We all experience it: the uncomfortable bloat after an indulgent meal, while traveling, or before Aunt Flo comes to town, relegating your OOTD to the most forgiving pair of sweats you own. Yes, belly bloat is the digestive drama we all hope to avoid, but the all-too-common episodes are normal, albeit uncomfortable to say the least. The good news is we can reduce bloating naturally, sans any extreme measures (looking at you, fad diets). I asked dietitians for their tricks of the trade to de-bloat ASAP. From drinks to reach for to aid in reducing inflammation to simple habits to practice to get you to chill TF out, their hacks will help ease those not-so-glamourous symptoms of bloat (ahem, gas for one) and get your digestion functioning at its best. But first, let’s get into the bloating culprits and what to watch out for.
What are the common causes of bloating?
“Bloating is frequently caused by a build-up of gas in the intestine, AKA the gut,” explained Colleen Webb, MS, RDN, a gut health nutrition expert and Orgain Nutrition Advisor. “Everyone gets gassy when our gut bacteria (good and bad) feed on certain foods and ingredients, but some people make more gas or feel more bloated than others. To some, bloating is a sensation of fullness, whereas for others, it’s a distended belly that looks like you swallowed a beach ball.”
While it can be difficult to pinpoint what may be causing the bloat (every body is different!), there are certain triggers that are known to set it off. We’re all guilty of scarfing down our lunches to rush back to work, but news flash: eating too quickly is among the line up of bloating culprits. Eating certain foods and drinks, like cruciferous veggies (think: broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage), beans, and carbonated beverages, can bring on the need to unbutton your pants, especially for people with food intolerances or sensitivities.
Then there’s the menstrual cycle that often makes your midsection swole (and not in a good way), thanks to changes in progesterone and estrogen levels that cause the body to retain more water and salt (read: bloating). Or, it could be a combination of the aforementioned factors in addition to other causes such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease, and weight gain.
Hacks to reduce bloating
1. Identify food intolerances
PSA: Food intolerances and allergies are on the rise; in fact, more than 20% of the population in industrialized countries suffer from a food intolerance or allergy. The top 3 most common ones? Dairy, gluten, and caffeine. When you have a food intolerance, symptoms (think: diarrhea, bloating, rashes) generally show up within a few hours of eating the food that you are intolerant to. Nicole Swingle, RD, a nutrition coach, suggested keeping a food journal: “Assess what foods or beverages are causing your bloating symptoms and what time of day or month bloating usually occurs,” she stated. If you suspect you have a food intolerance, look to your doctor or a registered dietitian who can diagnose any food intolerances, typically with an elimination diet.
2. Reach for foods with added benefits
Ditch the processed and sugar- and sodium-laden foods that can contribute to disrupting the gut microbiome balance (hello, gut inflammation and bloating) for foods rich in antioxidants, antimicrobials, prebiotic fiber, and resistant starch. Antioxidant-packed foods like asparagus, spinach, berries, and sweet potatoes and herbs such as ginger, oregano, turmeric, and cinnamon don’t just taste great—they also help fight inflammation and support a healthy gut microbiota, according to Webb. “Consider adding more foods with prebiotic fiber and resistant starch to your diet, such as oats, barley, potatoes, legumes, and fruit to feed your healthy gut microbes and increase the production of certain types of fatty acids, including butyrate, which strengthens your gut barrier.”
3. Practice mindfulness during meals
Between work deadlines, fostering relationships, and maintaining your wellness routine, being fully present during each mealtime may seem like a luxury, but when we’re not mindful when eating, our gut pays the price. “Chewing each bite well without distractions or multi-tasking can help you relax and digest better by setting you into a more ‘rest and digest’ phase,” conveyed Paulina Lee, MSHS, RD, LD, a functional gut health dietitian and Founder of Savvy Stummy, LLC. According to Sarah Olszewski, MS, RDN, CDN, Owner of Sarah Lynn Nutrition, the simple act of chewing your food thoroughly helps “pre-digest” it, making it easier to break down later in the digestive process. So take a few deep breaths before you dive into your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, chew your food slowly and thoroughly, and enjoy each bite.
4. Eat lighter meals in the evening
Sometimes there’s no getting around those late night munchies (we all succumb to them, and that’s OK). But, as a general rule of thumb, sticking to smaller, lighter meals come dinnertime will do your gut (and sleep quality) a solid. “Because of our body’s circadian rhythm, it starts to wind down and get ready for bed as the sun begins to set, meaning it will produce less stomach acid and may slow digestion compared to early mornings,” Lee described. Substitute heavier fare like pizza and steak with lighter dishes (Greek chicken bowls, anyone?). Bonus points for meal prepping your dinners for the week and setting a food curfew 2-3 hours before you hit the sack to ensure solid Zzzs.
5. Try taking supplements
ICYMI, another bloating offender is an imbalanced gut microbiome (read: an imbalance of good versus bad bacteria in your gut). Taking a probiotic can tip the balance in favor of less gaseous bacterial strains, resulting in less gas and bloat. But be warned: Not all probiotics are created equal. “The clinical benefits of probiotics depend on many factors, including the species and strain of the probiotic,” Webb clarified. “Different strains of the same species can produce different results.” Webb recommended checking out the US Probiotic Guide to steer you in the right direction for the best probiotic for your needs. Of course it doesn’t hurt to load up on fermented, probiotic-rich foods, including sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and sourdough bread.
Another supplement worth considering having in your arsenal is peppermint oil. “Peppermint is an antispasmodic, so it can help reduce abdominal pain, cramping, mild gas, bloating, and overall discomfort,” Webb said. Interest piqued? Ask your healthcare provider to help you time and dose a peppermint oil supplement.
6. Drink plenty of water
No matter your wellness goal, chances are staying hydrated is key to achieving it, and reducing bloat is no exception. “Hydration is both a long-term tip and a quick hack for relief from bloating,” Webb voiced. “When you’re dehydrated, the body holds onto fluids, leading to feelings of bloating and fluid retention. Plus, dehydration contributes to constipation, another culprit of bloating.” Start your morning with a glass of water (yes, before your coffee) and set small goals to drink a defined amount of water throughout the day. And if plain water isn’t your fave, try adding flavor to it with fruits, cucumber, or mint (just avoid sparkling water—more to come on carbonated drinks). However you take your water, sip slowly—chugging it can lead to GI discomfort, Webb warned.
7. Make a cup of tea
If you need a break from drinking just H2O, look to your tea cabinet or drawer for inspo. Specifically, opt for peppermint, ginger, dandelion, and fennel varieties. “Peppermint is an antispasmodic, so it can help reduce abdominal pain, cramping, mild gas, bloating and overall discomfort,” Webb stated. As for ginger tea, the plant known for its spicy zest has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help with digestion by stimulating saliva and stomach acid production, according to Lee. She also gave her stamp of approval for dandelion and fennel teas: “As a bitter digestive, the bitter properties in dandelion can aid upset stomach, bloating, gas, and constipation, help with protein and fat breakdown, improve stomach acid, and support liver and detox function,” Lee spelled out. “The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial abilities of fennel seeds calms your digestion by relaxing digestive muscles to help get things moving in your gut.”
8. Assess your fiber intake
High-fiber foods—popcorn, whole nuts, raw vegetables, just to name a few—are harder to digest and can worsen bloating and gas in some individuals. If those are usual suspects in your diet, Webb encouraged breaking down the so-called roughage of those foods: roast your veggies, steam leafy greens, choose nut butters over whole nuts. In the same vein, Swingle advocated gradually (gradually being the operative word) increasing your dietary fiber intake, namely soluble fibers like bananas, oats, and flaxseeds to help you stay regular and reduce bloating.
9. Consider ginger your BFF
Ginger might as well be the next best thing to a cure-all for bloat because it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and gingerol, a natural component of ginger root, benefits gastrointestinal motility (AKA the rate at which food exits the stomach and continues along the digestive process). Get your ginger in in the form of tea, freshly grated or minced ginger root that you can add to sauces, dressings, or salads, or a condiment (think: sushi). Bottom line: However you choose to add ginger into the mix, you’ll be helping along your digestion and combating bloat.
10. Walk it out
It turns out hot girl walks do more than just improve your cardiovascular fitness. One of Webb’s quick de-bloating hacks? You guessed it—taking a walk. “Light movement can help propel trapped gas out of the intestine,” she said. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases found that walking helped move food through the stomach much more quickly. As stated by Everyday Health, the faster the stomach empties, the more quickly gas is able to move into your small intestine and cause less distress.
11. Do a yoga flow
Check off working out and getting rid of bloat in one fell swoop by assuming yoga poses like child’s pose, spinal twist, seated forward bend, cat and cow, and downward facing dog. “Certain poses of yoga, such as child’s pose, help to release gas from the digestive tract by altering the positioning of the abdominal muscles,” Olszewski pointed out. Lee agreed: “Not rigorous workouts, but simple movements and yoga stretches, like side bending and downward dog can help massage the digestive tract to relax and enhance our digestive system to stimulate digestive enzymes.” In other words, no burpees or pounding the pavement here.
12. Apply gentle heat
There’s something comforting about a hot cup of tea, taking a warm bath, your trusty heating pad—and the same goes for when you’re trying to relieve bloat. Webb cited that while heat doesn’t directly improve bloating, it can help to ease discomfort that stems from bloating. Applying a little heat can go a long way in helping relax the muscles in the gut that experience added pressure when bloated and do away with gas and gas pain. To take it a step further, take a cue from Webb and grab a cozy blanket and your heating pad and lay on your left side with your knees to your chest. The result? Releasing trapped gas.
13. Try self-massage
Call it self-care or a natural remedy for bloating, Olszewski touted self-massage of the abdomen for its ability to aid in encouraging passage through the gastrointestinal tract. Lymphatic drainage massage to be specific—a manual technique that stimulates the lymphatic system, which helps the body detoxify and remove damaged cells, bacteria, or toxins—may minimize excess fluid retention and bloat. To take matters into your own hands, give it a go on your stomach. Start by opening your lymph nodes with light presses, then make circular, clockwise movements around your navel, followed by consecutive up-and-down movements, from your stomach to your lymph nodes. Then, on one side of the body, using both hands, make pushing movements from the side towards the lymph nodes. Repeat on the other side.
14. Manage stress
It goes without saying that stress can wreak havoc on your health, not to mention your digestion. “Stress affects so many bodily functions, especially those related to the digestive tract,” Webb confirmed. “When feeling bloated, check in with yourself… Are you feeling extra stressed?” Enter: your stress management toolkit, whether that looks like meditating, journaling, or taking in nature. Olszewski served up her go-to method: meditation. “Meditation and/or deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which signals contraction of the gastrointestinal tract to push components through,” she illustrated.
15. Prevent swallowing excessive air
“Eating too quickly, drinking through straws, chewing gum, or drinking carbonated beverages can lead to excessive air intake that builds up in the gastrointestinal tract,” Olszewski indicated. Recap: Swallowing excessive air equals gas and bloating. I hate to be the bearer of bad news: that means giving up soft drinks, popping champagne, and cracking open the sparkling water. If you need more convincing when it comes to breaking your gum habit, I get it. Webb laid it out clearly: “Most sugar-free gums have sugar alcohols, which are poorly absorbed, so they travel to the colon where they produce gas. That said, even sugar-free gum can lead to bloat via ingesting too much air.”