The line between being bloated or being full can certainly be a fine one, and something that many clients struggle to distinguish. As a coach, if a client is dealing with chronic bloating and stomach distention that is absolutely something that needs to be addressed. But often times the bloating that a client thinks their dealing with is a normal, healthy response to eating enough food and they are simply full.
Why might someone struggle to distinguish between the two? There’s a handful of reasons.
You’re coming off of a diet
If you’ve just finished a diet phase, you’re used to eating less total calories and food volume because of the deficit. While our bodies are incredibly adaptive, it still takes time to adjust to the feeling of fullness after a diet. During this recovery period, clients will often times think they’re bloated when in reality they are actually just getting used to feeling the sense of fullness again. This is especially true the leaner you’ve gotten, like in a competition prep for example. And as with all dieting adaptations, like the longer the diet has been + the leaner you’ve gotten, the longer it’ll take to recover.
You’re recovering from years of restricting your food intake
If you’re recovering from chronic dieting, yo-yo dieting or any type of disordered eating, the feeling of fullness can in and of itself be a trigger. A sense of emptiness is actually something people learn to crave when they’re in these situations. Working with clients to understand that fullness does not mean you’re a failure, or that you overate or anything of the like is a critical step to normalizing this feeling. One part of this is physically adapting to eating more and feeding yourself more frequently; the other part of this is mentally accepting this as something normal versus something negative. If you’re struggling with this component, don’t feel like you have to hide it and certainly reach out for professional help if it has become consuming.
You think everyone (besides you) has a flat stomach 24/7
Social media can have you convinced that everyone besides you has a flat stomach 24/7, they never deal with bloating and they only have killer angles. Wrong. Logically speaking, most people are going to pick the photo or video to post where they look the best. And why wouldn’t they? No one chooses a bad photo on purpose (unless you’re trying to prove a specific point) so you can’t expect to look at a snapshot in time and think that represents how someone looks at all times of the day. Every single person, including you, has days where they feel great and other days where they feel like a bag of potatoes. Don’t let the internet convince you otherwise.
You might actually need to work on your digestion
While the focus of this article has been about learning to distinguish the difference between bloating and fullness, this distinction is not meant to downplay the clients who actually need to work on their digestion. There are many clients who do in fact have digestion and bloating issues that need to be addressed. Digestion and the world of gut health is still a bit murky but the best place to start is to simply start journaling and tracking your responses to specific foods.
Do you bloat every time you eat a certain food?
Do you not have regular bowel movements because you’re dehydrated?
Do you notice distention from work or home stress?
How does your meal timing effect your digestion?
If you’re a woman, where are you in your menstrual cycle?
These are just a handful of questions to ask yourself and relay to your coach. Sometimes, you’re just having a day where you’re bloated. Other times there are very specific things that trigger distention and poor digestion. The only way to recognize those differences is to take note of your individual biofeedback and adjust from there!
While this isn’t something everyone experiences, distinguishing between being bloated versus being full is a real struggle for many clients. Recognize where that struggle is stemming from whether it’s a dieting adaptation, a negative mindset around the feeling of being full or if you are truly having bloating issues. Once you understand the root cause, then you can start in the appropriate direction to fix it.