I try to load up on veggies rather than eat junky foods, but they tend to make me so bloated, and then I just feel unhealthy and blah. Any tips to fight it?
Ah, yes, the dreaded veggie bloat. This is such a common issue, because so many of us are (rightly) trying to load up on all things leafy. In fact, the U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that most adults consume two and a half to three cups of vegetables per day (along with two cups of fruit), yet data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that strikingly few of us meet that recommendation. But as much as it seems like you can never have too many plants in your diet, more isn’t always better.
First, you should know that there isn't any additional health benefit to be gained from eating more than five servings a day of fruits and veggies combined, research shows. A large 2014 review from the Harvard School of Public Health, for example, looked at data from 16 studies on the link between fruit and veggie consumption and risk of death for more than 833,000 people who were followed for up to 26 years. The researchers found that each individual serving up to five servings (a serving is one cup of leafy greens, one medium fruit, or half a cup of chopped or cooked fruit or vegetables) was associated with a 5% decrease in risk of death; after five servings, the protection plateaued. This may be because, as great as kale, carrots, assorted fruits, and the like are for you, your body may only be able to process and use a limited amount of the nutrients within them per day.
It’s not unhealthy to be bloated, in the sense that it won’t cause lasting damage, but it sure is uncomfortable.
You can cut down on this discomfort by dialing back the veggie consumption a bit: Try continuing to eat veggies as part of your lunches and dinners, but see if you can make your snacks less fiber-heavy. Fruit and nuts are the obvious alternatives, but they’re still fairly high in fiber. Instead, you might notice that incorporating a serving or two of more easily digestible snacks like pretzels, chips, cookies, or crackers (with no added fiber) actually feels better and causes less bloating later in the day. And I’d encourage you not to label these snacks as “junky,” but instead think of them as necessary components of variety, moderation, and balance — the true keys to good nutrition.
And then there’s the matter of how you feel about bloating, which is equally important to address. I totally get why bloating can make you feel bad physically; while being bloated means different things to different people, it typically involves some amount of intestinal gas and abdominal distension that can make you feel constricted by your clothes.
That’s uncomfortable for anyone, even people with a fabulous body image. But bloating is extra tough for people who struggle to accept and love their bodies (which is the majority of women, btw). And I think that’s often the bigger issue for many people who worry about it.
I don’t know if this was a factor for you, but to anyone who worries about bloating, I invite you to consider the role that body negativity might be playing in the “blah” feeling.
In reality, having a belly that sticks out is nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s increasingly common to see people rocking clothes that highlight, rather than hide, their bellies (VBO, anyone?). It’s a courageous act in a society that’s still overwhelmingly body-negative, and maybe that’s not for you just yet. But you can take a step in the body-positive direction by deciding to stop beating yourself up for the occasional belly bloat.
Christy Harrison is an NYC-based registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in intuitive eating, eating disorder recovery, and Health at Every Size. She writes about food and nutrition for various publications and hosts Food Psych, a podcast dedicated to improving your relationship with food.