Can You Get Bloated by Not Eating Very Much?

Bloating is a common gastrointestinal side effect. It occurs for a variety of reasons, but typically involves an excessive amount of food, drink or even gas in your digestive system. Bloating can also occur if you're intolerant to certain ingredients.

Sugary alcoholic drinks can cause bloating.
Credit: Mizina/iStock/GettyImages

If your stomach is bloating after eating very little, it's likely due to the foods or beverages you're consuming.

Read more: 10 Surprising Foods That Will Fill You Up, Not Out

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There are many reasons you might be feeling bloated. Intolerance to certain fatty foods and fermentable carbohydrates and excessive carbonated drink consumption are all common reasons for this gastrointestinal issue.

Reasons for Feeling Bloated

It's unlikely that you'd feel bloated or experience gas from not eating enough. These gastrointestinal issues tend to caused by consuming large amounts of food. However, if you haven't eaten anything and are bloated, it might be because you've swallowed air or gas.

This can occur when you consume carbonated drinks like sodas, tonic water, sparkling water and alcoholic drinks, like beer. It can also occur when you chew gum or drink through a straw.

If your stomach's bloating after eating very little, it's likely from something in the drinks or food you're consuming. Even small amounts of foods can affect your gut, especially if you're intolerant to a certain ingredient or have a history of gastrointestinal problems. Bloating after eating minimal amounts of food may also be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Of course, feeling bloated can also be unrelated to the foods or drinks you're consuming. For example, the Mayo Clinic lists bloating as a common premenstrual symptom for women. In such cases, magnesium supplements, diuretics and exercise may be able to help minimize your symptoms.

Feeling Bloated From Foods

A variety of food products can affect your gut health and cause you to feel bloated. Many of the healthy foods that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends may be the culprits. Even excessive consumption of essential nutrients can be at fault.

One of the most common causes of bloating is sodium. Harvard Health Publishing lists excessive sodium as a reason you might experience bloating. Salt is added to many foods — even sweet foods, like desserts and drinks.

If you consume junk food, fast food, restaurant food or prepared foods frequently, you're likely consuming too much sodium. According to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day rather than the recommended maximum of 2,300 milligrams per day.

Alternatives to sugar are also known to affect the gut. Although alternative sweeteners are generally thought to be safe and healthy for consumption, the Food and Drug Administration warns that sweeteners like sugar alcohols can cause a variety of gastrointestinal issues, even in fairly small amounts. Sugar alcohols can be found naturally in many plant-based foods, but are also produced as low-calorie products like erythritol and xylitol.

Certain macronutrients may also affect your gut health. An April 2016 study in the journal Advanced Biomedical Research highlights the potential for fatty foods to cause bloating and other gastrointestinal problems in people with gut health problems, like long-term issues with indigestion.

The Canadian Society of Intestinal Research states that complex carbohydrates and dairy are both common causes of bloating and gas. Similarly, a May 2016 study in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners discussed how specific carbohydrates, like fiber and fermentable short-chain carbohydrates, can cause bloating, gas, stomach pain and changes in bowel movements. These issues are particularly likely to occur in people who have existing gastrointestinal problems.

Read more: The 10 Worst Foods for Bloating

Fermentable Carbohydrates and Bloating

If you experience bloating regularly, particularly after you've eaten very little, it may be because of the fermentable short-chain carbohydrates you're consuming. Fermentable short-chain carbohydrates are known as FODMAPs: fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These short-chain carbohydrates are primarily found in plant-based products, but are also present in some milk products.

If you're not sure what oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols are, don't worry — these are all just type of carbohydrates that tend to be more difficult for your body to digest. Many fermentable carbohydrates are typically lauded as healthy, beneficial prebiotics. Unfortunately, these short-chain carbohydrates can also ferment in your colon, causing gas, bloating and a variety of other gastrointestinal side effects.

FODMAPs aren't just any one particular type of food; there are fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and milk products that tend to be rich in fermentable carbohydrates, just as there are the same types of foods that have minimal amounts.

Some examples of high-FODMAP foods include dairy products like milk, yogurt and ice cream, which contain disaccharides. Legumes and vegetables like asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are all rich in oligosaccharides.

Many fruits and berries, like apples, blackberries, pears, mangoes and watermelon also contain these fermentable carbohydrates. In particular, dried fruits and stone fruits contain polyols like sorbitol. You should be aware that the term polyol is just another name for sugar alcohol.

Read more: 10 Ways to Beat Belly Bloat

Minimizing Bloating Through Diet Alteration

According to a July 2013 study in Gastroenterology and Hepatology, people who experience bloating often, like those with functional bloating or irritable bowel syndrome, may benefit from a diet with reduced amounts of fermentable short-chain carbohydrates. These diets are known as low-FODMAP diets.

Removing foods that are rich in fermentable carbohydrates allows people to identify the foods that are causing them to bloat or experience other gastrointestinal side effects. People who remove high-FODMAP foods from their diets typically experience less abdominal pain, bloating and gas.

Over time, removing foods from your diet that are rich in fermentable carbohydrates can alter your gut microbiome. The proportion and types of bacteria in your gut will change in beneficial ways, reducing your risk of gastrointestinal issues like bloating.

This means that you should be able to eventually add fermentable carbohydrates back into your diet and ideally won't continue to experience gut-related side effects when you eat those foods.

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