Have you ever gone to bed with flat abs only to wake up looking like you just swallowed the entire McDonald’s menu? Unless you went to the drive-thru in your sleep (hey, it could happen), you were likely experiencing belly bloat. Though it was probably a relief when you realized that you haven’t actually gained any actual weight, that doesn’t make bloating any less annoying—or uncomfortable. As you likely assumed, diet is often to blame for protruding pooches. However, there are a number of less obvious lifestyle and health factors that might be at play, too. Read on to discover some of the top causes of stomach swell so you can clean up your act and maintain your flat belly and get rid of bloat!
Related: You can get healthier and shrink your belly when you ditch sugar.
FOOD & DRINKS
Beware: These nibbles and sips can cause your stomach to swell!
Not only is pizza, well, freakin’ delicious, it’s also packed with fat and salt—two nutrients that have been shown to cause belly bloat. For example, just one slice of Pizza Hut’s Meat Lovers packs 17 grams of fat and 750 milligrams of sodium—that’s a third of the day’s recommended intake! How’s all of that lead to a giant gut? Consuming too much salt can lead to water retention and temporary weight gain while fatty foods can delay stomach emptying, making you feel uncomfortably full and bloated. There’s more: The cheese can worsen the issue for those sensitive to dairy. Yikes! There’s no denying that this trifecta is a recipe for flat belly disaster.
Think your favorite soups are healthy picks? Take a closer look at the nutrition labels. Even if they’re low in calories and fat, many cans are overflowing with sodium. In fact, a typical serving of soup contains anywhere from 750 to 1,100 milligrams of sodium—which is bad news for your gut. When you flood your system with sodium, the kidneys can’t keep up, so the salt sits in the bloodstream where it attracts water, causing water retention and bloat. To ward off the issue look for soups with less than 600 milligrams per serving, or better yet, whip up a fat-burning soup and take it easy with the salt shaker.
Apples & Pears
The good news: Both of these grab-n-go fruits are packed with satiating soluble fiber, making them perfect foods to lose weight. The downside: Since they’re so fibrous, they can wreak havoc on sensitive bellies. If you find that filling fruits such as these cause your stomach to balloon, cut your serving size in half, and slowly add more to your plate until you can tolerating a full serving.
“Large amounts of alcohol can slow stomach emptying, which can make you feel heavy and bloated,” explains Alissa Rumsey, registered dietitian and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Alcohol also can cause you to retain water, so you’ll feel more puffy and bloated. This is further exacerbated by alcohol’s diuretic effect, as a dehydrated body will retain more water than a hydrated one.” To keep bloat at bay, Rumsey suggests cutting yourself off after two drinks and alternate each boozy sip with a glass of water to stay hydrated.
Though no backyard barbecue or pot of chili would be complete without the addition of corn, the yellow vegetable may be the source of your ballooning midsection. “Not all types of carbs are easy to digest,” registered dietician Lisa Moskovitz tells us. “And corn contains a type of carbohydrate that is difficult for the body to break down. This can lead to GI bacteria fermentation and trapped air and gas, which causes bloating.”
Cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are great sources of vitamin C and fiber, but they can also make you bloated and gassy thanks to their raffinose and fructan content. And the bad news keeps on coming: Not only does eating cruciferous veggies cause flatulence, but they also make bottom burps smellier, too. “Humans don’t possess the enzyme to break down raffinose, a complex sugar commonly found in cruciferous vegetables,” says clinical nutritionist Jennifer Cassetta. “So when these vegetables get to the lower intestine, they’re fermented by bacteria and produce methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen, which leads to gas.”
Though you may love the fizzy, carbonated bubbles in sparkling water and seltzer, you won’t love how they get trapped in your stomach and cause it to swell like a balloon. Stay away if from the stuff if you want to maintain your slender figure around the clock.
Aside from the bloat-inducing carbonation, diet drinks also contain artificial sweeteners that can wreak even more havoc on sensitive stomachs.
The high soluble-fiber content in spinach makes it a filling addition to sandwiches and salads, but the nutrient may also cause bloating in those with sensitive bellies. And this is only made worse by the leafy green’s naturally occurring oligosaccharides. If you’re a big fan of eating the green raw, Cassetta suggests blending it into smoothies, as it’s easier to digest once it’s been partially broken down. Alternatively, you can eat it sautéed in some olive oil. “Cooking spinach can help break down some of the rough or indigestible parts,” Moskovitz tells us.
You already know that onions can make your breath stink, but did you know they can also make your belly swell? “Onions are a major source of fructans, a class of oligosaccharides, or complex sugars, that the small intestine can’t break down,” explains Moskovitz. “For this reason, fructans can contribute to bloating, gas, and pain.”
You probably don’t think “beans” when you unwrap a protein bar, but a lot of them include protein isolate derived from soybeans—something many people find just as gas-inducing as the musical fruit. Like other beans, soy contains oligosaccharides, sugar molecules that the body can’t fully break down. With nowhere to go, these oligosaccharides hang out in the stomach where they ferment, causing gas and bloating. Looking for a protein-filled snack bar that won’t balloon your belly.
Dried fruit can be a great source of nutrients and fiber, but it can also be a musical fruit for those who suffer from fructose malabsorption, which occurs when the body has difficulty absorbing the natural sugar. To keep your stomach flat, dial down your dried fruit to nut ratio in trail mixes and opt for fresh over dried fruit in your oatmeal.
Best known for their culinary versatility, mushrooms are used in nearly every genre of cuisine—which is bad news if you tend to bloat. Mushrooms contain polyols, sugar alcohols that are too large and difficult for the small intestine to digest. The result of eating too many isn’t pretty either: Not only do they make your pants feel two sizes too small, but they can also have a strong laxative effect. Eek!
Packaged sugar-free and “diet” foods like candy, cola, and certain snack bars may save you calories, but they’re filled with chemicals that can cause your stomach to expand like a pufferfish. The reason: “Sugar-free foods are filled with sugar alcohols that contain sweet-tasting indigestible compounds,” explains Rumsey. “Since our bodies can’t process them as they would traditional sugar, they can often cause gas and bloating.” Limit your intake of the fake stuff to keep your tummy trim and bloat-free.
Beans & Lentils
Both lentils and beans contain oligosaccharides, a class of indigestible sugars that can cause bloat and gas. Want to eat ‘em anyway? Lessen their bloating effects by using the protein-filled superfoods as salad toppers, omelet fillers, and soup additions rather than the main attraction on your plate.
Though dairy doesn’t cause bloating for everyone, those with lactose sensitivities will often see their waistline expand if they consume milk, cheese or Greek yogurt. “When lactose, the naturally occurring sugar found in dairy, is malabsorbed in the small intestine, it then travels to the large intestine, where it is fermented by gut bacteria. The result is often gas and bloating,” explains Rumsey. If that sounds like you then cutting back on dairy could be the secret to getting rid of your puffy midsection.
Soy or almond milk may seem like safe alternatives for those with lactose sensitivities, but you may be undermining your trim belly goals if you’re buying a brand with the thickening agent carrageenan. Derived from seaweed, carrageenan has been linked to ulcers, inflammation, and other gastrointestinal problems. Yikes!
Get this: Bloating is about more than just food. From smoking to skipping the gym, some of your not-so-stellar habits may be to blame for your protruding pooch.
You’re Super Lazy
You know that sitting too much can lead to weight gain and belly fat, but did you know that it can also cause your belly to temporarily balloon? When you’re not moving, neither are your bowels or gas. Thankfully a short walk outside or a 10-minute workout session in your living room is all that’s needed to keep things regular and keep bloat at bay.
Skimping on Water
We get it: When you’re feeling bloated the last thing you want to do is drink more water. But ironically, downing a glass or two of H20 is exactly what you should do. “If you are dehydrated, your body will retain conserve water, which can lead to bloating,” says Rumsey. “Staying hydrated also speeds up digestion and can counteract the effects of salt and carb-induced bloating.” Aim for 6 to 8 glasses of water throughout the day.
Eating Too Quickly
“Eating too quickly can cause you to swallow more air, causing or worsening bloat, warns Rumsey. “To ward off bloat, meals should last at least 30 minutes. Not only does this reduce the amount of excess air you’ll take in, but it also allows you to listen better to your body and stop eating when you feel full, which may aid weight loss.” That’s just one of our smart weight loss tricks you haven’t tried.
Drinking Through a Straw
A straw might make your morning protein shake easier to sip on the run, but it isn’t doing your stomach any favors. “When you drink through a straw, you also suck air into your stomach, which can increases gas and distention in your digestive tract,” says Rumsey. Sip straight from the lid to ward off tummy discomfort.
Sucking Hard Candy & Chewing Gum
Chewing gum and sucking on hard candies may seem like a harmless habit, but it can cause you to swallow excess air, which can lead to bloat. And if you typically reach for the sugar-free options, you’re in even bigger trouble: Sugarless breath fresheners contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol known for causing bloating and other gastrointestinal distress. To refresh your breath after meals and ward off bloating, make yourself a cup of peppermint tea. The brew is a common home remedy for flatulence and can also relieve pain and discomfort from gas and bloating.
Upping Your Fiber Intake Too Quickly
You know that upping your fiber intake can aid your rapid weight loss efforts, but if you aren’t used to eating the uber-filling nutrient a large dose of the stuff can be hard for your body to digest, explains Rumsey. The result? A midsection that’s suddenly as round as a basketball. “Wean yourself onto high-fiber foods like bran cereals, beans, and lentils, starting with small portions,” suggests Rumsey. Another trick: Down a large glass of water with every high-fiber meal. Fluids help to move fiber through the digestive tract, preventing bloat.
It’s common knowledge that smoking wreaks havoc on the heart and lungs, but what many people don’t realize is that the habit can also slow the motility of the digestive tract and causes bloat-inducing health issues like GERD and liver disease. The bottom line: A bloated gut is yet another reason to finally kick your cig habit for good.
It’s not exactly a newsflash that overeating causes bloat; in fact, it’s one of the most common causes. After you eat a large meal, the stomach secretes enzymes and acids that help break down your meal into smaller pieces so it can eventually fit into the small intestine,” explains Moskovitz. The more you have in there, the longer the process will take, causing that uncomfortable, puffy feeling you loathe.
Nine times out of ten, bloat is just a temporary thing that can be combatted by making behavioral and diet changes. However, sometimes feeling puffy is the result a serious—or not so serious—health condition.
Diabetes causes bloat!? This is a side effect of diabetes that no one seems to discuss! But it’s not the condition that brings on a bigger belly—it’s the medication to manage the symptoms. Some oral antidiabetic drugs are coated with synthetic sugars that may cause bloating and digestive distress. But don’t just ditch your drugs. If you find you have an adverse reaction, talk to your doc about alternative courses of treatment.
When your stress spikes, so do levels of hormones that can aggravate your digestive tract, resulting in bloating and gas. And then when you’re pulling your hair out, you may scarf down your go-to lunch from Chipotle too quickly or suck in excess air during anxiety attacks, all of which can contribute to bloating.
The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a disorder that affects the large intestine, include abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. If you have experienced these symptoms for at least 12 weeks out of the previous 12 months (not necessarily consecutively), you might have the condition. Check in with your M.D. for an official diagnosis and beat the bloat with the help of these IBS remedies that will change your life.
If you commonly feel bloated as soon as you roll out of bed, there’s a good chance you’re either suffering from sleep apnea or snoring. If morning bloat is a consistent issue, consider scheduling an appointment with a sleep specialist to see how you can sleep more soundly. From dental devices to soundless CPAP machines, you have more options than you realize.
Did you grow a gut overnight? Check your dentures. If the fit is off, it can cause you to swallow excess air when you eat and drink, leading to gas and stomach pain, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Gluten Intolerance & Celiac Disease
If you get a massive food baby right after eating certain sources of carbs and gluten, you may have celiac disease. What’s worse, if that’s the reason for your bloated belly, it can often take a day or two to deflate. Your M.D. can give you a simple blood test to confirm your suspicions.
Ok, so getting your period isn’t exactly a health condition, but that doesn’t change the fact that bloating is a common symptom of PMS. “A week or two before your period, hormone levels change with estrogen levels increasing and progesterone levels decreasing. These changing hormone levels can cause your body to retain more water than normal,” explains Rumsey. Whomp, whomp. There’s a bit of good news though—many of these naturally healing foods for women can help flatten your midsection.