarrhoea and flatulence,” said Dr Gwee.
That is a lot of people feeling gassy on a regular day because which Singaporean doesn’t love his or her kopi, teh tarik, bubble milk tea or ice cream?
Even if you’re one of the lucky few who can tolerate milk and cheese, feasting on large amounts of dairy-laden Christmas food and drinks might induce lactose intolerance. And yes, you can even develop it later in life.
Christmas goodies also fit the bill when it comes to rich and fatty food. And here’s how they can turn up the bloat factor: “Fat requires more time to digest than protein or carbohydrates, so it keeps the stomach full longer,” said Dr Siah.
“We also consume large amounts of carbonated beverages and sweets, which increase bloating,” he said. Added Dr Gwee: “Alcohol beverages such as beer, especially those with high wheat content, can cause bloating.”
RUSHING WORK BEFORE THE YEAR-END HOLIDAYS ALSO LEADS TO BLOAT
Finishing up year-end reports and tying up loose ends in the office before you go on leave can be stressful. You may lose or disrupt your normal sleep cycle. You may also skip meals or eat later to get things done.
“Lack of sleep can affect digestion by causing constipation, and making the stomach and intestine more sensitive,” said Dr Gwee. “All this can upset the normal functioning of the digestive tract.”
Feeling anxious and moody are other factors that affect the movement of the intestines, he continued. “For example, anxiety can cause diarrhoea like what students experience during school examinations, while people who are depressed often experience constipation resulting from a slowing down of their bowel movements.”
Those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are “especially vulnerable to the influence of anxiety and depression on their gastrointestinal tract,” said Dr Siah, who highlighted that one in five people in Singapore has IBS.
EAT SLOWER, DON’T WOLF DOWN YOUR FOOD
“Eating too fast adds to the risk of bloating after a meal,” said Dr Siah. “The remedy is simple: Eat slowly. Satiety signals can take up to 20 minutes to reach the brain and dampen appetite. Many weight-loss experts believe that eating slowly helps prevent overeating.”
HOW TO FEEL BETTER FROM THE BLOAT
“Overeating is probably the most common cause of bloating during Christmas. Smaller portions should ease the pain,” said Dr Siah.
But if you’ve already over-stuffed yourself with food, do what your mum has always nagged you to do: Fix yourself a cup of ginger, peppermint or chamomile tea. “Probiotics will also improve the bloated feeling, especially for IBS patients,” said Dr Siah. If you’re certain that the discomfort is caused by gas, skip the antacid as it only benefits acid reflux, he said.
Going for a walk might help, said Dr Gwee, as it "could promote stomach and intestinal movements that help the food to go down easier".
Should you consider fasting? “Strictly speaking, there is no need to detox your digestive system. Eating in moderation is the key,” said Dr Siah. On Boxing Day, avoid bloat-inducing food such as beans, lentils, broccoli, onions, barley, rye, wheat, and carbonated drinks, he advised.