It’s certainly not the most delicate topic, but it’s something every woman has endured at some point in her life—that unpleasant, full, gassy sensation in the abdomen. You know, bloat. It happens when you eat too quickly or too much. It happens during your time of the month. Other times, it just happens, for no explicable reason.
To begin, let’s break down the dirty deets. What is bloat, anyway? From a technical standpoint, bloating is any abnormal swelling of the abdominal area caused by the build-up of gas in the stomach and intestines. It can be caused by lifestyle factors (i.e., eating too quickly) or underlying conditions (i.e., irritable bowel syndrome). No matter what the cause of your inflated tummy, there are measures you can take to prevent—or even alleviate—stomach bloat. The next time you’re feeling puffy, here are nine ways to deflate by the end of the day.
Cut back on sodium. If you’ve ever felt bloated after binging on Chinese takeout, blame the salt. When we consume excess sodium, our bodies attempt to dilute the salt by retaining water, which contributes to fluid build-up and, as a result, bloat. To curtail bloat, avoid common high-sodium culprits. These include canned soup, frozen dinners, lunch meats, soy sauce, potato chips and other packaged foods. By contrast, foods rich in potassium (such as bananas) can counteract the negative effects of sodium.
Cut back on cruciferous veggies. “Beans, beans, the magical fruit,” has more than a ring of truth to it. Legumes, as well as cruciferous veggies—think cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts—are notoriously gas-producing. People who are new to eating these foods are most susceptible to the gassy feeling they create. These foods are super-nutritious, so no need to cut them completely out; just try to incorporate them slowly into your diet until your body adjusts.
Move more. Consider this a reason to play tag football after your Thanksgiving feast: Parking yourself on the couch after a big meal is one of the worst things you can do. Moderate physical activity helps air bubbles pass through your digestive tract quicker, helping that bloated feeling dissipate faster.
Drink lots of water. It sounds counterintuitive, but drinking water is a great way to eliminate bloating caused by water retention. Retaining water is actually your body’s way of holding on to fluid so you don’t dehydrate. By chugging H20, you’ll flush waste out and reduce the amount of salt in your body, leading to a flatter, happier belly.
Don’t chew gum. Spearmint gum may give you minty-fresh breath on a first date, but it can also lead to an uncomfortable tummy. Chewing gum can cause you to swallow excess air, which can contribute to a bloated belly. What’s more, many brands of chewing gum contain artificial sweeteners, another known cause of bloat. To banish bad breath without the inflating side effects, try popping a breath mint or sucking on a piece of hard candy instead.
Chew slowly. If you regularly wolf down your plate of food in the blink of an eye, make a point to slow down. Eating too quickly and not thoroughly chewing food can contribute to air swallowing that leads to bloating. Plus, there’s another benefit of slowing down: eating more slowly and mindfully can help stave off weight gain.
Stay away from carbonated beverages. Hooked on your daily can of Diet Coke? You might want to cut back—for the sake of your tummy. The fizz in carbonated beverages can get trapped in your belly, a surefire recipe for stomach bloat. Your best bet is to gulp tap water instead. If you find plain-old H20 horribly boring, give your aqua a flavor boost with chunks of fresh fruit or a squeeze of lemon.
Avoid alcohol. As anyone who has woken up after a drink-fueled night can attest, alcohol is uber-dehydrating (hello, cotton mouth!). But another side effect of alcohol is indigestion, a one-two punch that creates—you guessed it—bloat. So if you’re prepping for a major event, steer clear of booze for a few days prior and stick to water (uncarbonated!) instead.
Avoid artificial sweeteners. Diet sodas and candies are designed to help you slim down, but these foods may actually have the opposite effect. The sugar alcohols found in artificial sweeteners tend to cause bloating in the form of gas and flatulence. No thanks! Instead, sweeten your foods with small amounts of natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey or agave nectar.
Pop a probiotic. Probiotics, or “good” bacteria, are touted as a miracle elixir for relieving constipation, regulating the digestive tract and alleviating bloat. Found in supplements, special beverages, or certain forms of yogurt, probiotics work by restoring the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut. For a great bloat-banishing snack, eat a container of plain yogurt washed down with plenty of water.