You’ve just finished a big meal with good friends when that miserable feeling hits. You feel puffy and swollen, your stomach pushes against your waistband, and you resolve that tomorrow you’ll get back on track with your diet. While you know that feeling will pass, right now all you want to do is take off your pants and curl up to Friends reruns on the sofa. While belching or passing gas is common, especially after a big meal, too much can lead to symptoms like bloating.
Bloating can range from regularly feeling highly distressing pain to simply being annoyed that your stomach is bloated. Regardless of the feeling, bloating is uncomfortable. After-meal stomach bloat can really hinder your social life and create embarrassment. And occasionally, bloating can indicate a bigger problem.
What Causes Bloating?
Bloating or a bloated stomach is a “stuffed” or swollen feeling in your midsection that happens after you eat. Intestinal gas — not water weight — creates bloating for most people. Glitches in your digestive system’s muscle movement can also create a bloated stomach. Bloating is very common; about 15–30% of Americans struggle with this condition.
Bloating differs from abdominal distension. With a bloated stomach, you feel gassy and your gut feels distended or swollen. Abdominal distention, on the other hand, means a visible increase in abdominal girth. Only about half of people who complain of bloating actually experience abdominal distention. Sometimes bloating is very real. There’s too much going on within your digestive system. But in other cases, increased sensitivity can make you feel pressure in your stomach, even though there isn’t.
Why do some people struggle with bloating more than others? For one, some of us have more gas-producing bacteria that leads to bloating. Other factors that can create a bloated stomach include poor digestion and gut issues like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). To determine whether you have functional bloating, healthcare practitioners will perform a medical exam and look at your health history. They typically look at the following criteria:
- Recurrent bloating for at least three days a month
- Symptoms that appear at least six months before diagnosis
- Symptoms that have occurred for at least three months
- You don’t show signs of gut disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Based on those things, your healthcare practitioner can determine:
- Whether you have bloating, abdominal distention, or both.
- What causes these symptoms.
- Whether these symptoms are benign or suggest an underlying cause such as SIBO.
Based on what they conclude, your healthcare practitioner will likely create an individualized treatment plan to reduce or eliminate bloating.
10 Ways to Get Rid of Bloating
Talk with your healthcare practitioner if you struggle with a bloated stomach. While typically bloating occurs from food or food intolerances, occasionally it can underlie a serious medical condition. Weight loss, pain, blood in your stool, and fever are some of the signs that bloating requires medical attention.
If your healthcare practitioner determines your bloating is bothersome but harmless, these ten strategies make a great foundation for how to minimize or eliminate a bloated stomach.
- Slow down. Many of us devour food like we’re competing in a Coney Island hot dog eating contest. Eating isn’t a race, and eating food too quickly can lead to overeating and contribute to bloating. Slow down and be mindful during meals! Even taking five deep breaths, offering gratitude, or otherwise being mindful before you eat can help alleviate bloating and other meal-related symptoms.
- Consider your diet. Overeating is the most common cause of bloating, but what you eat can also contribute to a bloated stomach. Dairy, whole grains, and sugar alcohols are some of the foods that cause bloating. Even beans and too many vegetables can create bloating for some people. Work with your healthcare practitioner to create a customized plan for your condition.
- Eat more fibre. Constipation often causes bloating. To remedy that, gradually increase your intake of dietary fibre. Eat lots of leafy greens, berries, nuts, seeds, and avocados to reduce bloating, along with plenty of water. Gradually is the key word here. Too much fibre at once can increase bloating and gassiness.
- Try intermittent fasting. Besides eating smaller meals, fasting can ease symptoms of bloating, whereas large or heavy meals often make it worse. You don’t need to go crazy here — simply have a big dinner, close up the kitchen for the night, and push breakfast forward as far as you’re comfortable the next morning. You’ll create a 12–16-hour fasting window that gives your overworked digestive system a break and potentially reduces bloating.
- Manage stress. Bloating and stomach discomfort are more common among people with intense stress or anxiety. How you handle these conditions depends on what works for you. That might include meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or hanging out with a friend who makes you laugh.
- Try digestive enzymes. Certain factors — including age and stress — can mean your body makes fewer digestive enzymes, so you don’t efficiently break down food. Supplementing with a broad-spectrum quality digestive enzyme can support that breakdown so you optimally absorb nutrients from food.
- Pinpoint food intolerances and allergies. Dairy, eggs, gluten, and some sugars like fructose are foods that can cause excess gas and bloat. Try an elimination diet or work with your healthcare practitioner to determine what foods you might have intolerances or allergies to.
- Try peppermint oil. This herb, prized for its leaves but also essential oil, can relieve common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome including pain, bloating, and gas. If you struggle with bloating, trying it might be worth a shot if you’re implementing other strategies here. Look for enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules, which allow oil to pass through your stomach and dissolve in your intestine.
- Move more. Physical activity makes a great strategy for bloating relief, helping your body expel gas and move digestion along. You don’t need much to do the job; a brisk walk, bike ride, or some yoga poses can all help you manage bloating.
- Mind your gut. Your gut contains about 500 different species of bacteria. Even minor disturbances in these bacteria can create significant changes in how your gut functions, including gas relief. Gut-supporting foods include probiotic-rich kimchi and sauerkraut, fibre-rich foods like green vegetables and berries, and foods like dandelion greens that are rich in prebiotics. This Coconut Turmeric Ginger Smoothie makes a great way to start your day supporting gut health!
Sometimes, simple modifications such as eliminating dairy can minimize bloating. For other people, getting rid of a bloated stomach requires looking at the underlying causes and taking several strategies to eliminate the problem. Keeping a food journal can be a helpful way to pinpoint what foods and how much food you eat contribute to bloating. Bloating can be miserable, but you can reduce it with these 10 strategies.