Beat the bloat… Our top four tips for reducing bloating and fluid retention fast

Did the end of year festivities leave you feeling a bit sluggish and puffy?  You’re not alone… the season of indulgence and partying tends to cause many a healthy habit to fall by the wayside. As a consequence, we may experience irregularity, bloating and fluid retention.

 

But fear not, a few lifestyle tweaks can do a lot to help you feel better – just be sure to chat to your GP first if your symptoms are severe or you’re pregnant.

 

 

  1. Up the (right kind of) fluids

 

Drinking more fluids seems counterintuitive when we’re trying to ease water retention… you’ve probably heard drinking up in fact flushes out waste as well as excess salt, which are often the reason why fluid accumulates in the body.

 

So up your intake of water, or try your hand at juicing. Besides having a high water content, certain fruit and veg – such as lemon, watermelon, pineapple, celery and cucumber – have beneficial effects on the intestinal system too, with natural diuretic properties, and can help keep us regular too. And if excess gas is the problem, herbal teas like ginger or peppermint are great to guzzle to banish the bloat. Limit carbonated drinks though, for obvious reasons…

 

  1. Eat for hormonal balance

 

That time of the month? Many women experience water retention and bloating a few days before they get their period: there may be an increase in fluids in the abdomen as well as hands and feet. The scales can climb up by as much as 10 lbs just because of the excess water.

 

To help balance hormones (and counter PMS-related bloating), make sure you’re eating plenty of fresh fruit and veg. Potassium-rich bananas are a good choice, and so are fibre-rich nuts, legumes and whole-grains. After an even bigger impact? Significantly reduce animal fat and protein; ditch the extra salt and processed foods and cut right down on alcohol (might sound like a chore but check out your ankles after a week and you’ll be skipping all the way to the celery aisle!).

 

  1. Get moving

 

Tied to the desk? A lot of time sitting down can slow things down (read: cause constipation) and lead to swollen legs. Movement counters this by stimulating the bowels, circulation and the lymphatic system, so get up for a stretch on a regular basis. Sweating is even better when it comes to getting rid of excess fluid, so schedule some fun cardio into your week.

 

  1. Soak up some magnesium

 

Few things are as relaxing as soaking in a warm bath, but adding two cups of Epsom or magnesium salts into the water can also boost your body’s ability to eliminate toxins and excess fluid. Relax for 20 minutes (don’t let the water get too hot) and repeat once a week if needed.

 

 

 

Inhale wellbeing, exhale stress …The power of proper breathing

How often do you think about your breathing? Probably no more than you do about blinking or swallowing, unless you meditate a lot… So it may come as a surprise that the way we breathe habitually can have a major effect on our physical and emotional wellbeing.

We’re all born breathing in the optimal way. But as we begin to spend more of our time sitting down (first at school and later, the office), face new responsibilities and stressful situations and are even encouraged ‘suck it in’ to make our stomachs appear flatter, many of us switch over time to a less efficient, shallower style of breathing. And the difference in the amount of fresh, oxygenated air our body receives with each breath can be huge: shallow breathing may use only about a third of our lung capacity (que lethargy, poor digestion, anxiety, negative moods, trouble sleeping…).

Fortunately, we can re-learn our natural way of breathing. And while it’s not a miracle cure or the answer to everything, the potential health benefits are so significant it’s no surprise that breathing features at the heart of many wellbeing practices, from yoga to meditation.

And gasp… it’s also free, requires no equipment and is available to us wherever we are!

1. The importance of correct breathing

Oxygen is essential to our wellbeing – every cell requires oxygen to function properly and can’t survive long without it. From digestion and detoxification of our immune system, breathing fully lets our cells and vital organs do what they do at maximum efficiency. Shallow breathing, on the other hand, taxes our body by pushing it to work harder and makes us more vulnerable to physical ailments.

Our mental wellbeing also gets a boost from proper breathing. Our brain functions best with a steady supply of oxygenated air which helps us stay more alert and focused and may also lift our mood.

2. The stress-breath connection

Stress and anxiety are best buddies with shallow breathing: the tightening, tension-inducing effects of stress cause shallow, quick breathing – and breathing this way makes it more difficult for us to relax again. But while we can’t avoid stressful situations, we can take steps to calm ourselves and break the cycle by consciously focusing on and changing our breathing. Slow, deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, helping us relax and avoid a host of potential health problems.

3. Correct breathing, step by step

So how do we breathe correctly? The natural way of breathing is also known as belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing (after diaphragm, the main muscle involved in breathing, which is located underneath the lungs): the belly rises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation, while the chest stays relatively still. Natural breathing is also fairly slow and the lungs are completely filled and emptied with each breath.

If we’re used to shallow chest breathing, we may need to spend some time practising belly breathing. Making the change doesn’t need to be a huge undertaking, though: spend a little time everyday (maybe first thing in the morning and last thing before bed) focusing on your breath and adjusting as necessary, and repeat whenever you become aware of your breathing throughout the day.

Try these steps:

1.     Place one hand on your chest and one on your belly (this makes it easier to notice if we’re breathing with the chest or the belly)

2.     Push your belly out with each inhalation and pull it in with each exhalation

3.     Let your lungs fill in and empty out completely

With enough practise, breathing deeply with the belly should become effortless and automatic.

3. Breathe… as first aid for stress

Not only does correct breathing support our general wellbeing, but it’s also one of the best tools to get us over a those stressful humps during the day… There are plenty of breathing techniques to choose from when you want to induce some calm into the chaos of a busy day, but ‘tactical breathing’ is an easy one to remember. Used by the military and athletes to manage stress, the steps are super simple:

1.     Inhale for a count of four

2.     Hold for a count of four

3.     Exhale for a count of four

4.     Hold for a count of four

5.     Repeat four times

Want to see tactical breathing in action? Belisa Vranich talks about the power of correct breathing and demonstrates her breathing technique in this TEDx Talk.