The sooner we recognize how what we’re eating affects our bodies, the faster we can begin to fully heal.
In addition to strengthening the core muscles, diastasis recti rehabilitation tends to focus on performing activities that reduce the amount of intra-abdominal pressure in our bodies. It’s why we modify or even stop performing certain exercises, such as crunches and planks.
Did you know that the nutrition focus of healing diastasis recti is the same?
Nutritional Considerations for the Healing Core
We know that a diastasis is a spreading of the rectus abdominis and the stretching of the linea alba. But have you ever wondered why it doesn’t just snap back? Why do some women’s tissues seem to tolerate tension much more than others, and why has yours decided to stay loose?
It comes down to the elastic load that each of our tissues can handle, and this number varies from person to person. What is the elastic load? It’s the amount of force that our tissues can handle and still return their original length.
When I taught sports medicine, I always used a piece of plastic wrap to illustrate this concept. If you have six inches of plastic wrap and pull with mild tension on it, it will stretch and then return back to six inches when the tension is released. If you then put more tension on it, the plastic wrap will deform to a point where it sags and cannot return to its original size. If you were to measure it, it will be longer – here you have found the elastic limit of the plastic wrap. With diastasis recti, this is what happens to the connective tissue between and surrounding our abs.
We use rehabilitation and alignment exercises to help strengthen the underlying muscles to accommodate for the “broken” tissue. The optimal goal is to help that connective tissue heal and return to it’s original integrity. In order to do so, we need to release the tension on the tissues, feed ourselves with tissue-building nutrients, and encourage blood flow to the area. All of these will encourage healing of the tissue. But often, our dietary habits can actually impede this healing process by maintaining tension on this area, restricting the blood flow, or not providing those healing nutrients.
Please take a few minutes to watch this video that sums up my thoughts on diastasis considerations for core nutrition before reading further:
In short, we want to make sure that what we’re putting into our bodies as food isn’t increasing our intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). We want to make sure that we are not consuming products that cause our stomachs to distend and put additional tension on the connective tissue. The two main nutritional concerns we have when it comes to reducing IAP are:
- Consuming foods that cause bloat
- Consuming foods that cause our bodies to store visceral fat.
The great news is that often simple dietary changes and becoming mindful of our bodies’ responses to food, can be all that we need to combat this concern.
Causes of Bloat
Bloating is caused when gasses accumulate in the abdomen due to digestive issues in the gut. Our bodies sometimes have difficulty fully breaking down food in an efficient manner, and when this process takes too long, the food begins to ferment and the released gas builds up in the gut. The exact reason for this is unknown, but has been linked to:
- a slow-moving digestive track
- abnormal levels of bacteria in the stomach (SIBO)
- food sensitivities or allergies
- imbalance of microorganisms in the small intestines
- sensitivity to food
- alignment issues – specifically lordosis of the lumbar spine.
I also believe that additional alignment concerns, daily activity, and general dietary habits contribute to how our bodies handle excess gas. For the sake of this course, let’s focus on the foods that we choose to consume in our diets.
There are two ways that we can experience bloat from food:
- either the food itself is known to cause bloat
- or our intolerances to a particular food can cause bloat.
The one common factor in both of these is our bodies’ response to the digestion of sugar. Our digestive systems often lack the enzymes needed to fully break down certain foods, especially those containing sugars (lactose, fructose, sorbitol) and starchy carbohydrates.
Foods that are known to cause bloat are:
Fruits, such as apples, peaches and pears
Milk and milk products
Sugar alcohols found in sugar-free foods (sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol)
The top 5 food intolerances are:
It’s not to say that you should avoid these foods while you’re healing, but start becoming aware of how your body reacts to them. A food journal is an excellent way to document how you feel after consuming particular foods or combinations of those.
If you find that certain foods cause you to feel bloated, you don’t necessarily need to eliminate them from your diet rightaway. A different preparation might be all that’s needed. For example, consuming soaked and sprouted beans and grains can help increase the digestibility of these grains. This preparation begins to break down the sugars in the foods, making them more digestible. This, in turn, reduces the amount of gas released into our digestive system. In addition, adding a piece of kombu (a type of seaweed) while soaking and cooking dried beans and grains can also increase the digestibility and reduce bloating often caused from consuming legumes.
If soaking and sprouting are not helpful for you, then we need to look at possible food intolerances and allergies.
Food intolerances and allergies
Some of us have true food allergies to certain foods, while others have developed intolerances. When we eat these foods, it will irritate our gut lining and cause bloating. One way to find out if you have an allergy is by working with a dietitian and performing thorough clinical testing. The second option is to start a food journal and possibly begin an elimination diet.
The following two factors alone can help your body’s digestive system work more quick and efficiently, moving food through the system, and reducing gas and bloat:
- staying well hydrated
- making sure you’re getting enough fiber in your diet
Now let’s talk about visceral fat…
The other common factor that can play into food-based intra-abdominal pressure is the amount of visceral belly fat that we have in our bodies. Each of us has two kinds of belly fat: subcutaneous and visceral. The subcutaneous fat on our stomachs is our “pinchable” fat that is stored between the skin and the ab muscles. As much as we dislike the appearance of this fat, it does not have a direct connection to intra-abdominal pressure or diastasis recti.
Instead, we are concerned about the visceral fat that we store. This fat is stored in the muscles and around the organs. The more of this fat that we have, the less space there is for the contents of our abs. When the space is reduced, the intra-abdominal pressure increases. And so, we can assume that excess visceral fat will delay the healing of our abs.
The great thing about visceral fat is that it’s easily burned and reduced. However, it’s also the easiest for our bodies to store, which means that if we’re trying to lose this visceral fat, we need to be very mindful about what kinds of foods we are putting into our bodies.
The easiest way to approach your eating in regards to visceral fat storage actually aligns with avoiding foods that may cause bloat. Our bodies are more likely to store high sugar foods as visceral fat. This includes some fruits, starchy carbohydrates, and of course any foods high in sugar (processed foods, sodas, fruit juice, candy, and any form of natural sugar).
By limiting the amount of these foods in our diet, we will be less likely to add to our current visceral fat store.
Choose whole, unprocessed foods that are low on the glycemic index (GI) and contain high levels of protein. The American Heart Association daily guidelines for added sugar intake is 6 teaspoons a day for women, which equal 25 grams of sugar. So be sure to read your nutrition labels when buying processed and packaged foods.
Putting it all together
The take away of this lesson is that we need to start becoming mindful of what we’re eating and the effect that food has on our bodies. Just as we pay attention to our core and pelvic floor engagement during exercise, we also need tune into our bodies’ response to food. No one person is the same, and what might cause bloat in you could be perfectly fine for your spouse.
It can be a frustrating journey, but I’ve yet to see a rehabilitation path that doesn’t have obstacles and frustration to overcome.
As I mentioned previously, a food journal is a great way to track what you’re eating and its effect on your body. This isn’t for counting calories and macros, but simply to say that you ate cheese and now you’re feeling gassy. You can simply keep a paper journal, keep track in a Notebook app on your phone, or use an online food tracker to do this.The USDA Supertracker is a great tool for journaling, and includes a feature just for this purpose
If you feel that you need more help or guidance, consulting with a health coach, nutritional therapist, or dietician can help get you to the true root of any dietary issues that you are experiencing.
I am here for you if you’d like to reach out to me for more help. I’m well educated in this area, and I’m available to answer any questions. Come visit me at MamaSport today!
Works Cited & Sources
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, Inc. (2015, Dec 4). Understanding Bloating and Distension. Retrieved Mar 23, 2016, from International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, Inc.
Sullivan, S. N. (2012). Functional Abdominal Bloating with Distention. ISRN Gastroenterol., 5.