Do you feel like you’re busting out of your jeans? Does your stomach feel puffy, gassy or distended? Maybe you’re blaming someone for shrinking your clothing, because, after all, it fit perfectly last week.
The answer is pretty simple: You’re bloated.
Along with the physical discomfort, bloating has its share of emotional side effects too, like moodiness, sluggishness, even laziness. It might even trigger memories of being in your seventh month (only instead of looking forward to a new baby, you’re looking forward to … relief).
Enter the belches, burps and other forms of letting the gas pass. It needs somewhere to go, after all. Yes, it’s your body’s natural way to get rid of excess air—but it sure can be embarrassing and mess with your confidence if it comes at the wrong time (and doesn’t it always?).
Bloating is pretty familiar to all of us. Here’s some fun trivia: People produce between one and three pints of gas each day and pass gas between 14 to 23 times each day. (Thanks to The Cleveland Clinic for that interesting tidbit.)
Most of the time, bloating is harmless and not serious. The most common culprit: your diet. The bacteria that lives in our guts feasts on the carbohydrates that your body is unable to digest. Gases like hydrogen and methane are then released, causing your belly to swell. Eventually, it passes those gases.
Aside from that, gas can come from eating too much too fast. Fatty or high-fiber foods like beans, veggies (think cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli) and fruits (apricots, prunes) can make your stomach swell; so can swallowing air from drinking through a straw, sucking on hard candies, chewing gum or drinking carbonated beverages like soda or beer.
Other things to blame? Food allergies, indigestion or constipation. For some, artificial sweeteners, lactose or other food allergies will cause a distended and gassy stomach.
There are more serious causes of bloating, of course. Intestinal disorders (like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and others), gluten intolerance or adhesions (scar tissue) in your abdominal regions due to prior surgery are among them.
Here’s how to deflate your belly and inflate your confidence.
Eat smaller meals.
Big meals take longer to digest, and when undigested food stays in your in your gut and then ferments, it brews up excess gas. Controlling your portion sizes is a sensible and easy way to avoid feeling stuffed and bloated.
Skimp on the salt.
Aside from the possible harmful effects it can have on your blood vessels, heart, kidneys and brain, salt can cause bloat because it forces your body to hold onto extra water. Most of us don’t even realize we’re eating too much salt. It doesn’t necessarily come from how much you use the salt shaker. Most of the salt we get is already hiding in foods like bread; cheese; cured, smoked and deli meats; canned soups, stews and veggies; and even products labeled “reduced salt” or “less sodium.” Aim for about 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day—that’s less than the amount in one teaspoon, total (which contains 2,300 milligrams, in case you’re curious).
Zoom through your meal and you risk bloating after you’re finished, because chances are you’re taking in more air than you would otherwise; swallowed air is essentially gas in your body. Important to note: You can also swallow excess air when you drink through a straw, chew gum, suck on hard candies, are nervous or stressed, or wear loose-fitting dentures.
Cut down on fatty foods.
That’s because fat takes longer to digest than do protein or carbohydrates, giving food more time to ferment and produce gas.
Cut back on fiber.
While it does have its benefits (like lowering cholesterol levels and helping maintain bowel health), foods high in fiber generate lots of gas. To avoid fiber overload, try cutting out one or two high-fiber foods in your diet to see if that makes a difference, then add them back slowly over time. Drinking plenty of water helps fiber work best to keep your stools soft and bulky, says the Mayo Clinic. Fiber also absorbs water, which helps it move through your digestive system faster.
Although annoying, gas and bloating are usually nothing to worry about. But if you have them and also find yourself with anemia, unintentional weight loss, fevers, diarrhea or blood in your stools, it’s time to get evaluated by a professional. Other times, taking a dietary approach and trying a nonprescription or other medication to reduce your symptoms may be all you need to turn off the gas and get some relief.
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