I have been vegan for over five years, been focusing on more whole plant foods for over three years. Very thin overall, my belly is the only part of me that bloats after food… and it also tends to be bloated in general, but at least the post-sleep belly size I can rein in if I stay consistent on 100% whole plant foods with zero deviations for several months or more.
I always had bloating as long as I can remember and I have always been thin overall as long as I can remember even before going vegan so I don’t think it’s related to veganism. I did eat fried foods most of my life. Avoiding them is easy at home where I just don’t put them in here, but if I go out and try to be more social I pay a price of being more exposed to junk food other people are eating which can activate cravings for these foods and then this often leads to a week long junk food binge and that is the only time junk food is at home, via food delivery, as a result of a triggering event, usually outside the house.
I don’t have cramps, gas, pain, indigestion or whatever as long as I avoid processed food – talking completely added salt, added oil, added sugar free and as many whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits that I want. A bit of nuts, almonds, seeds and mushrooms with my salads and stews but overall around 15% calories from fat. Sometimes I use small amounts of tofu. Sometimes I try going lower on fat intake to accelerate reduction of post-sleep bloat but it causes itching after showers in the summer if I go much lower than 10%, so I tend to save my ultra low fat experiments for the winter. I eat about half of my food by weight in raw fruits and vegetables, the rest is cooked stews mixed with raw vegetables. I find that also is important for my digstion to have a balanced mix of both and eating only cooked stews, while very cheap, is not enough to get my digestion right. Nor does eating 100% raw work for me either… too much grazing for me to sustain it without turning on junk cravings.
Then there is also the part of my initial belly size after sleep… that changes in response to processed food intake. Goes up with processed food, raising my post meal bloat as well. When I do eat processed food, I gain weight crazy fast… I can rise 1 kilogram a day eating vegan junk food. Obviously it can’t be fat, you can’t gain fat THAT fast, but then again… for every day I eat processed, it takes a week for my body shape to be restored to before the junk food and usually I can’t keep it down to just 1 day of deviation, so in a week I can go from 58 kg to 65 kg and it will take me at least a month of 100% WFPB (whole food plant based) and exercise to get back to where I was before the deviation, often two months. If it isn’t fat, I’m not sure what it is, because it takes quite a while for me to lose it while taking almost no time at all to gain it.
I just spent several months deviating on and off and it’s been taking me many more months of 100% clean eating and exercise to get back to where I was, but it’s happening slowly. I know exercise alone is not enough, because many times that I tried to out exercise junk food I always gained weight. This time my junk food binge got me to a record high of 70 kg, and after over 3 months I have gotten back to around 62-63 kilograms. So maybe this time, it was fat. Still quite bloated at this weight, even post-sleep. I need to get to 58 kilograms to get rid of at least post-sleep bloat. Maybe in a month or two, I will lose the rest… unfortunately I have a birthday coming up in a few weeks, and I am feeling the pressure on the one hand to “not be too extreme” but on the other hand I know there is a very high probability it will be a slippery slope to another binge if I make an exception.
The thing is people tell me I’m too extreme but I know that any small amount has a very, very big effect on me, then it turns on cravings for those junk foods, then the effect is even bigger and the reason I stop, usually after a week, is because of too much pain from indigestion. When I deviate from 100% WFPB that is the only time I have issues other than cosmetic bloating. So basically I go on a binge until it makes me feel too sick to continue and the pain outweighs the pleasure. Then I make sure to eat perfect again to get back to where I was, until something happens and someone convinces me YOLO and you can’t be perfect all the time (sometimes it’s me) and I yoyo up and down again.
It sounds like I’m making things unnecessarily hard for myself, but as hard as it is to be “perfect”, I find it much easier to completely abstain from processed food than to try and moderate it. Moderation fails for me even worse than abstaining, because small amounts have such a big effect on me and I completely lose motivation until I just feel bad enough physically to get back on track. I’ve even tried just eating the same healthy foods and adding a bit of salt to them, or even a bit of tahini… it just reminds me too much of the processed fried foods I used to eat all the time for years and turns on my cravings.
Also, to get those last few kilograms off and get to a post-sleep flat belly (still bloats after food) I think I need to get my fat intake below 10%, or at least, eating that amount of fat accelerates the process a bit… and at that weight I reach a bit below normal BMI, around 17.5 and I am told that puts me at risk for cardiac arrest, I should go to a gastro doctor, I should go get psycho therapy to learn to moderate… I don’t want to moderate unhealthy foods that have such huge effects on me. The cosmetic bloating is one thing, but as long as I avoid processed food, that’s the only issue I have. If I eat anything processed, I have digestion problems + cravings return. If I don’t eat anything processed, after several months I get to 17.5 BMI, around 56-58 kg. If I try to “moderate” these foods it turns on cravings and I yo yo back up, go back to 100% WFPB and go back down several months later… and sure, being 65-70 kg is normal BMI at my height (179cm) but again… the foods I need to eat to reach that weight increase my bloating even more and cause pain, indigestion, even reflux. Even when I ate more fat from whole plant foods, I still seemed to go down in my weight eventually, just slower.
So I was ready to just resign to the fact that it’s just a cosmetic issue, as long as I eat healthy I probably am healthy. I have blood pressure around 110/70. Total cholesterol around 100. Supposedly that makes me heart attack proof, but according to some doctors the weight I reach if I stay consistent on whole plant foods is too low and puts me at risk for cardiac arrest.
To top it off, just when I thought to accept the bloat as cosmetic stuff I can safely ignore, I saw a video by Pam Popper, who is one of the more objective research based Youtubers out there share that regardless of total BMI, belly fat puts me at risk for chronic disease… but I already have to scratch the low end of normal BMI to get my belly flat, and even when I do, it’s flat only after sleep. My waist and belly inflate by over 4 cm circumference after food and anything less than perfect abstinence from processed food and my belly is bloated even after sleep. Is that just normal inflation or is that bloating? I don’t see other female friends of mine inflate that much after food. Is it because I’m a trans woman?
Is my BMI unhealthy and I should raise it, bloating be damned, or is my bloating the more important problem, BMI be damned?
Do I even have IBS if all I have is bloating as long as I avoid processed food?
Is my bloating even fat related? Do I have visceral fat? Or is it all just some sort of inflammation or gut bacteria related problem?
I’ve tried low FODMAP, and I think it might have helped a bit… but it could be that I just ate less food because it wasn’t tasty enough, I couldn’t sustain it and I ended up feeling it’s all useless and went on a junk food binge. At least when I’m eating whole plant foods without low FODMAP restrictions, I enjoy the diet well enough to not want processed food when not directly exposed to it.
I think I have a pretty sensitive palette that I can enjoy grains, legumes, potatoes, fruits and vegetables without any added salt, oil or sugar but trying to live on just potatoes and a few select fruits and vegetables is too boring for me and the low FODMAP recipes I saw on Youtube and elsewhere were too processed or impractical for me. To top it off, even in the few weeks I tried it and it seemed to be working, I wasn’t sure if it only seemed that way because I didn’t want to eat the food so there wasn’t enough in my belly to get me bloated, but I also didn’t get enough calories to sustain it.
Everyone else who uses low FODMAP protocol said that they have many more issues besides just bloating, and again… for me, that is the only symptom as long as I avoid processed food. Which again made me doubt if it’s relevant to my case at all. If my only problem is bloating, maybe it’s just a cosmetic fact of life for me and I don’t have IBS and everything is alright with me and I’m majoring in minor things…
…but then that brings me back to the belly fat studies, and I have no idea if what I have is even belly fat, IBS or whatever.
I do know that it’s quite frustrating, beyond the physical issues, which at the end of the day, 90% of the time are merely cosmetic as far as I can tell… that I find myself having to defend my practice of trying to completely abstain from processed food. That I want to be able to have that birthday vegan pizza with my friend without stressing over the consequences that I know will happen from experience, only to experience them for the 50th time for the sake of “not being extreme”. I want to be able to sit in a restaurant with my work group without going crazy that I either look insane if I say I can’t deviate one bit or actually feel like I am going insane when the craving monster takes over me if I give in to social or internal pressure…
…but I can’t…
…and I’m not sure what I can do about it.
I do know, that the solution will not come from the clueless standard medical and diet/nutrition care, that have absurd ideas like I should avoid cruciferous vegetables because they can cause gas or I should eat more protein even after I show that I get 10-15% calories from protein. Sure, I would love to have a flat belly with minimal post meal bloat like I see on other female friends, maybe it has to do with me being a trans woman… I don’t know… but I’m not going to give up healthy cruciferous vegetables for a god damn cosmetic issue. My brain staying healthy to ripe old age is more important to me than how I look, and how I look is very important to me as a trans woman who gets misgendered daily and hates being misgendered, who went through hormones, surgeries, voice feminization, makeup and years of experimentation with clothes, wigs, hats and growing what’s left of my hair (went bald at age 19 long before I went vegan) for two reasons:
– to hate myself less when I look at my body
– and to reduce misgendering
…and it was much worse pre-transition than it is now post-transition, but I still get misgendered daily and it still bothers me and makes me think twice about leaving the house, which at least makes it easier to avoid junk food most of the time. “Wear it like armor” they say, like Tyrion Lannister, failing to understand that identity and status are not the same thing, that half of identity is in one’s head, and half of it comes from external validation, so I would have to be a brain dead drugged up delusional idiot to ever stop taking offense from people misgendering me on a daily basis. Sorry, I meant just the days when I go out of the house despite years of negative experience regarding going out of the house, teaching me again and again and again that venturing outside the house is probably a bad idea.
…so you can infer from what I wrote above, illustrating how much the way I look is important to me, that when I say that my brain health is even more important to me, exactly what that means, having experienced first hand seeing a close family member succumb to dementia, helpless to do anything about it with everyone else rejecting the advice of the crazy vegan man who thinks he’s a woman…
So hey, what do I know? Absolutely nothing.