If your pants feel uncomfortably tight from a bloated abdomen, actual belly fat probably isn't the cause. The unpleasant feeling -- like a balloon is expanding in your midsection -- most likely has more to do with something you ate or how you ate the food. You may have eaten too much at one sitting or consumed a specific food known for causing bloat. Sometimes, a bloated belly is a sign of a more serious condition. Speak with a doctor if your bloating doesn't get better with a home remedy or on its own.
Causes of Bloating
Bloating often arises after eating too much at a meal; when your food digests and you have a bowel movement, your stomach will flatten. Bloating may also result from eating too quickly or eating when you're anxious or upset, which can cause you to take air into your stomach. Drinking carbonated beverages such as soda and beer produces bloating, too, as do constipation and premenstrual syndrome.
However, a distended stomach could also indicate an underlying health issue, including celiac disease – an inability to tolerate the protein gluten – or another food intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn's disease; ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids, a tumor or fluid build-up. An imbalance of intestinal bacteria, possibly provoked by taking antibiotics, may also trigger bloating, as could certain medications. If you experience pain, blood in the stool, fever, diarrhea or loss of appetite with your bloating, or the feeling of distension doesn't dissipate, contact a health care professional for advice.
If you suspect that your belly bloat is related to eating too much, reduce your portions and try not to overeat at any meal. Make it your goal to eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of two or three larger meals.
The way you eat can also have an impact – slowing down and chewing your food carefully may eliminate incidences of bloat. Eat at a relaxed pace while seated and don't multitask by working while eating; don''t talk excessively or eat on the run in your car. Avoid sipping beverages through a straw, which can make you swallow too much air. If you notice bloating after drinking carbonated beverages, stop drinking them or reduce your consumption.
Belly-Bloating Foods to Limit or Avoid
Specific foods can cause belly bloat. You may be intolerant of carbohydrates such as lactose -- the sugar found in milk and milk products -- or of fructose, which is found naturally in fruits and is also used as an additive in processed foods. These foods can ferment in your intestines, producing gas and bloating.
Or, you may have an allergy to a specific food, such as peanuts, soy, eggs, corn or wheat, and you may need to avoid consuming them. If your doctor determines that your bloat is because of celiac disease -- which, left untreated, can be life-threatening -- you will need to abstain from eating foods that contain gluten such as wheat, rye and barley and all food products made from these foods.
Some vegetables are notorious for causing gas and bloating -- especially broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables. Beans and legumes are likely culprits, too. Artificial sweeteners used in chewing gum and hard candy, especially sorbitol and maltitol, can produce belly bloating. A good way to find your triggers is to keep a food journal; when you experience bloating, write down the foods you ate to determine if a clear pattern emerges.
Getting too little fiber in the diet or consuming too much all at once can cause belly distension, too. Getting less than the recommended 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day can lead to constipation and, in turn, may lead to belly bloat. But don't increase your fiber intake too quickly, or that may worsen your discomfort. Boost your intake gradually, over the course of a month or two, and drink plenty of water to push fiber through your system.
Other Relief for Belly Bloating
Some over-the-counter products can relieve belly bloating, depending on the root cause of the bloating. Supplements exist that may help your body break down lactose or that may promote the digestion of carbohydrates such as beans. Ask your doctor for recommendations.
If your bloating is occasional and not serious, you may want to try a natural approach for relief. Peppermint and chamomile tea are well-known folk remedies for the discomfort gas causes. Taking herbs such as fennel or caraway seed and anise helps some people.
- MedlinePlus: Abdominal Bloating
- MedlinePlus: Abdomen – Swollen
- International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: Understanding Bloating and Distension
- Go Ask Alice!: Gas, Bloating, Fiber?
- UCSF Medical Center: Increasing Fiber Intake: Why Is Fiber Important?
- UCLA: Student Nutrition Awareness Campaign: Facts of Fiber
- Brigham and Women’s Hospital: Gas: Beat the Bloat
- Daily Mail: The Medical Guide to a Flat Stomach