Root Causes of Bloating + How to Reduce it From a Functional Approach

If you struggle with bloating, you’ve probably received loads of advice on what foods to eat and not eat – drink lemon water first thing in the morning, try a low FODMAP diet, cut out all dairy, the list goes on and on. We wanted to approach the topic of bloating in a way that feels productive, supportive, and acknowledges that bloating is really a whole-person issue that goes much deeper than just food. Hopefully this article offers you tangible solutions for how to reduce bloating both in the moment and long term.

Why the Location of Your Bloating Matters

The first thing to ask yourself is: WHERE is your bloating? Is it above your belly button? Is it below your belly button? The location is the first clue as to what is happening in your digestive tract. If your bloating is in your lower abdomen, are you experiencing any pain simultaneously? Can you button your pants by the end of the day? Or do you need to lay down? There are so many people (women especially) who are truly unable to function because their bloating is so uncomfortable and they have to lie down for a significant chunk of the day. Now, if your bloating is located above your belly button, where it feels like food is sitting in your stomach or you have gas, H. Pylori may be a potential root cause. This is because H. Pylori can lower stomach acid, which is a leading cause of gas and bloating and can easily be mitigated by incorporating lemon water, apple cider vinegar or bitters.

The second question to ask yourself is: WHEN are you bloating? Are you perpetually bloated? Do you wake up in the morning with a flat stomach but feel bloated by the end of the day? Is it after a meal? Or is it after you drink water first thing in the morning? 

One thing people rarely talk about is the potential for dysbiosis in your mouth. If you notice yourself getting bloating after you drink water first thing in the morning, that’s often a sign of oral dysbiosis, as you’re quite literally swallowing harmful bacteria and planting them right into your stomach to ferment away. This can cause bloating upon waking that lingers all day long.

The Root Causes of Bloating

The reality is, if you’re not pooping you’re going to feel bloated, especially in your lower abdomen. Aside from constipation, excess air trapped in your GI tract is a sign that you’re dealing with some fermentation and, therefore, gas production. One of the reasons for this could be digestive insufficiency, which could arise from a myriad of reasons including gut dysbiosis. This is essentially an imbalance of bacteria living in your gut usually resulting in an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria. These bad bugs thrive on the food particles that you are unable to digest, namely refined carbohydrates, and produce gas through fermentation. Cue, bloating. 

SIBO (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth)

If you’re that person we touched on earlier who wakes up with zero bloating yet gets progressively more bloated as the day goes on, SIBO may be a culprit. It’s extremely common these days and is often characterized by bloating and discomfort 1-2 hours after eating a meal, especially one with lots of carbohydrates. What’s happening here is that the overgrowth of bacteria feeds off of the undigested food in your small intestine, fermenting carbohydrates and creating hydrogen gas as a byproduct. This hydrogen gas in turn feeds archaea (single celled organisms) which produce methane as a byproduct. Meaning that you have an excess of both methane AND hydrogen gas sitting in your digestive system with nowhere to go. 


Meanwhile, in the large intestine, general dysbiosis is absolutely a factor and so are parasites. This may sound woo woo, but if your bloating gets significantly worse around the full moon, you could have a parasite. In fact, people often describe feeling more constipated and bloated around the full moons and may not even be able to sleep through the night on a full moon. This is because there is a correlation between parasite activity and the moon phases. 

As an aside, there is compelling research showing that parasites can influence food cravings. We know that pathogenic bacteria and parasites love carbohydrates (especially sugar), so it’s evolutionarily advantageous for them if we intake a steady stream of sugar. So if you notice that you constantly have sugar on your brain, those thoughts could be driven by parasites. 


Okay, so you got fed up with feeling bloated and bought a probiotic that was marketed to you as the solution to your gut dysbiosis. And now you’re feeling more bloated than ever… Sound familiar? While you may think that a probiotic is repopulating your gut with beneficial bacteria that crowd out the harmful microbes, it’s actually creating a giant battle of good vs bad inside of your intestines. As bacteria die off, they release toxins in your gut which leads to inflammation, bloating and other GI-related symptoms. So although it may be tempting to go full throttle in your gut healing process, it’s critical to slow way down and work methodically and systematically in addressing the underlying causes. 

7 ways to Reduce Bloating 

  1. In a moment of intense bloating, first stop and close your eyes. Just sit and be present. Notice the sensations in your body. Where are you feeling pain? Where are you feeling discomfort? Can you feel that in the absence of judgment? Can you just notice it? Then, rest your hand on your belly – feeling into it and sending it love and gratitude for all that it does for you.  Next, you can try box breathing. You breathe in through your nose for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, then exhale out of your mouth making a “shooshing” sound for 4. And repeat that 10 times. This technique brings a sense of safety to your body which changes your microbial makeup and also activates your vagus nerve. Lastly, ask your body what it needs. Tap your heart and just ask: What do I need? 
  1. Calm your nervous system. Bloating can be created and further perpetuated by a sympathetic nervous system response. Turning that nervous system around is going to be your absolute first best bet. Lean into those very parasympathetic activities like laying on the ground with your legs up against a wall. This also relieves any pain or pressure associated with bloating from gas buildup. 
  1. Initiate movement. Although it may not sound great, this can help to move stagnation and encourage energy flow and circulation within your body. Things like gentle movement, listening to music, and taking a warm bath with Epsom salt are good ways to introduce flow. Keep your nervous system in mind the entire time.
  1. Bring heat to your gut. When it comes to actual heat remedies that can help with bloating, ginger tea is always really supportive. Anything that’s calming like chamomile tea can help a lot of people too.
  1. Encourage optimal digestion. In terms of physical digestion, chewing really slowly is critical for proper breakdown of your food. Also, finding your individual balance of not going too long without eating while not eating too frequently. You want enough time for your migrating motor complex to kick in (about 2-4 hours, depending on the person). But if you go too long without eating (over 5-6 hours), like when intermittent fasting, you can create a buildup of acid that is not removed from the eating process. Feel free to play with your meal timing and find what works best for you!
  1. Keep it simple. Eating uncomplicated foods, really slowly, can be extremely helpful. Oftentimes we see these stunning multi-part meals on social media that seem so appealing to our eyes but may not actually jive with our guts. Just sticking to fewer, simpler ingredients in your meals can make a world of difference.
  1. When you’re eating, just eat! Most of us multitask while we eat – on our phones, in front of our computers, reading the newspaper, etc. It’s so difficult for people to stop and be with themselves even for 10 minutes to eat. Being mindful when you eat is an absolute game changer for bloating because it allows you to chew your food better, engage the cephalic phase of digestion, break down your food fully, support motility through your intestinal tract, relax your nervous system, and improve your posture. 

If this topic gets your wheels turning and you want to learn more, you can listen to my conversation with Kari Natwick, gut health RD, on the Quiet the Diet podcast. She’s an incredible functional dietitian who I can promise you will learn SO much from. Here’s to beating bloat for good!

Want more support in eating healthier and losing weight?

By working with one of our Registered Dietitian Nutritionists at Michelle Shapiro Nutrition LLC, you will receive personalized recommendations and one-on-one nutritional counseling to help you reach attainable goals in a way that fits your lifestyle. 

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