According to TCM, when it comes to bloating, the first places to look for a problem are the stomach, spleen and liver.
The spleen and stomach are the body’s primary agents of digestion, in charge of absorbing food, creating blood and qi (vital energy) from it, and transporting nutrients to the rest of the body. When this pair of organs fails to function properly, the improperly digested food can give rise to stagnant qi.
When food and fluids became stuck in the spleen, you may experience bloating, sluggishness, decreased appetite and a puffy face and eyes.
Another possible result of poor digestion is too much yin energy (coldness) in the stomach, which can lead to abdominal dampness and cause blood to stagnate. You may also experience stomach pains, including period-related pains.
Bloating can also be the result of a liver imbalance. The liver is the organ in charge of regulating qi and blood. When those elements aren’t flowing properly, they can end up accumulating in the chest and abdomen. Other symptoms may include a stiff neck and shoulders, irritability, insomnia and headaches.
Imbalances in these organs can be caused by a variety of factors, including overeating, too much dairy and cold foods, not getting enough exercise, or even repressed anger or stress.
If you’re dealing with bloating, it’s a good idea to treat your digestive system gently. Obviously, you should cut out carbonated drinks such as soda and beer. Avoid eating large, heavy meals, as this can overload your stomach and spleen. Foods that are spicy and frozen should be avoided, as well as high-starch foods like potatoes, peanuts and pumpkin, which can be difficult to digest.
Bitter foods: Bitter foods are known to help qi move downwards, and to benefit digestion. Try brewing a tangerine or orange peel tea with a dash of sugar. It would be best to zest your own tangerine, but you can use dried peels.
Rose and jujube date tea: This aromatic beverage warms the stomach, expels dampness and helps your qi flow more smoothly. Steep five dried roses and two jujube dates in hot water for 10 minutes, then drink.
Barley malt (mai ya): Barley malt promotes gastric acid secretion and also contains enzymes that help break down starch. In TCM terms, that means it decongests the stomach, aids digestion and strengthens liver qi. Simply stew some barley malt grains in hot water to make a tea. In addition, its sweet, nutty flavor makes barley malt extract a popular ingredient in vegan baking recipes.
Use a hot water bottle: Using a hot water bottle against your stomach after meals can help get your abdominal blood flowing, preventing stasis.
Massage your stomach: Rubbing your stomach in a circular motion helps to get your spleen and stomach qi flowing. Lie on your back and use the palm of your hand to circle around your navel 100 times in a clockwise direction.
Take a gentle stroll after meals: This gets your blood flowing, keeps your body upright, and prevents your digestive organs from stagnating under the weight of all the food you just ate. However, it’s important to take it easy while your stomach is still processing your meal, as vigorous exercise can interfere with digestion.
Drink warm fluids, and avoid cold or frozen foods: In the TCM view of digestion, the stomach needs to be heated in order to break down foods. When you lower your internal temperature with cold foods, such as an iced drink, your body has to use up extra energy to process it, which can lead to poor digestion.