3 ways food guilt is causing your bloating

Could food guilt be the cause of your bloating? 

When we suffer from bloating the first place we look is the food we have eaten. Which is of course a natural response to any digestive discomfort. 

We might turn to Google for support, to figure out which foods could be causing the problem, so we can omit these from our diet and get that relief.

For some people, this can be enough to get that digestive relief. 

But for many, speaking from what I see in the clinic, this may lead to worsening symptoms and an overly restrictive diet. 

Preventing them from enjoying their food and creating fear around social events like eating out, holidays or visiting friends. 

The topic of food guilt was something that came up in the final session of the how to beat the bloat without cutting out more food group programme and it’s not the first time I’ve come across it! 

One of the participants mentioned how she noticed an almost instant reaction after eating this one food. As soon as she eats this food, her tummy blows up and the flare up can last for days.  

As we continued our conversation, we uncovered that this food that causes that almost instant reaction is something that she feels she shouldn’t eat as it’s not overly nutrient dense.

Almost like it’s a waste. 

There can also be some guilt around eating it for this reason. 

Another participant joined the conversation as it was something she has also experienced with a different food. 

Interestingly, this is a topic that shows up a lot in my 1-1 work and so today I’d like to discuss how food guilt could be the trigger of your digestive issues

Rather than the food itself. 

Firstly, let’s discuss the physiology of the digestive system. Gut transit time or the time taken can vary widely depending on the individual. 

From when we take our first bite until we excrete waste, this full digestive process including time in the stomach, small and large intestine can take anywhere from 24-72 hours. 

If we think about how long this process takes, it’s quite unlikely that the instant reaction could be from that food we just ate. 

So if it’s not the food, what is it? 

In my experience, there tends to be three drivers of instant digestive issues after eating something that we perceive to be a trigger food

1. How we eat

How we eat is as important for our digestive system as what we eat. Fast paced, distracted eating can result in food not being thoroughly enough before swallowing.

These larger particles of food are harder for our system to digest which can contribute to digestive discomfort. Similarly, when we eat quickly, we might end up swallowing air into the system which can also contribute to bloating, cramps and gut discomfort.

When we eat foods we feel we shouldn’t, we might end up eating these more quickly. Partly due to the excitement as these foods tend to taste great! 

We might also eat these foods more quickly to get rid of them and the evidence that we’ve eaten them.

How we eat can contribute to instant bloating and discomfort, more so than the food itself. 

2. The nocebo effect.

You might be familiar with the term the placebo effect, in which we may experience positive effects from, say, a medication, due to expectation of benefit.

This is used a lot in clinical trials, where the efficacy of a medication is tested out against a ‘placebo’ or sugar pill. In these trials, one group will be given the medication and one the placebo and neither know which group they’re in. 

If the placebo group are told that the sugar pill will result in improved symptoms, such as  pain relief for example, they may feel that improvement due to their expectation of benefit. 

The nocebo effect works in a similar way but in the opposite direction. 

If the individual is told that a sugar pill will cause headaches, they may experience headaches due to their expectation of that result.

We see this a lot in nutrition, in particular in the digestive health space. 

For example, someone may read online that X food causes digestive issues and should be avoided, with no evidence that this food is a trigger for them. 

This could be an anecdotal story or from medical pages which discuss evidence based elimination diets. 

Due to the expectation that this can trigger digestive issues, someone may experience real, physical symptoms such as bloating, pain, constipation or loose stools after eating this food. 

And no, it is not all in your head. 


3. Guilt after eating

Food guilt is a topic that is so common in my 1-1 work but is not something that we discuss all that often.

Food guilt involves unnecessary stress or anxiety associated with eating a particular food or meal we see as bad or unhealthy.

This might look like enjoying a pizza with friends and describing yourself as bold or out of control for eating so much.

This may also come with internal feelings of guilt or shame for eating this food.

Guilt is not something that feels good to experience. It can feel uncomfortable and even stressful, especially if we speak unkindly to ourselves in those moments. 

Stress is a huge driver of digestive issues. When we are in a stress state, this alters gut motility and the digestive process.

For some individuals, this can result in slower gut motility, contributing to bloating and constipation. 

For others, this can increase gut motility, contributing to cramps and loose stools.

For some, this can alternate depending on what they’re experiencing.

For those with digestive issues, we have that added worry about how that food may trigger a flare up.

Like the nocebo effect, if we believe that a food may cause digestive issues and we do our best to avoid said food, there can be a lot of guilt associated with eating that food. 

Because at some point, we will eat it.

Whether that’s by accident or by choice, the fear and anxiety of how that may impact our gut symptoms can bring a lot of guilt after eating it. 

Interestingly, the guilt, fear and stress might be the contributing factors to that flare up rather than the food itself. 

Not to mention the negative self talk that can often come with the flare up. 

Digestive issues can be extremely debilitating and challenging to manage. While food plays a key role, it is only one piece of the puzzle. 

If you’ve tried all the tests, supplements and food eliminations with no relief, perhaps it might be helpful to explore your relationship with food and how this could be contributing.

If this article is speaking to you and you feel like food guilt could be contributing to your digestive issues

A good starting point can be to explore which foods you feel guilty about eating. 

But how do I do this?

Sit down with a pen and paper and work through the following questions: 

  • List the foods you believe to be bad (this can include those which trigger digestive issues)
  • Next to this list, state why. Why is this food bad? Does this trigger your digestive issues?
  • Consider what evidence you have that this is a trigger food for you. (if you have cut this food out, have you reintroduced the food to test your tolerance? If not, how do you know it’s a trigger?) 

It’s no overnight fix but it can be a great starting point to not only improving your digestion 

But it can also help you heal your relationship with food. 

Want support? The how to beat the bloat without cutting out more food group programme could be just what you need. 

This programme is different because you’ll discover how to use a regular yoga practice to support your gut health journey alongside food

While also being part of a supportive community of people going on the same journey as you. 

Click here for all information and what to expect. Will you be joining us in October?