16 Reasons You May Feel Bloated—and What to Do About It

From sandwiches to gum, here's why you may experience discomfort

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Feeling bloated is uncomfortable. And though bloat rarely signals something serious and typically goes away after several hours (eased up by moving around, drinking water, and just waiting it out), it can still make you feel pretty terrible.

Luckily, you don't have to live with that discomfort forever. Here, experts weigh in on reasons you might be bloated—and what you can do to feel better, ASAP.

01 of 16

You Ate Too Fast

If you eat in a rush, you may swallow gas-producing air in addition to food, which can make you feel bloated. Trapped air isn't the only bloat trigger here. "When you eat in a rush, you don't chew thoroughly, and that leads to larger food pieces sitting in your gut, waiting to be fully digested," New York City nutritionist Stephanie Middleberg, RD of Middleberg Nutrition, told Health.

Instead of eating on the run, carve out at least 20 minutes for a slower sit-down meal. That's how long it takes your brain to register that you're full, signaling that you no longer need to eat, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

02 of 16

Your Go-To Lunch Is a Sandwich

Even the healthiest sandwiches tend to be packed with sodium. An October 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics discovered that the sodium content in the typical sandwich can chew up around 20% of your sodium allowance.

"Bread and rolls ranked as the number-one source of sodium in the typical American diet, and deli meat was number two, with cheese not far behind," said Janet Brill, PhD, RD, a Philadelphia-area nutritionist and author of Blood Pressure Down.

The CDC recommended keeping sodium intake under 2,300 mg per day, and you can stay within that number and prevent sodium-induced bloat by alternating sandwiches with other foods or forgoing the bread and using a piece of romaine lettuce as a wrap.

03 of 16

You Consume Your Kale Raw

Kale is packed with essential vitamins. But this cruciferous vegetable contains hard-to-break-down fiber and an indigestible sugar called raffinose. Consuming it raw in a smoothie or salad may bring on gas and puffiness, Middleberg said. Kale is not the only veggie offender; other cruciferous greens like Brussels sprouts and broccoli have the same effect.

"Cut down on the bloating by eating less kale and cooking the kale you do eat by steaming or roasting it," Middleberg suggested. You still get the nutrients, but cooking helps soften the fiber and shrink the volume of kale you consume, so it doesn't take up so much room in your small intestines.

04 of 16

You Drink Through a Straw

Coffee, fruit smoothies, green juice—all types of drinks that are sold to be sipped through a straw. But as convenient as they are, straws force you to suck in lots of extra air—and that can make you feel bloated, Middleberg said.

It doesn't make a difference how slowly or deeply you sip; you're taking in the air already trapped in the upper part of the straw, and it's impossible to avoid. Whenever you can, sip your drinks from the rim of the glass.

05 of 16

You Eat Lots of Packaged Foods

Once again, the culprit here is sodium—it's used as a preservative for tons of processed convenience foods. You know that crackers and chips are sodium bombs, but even healthy-looking items such as soups, salad dressings, cereals, and tomato sauce can have high amounts of sodium that easily lead you to exceed the 2,300 mg daily recommended limit.

"It's a good bet that pretty much any product that comes wrapped in a package contains more sodium than you'd think, and you're unlikely to even taste the salt," Brill said. Dodge the belly-bloating effects by reading labels and going for packaged foods that contain less than 500 mg of sodium per serving. And of course, try to cut back on the processed stuff and fill your plate with naturally low-sodium or sodium-free fresh fruits, grains, and veggies.

06 of 16

You Choose Diet or Low-Cal Products

Artificial sugars such as aspartame and sucralose have been added to everything from diet beverages to gum and candy. But the low or no calories come at a cost. While the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several zero-cal sugar substitutes as safe, they're serious bloat inducers.

Artificial sweeteners hang around your stomach a long time because your system doesn't digest them well (or at all). That's because they contain nothing your system recognizes as actual food, Middleberg said. "Banish them from your diet, and you'll feel [near] instant relief," she said.

07 of 16

You Drink a Lot of Soda

The same tiny bubbles that give soda and sparkling water that bubbly sensation also cause your stomach to swell, Middleberg said. Diet soda is an even worse bloater since artificial sweeteners can't be digested.

You can cut down on carbonation by leaving the drink open for a few hours before drinking it or by pouring the drink into a cup with ice cubes.

08 of 16

You're a Big Fan of Beans

Kidney, pinto, black, red—beans (plus their legume cousins, lentils and chickpeas) are an awesome source of high-quality plant protein. Unfortunately the carbohydrates in beans tend to be indigestible, and that's what gives them their gassy, belly-bloating reputation, Brill said.

Beans boost the nutrition of many dishes, from chili to soup to burritos, so you shouldn't cut them out of your diet entirely. The solution: take an over-the-counter anti-gas product such as Beano along with your beans. "These contain the enzyme we're missing that makes the carbohydrates digestible," Brill said. "It's safe to take, and it prevents the uncomfortable puffy feeling."

09 of 16

You Chew Gum or Suck on Candy

Gum and hard candy keep your mouth occupied, which can help you lose weight or quit smoking. But they too cause you to inadvertently gulp lots of excess air. As with using a straw and eating too fast, excessive air can lead to belching and bloating.

Try giving up the gum and suckers and instead take frequent sips of water—that will keep your mouth busy too. There's a bonus to water as well: plain water helps keep your GI tract moving, and that gets rid of excess air and water bloating out your system, Alissa Rumsey, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Health.

10 of 16

You Eat Dinner Too Close to Bedtime

If you eat a typical-sized dinner within an hour or two of goint to bed, you may experience morning discomfort. Lying down impairs digestion, so if you hit the bed with food in your stomach, it won't be broken down as quickly, leaving you bloated in the a.m., Rumsey said.

It's not always easy to shift your schedule, but try having supper at least three to four hours before turning in for the night. Stay on your feet as much as possible to keep things moving before you fall asleep. If you have no choice but to eat right before bedtime, make it something small, like a piece of fruit or yogurt, and refuel with a bigger meal at breakfast, when your metabolism is running high again and your body will benefit from the energy jolt.

11 of 16

You May Have a Food Allergy

Most people aren't affected by food allergies. Still, some allergies and sensitivities are a little-known reason for belly expansion. People with a wheat allergy who can't digest gluten often deal with digestive issues and bloating. If you're lactose intolerant, you'll also experience lots of belly swelling and bloating and discomfort, Rumsey said.

If you find yourself frequently feeling bloated and none of the other factors seem to be the cause, check in with a healthcare provider to be tested for food allergies and sensitivities.

12 of 16

You Ate a Lot of Carbs

Carbs seem harmless enough, but there are a few ways they can cause your stomach to puff up, Deborah Cohen, DCN, RDN, an associate professor at the Rutgers School of Health Professions Clinical and Preventive Nutritional Sciences Department, told Health. Complex carbs like garbanzo beans, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, split peas, and lentils are high in fiber and they can cause gas and bloating. It's all thanks to the bacteria in your gut, which produces gas as a byproduct of digesting fiber.

That doesn't mean you should ditch all high fiber foods, though. Instead, Cohen said, you can pivot to foods with fiber that won't cause you to puff up, like tomatoes, zucchini, lettuce, cucumbers, and green beans.

If you have a gluten sensitivity, eating carbs that contain gluten like bread or crackers can lead to bloat, Cohen said. If you suspect this is what's behind your bloat, Cohen recommended consulting a healthcare provider or a registered dietitian for dietary guidance.

13 of 16

You Ate a Lot of Food

Sometimes your fullness cues don't catch up with your brain fast enough, and you end up having a little too much to eat. Overeating can make you feel uncomfortable, and bloating can come with it.

At baseline, overeating can cause bloating because it's a lot of food for your gut bacteria to work through, Cohen said. But that's especially true "when a lot of gas-forming foods are also consumed—legumes, broccoli, cauliflower—or a lot of carbonated beverages," Cohen added.

If you find that this is happening regularly to you, you can make some tweaks to try to prevent overeating, Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet, told Health. One tip, per Gans: "To make that easier to do, try eating on a smaller plate or bowl, so your portions are smaller to begin with," Gans said. Talking to a dietitian about your eating habits can also help, she said.

14 of 16

You're Constipated

Being constipated can also come with side effects like pain and bloating. The reason for it is simple, Gans said: The longer your poop stays in your colon, the more time bacteria can ferment, leading to gassy build-up.

To take out bloating from constipation, you really need to get things moving in your colon again. "Increasing your fiber intake with foods such as fruits, veggies, 100% whole grains, and legumes on a daily basis may help alleviate constipation," Gans said. Exercise and drinking plenty of fluids can also help, Cohen said.

15 of 16

You Had a Lot of Fructose

Fructose is a type of sugar and, if you want to get really technical, it's a two-unit sugar molecule that's a part of sucrose (the chemical name for naturally produced sugar), Cohen said. It can make you bloat.

"A lot of fructose in the gut attracts water into the gut," Cohen explained. And that can lead to feelings of fullness and bloating. Prevention is the way to go here. Fructose appears in a lot of sugar-free gums and candies, as well as apple juice and honey, Cohen said.

If it seems like fructose could be behind your bloat, it's time to scale back. Also, it may be a good idea to see a healthcare provider—you may have a fructose intolerance.

16 of 16

You've Been Eating a High FODMAP Diet

FODMAPs—aka fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols—are a type of carbohydrate that's not easily digested. Because of that, they can lead to stomach pain and bloating, Cohen said.

There are a bunch of different high FODMAP foods, but some of the biggest culprits include apples, legumes, milk and dairy products, mushrooms, honey, and even garlic. Given how many foods are FODMAPs, it can be tough to follow a low FODMAP diet, Cohen pointed out—so talk to a healthcare provider or a nutritionist for guidance.

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