when you’re feeling grumpy AND bloated

Finally! We now have a name for when you’re grumpy and bloated. Because the two are inextricably linked. Felicity Harley dives into the how you can tackle it, head on. 

You know the feeling when you’re cranky AF, irritable, lethargic and bloated.

When your stomach is blown-up like a Trump doll at an American Thanksgiving parade. When you’d rather mooch on the couch with Netflix than chat with your partner. When trackies are always option A and the gym is absolutely option B.

Then when your partner suggests you get some fresh air (implying said foul mood), you snap back that you’re fine, thanks very much. Well, scientists have invented a new term to describe all of that. It’s called “groating”. Get it? Grumpy + bloated = groating.

There’s increasing evidence that bloating – when your gut is distended and uncomfortable, sometimes sore – can cause a negative emotional effect on your brain. While there are no exact statistics showing how many of us suffer groating, studies suggest one in six people regularly experience bloating (that’s those without a diagnosed gut issue like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)).

A quick strawpoll of my friends, and nearly 80 per cent admit bloating does cause differing levels of crankiness.

The gut-brain connection

The whole gut-mind connection is a hot area of research right now. You see, the two are constantly communicating – your intestinal functions connect to the emotional parts of your brain, called the gut brain axis, and vice versa. Your gut is highly sensitive to your emotions like excitement, anxiety, sadness etc. Think about it, those “nervous poos” before a big event, a “gut wrenching” situation or “feeling sick” after an emotional upheaval like a break-up – we’ve all experienced that “gut feeling” phenomenon.

Growing research does suggest that our gut microbiome impacts our mental health in a considerable way, says dietitian and nutritionist Lyndi Cohen. “This means that the foods we eat and the lifestyle choices we make, like how much sleep we get and our stress levels, impact our gut health which in turn affects our mental wellbeing.”

Interestingly, just under 70 per cent of your body’s serotonin is manufactured in the gut, however it can’t be used by your brain to boost your mood (a commonly misunderstood notion when it comes to the gut and our mood).

So why do we bloat?

It’s a question many of us ask, often daily. Your balloon belly could be due to a plethora of reasons and often the cause is difficult to pinpoint. From the simple you’ve eaten too much or drank too much Soda Stream, to something more complex like food intolerances, IBS or polycystic ovary syndrome. Women can add menstruation into the mix each month, too.

“A little bloating is normal and okay,” says Cohen. “Our stomachs naturally distend after eating to allow for digestion, even if you’ve eaten something healthy. When bloating is purely a superficial issue, ie. there’s no pain or major discomfort, remind yourself that it’s normal and your body’s natural processes at work – you’re digesting and using nutrients to fuel your body. Often, what we hate so much about bloating is the fact that it makes us feel like we’ve gained weight. Our fear of bloating can be more about disliking our bodies than feeling unwell.”

Now that’s a good point.

If you suffer persistent bloating, it could be a genuine food intolerance and should be dealt with by a professional. If your swollen stomach is accompanied by other digestive problems, like constipation or diarrhoea, then see your GP, advises Cohn.

“Another telltale sign is smelly farts. Gas is actually a natural, healthy reaction as it means fermentation is happening within the gut. So a little gas can be a good thing – a sign of healthy fermentation happening in the gut. However, if the odour is unpleasant, you’re going to want to get that checked out by a doctor or dietitian.”

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Beating the groat

To stop groating, firstly deal with your bloating. If you suffer regularly and suspect it’s food related, before pointing the finger at gluten, swearing off dairy or going all-out FODMAP (where you eliminate all common food intolerances), consider the not-so-usual suspects.

“While gluten and dairy are common food intolerances, sometimes other ingredients can cause negative symptoms. For example, lectin is a carbohydrate-binding protein found in everything from dairy products and grains to legumes and certain vegetables — and many people [are] intolerant to them. Similarly, some people think they’re intolerant to rice, which is gluten-free and naturally very healthy, by the way, but the culprit is actually the garlic or onion that’s served with it.”

If you’re regularly constipated and cranky, increase your fibre intake. Adults should aim for 30 g a day.

“Beans and other legumes like chickpeas are incredible. They’re naturally high in protein and rich in fibre to help keep you ‘regular’ and fuller for longer. Unfortunately, they’re also a major source of bloating in some people. That said, you don’t have to go cold turkey on beans if they’re made you bloated in the past. Try switching to canned beans, as these can be easier to digest than dried. Rinsing them twice before using can also help.”

On the flipside, you could be consuming too many bloat-inducing foods like onions, cabbage or cauliflower.

If your bouts of groating are more regular, see your GP, as it could be something more serious like IBS. In one US study, 76 per cent of IBS sufferers patients reported issues with bloating. Often we underestimate the role of stress and anxiety in gut issues, too.

If your groating is simply that you’ve eaten too much, the best thing to do is exactly what you don’t feel like doing – get moving.

When your digestion is working overtime, or you’re suffering from constipation, exercising – and drinking water – is the best remedy. Or, if you’re too grumpy to step-outside, try a few yoga poses like Cat-cow pose, lying down knee twist or seated spinal twist. The simple fact that you’re aware of the impact of bloating on your mood can also help you regulate your responses.

If all else fails, switch on a comedy on Netflix – that always works a treat.