If your stomach is bigger than the rest of you and diet and exercise don’t help, it may not be a weight issue.
As you’re reading this, the odds are you’ll be feeling more…well…rounded than at other times of the year. Festive overindulgence and get-togethers full of bubbles and nibbles that we lose count of in the name of celebrating the season, lingering breakfasts, brunches, lunches and dinners are likely to leave you looking and feeling larger than life. Not in the best possible ways.
The stomach usually suffers the lion’s share of festive excess, and so New Year diet resolutions inevitably kick in. But for many women, no amount of eating well and moderately or exercising regularly will burst that balloon belly because it’s not always a weight issue.
There are a number of other possibilities that may surprise you.
If your body isn’t properly processing what you eat and drink, waste can accumulate in the intestines and lead to gas bloating and constipation. All of which equals a distended, or fat-looking stomach.
The most likely culprits of poor digestion are not drinking enough water, eating a poor diet, eating too many different food groups in one meal or low levels of stomach acid or digestive enzymes. Modern processed diets and stress leave us more prone generally to digestive issues.
Persistent bloating can be a symptom of a medical condition such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or even more serious issues so see a doctor to rule before taking matters into your own hands.
TIP: A good way to kick start your digestion is with colonic therapy to help rid the body of accumulated waste, gas and toxins. “Colonics rehydrate the bowel to stimulate peristalsis [contraction and relaxation of muscles to propel contents through the digestive tract],” says Anna Paredes, of Sydney’s Colon Care Centres.
“When digestion is sluggish, food – even good, healthy food – ferments in the intestines and produces gas, which causes bloating and discomfort. Dehydration makes matters worse, as the faeces become dry, impacted and hard to move.
“Colonics rehydrate the bowel to get things moving again. You might need several treatments a week apart to start, depending how severe your symptoms are. Then maintenance treatments every few months, or sooner if you feel you need one.”
While colonics are not recommended as a weight loss treatment, once the digestion/elimination process is pumping again, many people find stubborn extra kilos just drop off.
Gut flora imbalance
Not having the proper amount of “good” bacteria in the body allows food to ferment in the intestines and feed “bad” bacteria. Constipation can result, causing toxins to flow through the body.
One of the most problematic forms of gut flora imbalance is candida, a fungus that is a form of yeast. A small amount lives in your mouth and intestines to aid digestion and nutrient absorption but when there is an overgrowth it can have exactly the opposite effect. It breaks down the wall of the intestine and penetrates the bloodstream, releasing toxins.
A bloated belly is one of the most obvious symptoms but it can cause a range of health problems from digestive issues to depression.
Candida overgrowth can be caused and fed by a diet high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and fermented foods and drinks (eg. wine), taking oral contraceptives or too many antibiotics, which kill bacteria, including the friendly kind.
TIP: Once confirmed that you do suffer from it by a doctor or health therapist trained in treating candida overgrowth, a change of diet may be necessary to reduce or eliminate foods that feed the fungus. Taking natural supplements that help restore “good” bacteria levels, such as acidophillus bifidus, can help.
An inability to digest certain sugars and proteins, such as lactose (in dairy products) and gluten (in some grains and the foods they’re used to make; eg. bread and pasta), will cause bloating, constipation or, conversely, diarrhoea. They are not the same as food allergies. You’ll certainly know if you have one of those as “offending” foods can cause extreme reactions such as difficulty breathing, swelling, rashes or vomiting.
Food intolerances are not noticeable to most people because they believe the signs of digestive distress are normal. A study carried out by food intolerance website Foodintol found 42 per cent of sufferers experience symptoms for more than five years before realising they have the condition and seek help.
If you suddenly become bloated after a meal, take note of what you’ve eaten and in what combinations. Keep a record to compare with future incidents to see if there is a pattern or common food denominator.
TIP: Food intolerances are too often self-diagnosed and lead people to unnecessarily exclude vital nutrients and basic enjoyment from their diet. The first step should be to see your GP, who may refer you for a gastroscopy or a blood or skin test, where a suspected allergen is placed on the skin and the reaction is monitored. If confirmed with a food intolerance, you may need the help of an immunologist, allergist and/or a dietitian to help you manage the condition.
However, there is no test that can definitively diagnose food intolerance. The best thing to do is to keep a food diary to help isolate intolerances, according to Deborah Manners, founder of Intol.
“For a few days, note what you eat and what symptoms occur,” she says. “Then avoid a food you think you are intolerant to for 10 days and note how you feel. Bring that food back into your diet and notice if any symptoms arise.”
Next week, we’ll look at other ways to reduce your belly.
Jenni is a writer at spaandclinic.