10 Ways to Beat Belly Bloat
Last Updated: May 18, 2016
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Can’t squeeze into your skinny jeans, no matter how much you suck in your stomach? You’re not alone. Up to 25 percent of healthy adults experience regular bloating, according to a 2012 study published in ISRN Gastroenterology. The reason: Bloating doesn’t have just one cause, says Jacqueline Wolfe, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and author of A Woman's Guide to a Healthy Stomach. Everything from your emotions and eating habits to the bacteria that call your gut home can balloon your waistline. Here are 10 simple steps that can help you beat the bloat.
FEEL THE BURN
Having a “fat” day? The last thing you should do is skip your sweat session. During and following your workout, gas passes more easily through the digestive system, according to Spanish researchers. Let the gas out, and you’ll kick the bloating, too. “Most bloating isn’t about the existence of gas, but the fact that gas is trapped in one spot of the small intestines, making your abdominal region distend,” Wolfe says. And, in case you need some motivation to hold that plank position longer, it turns out that core work can keep bloat away. People with six-pack abs suffer from far less bloating than do people with less-than-defined ones, according to London researchers. Why? Strong abdominal muscles inhibit gas from pushing outward.
POP SOME PROBIOTICS
Your intestines play host to legions of bacteria. And that’s not a bad thing. They help the body absorb vitamins and minerals, aid in digestion, and bolster the immune system. But when bacterial imbalances happen (like after taking bacteria-zapping antibiotics), they can throw your whole digestive system out of whack, according to Sita Chokhavatia, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Taking certain probiotics can help restore order and beat the bloat. Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium lactis are the only kinds that have been found to reduce bloating, according to a 2011 study published in the Clinical Journal of Gastroenterology. When shopping for probiotics, look for brands that contain one or both of these strains, suggests Chokhavatia.
DIAL BACK ON THE DAIRY
More than one in 10 adults are lactose intolerant, and bloat is an all-too-common symptom, according to a 2009 Baylor College of Medicine study. People who are lactose intolerant do not produce the enzyme lactase and therefore cannot digest lactose, a type of sugar found in dairy. If you have been diagnosed as lactose intolerant or believe milk is messing with your belly, try cutting back on dairy. While research shows some lactose-intolerant people can handle at least 12 grams of lactose (the amount in a cup of milk) without problems, if you have to remove dairy from your diet entirely, remember you’ll need to get calcium and vitamin D elsewhere, says Chokhavatia. Green veggies, soy beans, and almonds are all good sources.
SLASH YOUR STRESS LEVEL
As if stress wasn’t bad enough on its own, it can make you bloat. When you’re anxious, your body releases cortisol and adrenaline, hormones that stimulate your digestive system, and cause gas, bloating, and even diarrhea. What’s more, people who are stressed tend to swallow air unknowingly, eat foods too quickly, and don’t schedule in quality bathroom time, says Chokhavatia. If you can’t get rid of your stressors (think: in-laws), you may be able to manage the anxiety through cognitive behavior therapy or relaxation therapy. They are both effective in preventing and treating bloating, according to research from the University of Sydney.
SKIP SUGAR SUBSTITUTES
Sugar-free doesn’t mean belly-friendly. Many sugar-free beverages, candies, and gums contain the sweeteners sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol, which are difficult to digest and can trigger the production of hydrogen gas in the small intestines, causing severe bloating, Wolfe says. The Food and Drug Administration requires products that may result in a daily consumption of 50 grams of sorbitol to include a warning label that they “may have a laxative effect.” Still, as little as 10 grams of sorbitol can trigger stomach trouble, says Wolfe. One stick of sugar-free gum typically contains about 1.25 grams.
You might think that more liquids equal more belly volume, but as long as you aren’t drinking water by the barrel, staying hydrated will keep you svelte, according to Wolfe. Why? When you are dehydrated, your body thinks you’re trying to cross a desert with an itty-bitty canteen. To fill up its reserves, it stores water between cells and in the fat cells, causing all-over bloating, she says. What’s more, dehydration can cause your digestive system to slow to a halt, resulting in constipation and a distended abdomen. Shoot for eight glasses a day. Bonus benefit: Drinking water regularly can help curb food cravings.
CLOSE YOUR MOUTH
“Not chewing with your mouth open goes far beyond good manners,” says Chokhavatia. “Swallowing air can cause bloating.” Mixed in with your food, air pockets travel through your digestive system and can cause bloating and gas. It’s estimated that most people ingest 30 milliliters of air with each swallow. But that doesn’t mean you’re destined to have a belly full of air. By drinking with a straw, staying mum when your mouth is full, and avoiding chewing gum, you can limit the amount of air you mistakenly swallow, according to Chokhavatia.
SHAKE YOUR SODIUM HABIT
If you consume too much sodium, your body holds onto water to help you maintain the proper sodium balance in your body, leading to bloating, Wolfe says. This water retention can be particularly bad in the small intestines, which is to blame for a bigger belly. But ditching your salt shaker might not be the answer. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 75 percent of the average American’s sodium intake (which is almost twice what it should be!) comes from commercially prepared foods. Scale back your intake of take-out meals and pre-packaged foods, and your bloat will go, too.
Reducing your sodium levels isn’t just about what you don’t eat. It’s also about what you do eat. Bananas, papayas, kiwis, strawberries, spinach, beets, and broccoli contain potassium, which acts as a diuretic, driving water molecules out of fat cells and increasing the amount of sodium in your urine, says Chokhavatia. While an over-the-counter diuretic might seem like an easy fix instead of eating right, many can cause low levels of potassium, exacerbating bloat over the long term.
GET WHOLE FIBER
Fiber is famous for a reason: It helps you poop. Since constipation is bloat’s best friend, fiber can cut your chances of swelling up. Don’t buy into the fiber craze in processed food, however. Many manufacturers add fiber in the form of inulin, which is difficult to digest, Chokhavatia says. A 2010 study from the University of Minnesota in Saint Paul found that people who eat 10 grams of inulin at one time suffer significantly more gas and bloating than those who eat less. Your belly’s best bet is to get fiber from fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and it’s a great idea to cut back on packaged foods that list chicory root or inulin as an ingredient.
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