Thanksgiving is upon us, which means in just a couple of months, it will be time to deflate from holiday calorie overload. But before you feast, consider this: Though excess calories consumed during meals can certainly contribute to a “bloated” or full feeling, along with weight gain, there are many other possible reasons why you may feel like you’ve gone up a jeans size after eating. For these causes of bloating, the popular advice you might find on a Google search isn’t likely to help.
“We’re using the same word to refer to 50 different things, and so you have no idea if what you read online is referring to the same type of bloating you are experiencing,” said Tamara Duker Freuman, a registered dietitian who specializes in digestive disorders and author of the forthcoming book “The Bloated Belly Whisperer.”
Below are some myths, debunked, to give you a better sense of what bloating really is, what it isn’t and what you can do about it.
Myth 1: All bloating has a common cause.
Feeling “overly full” or experiencing discomfort after eating or having a stomach that is noticeably distended might seem like similar bloating symptoms, but that doesn’t mean the cause is the same for each.
“People most often come in saying they are ‘bloated,’ but what they mean by that is quite varied, and I usually need to do quite a bit of digging to really understand what it means to them. It is a very subjective sensation,” said Dr. Yevgenia Pashinsky, a gastroenterologist and clinical instructor of medicine and gastroenterology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Often, people will come in with a self-diagnosis, “which often has little to do with the actual causes of their symptoms,” Pashinsky added.
Technically, anything you put in your GI tract has the potential to cause bloating. But according to Pashinsky, some people are more susceptible to bloating than others, including those with conditions such as gastroparesis (when the stomach is slow to empty), functional dyspepsia (an inability of the stomach wall to relax and accommodate food) and a condition known as SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (in which excess bacteria live in a part of the intestinal tract where they don’t belong).
Additionally, one might feel overly full or distended because there’s too much gas in their gastrointestinal tract, because they are constipated or because they have aerophagia, or excessive air swallowing.
Identifying the cause of bloating matters because the treatment that offers relief will vary from person to person and is therefore not a “one size fits all” solution.
Myth 2: You don’t need a doctor or dietitian to help.
Meeting with a gastroenterologist and a registered dietitian can help you get the most accurate diagnosis for your bloating, along with a tailored treatment plan. What’s more, it can help you avoid nutritional deficiencies and rule out more serious problems.
“Though bloating can represent something as simple as lactose intolerance or mild constipation, it can be something as serious as a malignancy, whether gastrointestinal or gynecological in nature. And you’re not going to know that by going online,” Pashinsky said.
“I strongly feel that everyone should have a dietary assessment as part of their overall health care whether they are symptomatic or not,” she added. “Dietary causes are the most common contributors to gastrointestinal symptoms, and with the overwhelming amount of information available, people get caught up in restrictions that can diminish quality of life and lead to nutritional insufficiencies.”
For example, self-diagnosis and treatment might lead someone to eliminate all vegetables, which can adversely affect intake of the essential nutrient folate, when in reality only a handful of veggies with specific types of fiber trigger their symptoms, Freuman explained. Additionally, people often eliminate all calcium-rich dairy foods, when only dairy foods high in the milk sugar lactose actually bother them. In this case, a lactose-free milk, for example, would help ensure adequate intake of calcium.
Myth 3: Sodium causes ‘bloating.’
“Excess sodium can cause fluid retention [not bloating per se] and can give a ‘puffy’ appearance, but more so in the face and extremities than in the abdomen,” Freuman said.
Bloating in the gastrointestinal world generally refers to abdominal swelling that is related to either gas, food or stool excess in the intestinal system or the sensation of this, Pashinsky explained.
“It’s that feeling of over-fullness and discomfort in the digestive tract, or it’s a visible distention of your abdomen, which increases the size of your stomach,” Freuman added.
On the flip side, fluid retention is related to sodium and water balance and involves the kidneys and blood vessels. “It can lead to excessive soft tissue swelling, which can cause swollen ankles or indentation from socks, but this is not something that is primarily gastrointestinal in nature,” Pashinsky said.
Though it’s true that eating a low-salt diet and drinking more water may help resolve fluid retention if your kidneys are working properly, this will do nothing for you if you are clinically bloated, Freuman explained.
Being precise with your terminology and giving examples of both alleviating an aggravating factors for symptoms and how these relate to eating and bowel function are important when talking with your doctor, as that will help determine next steps in testing and potential treatment options, Pashinksy said.
Freuman added that “If you use the term ‘bloating,’ your doctor might think you are suffering from acid reflux or constipation. But if you are actually retaining water, this might imply blood pressure issues or kidney issues or fluid retention, in which case you might need a low-sodium diet, increased intake of potassium or a diuretic.”
Put another way: If you are truly bloated from an underlying digestive issue and you read an article that says “cut back on sodium,” that won’t be helpful.
“There’s a smattering of random advice that’s not particularly tailored to people and may not be useful, because you may not be talking about the same problem,” Freuman said.
Myth#4: Bloating is caused by a bacterial imbalance.
Our gastrointestinal tracts are home to trillions of bacteria, which you can think of in three ways. The first is probiotic or beneficial bacteria, which may make vitamins and short-chain fatty acids that are good for us, Freuman explained. The second group of bacteria are called commensals, and they seem to neither help nor hurt us. The third is a group that is potentially pathogenic or harmful, like if a particular strain of E. coli is allowed to grow unchecked.
All of us host bacteria from these three categories. “But there’s this popular idea that if you feel bloated or have a lot of gas, that you are over-represented by the ‘bad’ disease-causing bacteria and have too little of the ‘good’ bacteria … and that there is some sort of imbalance causing you to have excess gas or discomfort or constipation,” Freuman said.
“This is an incredible oversimplification and not necessarily true.”
What this means is that the notion of adding more “good” bacteria in the form of a probiotic won’t help your symptoms.
In fact, some find that a probiotic makes them more bloated, not less, Freuman said. That’s because “good” bacteria can ferment nutrients just as much as the “bad” bacteria – which means the “good guys” can produce plenty of gas in the GI tract.
Pashinsky added, “I do not routinely recommend a probiotic for bloating because I feel our knowledge of the microbiome at this point is barely scratching the surface, and it will be a few years before we really have an decent understanding on how to manipulate it.”
Myth 5: Certain foods can eliminate bloating.
Despite what you may find on an Internet search, there are no magic foods that will help alleviate bloating. “Overall meal patterns and dietary patterns that address the specific cause of your bloating can help reduce the symptoms, but there’s nothing magic about, say, asparagus that will cure a truly bloated belly,” Freuman said.
In fact, adding foods can make your bloating worse, not better. “If you are full of gas and you eat asparagus or celery, you might assume the gas will go away, but this is not necessarily the case,” Freuman added. “Some people find asparagus or celery gassy in and of itself.”
Keeping a food and symptom journal can help you determine whether there is something about your diet that is contributing to your symptoms.
“It’s best to look at an overall pattern to see what can be contributing to the bloating, rather than seeking out salvation in some random superfood,” Freuman said.
Myth 6: Bloating is belly fat.
Bloating isn’t belly fat. Belly fat is belly fat.
“People will say, ‘I’m bloated,’ but what they really mean is that they have gained belly fat,” Freuman said.
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Gaining weight around your abdomen is common in women during menopause. “Someone might say, ‘I feel like I have a spare tire around my middle, and my clothes fit differently,’ and they call it bloating, but I realize they are really talking about belly fat and weight gain, and the solution to that is weight loss,” Freuman said.
A calorie-restricted diet, rich in protein and fiber, along with increased amounts of exercise, can help.
Lisa Drayer is a nutritionist, an author and a CNN health and nutrition contributor.
Exercise, supplements, massage, dietary changes, and other strategies can all help reduce bloating quickly. Abdominal bloating is when the abdomen feels full and tight. It commonly occurs due to a buildup of gas somewhere in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.How do you deflate a bloated stomach? ›
- Stay hydrated. Sipping water before, during, and after meals can help reduce bloating by flushing excess sodium, which can often lead to bloating.
- Get some exercise. ...
- Give yoga a try. ...
- Try peppermint oil. ...
- Massage your abdomen. ...
- Digestive enzyme supplements. ...
- Soak in an Epsom salt bath.
Exercise, supplements, massage, dietary changes, and other strategies can all help reduce bloating quickly. Abdominal bloating is when the abdomen feels full and tight. It commonly occurs due to a buildup of gas somewhere in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.What is the truth behind bloating? ›
About half of gas in the digestive system is swallowed air. The rest is produced by bacteria in the gut that help digest food. If the gastrointestinal tract does not move it through efficiently, gas builds up in the intestines, causing bloating and discomfort.Why is my stomach bloated and not flat? ›
Functional reasons for a distended abdomen tend to involve digestive problems that cause gas and/or digestive contents to accumulate. Causes might include: Gas from functional indigestion, food intolerances or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Constipation causing a build-up of feces and back-up of digestive contents.Can you grab a bloated belly? ›
Another way to tell the difference is that if you can physically grab the bulge you see, it's belly fat. You can't grasp your bloated belly.Does drinking water reduce bloating? ›
“While it may seem counterintuitive, drinking water may help to reduce bloat by ridding the body of excess sodium,” Fullenweider says. You may find that drinking water before a meal can help reduce bloat, and this step may also confer the double benefit of reducing the tendency to overeat.Why is my stomach flat in the morning and bloated at night? ›
"We wake up in the morning with a flatter stomach, because we don't have all of the food and drink we consume in the day going through. Normally we wake up, empty our bladder and bowel, and then as the day goes on, we increase the fluids and what we eat, and this builds up and looks like bloat throughout the day."Why am I still bloated after pooping? ›
In most cases, feeling bloated after pooping can be caused by what we have eaten; for example, dairy or high-fibre foods may cause you to feel puffy afterwards. Another possible culprit is gas that hasn't been released during your bathroom session.Does lemon water help with bloating? ›
Lemon water can help with digestion
To relieve bloating, gas, and constipation, drink a cup of lemon water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Lemon contains minerals that promote healthy digestion, alleviate heartburn, and stimulate healthy bowel function by reducing bloat and stimulating bowel movements.
- Your bowel movement isn't right. ...
- Celiac disease is the culprit. ...
- You binge on junk food. ...
- You aren't chewing your food properly. ...
- You aren't eating dinner on time. ...
- You're sitting all the time. ...
- You aren't adding fibre to your diet. ...
- You are skipping your meals.
Frequent discomfort, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn could be signs that your gut is having a hard time processing food and eliminating waste.Is bloat real weight? ›
Bloating may occasionally add a pound or two, but it doesn't actually signify weight gain. A simple way to tell the difference between bloating and weight gain or fat is how your stomach looks and feels. If your stomach is tight and hard, then bloating is the cause. If your stomach is soft and thick, then that's fat.Why am I bloated but not fat? ›
Bloat could also be a sign of greater, underlying conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Lactose intolerance, or even a wheat allergy. Stomach bloat can also be a result of consuming too much salt on a daily basis, causing your stomach to keep excess water.Am I always bloated or just fat? ›
Bloating Keeps Fluctuating While Belly Fat Is Constant
Another distinct difference is that, with bloating, your stomach expands wildly throughout the day. Belly fat and excess skin remain constant while the buildup of fat is gradual.
The most common causes are trapped gas or eating too much in a short time. The sensation of bloating can cause abdominal distention, which is a visible swelling or extension of your belly.Where is the pressure point for belly bloating? ›
Point location: Roughly 4 inches above the navel. To massage this point: Place two to three fingers on the zhongwan point. Apply gentle pressure in a circular motion, making sure not to press too hard.Will holding your stomach in flatten it? ›
Suck in your stomach.
Not only will this move instantly make your stomach look flatter, but you will also be giving your abs a workout. Your deep core muscles are activated by sucking in your stomach and the longer you suck in, the more toned your core will be.
When water builds up in the body, it can cause bloating and puffiness, especially in the abdomen, legs, and arms. Water levels can make a person's weight fluctuate by as much as 2 to 4 pounds in a single day. Severe water retention can be a symptom of heart or kidney disease.What foods help Debloat overnight? ›
If you're feeling bloated from excess sodium, “the best tip for quick-ish relief is to drink more water and eat mild foods with potassium, like banana, avocado, and sweet potato,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD. “Both water and potassium help flush excess sodium and fluid out of the body.”
- Avocados. Avocados are highly nutritious, packing a good amount of folate and vitamins C and K into each serving ( 2 ). ...
- Cucumber. Cucumbers comprise about 95% water, making them great for relieving bloating ( 5 ). ...
- Yogurt. ...
- Berries. ...
- Green tea. ...
- Celery. ...
- Ginger. ...
If we only lose a little bit of weight when we poop, why do we feel so much slimmer finally pooping after being constipated or after a large meal? It's because pooping reduces gas and bloating.How can I get unbloated in 5 minutes? ›
Apple cider vinegar – Take one small cap of apple cider vinegar and a glass of water, then mix and drink them. This drink is a traditional drink to debloat in 5 minutes. This effective method does not have any side effects on health.How many pounds of waste can your body hold? ›
The intestines can hold as little as 5 pounds and as much as 25 pounds of waste at any given time, varying greatly depending on your weight and diet. This is because your body is physically unable to completely digest all the foods you consume and some of them can get stuck in the lining of your intestines.How do you completely empty your bowels? ›
- Sit on the toilet properly: ...
- Brace – allow your stomach muscles to push forwards. ...
- With each urge to empty your bowels, repeat the brace.
- Keep your mouth slightly open and breathe out. ...
- As you finish, pull up your anorectal muscles (the muscles that control your bottom).
Do you ever begin sweating and feeling like you are going to pass out while pooping, or do you feel like you will pass out at the sight of blood? It's possible that your vagus nerve is causing this sensation and triggering your body's vasovagal reflex, or vasovagal response.Does apple cider vinegar help with bloating? ›
ACV is naturally acidic, and therefore in people with low stomach acidity, ACV may help to raise stomach acid levels and therefore aid digestion. Consequently, this may prevent gas and bloating, caused by slow digestion.Does green tea reduce bloating? ›
Green tea is a great option for those struggling to reduce bloating. Green tea is known for assisting gut health and its anti-inflammatory properties. This tea contains caffeine which can be important in stimulating your digestive tract, allowing it to get back to its regular state.How long does a glass of water stay in your stomach? ›
How long does it take water to digest? Liquids leave the stomach faster because there is less to break down: Plain water: 10 to 20 minutes. Simple liquids (clear juices, tea, sodas): 20 to 40 minutes.Why is my belly like a balloon? ›
The most common cause of stomach pain and bloating is excess intestinal gas. If you get a bloated stomach after eating, it may be a digestive issue. It might be as simple as eating too much too fast, or you could have a food intolerance or other condition that causes gas and digestive contents to build up.
Hormones are also to blame, she says. Men's higher levels of testosterone mean they have a strong abdominal wall – so their bowel is better held in place. Women, however, have a weaker abdominal wall due to their hormones, so the bowels aren't so contained, causing bloating. Pregnancy only makes this worse.What organ is affected by bloating? ›
A buildup of gas in the stomach and intestines is among the most common causes of bloating. Other symptoms include: frequent burping.What naturally kills bad bacteria in the gut? ›
An anti-inflammatory diet, regular exercise, good quality sleep, and probiotics are all strategies to put in place before trying antimicrobials or antibiotics to get rid of bad bacteria.What are the signs of an unhealthy gut? ›
- Gas, Bloating and Other Stomach Issues. ...
- Unintentional Weight Fluctuations. ...
- Skin Issues. ...
- Moodiness, Irritability and Trouble With Concentration. ...
- Fatigue or Insomnia. ...
- Sugar Cravings.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) occurs when large numbers of bacteria colonize the small intestine. It can cause bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. Treatment options include antibiotics, fecal transplant, and dietary changes.Why do I weigh more than I look? ›
One easily forgotten reason is that your weight only indicates your body mass index (BMI), not your body composition, which is the amount of muscle versus fat you have on your body. Your body composition makes a huge difference in what you look like even though it can't be measured by the scale.Can drinking too much water cause bloating? ›
When the body can't rid itself of excess water, cells swell to accommodate it. As a result, you may feel puffy and bloated until you slow your water intake so your kidneys can catch up.Do underweight people bloat? ›
Bloating happens even to the leanest of people, but there are steps you can take to reduce bloating before it starts. Follow these tips to keep those skinny jeans front and center in your wardrobe.Why is my stomach bloated and squishy? ›
Possible reasons for bloating and distension include:
Too much gas in the intestine. Abnormal levels of bacteria in the small intestine (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth – SIBO) Imbalance of microorganisms that usually live in the bowel (dysbacteriosis); sometimes the result of taking antibiotics. Food intolerance.
Sometimes, excess fat around the belly is due to hormones. Hormones help regulate many bodily functions, including metabolism, stress, hunger, and sex drive. If a person has a deficiency in certain hormones, it may result in weight gain around the abdomen, which is known as a hormonal belly.
But did you know that they are actually different? Bloating refers to the sensation of abdominal (tummy) swelling, sometimes described as the feeling of an inflated balloon in the belly. By contrast, abdominal distention refers to an actual increase in measured abdominal size.Is it natural to be bloated all the time? ›
Ongoing bloating is not normal and may have many causes, so you should call your doctor if you feel bloating every day. Bloating is a chronic and bothersome condition for a large minority of the population. Anywhere from an estimated 16% to 31% of us have bloating and distension.Why do I have a FUPA if I'm skinny? ›
Why do I have a FUPA if I'm skinny? Your belly stores up the excess fat more easily than the rest of your body and your mons pubis area is susceptible to fat deposits. That's why you can be skinny and still have excess fat in your belly or upper pubic area.What does a PCOS belly look like? ›
PCOS belly refers to the abdominal fat causing an increased waist-to-hip ratio, PCOS Belly will look like an apple-shaped belly rather than a pear-shaped belly. One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is weight gain, particularly around the abdominal area.Why do women's lower belly stick out? ›
The bulging lower abdominal problem commonly occurs in women after childbirth, but may also effect men and women who haven't experienced pregnancy. It's a result of weakened transverse abdominus and overactive external oblique muscles.What causes a big hard stomach? ›
What can cause a hard stomach? A hard stomach can happen for various reasons, including constipation, gastric cancer, and some chronic digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).How to massage your stomach for bloating? ›
Start on the right side of your stomach down by the bone of your pelvis. Rub in a circular motion lightly up to the right side till you reach your rib bones. Move straight across to the left side. Work your way down to the left to the hip bone and back up to the belly button for 2-3 minutes.How long does jet belly last? ›
Jet lag symptoms usually occur within a day or two after traveling across at least two time zones. Symptoms are likely to be worse or last longer the farther you travel. This is especially true if you fly east. It usually takes about a day to recover for each time zone crossed.What makes you Debloat overnight? ›
Drink Plenty of Water. Whether you had a little too much alcohol or had a giant cheeseburger, drinking plenty of water can help you debloat overnight—or even faster, says Burgess. "Although it may sound counterproductive to drink more, water can actually help flush our system and reduce the puffiness."Where is the pressure point for bloating? ›
Point location: Roughly 4 inches above the navel. To massage this point: Place two to three fingers on the zhongwan point. Apply gentle pressure in a circular motion, making sure not to press too hard.
Always do the massage from right to left, in a clockwise motion. 1 Lay down on the floor or on a firm mattress. ease the tension of the abdomen and reduce any pain you may have when pressing on tender spots.What side do you lay on for gas? ›
By helping food and waste move through your system, you'll have more regular bowel movements and less gas and bloating. Sleeping on your left side lets gravity help waste get from the small intestine to the large intestine.Why is my stomach bloated and hard as a rock? ›
When your stomach swells and feels hard, the explanation might be as simple as overeating or drinking carbonated drinks, which is easy to remedy. Other causes may be more serious, such as an inflammatory bowel disease. Sometimes the accumulated gas from drinking a soda too quickly can result in a hard stomach.Why does my belly look pregnant? ›
Many people who experience endo belly say they “look pregnant,” even though they're not. Endo belly is just one symptom of endometriosis. Those who experience endo belly often have other gastrointestinal symptoms, such as: gas pain.Why am I having gas but can't poop? ›
Why do people have so much gas but cannot poop? Factors such as not drinking enough fluids or not eating enough fiber can cause constipation and make the stool hard to pass. A person can speak with their doctor to assess why they have constipation and gas.Can you massage trapped gas out? ›
An abdominal massage can help release gas, stop bloating and ease period cramps – here's how to give yourself one. Bye, bloating. An abdominal massage, also known as a stomach massage, is not something we give ourselves often—but it should be.