Bloating. Even the word itself is ugly. It feels round and insulting. Normally, these descriptive words would translate directly to how I feel towards my own bulging belly. However, now, I am working towards the opposite (even as difficult as it is).

I have dealt with a bloating stomach for as long as my conscious brain can go back. I remember running, and I mean running, straight off of my middle school bus the minute its doors opened at my driveway, so I could get inside and change out of jeans. Those days were the absolute worst. The pain I felt still holds a sensitive spot in my mind. I can picture it now— wobbling through the hallway on the way to the bathroom, bending forward ever-so-slightly, clutching at my puffed belly ready to bust at the seams. To make it clear, these bathroom escapes did absolutely nothing, and any type of “release” of bodily fluid had no impact whatsoever on my bloating. As hopeful as I always was to literally push away my pains (TMI?), this never worked. Once my stomach bulged, it stayed that way until I woke up the next morning. I’m not even sure why I’ve been framing these sentences as if they were only mere occurrences of the past, since this same discomfort still occasionally appears today.

Although the painful episodes have become much less frequent, the physical act of bloating seems to have weaved its way into my daily routine. Truth be told, sometimes going to bed doesn’t even ease this puffiness. There will be days where I wake up in the morning and my stomach is still rounder than its usual 8 a.m. state.

As much as I hate to admit it, I am positive that this recent bloating pattern is mainly caused by my eating habits. I’ve been stuck in a vicious cycle of waking up in that flat-belly morning mood, eating well throughout the day, and then “treating” myself to bucket loads of sweets and snacks at night. Inevitably, because of this, I end up going to bed feeling horrible about myself and the way that my body has physically reacted to this consumption. Although this cycle has made me much more cautious about what I put into my body, my issue of nightly bloating has not seemed to diminish any. Unfortunately, this has now lead to yet another negative mindset. Because eating healthy and exercising regularly has not lessened my bloated stomach any, I now get easily discouraged and will eat even more sweets since it “doesn’t matter anyway.”

Now, can I say, boy do I feel vulnerable right now! I have never once reflected on this destructive cycle until this very moment.

That is why, friends, I am here to try to steer us all away from these self-sabotaging thoughts. If I have learned anything from my years of researching bloating, it’s that our bodies are meant to move. Although my PAINFUL bloating is not something that should be normalized, the natural state of our bellies expanding should be! When writing it out, it seems silly that we fear our stomachs getting bigger after we eat a full meal, because what else are they supposed to do? Our stomachs are meant to stretch and grow when they’re filled– just like a balloon being filled with water. If our stomachs didn’t expand, we couldn’t eat. Plain and simple.

The thing about bloating is that it isn’t normalized enough. Fitness junkies, health freaks, and literally every single other person that uses social media typically poses for their photos. With this, we are lead to believe that all influencers, with their bronzed skin and washboard abs, look like that 24/7. Again, writing this out makes it seem silly, but this can genuinely cause a major problem when it comes to our self-esteem. I’ve caught myself way too many times scouring photos to find flaws on these seemingly-perfect people, simply to make myself feel better about the state of my own body. But, why is this the case? Why do I feel better about myself during my flat-tummy mornings, than I do at night sitting in bed with my stomach hanging out over my pajama pants?

We have to, have to, have to keep reminding ourselves that skin moves. Bodies move. Our stomachs WILL grow as the day goes on. We will not weigh the exact same amount every waking hour of every day. For some, like myself, a single drink of water can push your stomach out past your leggings’ waist band. And, that’s okay. This is normal. An extended stomach does not make us any less fit than we appear to be before lunchtime arrives.

Let’s stop feeling the need to change into baggier shirts or hide under a sweatshirt as the day grows old. Stop placing your hands over your stomach and checking yourself in the mirror after every bite. Instead, let’s embrace the fact that we are fueling our bodies with the food they need in order to keep us alive and moving.

I know this is absolutely easier said than done, because I severely struggle with it myself, but there’s simply no harm in trying. Let’s celebrate our healthy bodies, lumps and curves and all.