Kathie Swift’s 4-Week Plan to Banish Bloat and Bad Bacteria

Lose the weight and stop bad bacteria from causing bloat with these simple steps.

Posted on | By Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RD, LDN

Week 1: Transition

This week, we launch our journey to digestive health and banishing the bloat by eliminating the Terrible Trio from the diet: sugar, gluten and dairy.

What to Eliminate

Sugar drives inflammation and adds the “empty calories” that make healthy weight almost impossible. By emphasizing whole foods, especially vegetables and fruits, we’re saying good-bye to processed foods with all their added sugar and potentially toxic chemical ingredients. That includes sugary sodas, sweetened drinks, teas, artificial sweeteners and fruit juice.

Gluten, a protein compound, is found in wheat and other common grains and virtually everywhere in the processed food supply. Lose it! For many people, especially women, gluten triggers an immune-system response that can result in digestive upset, bloating and symptoms that pop up anywhere in the body, including fatigue and depression.

Dairy is probably the most common food sensitivity, causing bloat, gas and IBS-type symptoms. We’ll find out if dairy is causing you problems by eliminating it for the first and second weeks.

What to Limit

Give your gut a vacation from potential irritants by limiting:

  • Grains: Only a couple servings of gluten-free grains a week. On the good-to-eat list are: brown rice, certified gluten-free oats, and so-called “pseudo-grains” like quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth.
  • Caffeinated beverages: No more than one 8-ounce cup of coffee or two cups of tea (green, white or black) a day, without milk or cream.
  • Alcohol: No more than two drinks a week.

What to Embrace

FFP: Fiber, fat and protein. That’s how I sum up how you should be eating this first week, and for all four weeks of the plan. Whenever you can, load up on vegetables with a full range of colors. They’re packed with vitamins, minerals and the fiber that feeds the good bacteria in your gut, helping to protect and maintain digestive health. Also great for fiber, in moderation, are fresh fruit and some whole grains like steel-cut, gluten-free oats; quinoa; and buckwheat. Healthy fats like nuts, seeds and avocados can help make you feel fuller in between meals and give your digestive system time to cleanse itself. Wild fish is a great source of healthy fat and the protein you need for a balanced diet. Lean chicken, turkey and beef, in moderation, are also good sources of protein, B vitamins and minerals like zinc.

How Will I Feel?

Everyone is different, but during this first week many of my clients feel their sugar cravings lessen and their belly calm down, resulting in less bloat and gas.

Week 2:  Refinement

The rules are the same this week as they were the first. Lose the added sugar, gluten and dairy, and processed food in general, and limit the gluten-free grains, caffeine drinks and dairy. This week is about deepening the groove you’ve already established, getting more and more comfortable with this new way of eating. And now you can start to cast a wider culinary net. For instance, if spinach and kale were your go-to leafy green vegetables, now try arugula and watercress.

How Will I Feel?

Without all that added sugar in the diet, your blood sugar levels should stabilize, which means less low-energy blahs. You may feel the results of less inflammation, such as fewer aches and pains and better skin tone, in addition to the improvements in the gut.

Week 3: Reintroduction

Added sugar, gluten and processed foods are still out but now that your gut has grown more resilient, we can begin to reintroduce certain foods that may have been too challenging for the sensitive gut. If you like dairy, experiment with bringing it back in small quantities (for example, milk or cream in your coffee), high-quality (organic, from pasture-raised cows) and full-fat is fine. We’re also reintroducing legumes, high-fiber foods that can turbocharge gut health, for instance, chickpeas and black peas. And now we’re bringing fermented foods into the mix, foods like unsweetened plain yogurt and kefir made from milk; miso, tempeh and tofu made from soy; and fermented veggies like cabbage (sauerkraut) and beets. The live bacterial cultures in these foods interact with our own gut bacteria. They start working together to help improve our cholesterol, our blood pressure, our immunity, even our mood and they can help us maintain a healthy weight and eliminate bloat.

Start with one fermented food per day. If you don’t experience gas or bloating after eating the food, you can continue with it. If you do, stop immediately and try something different the next day. Pick any meal you want, yogurt for breakfast or sauerkraut on a veggie burger for lunch or tofu for dinner.

How Will I Feel?

Look for a calmer belly and continued improvements thanks to low inflammation, such as fewer headaches, less joint pain and skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema clearing up.

Week 4: Renewal and Long-Term Lifestyle

The rules are the same in the last week. Now it’s all about sustainability, being mindful about how about you can eat this way forever. Make a list of the challenges you’ve faced eating this way and the strategies you’ve figured out to stay on the healthy eating, low-bloat path.

How Will I Feel?

At this point, the benefits you experience may be as much mental as physical. You may feel mentally sharper and generally more buoyant and lighter in spirit. A big part of being able to maintain this new positive outlook is your ability to manage stress which, unchecked, can knock us off course and harm the friendly bacteria in our gut. Take a few minutes out from your day to check in with yourself with a mind-body exercise that can help with any anxieties that may have been building up. Many of the stress-busting techniques drawn from Indian yoga and Chinese qigong key in on steady, relaxed breathing. It’s a way to balance your gut's nervous system and stimulate the flow of energy (the Chinese call it chi) in the digestive tract. That can help banish the bloat. Your good bacteria will love you for it!

Here’s one breathing/relaxation exercise I’ve adapted from qigong.

  • Allow your shoulders to relax and arms to dangle at your sides.
  • Turn palms upward, inhale, slowly raise arms forward and upward to the height of your heart then turn your palms downward and exhale.
  • Allow your breath to be full and build up a gentle rhythm.

Article written by Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RD, LDN
Kathie Madonna Swift is a leading integrative dietitian, author and educator.