"De-bloating," "all-natural," "overnight": These three phrases are individually very appealing to any health-and-wellness guru, but when strung together in the same sentence, it almost seems too good to be true. Bloating and how to get rid of it are subjects we cover a lot on THE/THIRTY, simply because so many of us deal with them and, dramatic as it sounds, feeling all internally swollen can be the difference between having a good day and having a garbage day when you don't want to see anyone or even get out of bed. What's worse is that because the kinds and causes of bloating are so manifold, the problem can be difficult to fix.
"There are two types of bloating—one is caused by gas, and the other is caused by water retention," explained Mark Curry, a beauty expert, former science teacher, and founder of UK beauty company Be for Beauty (which you can think of as the Deciem of England). Excess gas in the abdomen can be caused by anything from eating too fast to consuming high-fiber foods to excessive sodium in your diet. Then, water retention (aka, "an excessive buildup of deadweight water in body tissues and cavities") can come from plenty of potentially uncontrollable sources including the natural physiology of your blood capillaries, heart, and kidneys, but also poor diet (not enough protein, too much salt), low physical activity, and PMS. These aren't all the things that can make you bloat, of course. Fluctuations in food sensitives can do it. A glass or two of champagne can do it. Sometimes I think just looking sideways at a cube of cheese can make you bloat.
In the long run, experimenting with your diet and lifestyle habits to find the root cause and making adjustments, whether they involve taking probiotics or quitting booze, can certainly make a big difference in how easily you bloat. But, ugh… What about those days when you wake up with a belly full of bubbles knowing you have to wear something tight later and just want to get rid of the bloat ASAP?
There are times when I genuinely would have done hard drugs or sold my soul to Satan to get rid of bloating quickly; but the other week, an unexpected source told me a simple all-natural, de-bloating recipe that she swore would work overnight (there are those buzzwords again!), no chemicals or deals with the devil required. The source was former model and Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi, who is secretly quite the essential oils guru and dabbles daily in concocting her own custom blends to treat everything from a deflated mood to an inflated abdomen. The other week, I was interviewing Lakshmi about her beauty routine when she told me about a topical essential oil blend she uses as a diuretic to detox her body in a pinch.
"When I was going on the red carpet the other week for the Vanity Fair party, my dress was very see-through, so you could see everything," she explains, adding that she went to the gym and tried to eat healthy, but because of her hormones (she struggles with endometriosis) and other factors, she just couldn't get her body to de-bloat. It happens to the best of us. "You get off a plane and you bloat; you get your period and you bloat. In my case, I was doing both those things," she said. "So I make a topical diuretic [yep, one you apply to the skin, not ingest] with jojoba oil as a base. Then I add to it two or three essential oils that will help your body detox and expel unwanted water."
This past weekend, I was in the same boat as Lakshmi: fresh off my period and having just returned from an international trip where I was eating double the amount I normally would. The bloat was intense. Desperate to fix it as fast as humanly possible, I decided to try Lakshmi's secret sauce.
Photo:Marti Sans/Getty Images
The topical diuretic is very simple to make: All you need is a four-ounce container of jojoba oil (your carrier oil—Lakshmi recommends one by the brand Desert Essence), plus the following essential oils: 40 drops of juniper oil, 30 drops of grapefruit oil, 20 drops of black pepper oil (half the amount of ginger or clove oil will also do), and 20 drops of geranium to make the thing smell really good. (Make sure to do a patch test with these oils if you haven't used them before, just to rule out any allergic reactions.) Because my local Whole Foods didn't carry juniper oil, I swapped in peppermint oil, which is also said to calm the stomach muscles and eliminate gas from the intestines.
To make the blend, you take your jojoba oil, pour out about a teaspoon to make room for the essential oils, then add in the correct number of drops of each, and shake the whole thing up. Then, you apply the elixir to your entire body. Lakshmi says the effects are even more potent if you can give the blend to a massage therapist and have them use it while giving you your massage, but since I was doing this DIY style, I applied the blend using long, firm strokes down my limbs and across my stomach and décolleté. I went through the whole process right before going to bed, hoping to wake up a new woman.
Photo:Sally Anscombe/Getty Images
Lakshmi warned me this treatment wasn't something to mess around with. "This is a very serious potent remedy," she said. "You're going to feel the difference. … So make sure you drink a lot of water because you might feel like you're dehydrated or like you have a hangover or headache the next day."
Clearly, Lakshmi's confidence in this remedy is high, but it's worth noting that Western science isn't quite as convinced. As registered dietitian and nutrition counselor Beth Warren told Women's Health last year, "It is thought, but not well researched, that certain essential oils can help with bloating and gut issues when used in conjunction with other therapies such as probiotics. The high concentration of the herb, such as peppermint, and the oil-like consistency in food-grade essential oils, is thought to help lessen symptoms."
New York–based registered dietitian Jessica Cording agrees that expecting such dramatic overnight results probably isn't 100% reasonable. "I don't think it's going to magically help someone feel less bloated," she said.
In my experience, both parties' views on this de-bloating treatment had merit. After drenching my puffy body in peppermint, black pepper, and grapefruit, I instantly felt a shivery tingling sensation all over. It made me so chilly, in fact, that it was hard to fall asleep.
Now, at the risk of sounding excessively gross and gory, what I will say is that when I woke up the next morning, my body was in full… well… emptying mode. From the hours of 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., the contents of my intestines, both solid and gas, were definitely in the mood to evacuate.
It sounds like the remedy did exactly what it was supposed to do, and I suppose it did, though the physical results at the end weren't quite as dramatic as I was hoping for. There was no dehydration the next day, no headaches, no hangover… and some unwanted bloat sadly still remained in my belly.
However, I would definitely try the elixir again, with juniper instead of peppermint oil next time, and I might try pouring out more of the jojoba oil at the start to make a more potent blend. Until then, I think my best move is to chip away at my belly problems slowly, cooling it on the booze, overeating, and travel, and making sure to drink lots of water, eat plenty of potassium, and gets tons of sleep. Meanwhile, I can supplement my de-bloating regimen with this all-natural elixir. After all, it definitely worked to an extent. Maybe not overnight, but I suppose the best things in life, like a de-puffed digestive system, are worth waiting for.
This post has been updated by Sarah Yang.