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  • Rachel Measures

How Bloating is Affecting our Body Image and Why it Should Be Considered ‘Normal’

We have all heard someone go ‘ugh, I’m so bloated’ or 'look at my food baby'. Maybe we’ve said it ourselves. It doesn’t matter our body shape, our gender or what has caused it, we’ve all experienced it in one way or another. Bloating is typically viewed negatively. For many, the belly bloat can be deeply upsetting as that heavy feeling in our stomachs affects the way we look and fit in our clothes. Our body image can be seriously reduced by enjoying a full meal, even though this bloating ‘side effect’ is usually completely normal.

There are many reasons as to why the human body bloats, such as excess wind, swallowing air while eating, food intolerance or irritable bowel syndrome, as noted by the NHS website, and it is a common feeling alongside cramping experienced by those who menstruate. However, one of the biggest causes of ‘bloating’ is eating and is totally normal.

When we eat or drink, our stomachs expand as our body turns our food into necessary fuel. The breaking down of what we consume is a normal part of the digestion process and it produces gas. This expands our stomachs like a balloon. Typically, in these moments, we’re simply misinterpreting the feeling of fullness as bloating, and this generally passes in a couple of hours. Bloating, therefore, is no cause for concern, but should the symptoms persist always consult your GP to rule out anything more serious.

With the rise in social media, however, we are consistently exposed to the idealised beauty standards of what we call a ‘perfect body’. Of course, the perfect body does not exist. But that does not stop us from constantly comparing ourselves to others. Even though we recognise that people commonly share on social media on their good days, using certain angles to their advantage or enhancing themselves with filters, it can be hard to get away from those negative feelings that bloating can cause. In this way, bloating plays a significant role in weight stigma where being thin is attributed to looking good and being attractive.

It is no surprise that, according to gastroenterologist Dr Bedford, there’s been a significant increase in patients concerned about normal bloating over the past ten years, and as the rise of social media has coincided, people believe that there is something wrong if their stomach is not flat at all times.

Fortunately, a recent social media trend has seen influencers reassure their followers, through side-by-side images on Instagram and videos on TikTok, to show how their stomachs, and outfits, look at different times of the day, before and after food and drink. They remind their viewers that indulging in delicious food is not a bad thing, bloating is temporary, and that comparing your evening bloat, to someone’s flat stomach of a morning, is not a reason to punish yourself.

TikTok Influencer Clara Normalises Bloating In Her Videos.

Recognising that the feeling of fullness and occasional bloating is a normal part of our digestion process is a step forward to tackling the very important issue of weight stigma and body image. It reminds us to not overthink the way our bodies look or behave and reminds us of the amazing job our stomachs are doing, working hard to keep us alive, by digesting our food.

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