SINGAPORE — All that laughter over hearty festive dinners could mean that you are swallowing more air and accumulating more gas in your tummy. Not to mention the carbonated drinks and champagne adding to the volume.
Breaking wind in a crowded space may be the least of your problems, as the Christmas, New Year and Chinese New Year holidays come together in a month from end-December to end-January.
The celebrations stretch until early February this year for Chinese New Year and all those sweet treats and goodies on supermarket shelves and gift bags have to go somewhere. If it is not your waistline expanding, then it is the gastrointestinal distress you are experiencing.
Dr Melvin Look, director of private clinic PanAsia Surgery and a consultant surgeon in gastrointestinal, laparoscopic and obesity surgery, said that bloating is a common problem after a period of festive indulgence.
Overeating of rich food, having too much alcohol and interruptions in one’s usual exercise routines can lead to indigestion and abdominal distension.
“We may feel ‘heavy’, lethargic and clothes may seem too tight. Bloating can also trigger heartburn and regurgitation in people who are prone to gastroesophageal reflux,” he said.
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WHAT CAUSES BLOATING
Fatty and oily food slows down movement of the gut and lead to bloating. Eating too much and too fast can also cause bloating, especially when consuming carbohydrate-rich, salty and fatty food.
“Carbonated sweet beverages, beer and sparkling alcohol will add gas into the mix,” Dr Look added.
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Another bloat-inducing culprit: Fructose, a type of sugar that is commonly found in a variety of processed foods in the form of corn syrup, as well as onions and garlic. This type of sugar is hard to break down in the gut, and can lead to gas and bloating, Dr Look said.
Even healthier options may make some people feel extra gassy.
Certain vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts, legumes (beans) and grains (wheat and rye), can produce gas when they are digested in the intestines and cause abdominal discomfort in people with irritable bowels, Dr Look said.
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Dairy products such as cheese and ice cream can also lead to bloating for people who are lactose intolerant.
Fitness expert Chung Tze Khit, managing director of Gold’s Gym Personal Training, said that another reason why bloating is common after a period of indulgence is because holiday treats are rich in carbohydrates, sodium and sugar — all of which trigger water retention and water weight gain that can make one feel and look heavy.
“While it is easier to get rid of excess water weight than fat weight, water weight gain adds overall bulk and volume to the body,” he said.
HOW TO GET RID OF THE POST-FESTIVE BLOAT
Freelance health coach Melody Chong said that even as you indulge over the festive period, being mindful of portions as well as eating and drinking in moderation are key to preventing bloating and weight gain.
But do not beat yourself up if you had one too many cakes and cookies and started the new year feeling heavier and more sluggish than usual.
Improve your gut health with these bloat-busting tips below from the experts.
1. Reboot your digestive system with a “detox” plan
Dr Look suggested having light, healthy meals and exercise in between periods of feasting. A period of fasting may help, too.
“Think ‘detox’ with nothing but steamed vegetables and water, or a period of intermittent fasting to help cleanse the system. Our insulin levels drop during fasting, and if this period is long enough, our body fat stores will be burnt to provide sugars for our energy needs,” he said.
Be sure not to overdo the detox because any drastic diets can be harmful to the body.
Easing back into a healthier balanced diet usually reverses bloating symptoms quickly.
However, Dr Look said that it may take a bit more dieting and exercise to get rid of any excess weight you put on in the form of visceral fat — a type of fat that surrounds the organs in the abdominal area and raises one’s risk for heart disease and other serious medical conditions.
2. Sip on peppermint tea or drink plenty of water
Peppermint tea has antispasmodic properties, which can help relieve gas bloat, Dr Look said. If this is not your thing, Ms Chong suggested drinking plenty of water as it is the best medium to digest food, flush out excess sodium — which can cause water retention — and prevent constipation.
3. Try some over-the-counter medications
Over-the-counter medications such as antacids, available in pharmacies, can help neutralise the acid in the stomach and get rid of gastric discomfort.
4. Take certain foods to prevent bloating
Ms Chong said that food rich in potassium, such as banana, kiwi fruit and avocado, prevent water retention by regulating sodium levels in the body.
Food that is high in probiotics, such as yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut, can help balance the digestive flora in the gut and reduce bloating, she said.
As with all food, consume in moderation since kimchi and sauerkraut are high in sodium. For example, kimchi may be eaten as a small side portion with a main meal. You may also rotate and vary the type of probiotics-rich foods over the weeks.
You may also try having ginger tea, which reduces swelling and stimulates the digestive muscles, as well as fennel seeds that are known to be popular as an-after meal nibble, especially after consuming Indian food.
They help reduce gas, fight inflammation and act as a natural diuretic, Ms Chong said. A diuretic promotes increased urine output to help the body get rid of extra fluid or salt.
5. Get up and move
You may not feel like moving but a stroll around the neighbourhood after a hearty meal can help move the gut along and reduce bloating.
In general, it is recommended to schedule some exercise on the day you intend to eat more than usual, Mr Chung said. You can do this either before or after your feasting.
More vigorous or higher-impact exercises should be done around four hours after a meal.
Ms Chong said that cardio exercises such as a long walk, short hike, brisk jog or cycling can help expel gas that causes pain and move digestion along.
If you have been indulging in rich, high-calorie foods, weight training with higher repetitions can provide some damage control.
“When you work out, especially with weight training with high repetitions, you will deplete the muscle glycogen in your muscles — this is the carbohydrates stored in your muscles. You will deplete it for energy expended during the workout, and use the calories you’ve consumed to feed the muscles,” Mr Chung said.
He recommends working the entire body, for instance, weight training on the large muscle groups — the chest, shoulders, back and legs — with higher repetitions.
Gentler, low-impact exercises are effective in reducing bloat, too.
“Lower-impact exercises like yoga and gentle stretching can stimulate your organs and aid in the digestive process,” Ms Chong said.
“For example, the cat-cow pose stretches and compresses your intestines to promote movement while the sphinx pose (similar to the cobra pose) will stretch your torso and thus, digestive organs to aid digestion.
“Doing the torso twist will increase blood flow and circulation to your digestive organs,” she added.
6. See a doctor if bloating persists
Dr Look said that post-festive bloating should go away once healthy eating habits are resumed and should not persist for more than a week.
Consult your doctor if bloating is prolonged or is associated with abdominal pain and changes in bowel habits as these symptoms are indicators that there may be a more serious underlying condition.
“Problems such as peptic ulcers and gallstones frequently flare up during the festive season due to overindulgence of fatty food and alcohol, and more detailed diagnostic tests may be required if these conditions are suspected,” he said.