The good news is that if you have these symptoms, you have probably also mentioned them to your family doctor and had the 'big stuff' ruled out. If you haven't it would be worth booking an appointment because on rare occasions, bloating is the only symptom of more serious diseases like ovarian cancer. The bad news is that despite having "normal" test results, you still feel crummy and don't have any answers.
Fortunately, bloating is most commonly the result of poor digestion - not breaking down food properly, eating foods that aggravate your system, or failing to excrete the waste.
1. Breaking down food
Digestion is a multistep process beginning with smelling and anticipating your meal, which allows your mouth to release enzymes into your saliva as well as your stomach to release hydrochloric acid. Next, one of the most controllable, and yet poorly done aspects of digestion is chewing. We eat on a fast timeline and don't entirely chew or enjoy our meals in a relaxed state. If you do one thing to improve your digestion, it should be chewing your food completely. This will also help with feeling full and discourage overeating. In addition, I will often recommend digestive enzymes, apple cider vinegar, or an herbal formula of Gentian to get the ball rolling.
2. Food triggers
You may have already thought that there are foods you are eating that are giving you problems, even if you don't know which ones. As much as possible, I like to try avoiding a completely restrictive diet. Technically, we should be able to breakdown all of our foods without issue. The exception to this would be when foods are actually triggering an immune response that creates gas, fatigue, and an upset stomach. In this case, I suggest a partial or full elimination diet or a Food Sensitivity Test in order to figure out which foods your body is reacting to. The most common food triggers are: soy, dairy, gluten/wheat, eggs, corn, sugar and potato. Another common cause of a bloated belly is a high population of unfriendly organisms in the gut, or not enough of the good bacteria (called flora), that like to eat sugar and produce gas. This is where probiotics, fermented foods and fibre come in handy.
Even if you have regular bowel movements, it is quite common to still be constipated. Your system becomes backed up when you aren't quite passing enough stool each day, and if you had an x-ray taken, it would show a few feet of poop hanging around in your abdomen. (Yucky, really, when you think about it.) All that poop takes up real estate, and also increases the chance of toxins and waste being reabsorbed into the body instead of being excreted as it should be. In order to gently get your bowels moving (without potent and habit forming laxatives) I suggest trying one or all of the following: start your day with 1 tbsp fresh lemon in water, 2 tbsp ground flax seeds daily (mixed into applesauce, yogurt, oatmeal), Smooth Move tea by a company called Traditional Medicinals that is available at most grocery stores in Orangeville, or 1-2 tsp magnesium citrate powder in water at bedtime. If you have the opposite problem, and it seems like all your food is traveling very quickly from one end to the other, there are solutions for that too.
It is so important that you listen to the signals that your body gives out. It's the only way of communicating a problem with you, especially when all the tests are 'normal'. These digestive issues can come up at any time, especially during stressful periods, but you don't have to feel yucky forever.