• May 27, 2024

Bloating And Body Image with Chelsea Kearney: Episode 55

Welcome back to another episode of The Imbodi Health Podcast!  Today I’m joined by one of my friends, colleagues, and […]

Welcome back to another episode of The Imbodi Health Podcast!  Today I’m joined by one of my friends, colleagues, and an IBS all-around specialist – Chelsea Kearney. 

Chelsea is a Brisbane-based dietitian who works completely online. She’s an IBS and FODMAP dietitian, and the creator of the IBS Relief Program, which is a completely digital solution to helping people all over the world struggling with constipation, bloating, gas, diarrhea, or all of the above.

Today, we are super excited to be taking a deeper dive into bloating and body image. But as always, let’s kick things off with our rants and raves for the week!


Rants and Raves

Chelsea’s Rant:

I don’t think anything has really fired me up this week. I’ve had a bit of a mediocre week in terms of rants, which is a good thing, a good position to sit in. 

But, my rant for this week is that the days are getting shorter. We’re certainly moving further and further away from Summer. Thank goodness it’s not as hot as it was in Southeast Queensland. But today, the sunrise was at 6 a.m. In my opinion, it’s a little bit late. But if that’s the worst thing this week, that’s got to be a win. 


Chelsea’s Rave:

My rave is I’ve created a brand new recipe. It’s one that I’m going to share with my clients very soon. It’s a low FODMAP Ragu, and if you’ve ever made a Ragu before, you know that that task is close to impossible because every recipe starts with a bucket load of onion, garlic, and celery—three super high FODMAP ingredients. 

I’m one to honor a recipe. If I follow a recipe, whether it be for a chocolate chip cookie, a chocolate cake, or a Ragu, I’m going to follow the steps and accept the consequences later on. And this particular Ragu, which I typically make, has been known to cause issues for me in the past. However, the win for this week, or this rave, is that I’ve made a low FODMAP Ragu which is IBS, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea-friendly. A big win!


Kiah’s Rave:

On that note of what you’re talking about with the walks and the sunrise – one of the things Chelsea and I do because we’re neighbors, is we always go on little Wednesday morning walks—mental health walks. Get a little coffee. And we had the most beautiful sunrise this week. 

Kiah’s Rant:

My rant is probably just a little annoying one. Today, I’m doing a few podcast episodes, and they’ve decided to do some renovations next door. So if you guys can hear a little bit of drilling in the background, it’s been going on all week. 

I feel like around where I live, there are so many renovations going on all the time. It’s annoying because it’s just extra sound and so distracting. 

Renovations aside, let’s get into today’s topic! 


Q1. Can you tell the audience a little bit about what is bloating versus what is normal digestive function?

Of course. Normal digestive function involves experiencing some level of bloating or distention throughout the day, especially when eating, drinking, sitting for prolonged periods, or wearing tight clothing. 

Bloating refers to the feeling—it’s the internal sensation some describe as feeling like they’ve swallowed a watermelon or a balloon. 

Distension, on the other hand, is the physical increase in girth of your waist, making some say, “I look like I’m six months pregnant, but I’m not,” or “I look like I’ve swallowed a watermelon.” 

A little bloating and distension throughout the day can be a healthy sign that your digestive system is working, and the gut microbiome is fermenting the foods you consume. 

However, if bloating and distension interrupt your day, forcing you to unzip your pants immediately after getting in the car or when you walk through the front door, or if you find yourself body checking due to bloating, these are signs of abnormal bloating that need to be addressed.

Kiah: Definitely. It’s important to highlight that bloating can be a sign of normal digestive functioning – unless it’s causing you pain or significantly interrupting your life. 

In today’s world, where social media bombards us with body image ideals, especially on platforms like Instagram and TikTok where everyone seems to have a flat stomach and claims “What I eat in a day to maintain a six-pack” or “What I eat in a day for a flat tummy all day,” it’s important to remember that these aren’t realistic representations. 

Plus, constantly trying to pull in your tummy can be detrimental to your pelvic floor, especially for people with uteruses. We have organs there that won’t move. It’s normal for our bodies to change throughout the day, and it’s okay to bloat. 

But when bloating becomes severe, it can significantly impact our body image. There’s also a strong connection between eating disorders and gut issues. Some studies have shown that 98% of people with eating disorders meet the criteria for at least one gastrointestinal disorder. This high statistic adds complexity to the treatment process.


Q2. How is bloating during eating disorders different?

Chelsea: I’ll share my perspective first, and then I’d love to hear your thoughts. Different forms of eating disorders and eating patterns can affect digestion. For instance, food restriction means you’re not getting enough energy to fuel digestion, which requires about 10% of your daily energy expenditure. 

So, if you’re not consuming adequate food, you lack the energy for proper digestion. This can lead to constipation due to not enough volume passing through the intestines. The slower transit time allows food or waste to ferment in the colon, causing more bloating and gas. 

That’s just one way food restriction can exacerbate bloating and constipation issues.

Kiah: Absolutely, and the slowed digestive emptying due to restrictive eating isn’t discussed enough. 

When the body doesn’t get enough calories, it prioritises vital functions, potentially slowing down less essential ones, like digestion. This can lead to conditions like gastroparesis, where the stomach empties slowly, resulting in bloating and constipation. 

In binge eating disorder or in cases combining binge eating with bulimia, consuming large food quantities at once can overwhelm the digestive system, causing discomforting symptoms like reflux, heartburn, and belching.

Chelsea: I completely agree. Consuming excessive amounts of food can put more pressure on the digestive system. Perhaps people aren’t chewing their food properly, which is essential for breaking it down with teeth, saliva, and digestive enzymes to aid effective digestion. 

Kiah: The types of foods people consume play a significant role. Many people with eating disorders tend to eat high-fiber diets. While fiber is beneficial as the undigested part of plant-based foods, it can also cause bloating and digestive upset because the body struggles to digest it. I’m sure you can elaborate more on that.

Chelsea: Absolutely. High-fiber diets often include plant-based proteins like legumes—chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans. 

These foods are not only high in fiber but also high in FODMAPs. So, several factors could irritate the gut: the volume of food, the fiber content, and the fermentable carbohydrates. 

While these carbs are beneficial for gut health and the discomfort you experience after eating them is a sign that your gut microbiome is fermenting the foods – it’s a catch-22. These plant-based proteins are generally good for you but can result in uncomfortable symptoms.


Q3. Another factor we often see, not just in eating disorders but in many people, is the consumption of artificially sweetened products. Can you explain how that affects things?

Artificially sweetened products like chewing gum, mints, diet beverages, and sugar-free jellies often use high-FODMAP sweeteners. These sweeteners resist digestion, traverse the small intestine, and attract extra fluid, leading to increased bloating and gas. They can also cause diarrhea. So, a diet high in these artificially sweetened products can contribute to these symptoms.


Q4. Let’s shift the focus a bit to body image. Do you have any strategies for managing body image struggles when experiencing bloating or digestive issues?

Chelsea: First and foremost, acknowledging and talking about it is crucial.

Body image struggles and feeling uncomfortable in your body are topics many of us find difficult to discuss with friends and family. Recognising that you’re not alone and there are immediate steps you can take to feel better is important. 

Although it’s a common experience, it doesn’t make it any easier. A practical step is to consider the clothing you wear. Avoid tight or restrictive clothing around your abdomen, as this can amplify physical discomfort and make bloating more noticeable. Opt for comfortable, flowy dresses or leggings that you feel good in. Comfort is key. 

Kiah: Clothing is something I often discuss with my clients during the eating disorder recovery process. As body image and body shape can change, your wardrobe may no longer fit or suit you. 

This can lead to negative thought patterns and a feeling of discomfort with your appearance. Holding onto clothes that no longer fit, thinking you’ll wear them when you lose weight, can hinder your body acceptance journey. 

One impactful statement that resonates with me is, “Clothes are made to fit you; you’re not designed to fit your clothes.” It’s a tough decision to revamp your wardrobe, which can also be expensive. 

Chelsea: Revamping your wardrobe doesn’t have to break the bank. It’s all about finding affordable ways to make your clothing work for you and your changing body shape. 

I recently organised a clothing swap with friends, where we exchanged items that no longer fit us but might fit someone else. It’s a great way to refresh your wardrobe without spending much money and can also be a fun and social event!

Kiah: When discussing body image with my exercise physiologist, Imo, who was a guest on our podcast, she said something insightful. She suggested that when trying on clothes in stores, where the mirrors and lighting can be less than flattering, turn away from the mirror and focus on how the clothes feel on you before looking at yourself. 

This way, you prioritise how you feel in your clothes over what you see.

Speaking of body image and clothes, I recently went through a similar experience. After having two babies within two years, my body went through significant changes. 

During my pregnancies, I didn’t buy many clothes anticipating that my body shape would return to its pre-pregnancy state shortly after giving birth. However, post-pregnancy, my body was different—not the same weight or shape as before. 

I struggled daily to find clothes that fit and made me feel comfortable and confident. I was stuck in this frustrating in-between phase where nothing seemed to fit.

While I love activewear, there are times, like weekends or dinner outings with friends, where I felt unprepared because nothing fit properly. My body had changed in ways that made me feel uncomfortable and less confident. 

The idea of spending a lot of money on a whole new wardrobe when my body was still changing was daunting. So, I turned to Depop, an app for buying and selling secondhand clothes. I knew the brands that usually fit me well and focused my search there. The clothes were priced between $8-$10, with a $10 shipping fee.

So, I revamped my wardrobe affordably, choosing sizes that were a few sizes larger than I usually wear. Some might not fit perfectly, but they fit better than my current clothes that don’t fit at all. Now, I’m excited to wear them.

For me, it’s also about aligning with my personal values. I’d rather buy secondhand than support fast fashion. There’s a saying that resonates with me: “Buy it right, buy it once.” The flip side is “the poor man buys twice.” So, that’s always in my mind now. Getting these clothes delivered has made me feel more comfortable and confident.


Q5. We’ve covered wearing clothes that fit and feel comfortable. What other body image strategies can we use when experiencing bloating?

Chelsea: In those moments, it’s crucial to be compassionate with yourself. When looking in the mirror with bloating, remind yourself that it’s a normal bodily function and has nothing to do with your self-worth. It’s a sign that your digestive system is working, and that’s something to be grateful for. 

Kiah: One thing I often discuss with my clients is body neutrality. If you’ve been following this podcast or worked with me, you’ve likely encountered this concept. 

Body image can be seen as a spectrum, with negative body image on one end—where you may dislike how you look—and positive body image on the other, where you love every part of yourself. 

For many, achieving positive body image can feel unattainable when coming from a place of body dissatisfaction. That’s where body neutrality comes in, aiming for a more neutral relationship with our bodies. It’s about recognising that things are only positive or negative when we assign those judgments to them. For instance, a vacuum cleaner sitting in a room is neither positive nor negative until we decide how we feel about it.

The same applies to our bodies—they’re neutral until we place judgments on them. With body neutrality, we focus on appreciating our bodies for what they can do, like using our arms to pick up our children or our hands to grab something from a high shelf. 

It’s about valuing the functions of our bodies rather than solely focusing on appearance. You might not reach a point where you love your body, but you can practice accepting and appreciating it. 

When experiencing bloating, you can try affirmations like, “It’s challenging to deal with this bloating right now, but I’m grateful for my digestive system that processes food, fuels my body, and allows me to do the things I love.”


Q6. Are there any practical strategies or things that you can do outside of body image to help with bloating?

Chelsea: One effective method is sipping on a cup of hot peppermint tea. Hot beverages, in general, aid in stimulating the digestive system and can help with the gastrocolic reflex. Peppermint tea specifically has been known to calm the muscles of the bowel, easing spasm, pain, and bloating. 

Another useful approach is using a hot water bottle or heating pad on the belly, which can provide relief.

Kiah: These strategies align well with self-care practices. It’s essential to be gentle with yourself and engage in activities that are comforting. 

Speaking of which, the gut-mind connection is quite relevant to our discussion. The gut-brain connection plays a significant role in digestive health both symptomatically and from a treatment standpoint. Could you elaborate on that?

Chelsea: Certainly. The gut-brain connection involves the vagus nerve, which serves as a bi-directional pathway between the brain and the gut, facilitating constant communication between the two. 

Often, stress experienced in the mind can manifest as symptoms in the gut, such as bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea. 

Conversely, gut discomfort can signal the brain, triggering stress responses. This cycle can become a chicken-or-the-egg situation. 

It’s important to address stress as a potential trigger for gut symptoms and work on improving the communication between the gut and the brain to manage conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Kiah: I’m curious about gut-directed hypnotherapy as an alternative strategy, especially for those who may not be ready to make dietary changes. Could you explain how this might benefit someone?

Chelsea: Gut-directed hypnotherapy may sound unconventional, but it’s a well-established approach.

During a session, a hypnotherapist records a personalised script for the patient, which they can then listen to at home regularly. This recording is designed to relax the individual and retrain the communication between the gut and the brain, alleviating symptoms of IBS, including bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. 

Studies have shown it to be as effective as the low FODMAP diet. Sometimes, dietary interventions may not be suitable or timely for everyone, making alternative approaches like hypnotherapy valuable. Hypnotherapy has also been used for various other purposes, including smoking cessation, and there’s ongoing research in areas like menopause.


Q7: How does diaphragmatic breathing work with digestion?

Diaphragmatic breathing aims to calm your central nervous system by focusing on your breath for a duration of three, five, or even 10 minutes. It’s particularly beneficial before a meal. 

By calming the central nervous system, it reduces stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can heighten sensitivity to bloating, pain, and cramps.

Kiah: Could you explain what diaphragmatic breathing entails?

Chelsea: Diaphragmatic breathing involves consciously focusing on your breath’s origin. 

Often, people breathe shallowly, not taking full deep breaths. To practice diaphragmatic breathing, place your hand on your abdomen—somewhere between your bra line and your belly button. Breathe in deeply, allowing your belly to expand over a count of four, hold for two to three seconds, and then exhale over another count of four. 

This slow, controlled breathing helps shift your focus, calms the central nervous system, and prepares your body for digestion. While there are various breathing techniques like box breathing, diaphragmatic breathing emphasizes deep belly breathing, feeling the lungs and diaphragm expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale.

It’s simple, requires no special tools, and can be done anywhere, anytime.


Q8. Another important aspect I’d like to discuss is the role of exercise, especially concerning bloating and body image. Could you elaborate on that?

Chelsea: Exercise is incredibly beneficial for alleviating bloating, digestive discomfort, and improving body image. 

Physical movement boosts mood by releasing endorphins, often referred to as “happy hormones.” I believe the primary hormone released during exercise is dopamine, but it could also be oxytocin or serotonin. These chemicals play a crucial role in enhancing overall well-being.

Kiah: There’s always some good that comes out of it. Exercise is beneficial for so many reasons. 

During the day, you get exposed to vitamin D, which is essential for mood, brain function, and bone health. Fresh air from walking or light movement can also help with passing trapped wind and gas. 

I recently saw someone on Instagram or TikTok talking about going for a walk after dinner, which I think is a great idea.

Of course, I want to add a caveat: if you’re experiencing an eating disorder, always check with your treatment team to see if exercise is appropriate for you. Working with an exercise physiologist can also provide additional guidance. 

There are numerous studies linking exercise and movement to improved well-being. Movement can look different for everyone—it’s not just about going to the gym for an hour. It could be your early morning walks, mental health walks, or even what some call “fart walks.” Whatever helps you move, it’s beneficial.


Q9: To wrap things up, what is one thing you’d like our listeners to take away from this episode?

Bloating is normal. That’s my key takeaway: some bloating is normal, and it’s part of the natural human digestive process. 


Where you can find Chelsea:

Instagram: @IBS_dietitian

TikTok: @IBS_dietitian

Website: www.ibsreliefprogram.com

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