Something’s up with my stomach. It’s bloated. Not just post-Thanksgiving dinner bloated; this is more serious. I have to tuck my stomach into my jeans, and when I went swimming with my daughter, I couldn’t even go underwater. Instead, I bobbed on the surface like a beach ball with legs.
I’ve been especially sensitive about my bloat since visiting my family. When you’re of childbearing age and haven’t seen your family in six months, the first thing they do is swiftly graze their eyes over your abdomen, just to see if you’re hiding any secrets. Usually one glance is enough. But this year, I feel the eyes linger. There are checks and double checks. Every time I begin a sentence with “Guess what?” my parents lean in with genuine interest.
I figured that my mother-in-law’s Midwestern cooking—where butter doubles as a dipping sauce—was to blame. But I wasn’t really gaining that much weight.
I eventually confided in my best friend because I knew she’d be honest without being hurtful. She’s the kind of friend who tells you a shirt doesn’t fit by insisting it wasn’t made right in the first place.
I lifted up my shirt, revealing my third-trimester bloat.
“Oh, that’s not right, honey.”
Unless you’ve experienced being as bloated as raccoon road kill on a hot day, you may not think it’s really that big of a deal. Let me assure you it is. First, you trade your skinny jeans for what my husband refers to as “giving up pants”: anything with a drawstring waist. Then you eventually birth your gas baby, which I believe in some states is grounds for divorce.
“Maybe you have a gluten allergy?” she offered. (My best friend lives in Portland, Oregon, where people subsist solely on grass-fed nuts and berries.)
I consulted the online experts—“iDoctors” as I like to call them—and narrowed the cause down to gluten, lactose intolerance, gassy foods (duh) or swallowing air (double-duh). The gluten allergy appealed to me. It’s like a permission slip for an eating disorder. And it seemed pretty easy to regulate: avoid all foods known to humankind, which conveniently includes all gassy foods.
I also carefully considered the possibility that I was swallowing air by gulping down my food. I have noticed that ever since my daughter was born, I eat like it’s a contest. I even “beat” my father-in-law who, as the youngest of three boys, understands Darwinism as survival of the fastest. I’m told I should aim for 20 chews per bite. I was averaging three. So I try this out and discover that after 20 bites, I’ve broken my food into the equivalent of plankton. I don’t even swallow; the food seems to dissipate. No wonder my stomach doesn’t swell. I also discover that it’s a little unappetizing to keep food in your mouth long enough to really consider what you’re eating.
I deflated my belly by slowing down and avoiding all potential offenders for two days. And what do you know? It worked. Eating slower makes me feel fuller faster and even a little bored with eating, which is a first. Another first? Yesterday, my daughter accused me of being a “slowpoke” eater. My stomach returned to it’s Bud-Light belly status—not perfect, but not entirely unlovable either. Then I slowly reintroduced certain foods. Gluten? No problem (and damn). But lactose? Write Goodyear on my belly and fly me over a stadium. Even if I grind my cheddar into tiny curds, it re-inflates internally.
I was lying in bed on my back, suffering from full-fledged contractions when my husband came in.
“What the—?!” he put the back of his hand to his nose and winced.
“I think I’m . . . lactose intolerant,” I said in-between breaths.
How quickly I forget. The next day, I lifted a Mini Babybel cheese to my lips only to have it violently volleyed away by my husband. He’s surprisingly quick.
“You can sleep on the patio,” he threatened.
With this kind of continued spousal support, I guess I can enjoy a bloat-free future.