It’s normal to experience a little bloating in life, but when you have IBS you may experience bloating more than a normal amount and thanks to visceral hypersensitivity some IBS sufferers often experience more pain associated with bloating. Bloating is a very common symptom of IBS, so I know I’m not alone when I say it’s one of my primary and most persistent symptoms. Sometimes when I’m bloated it’s all I can think about. I’m seriously uncomfortable and I realized after years that severe and prolonged episodes of bloating impact my whole body. I start to slouch because it hurts to fully straighten my abdomen. The slouching causes pain in my back and neck, but I never even realize I’m doing it until it’s already too late. Before I know it, I’m feeling pain everywhere and there’s no sign of relief. That is, until I learned some of these handy techniques for how to manage bloating when it comes on and how to create happy belly habits to avoid feeling it as much in the first place.
Once bloating has set in, it can feel like you’re doomed to suffer pain and discomfort for the rest of the day, but that doesn’t have to be the case. These techniques can help you reduce the severity of your symptoms when you find yourself expanding. Remember to take note of what you try and how you feel so you can determine if it works for you or not and you can bring that information to your doctor.
Peppermint oil capsules
- According to Monash, peppermint oil capsules can be a nice short term solution for IBS symptoms as peppermint oil can address bloating, constipation, gas, and pain. (Peppermint oil may low-key be my soulmate.) Just make sure you get enterically-coated pills so that the peppermint oil survives until it reaches your intestines so it can do its thing.
- Peppermint tea doesn’t have the same scientific backing that peppermint oil has at this point, but it has long been used to remedy many ailments, digestive among them. It’s tasty, soothing, calming, and if nothing else is a delightful way to slow down and get warm water into your body.
Hot water bottle/heating pad
- In the same way that heat can help a muscle cramp or spasm in your leg or back, it can also help your gut to relax too! Get your hands on a heating pad like this one that I have or an old-fashioned hot water bottle that you can fill with warm water and carry around with you. When your gut isn’t in the best mood, see if adding some heat will help calm it down. (Be sure to follow all safety instructions for the product you choose!)
- You can help your gut get things moving with an abdominal massage that follows the path of your intestines when they’re moving food through your system. Start at the inside top of your right hip then pull up to your ribcage, move across to your left side, then down to the inside top of your left hip, finish up by returning to where you started. You can do this anytime, anywhere to help your gut get going, but it’s best to do it while lying on your back if possible. Pro tip: if you want to indulge (you deserve it!) consider busting out some massage oil and really treating yourself!
Rolled up towel/yoga mat/foam roller
- Get something you can make round-ish that’s a little forgiving, like a rolled up towel, yoga mat, foam roller, large pool noodle, decorative pillow - whatever you have! - and tuck it under your navel (don’t crush your ribcage) as you lay flat on the floor, face down. You can use a pillow or yoga block to prop your head up a bit if this feels good. Rest here for a couple minutes taking slow, deep breaths through the nose. (Bonus: This can help relieve constipation too!)
- Just slow down and breathe. Don’t think about anything, but slowing down and breathing. Or if you’re more advanced, think about your mantra or a single happy gut thought over and over again. I’m very new to meditation as I only just started as a way to manage my IBS, but I like to repeat: “My mind is calm. My gut is calm.” Allow yourself a few moments to breathe deeply into your gut with each inhalation, emptying completely with each exhalation.
Another way to tackle bloating, is to decrease our chances of getting bloated in the first place by incorporating stress management techniques into our daily lives. It may not be reasonable to use all of these methods, but if you can commit to a few that work for you, your gut will thank you.
- Find something that gets you moving and commit to it. Run, walk, dance, lift, kickbox, do yoga or pilates, take up rowing or swimming, try out aerial stunts or martial arts. Just get moving! You’ll reap the gut benefits AND the overall health and happiness benefits too. Triple threat!
Manage your diet
- If you’ve completed all three phases of the Low FODMAP diet, you can safely avoid your trigger foods and learn to avoid FODMAP stacking to help keep your gut happy from day to day. Figure out new staple ingredients (Replace This With That) or swap trigger snacks for safe ones without sacrificing flavor (10 on the go IBS friendly snacks to keep at work or in your (gym) bag).
- These can help with symptoms in the moment, but incorporating them into your life and establishing a habit of practicing meditation or regularly incorporating intentional deep breathing into your life can help keep your mind and gut in a good place. Making sure our gut-brain axis has positive signals flowing through it is a critical way to address a massive underlying aspect of our IBS: stress.
- One study on Hypnotherapy and IBS “found that up to half of people who had individual or group hypnotherapy had adequate relief from their symptoms compared with less than a quarter of people who only had education and support.”
- A 2019 study found that CBT can provide better long-term relief for IBS symptoms (whether individual or group CBT) compared to those who only received current standard IBS treatments, showing that “those who received either form of CBT were more likely to report significant improvement in severity of symptoms and impact on their work and life after 12 months of treatment.”
Drink warm water
- We all know that drinking water is one of the best ways we can improve our health. Our bodies are made of mostly water so our organs and all our little inner bits benefit greatly from being watered generously. If you’re thinking to yourself “Girl, I drink all the water all day long!” Let me ask you this: Is it always lukewarm to cold? Give warm water a go. Nothing crazy hot, just about the temperature you’d have your morning coffee/tea/hot cocoa (I’m not here to judge). Warm water can aid in digestion and help prevent constipation. In the same way a hot cup of your beverage of choice can make you feel all cozy, your body feels that too. The heat can be soothing and help keep all your organs happy as a result.
It’s equally important to avoid things that may not help (or that may cause more harm) when you’re trying to address or avoid symptoms. Over the counter medicines such as simethicone (GasX) laxatives, digestive enzymes (Beano) bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) etc. may not address the symptoms caused by IBS even though they’re meant to address those exact symptoms when they’re not caused by IBS. (Truly, it just gets better and better, doesn’t it friends?)
If you’re like me then reading that is just one in a long list of “Yay! I’m not crazy!” moments that you’ve had since learning more about IBS. Take it one step further and let it also empower you to step away from those things and focus on what does help, like the techniques and lifestyle changes listed above.
When I mentioned feeling bloated to a friend once, she was adamant that I take GasX. “That’s what I do and anyway, it couldn’t hurt.” she said. I shared with her that it’s pretty common for the treatments that help the masses with these symptoms (when they’re occasional) to not really have an impact on the symptoms when they’re related to IBS because the underlying causes of the symptoms are different.
She insisted that I just try it. “This time might be different! And ” I took a deep breath and pushed back. “Over the counter remedies CAN have a negative effect for those of us with IBS because they may trigger other symptoms. Medicine meant to treat diarrhea may cause constipation if it overcorrects the problem or vice versa.” (I don’t know about you, but I’m not really interested in trading one awful situation for another.)
After hearing that she backed down, realizing that it wasn’t that I didn’t take her input seriously, just that in this case, I already knew what would happen because I’ve taken GasX with no improvements before. Many times.
I know my friend just wanted to help, but it was frustrating that she wasn’t listening to my experiences at first. It was coming from a place of love, but hear me out: if you love someone with IBS: Listen. To. Them. And if you are someone with IBS keep sharing your truth. It helps all of us.
For most people, bloating is a pretty normal and typically not very noteworthy experience, but when you have IBS it can be frequent and debilitatingly painful in some cases. It could also indirectly lead to other issues like back pain. Finding a way to manage your symptoms is critical to making it through the day. You can try out some of these long term management strategies and see how your overall symptoms (bloating included) improve, but also make sure you try out some of the quick relief strategies to see what helps you manage bloating in the moment.