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Why women suffer from bloating and how to combat it

'It always seems to come at the most inconvenient of times'

Olivia Petter
Friday 08 June 2018 12:03
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Whether you suffer from food intolerances or you simply have a propensity to overindulge, bloating affects us all.

Extending beyond mere stomach cramps, a bloated stomach can prompt a whole host of issues ranging from discomfort to low self-esteem, and the triggers can vary from person to person.

So what causes it? And why might it be more prevalent in women?

Being severely bloated is something Irish-born blogger Maeve Madden has dealt with for most of her life as a result of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), both of which can lead to bloating.

Her candid photographs of her enlarged belly on social media have garnered her thousands of followers, all of whom praise the former professional dancer for her honesty and body positivity.

This has resulted in an all-encompassing book titled Beat The Bloat, which details Madden's own experiences with bloating and the diet and exercise tips she used to overcome them.

“My journey with food has been quite the roller coaster,” she tells The Independent.

“I feel like I have majorly experimented, educated myself and tried and tested every de-bloating method."

As for reasons why we might experience bloating, she explains it could be a symptom of an underlying health condition or could be down to simply not getting enough sleep.

“One in five of us suffer from IBS. One in 10 with PCOS," she said, citing these as common causes, "many of us also have intolerances to food, sleep deprivation and of course stress are a few of the main reasons why we can suffer from the dreaded bloat.

“Bloating causes so much physical discomfort and it always seems to come at the most inconvenient of times such as holidays, parties, family occasions and even date night.”

It’s a common symptom for PCOS sufferers, a condition affecting ovary function, and is typically aggravated by certain foods that can also trigger a reaction for those with IBS.

According to the PCOS Awareness Association, this is because these foods contain a carbohydrate known as raffinose, which can be difficult to digest.

Rather than the starchy sugary staples you might assume would lead to bloating, this group includes a number of vegetables such as beans, sprouts, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

Eating these foods may also lead to excess wind.

Instead of offering up dietary advice, given that everyone’s body reacts differently to different foods, Madden’s tips for combating bloating are more lifestyle-focused and include a list of useful “food swaps” to make.

These include opting for complex carbohydrates, such as quinoa and sweet potato wedges, over cous cous and regular chips; opting for papaya instead of watermelon and drinking nut milk as opposed to cow’s milk.

Madden’s book also includes a range of bloat-friendly recipes, which vary from savoury to sweet and feature conventional healthy staples - such as baked salmon with brown rice - and more nutritious alternatives to sweet treats, such as ice cream made from frozen bananas and almond milk.

However, “beating the bloat” is not simply a case of making adjustments to the foods you eat, Madden insists, but also how much you exercise.

“Lack of exercise can cause constipation,” she explains, “so you may feel like taking a nap after a large meal but getting in 10-15 mins of exercise can be really beneficial.

“Whether it's running on the treadmill, smashing a HIIT workout or taking the dog for a walk , most forms of physical activity will help expel gas that causes pain and get your digestion moving."

Madden also recommends keeping active when travelling abroad:

“One of the main reasons our systems slow down when we’re on holiday is because we become more physically sluggish,” she said, “exercise and movement of any kind will help keep your bowels stimulated and moving.”

The book includes a range of bodyweight exercises that could be performed in the gym or, if you’re a keen anti-bloating queen, alongside your sun lounger.

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