It is quite normal to experience some belly bloat every once in a while. But if you are experiencing chronic symptoms that don’t seem to go away, you may have a deeper issue going on in your gut. Bloat and stomach distention are issues that I’ve dealt with since childhood. As a kid, I had to take fiber supplements, drink prune juice (yuck), and drink coffee to try to “regulate” my GI tract. My symptoms only worsened as I got older, and I wrote it off as either a gluten intolerance, a dairy intolerance, or some sort of sensitivity to processed food. Still, even after I cut these foods out, my symptoms persisted. It got to the point where I found myself doubled over in pain after eating an apple. An apple! By then, I was fed up with trying to deal with my symptoms. I was miserable. So, I saw a gastroenterologist, and he determined that I had IBS.
If you’ve never heard of IBS, or you have but you don’t quite know what it is, allow me to explain. IBS, which stands for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, is a fairly common gastrointestinal (GI) disorder. It takes place in the large intestine (colon), and affects around 20% of Americans. The cause of IBS is unknown, although doctors believe a few factors can contribute, such as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), food intolerances, and other GI abnormalities. You may have IBS if you suffer from some of these symptoms:
- Bloating or abdominal pain
- Constipation or Diarrhea
- Acne, especially forehead acne
The first few symptoms are fairly straightforward. If you are experiencing pain and discomfort in the GI tract, you may have a GI disorder! Also, if you have acne (especially on the forehead) accompanied with these symptoms, this can be another sign. There is a definite link between acne and digestive issues, but I’ll save that conversation for a separate post.
There is no universal treatment for patients who suffer from IBS. Many patients see improvement with what’s called the FODMAP Diet. “FODMAP” is an acronym, which stands for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols”. Basically, FODMAPs are sugars that are not easily digested in the gastrointestinal tract, and are instead fermented by bacteria in the colon.
The FODMAP diet includes two phases: Phase 1 is the “elimination” phase, where all high FODMAP foods are eliminated from your diet for a period of 4-6 weeks. Phase 2 allows you to slowly reincorporate the foods back into your diet, to gain a better understanding of which foods cause the most damage to your GI tract. Note: This is not meant to be a long term diet! Most high FODMAP foods are healthy foods, and if you eliminate these foods for an extended period of time, it can be difficult to find other healthy substitutes. The purpose of this diet is for you to have a better idea of which foods are causing you discomfort.
Although I did not try the FODMAP diet, I found significant improvement with a daily fiber supplement. My gastroenterologist recommended Citrucel® , an over-the-counter Methylcellulose fiber supplement that helps to maintain regularity. Methylcellulose is a synthetic chemical compound derived from cellulose. It is hydrophilic, which means that it absorbs water. Since cellulose is non-digestible, this fiber does not become fermented by bacteria in the gut and doesn’t cause excess gas and bloating like fermentable fibers do. I have been using Citrucel® for about 8 months now, and it seriously has made my life better. I am now able to eat all the food I love without experiencing any of those uncomfortable symptoms.
So if you are like me and you’re fed up with having to deal with the pain and discomfort associated with eating the food you like, take action! See your doctor, a nutritional expert, or another qualified professional who can put together a plan to help you mitigate your symptoms. It may take a couple weeks to notice a difference in how you feel, but the difference is significant. And once you realize how much better you feel, you’ll never want to look back.