Maybe you ate the wrong thing or, on a gotta-get-healthier kick, you ate too much of the right thing (think fiber). All you know is that the inevitable discomfort has ensued and your pants feel a little tighter than they did this morning. What exactly causes belly bloat, and how can we prevent it?|
What is Bloating?
Bloating is a feeling of fullness or tightness in your abdominal area that is sometimes painful. It might make you appear as if you're pregnant (sorry, guys), or it might feel like your lower abdomen has been uncomfortably inflated.
What Causes Bloating?
Some experts say the mechanism of bloating is driven by volume and pressure changes in the abdomen (often caused by intestinal contents). Think of it this way: As your body accommodates an influx of food or liquid, it produces waste, which moves through your intestines. This means that the pressure in your abdomen is always changing.
Organizations such as the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders say there is no proven cause of bloating. That is to say, we don't understand why one person's body accommodates these volume or pressure shifts without pain, while another person experiences uncomfortable pressure or bloating.
Can Medical Conditions Cause Belly Bloat?
Whatever its organic roots, there are many potential triggers of bloating, ranging from food intolerance to more serious conditions like endometriosis. Some people have bloating with no other symptoms, and bloating itself can be a sign of conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Other conditions linked to bloating are premenstrual syndrome, an imbalance of gastrointestinal microorganisms (sometimes caused by antibiotics) and even excessive curvature of the lumber spine (lordosis). Finally, some people are especially sensitive to sensations in their gut and may perceive bloating more easily. This includes some people with IBS or eating disorders.
Can Bloating Be Prevented?
You bet! Regardless of the potential cause, these simple tips can help you prevent bloating before it happens. Here are seven tips to prevent belly bloat.
1. Eat slowly. Eating slowly and thoroughly chewing can help prevent gastrointestinal pain and discomfort by keeping shifts in volume and pressure inside the body more gradual. You'll also swallow less air if you eat slowly, which helps prevent burping and, potentially, bloating.
2. Eat smaller meals throughout the day. Split your portions into smaller meals and eat at regular intervals to prevent dramatic shifts in the contents of your gastrointestinal tract that might contribute to bloating.
3. Adjust your fiber intake. There are contradictory findings about whether more or less fiber prevents bloating (it may simply depend on what works best for you), so experiment with more and less fiber in your diet to see if you find any relief. The recommended daily amount of fiber for adults is 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women 50 and younger. If your diet doesn't currently contain that much fiber, build up gradually to the recommended amount.
4. Exercise regularly. A consistent exercise routine keeps your bowel habits regular, too, which can prevent constipation, itself a potential contributor to bloating woes.
5. Track your food. Keep a food journal (try SparkPeople.com's free food tracker), noting what you ate and whether or not you have bloating or other discomfort afterward. Then, look for foods that tend to cause bloating for you and experiment with limiting or avoiding them to see if you find relief. Although this may seem an impossible puzzle at first, many people are able to identify certain triggers over time.
6. Avoid foods that commonly trigger bloating. If you're keeping a food journal, you may find that some of these foods don't cause problems for you, but for immediate relief, avoid ingesting large portions of beans, cabbage, carrots, onion, apricots, prunes, bananas, bagels and wheat germ. This doesn't mean you should swear off these foods, but rather that you may want to consume them in small amounts until you've pinpointed the cause of your bloating.
7. Drink plenty of water. Getting enough fluids in your diet will help prevent constipation by encouraging regular bowel movements.
8. Read labels carefully. Many prepared foods, especially diet foods, use sugar alcohols to replace caloric sweeteners and inulin to provided added fiber. However, both of these very common ingredients can cause gas and bloating.
Try these tips and talk to your physician if nothing seems to help. In addition, be careful with bloating symptoms that occur alongside other symptoms, as they can be a signal that something more serious is at the root of your belly pain.
This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, M.Ed., Licensed and Registered Dietitian.
Eastern Carolina University, "Do You Suffer from Excess Gas and Bloating?" www.ecu.edu, accessed on December 6, 2013.
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, "Bloating," www.aboutibs.org, accessed on December 6, 2013.
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, "Understanding Bloating and Distension," www.iffgd.org, accessed on December 6, 2013.
Luscombe GM, Markham R, Judio M, Grigoriu A, Fraser IS. "Abdominal bloating: an under-recognized endometriosis symptom." Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada. 2009 Dec;31(12):1159-71.
UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders, "Abdominal Bloating: A Mysterious Symptom," www.med.unc.edu, accessed on December 6, 2013.