After a tropical vacation with salty margaritas and greasy fried foods, you’re probably not surprised to wake up feeling a little extra puffy (so #worthit). When it’s that time of the month, some extra bloat is as reliable as Rihanna serving up lewks on the red carpet. But what about when you’re so uncomfortably bloated and just have No. Idea. Why?
Not only is bloating inconvenient (if I had a penny for every time I couldn’t button my jeans after a meal), but it can also be extremely painful and uncomfortable. But here’s the good news: it’s not inevitable or unavoidable. Here are eight common causes of bloat that you probably haven’t thought of, and exactly how to fix them:
1. You’re drinking too many carbonated beverages
Unfortunately for your sparkling water addiction, carbonation may be causing bloat. It sounds bizarre, but according to the UK’s National Health Service, one of the most common causes of bloating could be as simple as swallowing too much air. Some swallowed air is unavoidable (I mean, it’s air), but if there’s too much air in the intestines, gas can build up and cause bloat. Overdoing it on the fizzy beverages in one way air can get into your system, but regularly chewing gum, eating food with your mouth open, or talking and eating at the same time (guilty!) can also cause a build up of gas.
2. You eat your veggies
If you’re an avid veggie eater, good for you! However, not all vegetables are created equal. Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts are full of powerful nutrients, but they also contain a starch called raffinose that the body can’t fully break down (which could lead to bloating). But this doesn’t mean you should forego cauliflower pizza crusts or massaged kale salads for junk food (cruciferous vegetables have many more health benefits than potato chips or processed white flour).
If you’re not feeling great after a bowl of fried Brussels sprouts or a plate of cauliflower wings, keep in mind how they’re being prepared; just because a vegetable is involved does not rule out the processed oils, excess salt, or other ingredients used in the recipe that could be causing bloat (in other words, the vegetable may not be the enemy). However, if you’re feeling extra crummy even after broccoli sautéed in olive oil or raw kale, try to eat slower to help with digestion or talk to your doctor about taking a digestive enzyme to break down the food.
3. You’re drinking too much water with your meals
Drinking water is one of the most important things you can do to beat bloat, but when you drink matters too. According to Robyn Youkilis, a leading expert in digestive health and author of Go with Your Gut: The Insider’s Guide to Banishing Bloat, drinking water while eating may dilute your gastric juices (which is just a gross way of saying it may negatively impact your body’s natural digestion process). It’s important to stay hydrated, so drink as much as possible throughout the day while limiting liquids 30 minutes before and after eating. However, staying hydrated is most important, so if the only time you’re drinking water is during mealtime, try taking smaller sips (rather than big gulps), or opting for warm water, which is easier on digestion than ice water.
4. You have bad posture
Bad news for all the other slouchers out there: a study in 2003 found that body posture has a significant influence on “intestinal gas propulsion,” or bloat (in less complicated words). Slumping over your dinner plate or eating lunch slouched over your laptop while working through lunch could be causing excessive gas. Sitting up straight while eating (and digesting, so basically all the time), ensures a smaller amount of gas is held onto in the gastrointestinal tract, meaning limited bloat. Practice better posture for your overall health by straightening your back and relaxing your shoulders (and stop looking down at your phone while you’re at it!).
5. You’re living a sedentary lifestyle
Over the past couple of months, most of us have probably only left our couches to move to the bed to sleep or the fridge. Yes, rest is critical for your health (and Outer Banks can really only be watched in one binge session), but if you’re not moving enough, a sedentary lifestyle could be the sneaky culprit behind pesky bloat. The Cleveland Clinic suggests that just 30-60 minutes of exercise every day can decrease bloat and remove gas already in the digestive tract. Try going for more walks, doing some yoga in between meals, or even turning on your favorite playlist and having a dance party for a mini work break.
6. Your portions are too big
Must I remind you of the extreme bloat post-Thanksgiving dinner? However, it doesn’t take an entire turkey to make you bloated. Whenever you eat more than your body needs, of course you’re not going to feel great, but it’s also going to take longer to digest the food. Digesting food is an entire process; food doesn’t just go through the body like a cartoon water slide.
Because of bigger portion sizes and a lack of intuitive eating, many Americans are eating more than they need, causing discomfort after eating and lots and lots of bloat. Every body has a different need when it comes to food, so eat slowly and stop eating whenever you feel satisfied (not until you’re “stuffed” à la Thanksgiving). Practicing intuitive eating will not only help you feel better overall, but might eradicate bloat.
7. You’re stressed
Not only does stress make you reach for comfort food or long for a 5pm glass of wine, but it can also make you bloated (we just cannot catch a damn break with stress!). If you think about it, it’s simple biology. You’ve heard of the fight-or-flight response, right? If we suddenly had to run from a tiger, we wouldn’t be able to run as fast if all of the energy in the body is going to digesting that big meal of berries and bison (I don’t know, whatever cavemen ate back in the day). So instead, the body shuts down digestion so that our energy can go to escaping the immediate risk.
In 2020, most of us are not at risk for tiger attacks (or eating bison), and instead, our fight-or-flight response comes from work deadlines and fights with a significant other that add up to chronic stress. Unfortunately, the stomach doesn’t know the difference between work stress and running-from-a-tiger stress like the mind does, so the digestive system is often negatively affected, potentially causing bloat. If stress feels unavoidable in your life, at least make sure your meals are as stress-free as possible: eat slowly, chew thoroughly, shut down work, turn off the TV, and take a few deep breaths before eating. If you’re still struggling with stress, click here, here, and here.
8. You have an undiagnosed food sensitivity
Now for the biggest bummer: your body just might not agree with the food you’re eating. If your bloat is extremely uncomfortable, talk to your doctor about going on an elimination diet to test for food sensitivities (the most common allergies or sensitivities are gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, shellfish, and fruits–I know, all of the things that are good in the world right?). However, you could have a sensitivity to just about any food you put in your body, not just the common allergies (even foods that are “healthy” to other people), so try keeping a food journal to look for patterns and talk to your physician about identifying potential food sensitivities.