Maybe you overdid it at the buffet, or accidentally ate all the cookies, and now you've got a protruding belly that makes you look slightly pregnant. We've all been there, uncomfortably carrying around a food baby post-binge. But what exactly causes the bump, and is there any way to get rid of it?
"It's really the products of digestion stuck in your GI tract,” explains integrative gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan, MD, author of The Microbiome Solution and The Bloat Cure. In other words, your food baby could be a combination of food matter, digestive gasses, swallowed air, and retained water. “If you overfill the GI tract, then you’ll get a back up, kind of like a highway.”
In addition to how much you eat, a food baby may also be caused by what you eat, says Dr. Chutkan. Artificial sweeteners, dairy products, and cruciferous veggies (like kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts) can all lead to the production of excess gas—and a ballooning mid-section.
So what can you do when your belly swells? Below are a few steps you can try to make a food baby disappear.
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Fuel up with liquids
Say you wake up with a food baby because you overate the night before. "The last thing you need to be doing is having steak and eggs for breakfast," says Dr. Chutkan. Instead, opt for nourishing soups, juices, and smoothies. Liquids can help keep your food baby from growing any bigger. Dr. Chutkan recommends whipping up a green smoothie, which is full of fiber and good-for-you nutrients, and adding some papaya or pineapple. Both fruits contain enzymes that aid digestion.
Sure, flopping onto the couch and groaning is tempting. But going for a walk will do you much better, by stimulating your gut and helping move food through your large intestine. You could also do some twisting yoga poses that massage the abdomen. Or try this trick from Dr. Chutkan: Lie down and with a light dumbbell, make a large circle around your belly button, applying gentle pressure, in a clockwise direction.
Put the kettle on
Certain herbal teas can help a troubled tummy. Soothing ginger tea has been shown to ease cramps, while fennel tea should help de-puff your belly. Peppermint and chamomile are good choices, as well; both types of tea calm muscles in the GI tract, allowing gas to dissipate.
Food babies are extremely common, and rarely anything to worry about. But if you notice that your belly is bulging after every meal, or most meals, it could be a sign of constipation, says Dr. Chutkan. You can help your body get back on track by staying hydrated, exercising regularly, eating probiotic foods, and gradually adding more fiber to your diet (think fruits, veggies, and whole grains).