You’ve probably felt it at some point: that uncomfortable sensation of being too full. You might feel like you need to loosen your waistband and you could even experience sharp pains. It’s possible you ate too much, but that’s not the only cause of a bloated stomach.
Though it can be fairly common, the reasons behind a bloated stomach are still often misunderstood. And, in order to fix a bloated stomach, you need to figure out why you’re suffering the discomfort in the first place.
What Does Bloating Feel Like?
Now, bloating can be a hard feeling to explain. It’s often an uncomfortable feeling of being far too full. Your belly might feel tight and swollen, and in some cases, your abdomen might actually protrude.
Here’s the important thing to know: bloating is a symptom of another issue. Several different things can lead to a bloated stomach. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Why Am I Bloated?
So, what causes a bloated stomach? Well, it’s not always about overeating, though that certainly can play a part. Here are some of the most common reasons why you may be experiencing bloating.
In the hustle and bustle of this busy world, more people are rushing through their meals. But when you eat too fast, your body doesn’t have time to register that’s it full. And if it can’t register that it’s full, it can’t send that message to your brain. So… you overeat. And it catches up with you. The end result, instead of feeling satisfied you now feel “stuffed.”
Remember that your stomach is about the size of your fist. Yes, it can expand, but there’s not that much room in there with all of your other organs.1
If you find that you’re constantly bloating after eating – especially after consuming a pretty standard size meal – you may be extra sensitive to bloating. Shift to eating smaller meals, more often, instead.
Tip: You can also learn to slow down your eating speed by chewing each bite slowly and carefully. This will also reduce the amount of air that you could be swallowing (see #2).
2. Swallowing Air
Consuming excess air can cause a bloated stomach, along with a host of other symptoms, including burping and flatulence. This can occur in a couple of ways.
Firstly, you can swallow too much air by eating too fast, using a straw, or from chewing gum.
All of these actions push more air down into your stomach and cause bloating.
You can also feel bloated from not eating. Swallowed air can come from your favorite drink, such as beer, fizzy sodas, or sparkling water. These contain carbon dioxide, which is released into your stomach. When you retain this gas, you might wind up with bloating.2
Unfortunately, some people are just more sensitive to excess CO2 than others. If you’re one of them, take a closer look at what you’re drinking and consider cutting out carbonated beverages.
3. Food Intolerances and Allergies
If you’re intolerant to a particular food, it can cause painful excessive gas and a bloated stomach each time you consume it. Common offenders include lactose, fructose, gluten, FODMAP foods, and sensitivities to eggs and dairy.3 Fatty foods can also be troublesome for some people.
Now, certain intolerances may also be linked to specific digestive ailments which may be characterized by bloating and other symptoms. If you suspect you have a food intolerance, it’s time to have a chat with your doctor.4
4. High Fiber Foods
High fiber foods may be good for you, but they can also trigger excess gas and bloating. Foods like beans, lentils, whole grain bread, onions, carrots, cabbage, raisins, apricots, and Brussels sprouts are common offenders.5
If you know that something is causing your bloated stomach, but you can’t quite figure out what, try keeping a food diary for a few weeks, and see what you discover.
As it turns out, too little fiber in your diet can also lead to problems, including constipation. And there’s nothing like a bout of constipation to make you feel horribly bloated!
One of the things your doctor may recommend for constipation is to get more fiber in your diet.6 Now, there are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble – and both can be helpful.
→ Soluble fiber absorbs water, which means it will bulk up with a gel-like consistency as it passes through your digestive system. This helps prevent things from backing up in your system. Good sources of soluble fiber include apples, bananas, barley, oats, and beans.
→ Insoluble fiber doesn’t absorb water, and it passes through your digestive system pretty close to its original form. This “roughage” helps speeds up the transit of food to prevent constipation. Good sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, most vegetables, wheat bran, and legumes.7
Drinking more water and exercising can also help to alleviate constipation.8,9
Can a Bloated Stomach Be Due to Water Retention?
A bloated stomach is almost always due to a build-up of gas in your stomach or digestive system. Water retention (edema) is primarily found in the arms, hands, legs, and feet and is due to extra fluid leaking out of the blood vessels and into the surrounding tissues.10
As it turns out, water retention can make you feel bloated. And in women, certain hormonal changes might cause water retention and bloat during menstruation. You might also experience constipation (and the bloating that comes with it) at the onset of your period.11,12
How to Get Rid of Bloat
Bloating symptoms are not at all comfortable, but they are very common. If you’re having trouble getting to the bottom of why you’re constantly battling bloat, you should definitely talk to your doctor.
Your doctor may be able to suggest an elimination diet to help you find the cause of your discomfort.
Or they may wish to do some tests to check whether you’re bloating is due to something more serious.
An alternate solution to beat bloat is adding a supplement to your diet. Probiotics and digestive enzymes are two kinds of nutrients that might be able to help.
No matter what you choose, it’s okay to ask for help. You don’t have to live with ongoing, uncomfortable bloating.
Here’s Your Ultimate Guide to Prebiotics and Probiotics
5 Convenient Foods That Can Help Ease Constipation
Suffer from Digestive Issues? Is a Low FODMAP Diet Right for You?