It's not that time of the month and you've been making a conscious effort to eat healthier – so why are you still feeling bloated?
It's a question many women may ask each winter as they button up their jeans: research shows that a staggering 87% of women are affected by digestive discomfort. Along with flatulence, constipation and that unpleasant feeling of heaviness, bloating is one of the main symptoms of digestive discomfort. With a recent survey by Activia finding that 63% of women with digestive discomfort experience bloating, are we overlooking some of its underlying causes?
It turns out winter may have a lot to answer for. The cooler months see changes in our diets (yes – comfort food), exercise regime and sleeping habits that may affect our digestion, without us even realising. If you think saying no to a hot baked bean breakfast is enough, you might be in for a surprise.
Although winter's lower temperatures may have you more inclined to reach for a second coffee than a glass of water, the season's drying conditions mean it's just as important to keep hydrated in winter as it is in summer. Along with drying office heating and thick layered clothing, a lack of water can make our bodies dehydrated, which can lead to constipation and bloating.
Keep things interesting: you’re much more likely to get through your daily water intake if you’re enjoying each sip. Infusing water with natural fruits and spices will stop your tastebuds from getting bored. Alternatively, herbal teas and foods with high water content (cucumber, watermelon) are a clever way to keep your hydration levels in check.
One of the easiest ways to help reduce the uncomfortable feeling of bloating is to take probiotics. Prevalent in yoghurt, if you've been ditching your summer morning smoothie in favour of avo toast or scrambled eggs, your body may be receiving less probiotics than it usually does.
Increase your gut's level of good bacteria with a probiotic-contained yoghurt. Yoghurt branding can be tricky, so ensure you opt for a yoghurt with probiotic strains that have been proven* to improve digestive comfort, such as Activia probiotic yoghurt, which contains the strain Bifidus ActiRegularis. Exclusive to Activia, the strain reaches the intestines alive, helping to improve digestive comfort. Add probiotic yoghurt into your day, whether enjoyed at breakfast or as a mid-afternoon snack.
If you've been reaching for your alarm's snooze button a little more than usual, or skipping your post-work exercise routine, you're not alone. A 2015 McCrindle study on the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Australia has shown that 54% of Australians have difficulty waking up during winter, and 45% seeing a decrease in their energy levels. But while your doona or couch may seem a lot friendlier than bracing the chilly winter air, your lack of exercise could be to blame for your bloat.
Exercise is critical for the proper functioning of digestive systems. If we are regularly moving, so too is our digestive system. Science has found a link between physical activity and gut flora, attributing exercise to the increase in a person's level of butyrate, a bacteria known to help prevent bloating and even colon cancer.
In the wise words of Elle Woods, "exercise gives you endorphins." Getting in at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day boosts your mood and helps to eliminate stress levels, a factor found to impact on digestive health.
"Stress has a significant impact on gut health," says dietitian Melanie McGrice. "Stress has been found to make nerve endings in the digestive tract more sensitive, causing greater levels of discomfort."
While catching up with friends in summer may mean longs days at the beach, winter hangouts usually consist of dinner parties and restaurants. With food the main focus, there's more opportunity to overeat, particularly when enjoying larger portions than you would at home. Research has revealed that 47% of Australians have a tendency to overeat in winter, with 43% craving sweet foods more throughout the year's cooler months.
While it may feel good at the time, eating too much of the wrong foods can irritate the gastro-intestinal tract (known as the GIT), causing bulging and discomfort. So what are we meant to be eating?
"I eat a diet rich in wholegrains, legumes, fruit and veg to provide plenty of fibre and prebiotics," says McGrice.
When the 3pm slump hits and you opt for a Granny Smith apple over a packet of salt and vinegar chips, you should be feeling good, right? But if you find yourself suddenly feeling bloated or left with a painful stomachache, it might be time to look for an alternative healthy snack.
Packed with fructose, green apples are difficult for the body to digest. Working extra hard, the stomach produces large amounts of gas, causing your stomach to swell and your pants to tighten. Start by eliminating your apple intake – you could simply be eating too many. Eat slowly so the body has time to digest, and try eating only a half.
Your safest bet is to fill up on fruits low in sorbitol (a sugar alcohol also seen in some chewing gums), such as bananas, berries and kiwifruits. Winter fruit favourite pears are high in sorbitol, and can often cause discomfort, similar to that of apples. If you experience pain after eating, it's best to eliminate sorbitol from your diet altogether.
At least it's not chocolate.
*By consuming 2 pots of Activia 125g/day during four weeks and maintaining a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.
Brought to you by Activia