Top causes of a bloated belly and how to prevent it
It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but it’s also the time when we’re our most social (and likely to feel our most bloated). The holiday season always has us gathering to eat, drink, and be merry. But before we know it, we’ve got a bloated belly and indigestion, and we aren’t even sure what caused it.
Since looking and feeling great often start in the gut, let’s chat about what foods to stock up on, which to avoid, and different practices to help us feel our best. With a little research and good habits, preventing a bloated belly can be easier than we think.
Most of us have experienced belly discomfort and belly bloat at least once. Studies show that as many as 25% of adults considered healthy occasionally experience a bloated belly.
There are so many foods lurking in our diets that can cause a bloated belly. In some cases, it isn’t even food making us feel stuffed and uncomfortable. Sometimes, it may be trapped air, an empty stomach (believe it or not), or even stress. What are some of the main causes of belly bloat?
- Salty foods
- Celiac Disease
- Weight gain
Many of us would write off common belly bloat as a reaction to something we ate or poor digestion. But this list shows that occasionally, a bloated belly can be a sign of a bigger issue. And though some of these causes are obvious, like overeating and soda, holiday diets often include dairy and carbs.
Less Known Causes:
- Chewing gum
- Eating too fast
- Waiting too long between meals
- Swallowing too much air when eating
- Drinking through a straw
- FODMAP foods
When we think about how often we use a straw or how often we chew gum, we realize there’s a lot of opportunity in our diets for bloating! Besides discomfort, what impact is this really having on our bodies?
When we eat or go too long without eating, air begins to build in our stomachs and digestive systems. Physically, this leads to the belly bloat we all know and (don’t) love.
However, it often leads to increases in gases of all kinds, heartburn, and acid reflux. From there, we can often feel nauseous or even experience vomiting, cramping, diarrhea, and, if left untreated after an extended period of time, even bleeding.
Painful bloating can also cause some to skip meals, leading to lack of nutrition and important nutrients. Over time, this can actually make matters worse; vitamin deficiencies, low energy, low blood sugar, and other side effects can occur.
We mentioned it before in the list of less commonly known causes of bloat, but for those of us eating FODMAP foods, they’re very likely behind some of our bloated days or nights. FODMAP is a long and science-y acronym to explain short-chain carbohydrates.
FODMAP represents a class of foods that are digested very deep into the intestine – near the end, actually. This process can cause a lot of discomfort and bloating. It’s been known to antagonize existing stomach conditions like IBS.
Sadly, the list of foods to avoid, or at the very least reintroduce through trial and error, isn’t as simple as becoming vegan or vegetarian. FODMAP foods impact veggie-forward eaters with just as much intensity.
Medical News Today goes in-depth into FODMAP foods to try and avoid. In short, we want to stay away from dairy, starchy, gluten-heavy foods, beans, foods naturally rich in fat, and both fried and fatty types of meat and dishes. Seasonal favorites like peaches and watermelon are also recommended to be cut from the list, as are staple produce items: avocados, onions, and garlic.
PRO TIP: As a rule of thumb, your body may take up to 3 days to react to a ‘trigger’ food, so keeping a food diary can help. If you’re not sure which FODMAPs might be causing your belly bloat, talk to your primary care physician or nutritionist about an elimination diet to identify your exact trigger foods.
The news isn’t all bad. For those of us battling regular belly bloat, there are still a lot of appealing food options that soothe our digestive system! Options include lighter starches, like tortilla chips and popcorn. The FODMAP diet allows for lean proteins like chicken and eggs, as well as bright and acidic fruits like zingy pineapple and tart grapes.
More than just alternatives, there are some options that we may be able to introduce into our diets to help soothe our guts, aid in digestion, and reduce bloating. First, powerful peppermint and healing ginger, taken in raw or tea form, can aid digestion and soothe an upset stomach.
Green tea is also a great choice, as well as hydrating cucumber. Additional options are natural probiotics found in kombucha and kefir for a natural gut reset.
What do we do when we’re already dealing with a bloated belly? In addition to over the counter gas remedies, there are also physical ways to ease bloating discomfort.
First, going on a good old-fashioned walk will aid digestion. It’ll help work free some of the trapped air, and help prevent cramping and serious stomach discomfort.
If a short stroll isn’t an option, home-friendly exercises like bicycle legs and yoga work wonders. Elevating legs 90 degrees on the wall, as well as knees-to-chest, and a spinal twist all help to relieve back and belly tension. If desperate times call, stretching like this on a bed or even in the tub is better than suffering through a sore, bloated belly.
We’ve talked about what foods to avoid and what things to try to relieve a bloated belly. But how can we just avoid it altogether?
The first approach would be to simplify our diet and find a tasty, easy routine of non-triggering foods. From there, we can slowly add new foods back in to determine what options cause bloat, and which are safe for every day.
One of the best ways to prevent bloat is to remove bloat-inducing foods completely. Those include salty, processed snacks, sodas, and fried or greasy options.
A smart addition to a low-bloat diet is fiber! It aids digestion and supports a bloat-free belly.
While finding the right probiotic can take time, adding this into our diet helps keep our digestive systems running in the best condition. Along with a fiber-rich diet, a timely routine of regular, fair-sized portions enjoyed slowly is a surefire way to experience less belly bloat.
Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Replacing straws with sippy lids is an important distinction for on-the-go water sippers.
Swapping out gum for mints or lozenges makes for a much more comfortable belly, in the short and long term.
Any occasion can be a trigger for belly bloat, but holiday meals and treats are certainly more common culprits! Hopefully these helpful tips will keep you feeling healthy and comfortable all season long. And don’t forget: if you’re having a hard time controlling or preventing bloating, talking to your primary care physician should always be your first step.
- Tags: Wellness
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The information in this article is for educational use, and not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should not be used as such.