Why Am I So Bloated & 7 Other Wellness Conundrums, Answered

Photo: Maximilian Guy McNair MacEwan

I am a naturopathic doctor and a registered dietitian; if you assumed that my diet is super clean and my lifestyle was super balanced, I wouldn't blame you! But that's not reality. At home I chase after two babies while running two separate companies, so like many wellness enthusiasts, I sometimes eat dessert, my meats are not always organic, and yes—I occasionally forget to take my vitamins.

As an integrative health expert, I believe there is a balance between what is ideal and what is attainable; this is my secret sauce. With outlets such as social media at the forefront of how we receive our news, deciding what to eat or wear or how to exercise can seem almost impossible—it's information overload, and the truth is not all of it will apply to you as an individual.

My clients come in with tons of questions, and many of them are the same. Here's a list of their questions and how I typically answer them:

1. With information overload, how do I know what is best for my body?

It starts with listening to your body, whether it’s through meditation or symptom checklists and diet diaries, how you feel is the most valuable information populating your feed at any given moment. Three vital questions to ask yourself every day about your health:

  • Is what I am eating making me feel good? If no, it's time for a diet change.
  • Is my body sending me smoke signals (aka yeast infections, migraines, acne)? If yes, it's time for a doctor visit.
  • What action can I do today to manage my stress levels (and no, making a to-do list is probably not the best answer).
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2. Why am I getting so bloated when I eat?

This is your gut talking to you, signaling that something is off. Significant bloating after eating isn't normal. It could be an imbalance of the bacteria (too many bad, not enough good); it could be your immune system triggering what is called an antigen-antibody reaction (otherwise known as food allergies/sensitivities). Furthermore, bloating can be related to nutrition habits such as eating too quickly, chewing too little, and waiting too long to eat.

Start by asking yourself a few important questions about when it started, when it's worse, and when it's better. Journaling your symptoms in conjunction with your diet can also be very helpful in identifying the culprit.

3. Which is the healthiest alcohol to drink?

Moderation is the answer! Excessive alcohol intake, whether it’s low-carb vodka or an antioxidant-packed red wine, in excess still wreaks havoc on your gut bacteria, your adrenals, and your macros (if you're counting). For those times when alcohol is on your menu, here are some realistic tips I live by:

  • Avoid beer (it often causes excess bloating).
  • Give yourself an alcohol budget for the night—for example, one drink per hour or three drinks for your night out.
  • Don’t skip dinner to "drink your calories."
  • Make sure you are well-hydrated both before and after alcohol intake—this means a minimum of 500 ml of water before you have a drink and before you go to sleep.
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4. Should I be gluten-free?

If you don’t feel well after consuming wheat or gluten, then the answer is yes. However, if you are someone who has eliminated gluten for at least two weeks and don’t feel any different or perhaps feel worse, then no, you don’t need to be gluten-free. Going gluten-free is all the rage, for the right reasons. We are well aware of the likelihood that gluten can cause gastrointestinal distress or inflammatory cascades in many people, and I do recommend limiting wheat intake, but not all persons need to avoid gluten completely.

5. Is it possible to speed up my metabolism?

Yes! Studies have shown that metabolic activity can be altered—for better or worse—through diet, exercise, stress, hormones, medications, and supplements. If you are someone who has followed the same exercise routine or diet for a while, it may be time to switch it up. Short fasts can increase metabolic activity, where extended periods of fasting will slow metabolism. Rapid weight loss can actually have a metabolic slowing effect on the body requiring changes to calorie intake and exercise for maintenance of the weight lost (another reason to avoid yo-yo dieting). Fasting isn't for everyone, so before you start, be sure to talk to your health care provider and do your research.

6. Should I be low-carb?

You should be low-sugar! Carbs are not the enemy; sugar is. Too much of almost anything isn’t good, and carbs follow this same principle—too many can be detrimental to your health. If you are following a specific medical diet, then you may need to avoid carbs, but too often we restrict all our carbs to lose weight (because it works short-term), but from what I've seen working with clients, the staying power is weak. Most people gain weight as soon as they start eating carbs again. I believe figuring out the right amount of carbs for your individual activity level is essential to maintaining your ideal weight and energy levels. If your goal is to lose weight, carbohydrate timing and portion size are important factors.

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7. What is the best type of exercise?

The best is the one that you enjoy and want to do! If you hate running, don’t set a goal to run the marathon. Be realistic but also be accountable. Exercise will help increase your metabolism, which in turn allows for greater caloric use. Additional to helping manage weight goals, the endorphins that exercise produces can boost your mood. Understanding your individual exercise prescription is key to a healthy routine—too much exercise can be detrimental too. For someone working out three times a week, I recommend routines that include increasing the heart rate, improving lean muscle mass, and encouraging an active body recovery.

8. How do I break a weight loss plateau?

One word—change! In many cases a plateau indicates that your body has become accustomed to the workout or nutritional intake. Switching up your energy systems can restart weight loss. Nutrient deficiencies can also cause a plateau, so making sure your supplement list is up to par is important. And don’t ignore your hormones! Often weight loss and gain affect hormone levels, which can be the culprit behind a weight plateau.

In addition, here are my top five recommendations for anyone who wants to try a small change and see a big difference:

  • Turn off all social media an hour before bed (ideally two, if you can swing it).
  • Exercise regularly, not too much, not too little, and definitely alter your exercise routines.
  • Drink at least 2 liters of water daily—this doesn’t include your coffee, La Croix, and matcha latte.
  • Eat plants, lots of them (meaning at minimum 50 percent of your diet should come from vegetables).
  • Check in with yourself daily—do you do something every day that is for you?

Feeling inspired? Read about this weight loss journey, following similar principles to the ones listed here.

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