Ask Dr Libby: Why do I get so bloated in the afternoon?

Many people tell me they experience their tummies getting more and more bloated as the day continues. There are many reasons why this might be happening; one of the first to explore is stress. The production of stress hormones causes blood to be diverted away from digestion to your periphery so that your arms and legs are powered with a good blood supply and oxygen to help you get out of danger.


However, too many people are stressed regularly due to their pace of life or perception of pressure and urgency. When we eat in this state digestion may be compromised so if you’ve had a hectic morning or you’re not feeling entirely calm, this could be why you’re experiencing bloating as the day wears on. Coffee can also stimulate stress hormone production. Some people find that removing or reducing their intake of coffee helps to reduce afternoon bloating although that’s probably a solution you’d prefer not to hear!

Whether the result of stress or lifestyle choices, some people don’t produce adequate stomach acid. This can affect optimal digestive processes right from the outset. Think of your food as a big long string of circles, or pearls on a string. Your teeth and saliva go to work first on breaking the circles apart and stomach acid then continues that breakdown process.

Poor stomach acid production alone can lead to bloating. When food is not broken down sufficiently it may arrive in the intestines in a form that is still too large. Here the bacteria that inhabit the large intestine will begin to ferment whatever food is delivered to them. As gut bacteria break down the larger fragments of food they produce gas, which can lead to that uncomfortable bloated feeling.

Chewing food really well is the first step to help reduce bloating. Sit in a calm state and focus on chewing your food properly. This is often helped by ensuring you’re not distracted when you eat your meals. No more eating on the run or in front of your computer screen if you can help it! You might be surprised how much of a difference this small change can make.

Apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in warm water before meals can help to increase stomach acid production, which promotes proper digestion of food. It is also a good idea to drink water away from meals rather than with them to maximise the action of stomach acid.

Sometimes bloating is caused by the consumption of foods that your body cannot digest efficiently. It can be challenging to pinpoint a food intolerance as we can experience symptoms up to 48 hours after consuming something that doesn’t agree with us, depending on the stage of digestion. If you have a feeling that something you’re eating isn’t working for you, it can be helpful to keep a note of your symptoms and what you eat for a couple of weeks to try and track the culprit.