Mar. 5. 2015
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

How to reduce belly bloat? Try these 10 simple steps that anyone can start incorporating into their lifestyle that may help reduce belly bloat.

Digestion truly begins in the mouth, but also revolves around our mental and emotional states. In this post, I’ll share in-depth about the science behind digestion, digesting food, and more.


“Chew your liquids, drink your solids”

A saying that I love teaching clients and constantly remind myself as well! I can’t stress the importance of chewing your food thoroughly enough. Chew your liquids, meaning that even if you’re drinking a juice or smoothie be sure to swish it around your mouth, let it take its time to get your salivary glands and digestive enzymes ready and receptive to food/drink that’s about to hit your stomach. Drink your solids, meaning you want to chew your food to get a consistency of applesauce, soft and pureed enough to swallow and “drink” easily. That means no more gulping down food or drink or quickly eating.


Avoid carbonated drinks.

I think this is the most obvious one. If you think about it, what do all carbonated beverages have in common? Added CO2, literally adding air and bubbles to your drink, i.e. into your belly! Some of us aren’t affected so much by carbonation, but if your tummy is sensitive to bloating, give up carbonated drinks even the club soda or sparkling water. This goes without saying, refined sugar loaded soda and carbonated drinks are out of the question. These not only contribute to air in your gut but also teaspoons upon teaspoons of refined sugars.


Get excited about whole foods, especially vegetables and fruits!

Whole foods that I share in recipes here on Nutrition Stripped are loaded with digestive-friendly fiber, prebiotics (the food for good bacteria) and nutrients to keep our bodies healthy. Eating more of these foods and less of processed foods will ensure that you’re getting enough nutrients and fiber without all the additives of sodium, processed fats and sugars, preservatives, and many chemicals and additives that can easily bloat our bellies. Whole foods keep our digestive system running smoothly, although some whole foods like the cruciferous family (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc.) may actually cause gas and bloating in some. Just be mindful of how different whole foods make your body feel.


Drink liquids away from eating food.

I personally find this extremely helpful and have so many clients report better digestion after making this simple step. Drinking glasses of water right before a meal to “fill” you up is just a waste of time in my opinion. You’re not only filling up on water and slightly stretching your stomach, but you’re also making your stomach and digestive system work a little harder to get those digestive enzymes and stomach acid to where the pH needs to be for optimal digestion. Try this next time – drink water or liquids away from your meals at least 30 minutes before or after.


Avoid straws.

Using straws may help us keep our fabulous red lip on without a smudge, but it’s also an easy entryway for air to get straight into our bellies. The action of sucking a straw forces air along with your beverage into the stomach, hence why many people burp afterward!


Drink peppermint tea.

Peppermint essential oil and teas are one of my favorite instant go-tos for relieving bloating. Peppermint actually works to decrease and relax the function of the lower esophageal sphincter (i.e. it helps relax your digestive muscles). If you suffer from chronic or serious GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease), then I don’t recommend peppermint tea as it’ll make your reflux worse because of it’s relaxing action. I always travel with an emergency peppermint tea bag just in case bloating occurs. This especially is great for those of you, like me, who may accidentally eat gluten or dairy while out of the house.


Exercise portion control.

Sounds cliché, but it’s true! Watch your portions and try making meals that you eat more frequently smaller if bloating tends to get you down. This also means refraining from overeating. We’ve all been there, whether it’s Thanksgiving, a holiday, or a special outing and we’ve simply eaten far too much. If you find yourself in this situation, my advice is to try taking a digestive enzyme to give your digestive system a little boost and support in digesting heavier foods. But first, try to set yourself up for success in the first place and begin with portions on the smaller side.


Incorporate more healthy fats into your diet.

My favorite healthy fat has got to be coconut oil. I love using it from smoothies, desserts, cooking oil, on my skin, and so much more. Coconut oil does far more than help bloating. It’s incredibly moisturizing on your skin so think about that action in terms of lubricating your insides. It’s great to help get digestion moving especially if you lack healthy fats in your diet. Avocado is another healthy fat to incorporate. It’s high in fiber, potassium, and nutrients that help keep digestion moving along. Raw nuts and seeds are also great for giving a boost of fiber, protein, and minerals such as magnesium which help relax muscles and may decrease belly bloat. I recommend further increasing the digestibility of nuts and seeds by soaking or sprouting. 


Keep movement light after eating.

I’m sure we’ve all had our moms urge us not to swim right after eating and guess what, there’s some merit to that! Our digestive systems require immediate attention and a lot of energy to digest food, especially if we’ve overeaten, eaten large amounts of fat (fat takes the longest to digest), or eaten foods that may be a little tough on our digestion. Therefore, we need to allow a little time before we go jumping, swimming, and hopping around! All of those activities and exercising requires a lot of energy as well from our muscles, so it’s best to keep exercise light after eating. Light exercise means leisure walks, stretching, light yoga or foam rolling.


Eat mindfully and de-stress.

I saved the biggest and most important, in my opinion, for last! Slowing down our minds and bodies before we eat is VITAL to healthy digestion. Our bodies have two major responses: 1) sympathetic nervous system (SNS) activation or “fight or flight” when we’re amped up, excited, stressed, overwhelmed, moving, springing into action, etc. or 2) parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activation or “rest and digest” mode where our bodies are in a relaxed state to take care of vital rebuilding functions.

Both the PNS and SNS have their role and place in our bodies. One is not “bad” nor “good”, rather they’re both vital to the way we live. BUT many of us are constantly living in a state of chronic stress, anxiety, and not being present which causes our stress hormones to go in overdrive and our bodies to switch into “fight or flight” mode. Again, if you’re constantly living in this state of “fight or flight”, how are you able to digest food, let alone give your body a break to do what it needs to do to be at it’s healthiest such as detoxing, elimination, rebuilding, building immune function, and of course, digesting. When stressed, your body may be able to carry on these processes, just not as effectively or optimally as it could be.

One last tip for instantly getting into digest mode…

Take 10 deep breaths before each meal to rebalance and reset your nervous system. Start by inhaling through your nose to a count of 8-10 seconds, hold for 8-10 seconds, and slowly release for 8-10 seconds. Repeat until you’ve cycled through 10 times. I promise you will instantly feel more relaxed and calm and ready to mindfully enjoy your meal and digest those amazing nutrients!