10 Things That Cause Belly Bloat and How to Prevent Them

Because it's not the worst feeling in the world, but it's up there.

We’ve all experienced that uncomfortable feeling of fullness in your stomach: Bloating. Typically, it crops up after a big meal, one too many beers, or something we probably shouldn’t have eaten because it just doesn’t make us feel good.

The good news? A bloated belly is usually temporary, and you can generally take steps to avoid it. The key to keeping belly bloat at bay is knowing all the different reasons bloat happens, so you can steer clear of each one—or quickly ease any bloating that slips in and strikes. 

Here are 10 things that may cause bloating in the stomach and tips on preventing and getting rid of belly bloat for good.

Overeating

When we eat more than we usually do, our stomachs stretch out to accommodate the volume of food, Gina Sam, MD, a gastroenterologist in New York, told Health.

"The muscle stretches out, and that in itself can cause bloating," explained Dr. Sam. 

Luckily, if eating that much is a one-off, it won't take long for your stomach to return to normal. But preventing overeating might be more complex than it sounds. 

If you go too long without a meal and don't eat until you're starving, it's easy to let your eyes be bigger than your stomach. You may dive into a monstrous plate of everything you can get your hands on. 

Dr. Sam suggested eating small, frequent meals to keep your hunger in check leading up to dinner and drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

Gas-Producing Foods

Some of our favorite greens, like kale, broccoli, and cabbage, fall into the cruciferous vegetable category. 

Those vegetables contain raffinose, a sugar that sits in your gut until bacteria ferment it, which produces gas. That process makes you bloat, explained Cynthia Sass, MPH, RDHealth's contributing nutrition editor. Additionally, legumes, apples, and anything super salty can cause your stomach to swell.

But that doesn't mean you need to cut those foods out of your diet completely. 

"Consistently eating nutrient-rich, high-fiber foods leads to having a stronger, healthier digestive system that's less prone to bloating," noted Sass. 

Basically, the more you eat raffinose-heavy vegetables, the less they'll bother you. Plus, there are ways to make these foods easier to digest, like steaming vegetables to soften the fiber.

Swallowing Air

When chewing and swallowing your meal, you're also swallowing air. 

Your intestines can handle a certain amount of air. Still, if you're in a rush and gulp your lunch in under three minutes, you'll likely swallow more air than usual, causing your belly to inflate, noted Dr. Sam.

Dr. Sam suggested eating slowly, avoiding carbonated beverages, and steering clear of straws to prevent you from taking in too much air. When you feel bloated from trapped air, you'll expel it by burping, passing gas, or going to the bathroom. 

Food Intolerance

If you wash down a big meal with a glass of milk or load up on dairy-infused desserts, you may suddenly feel your stomach roll over the top of your pants. 

That reaction may mean that you're lactose intolerant, meaning your body lacks the enzyme lactase. Lactase breaks down lactose, the sugar found in dairy products, Michael Nusbaum, MD, a bariatric surgeon, told Health. 

Luckily, there are plenty of equally delicious dairy-free milk options, including almond and soy milk. The American Gastroenterological Association also suggests taking lactase tablets like Lactaid, which can help you digest food containing lactose.

Many people also have a sugar intolerance. A common type of intolerance is a sensitivity to carbohydrates that are part of a group called FODMAPs, Brooke Alpert, RD, founder of B Nutritious in New York, previously told Health

Carbohydrates that are included in FODMAPs include:

  • Fermentable oligosaccharides
  • Disaccharides
  • Monosaccharides
  • Polyols

FODMAPs Definition

FODMAPs: Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which are short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) that the small intestine absorbs poorly. You avoid dairy, wheat, beans, and certain fruits and vegetables on a low-FODMAP diet. Instead, you prioritize low-FODMAP foods, including meat, eggs, rice, oats, potatoes, and berries.


To make things even more confusing, FODMAPs aren’t just found in sweets. You can also find the sugars in vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and asparagus. 

If you have a FODMAP intolerance, your stomach will feel achy, bloated, and gassy after eating foods with these sugars. Avoiding trigger foods is the best treatment, so go easy on vegetable casseroles if you suspect you are sensitive to FODMAPs.

Celiac Disease

For people with celiac disease, gluten-free is a fact of life rather than a trend. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease triggered by the ingestion of gluten, explained Dr. Nusbaum. With Celiac disease, when you take in gluten, your body attacks its healthy cells and causes damage to your small intestine.

Celiac disease can manifest in several ways, but some symptoms include the following:

  • Abdominal bloating and pain 
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss 
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain
  • Sores inside the mouth

It can be hard to spot celiac disease because those symptoms are also common for many other conditions. The only way to honestly know if you have the autoimmune disease is to be screened by a healthcare provider.

Food Allergies

Why do some people love peanuts and shellfish, while others can be hospitalized from eating them? 

"With a food allergy, the body's immune system, which normally fights infections, sees a food as an invader," Sass previously told Health"This leads to an immune response in which chemicals like histamine are released, triggering symptoms such as breathing problems, throat tightness and swelling, hoarseness, coughing, and hives."

Another symptom is abdominal bloat, which can hit if you're allergic to something you consume.

Constipation

If you avoid whole grains and vegetables, then feel bloated hours after a meal, your bloat could be constipation

"It causes bloating because when all of the stool has built up in your colon, and things aren't moving, your small bowel and stomach, which are above your colon, will become extended with trapped air and gas," noted Dr. Sam.

Dr. Sam added that one way to prevent constipation is to consume about 22 to 34 grams of fiber daily, which equals four to five servings of fruits and vegetables.

Exercise may also help. Working your muscles could give your colon the push it needs to keep things moving. If you're feeling bloated from constipation after dinner, get out for a walk before settling down for the night. Your belly may thank you for it.

Too Many Alcoholic or Carbonated Drinks

Alcohol is an inflammatory substance that can irritate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and cause bloating. And sugary or carbonated mixers can worsen it, leading to discomfort, gas, and even more bloating.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends up to one alcoholic drink for women and two for men daily. One alcoholic drink is defined as the following:

  • Twelve ounces of beer with 5% alcohol
  • Eight ounces of malt liquor with 7% alcohol
  • Five ounces of wine with 12% alcohol
  • 1.5 ounces of liquor or spirits with 40% alcohol

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Bloating is only sometimes connected to food. Sometimes, it's simply hormonal. 

"Most [people] experience mild bloating a week or two before a period, which is caused by normal cyclic hormonal changes," Sherry Ross, MD, OB-GYN at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., told Health.

If you notice severe bloating right before your period, it may be a symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Other PMS symptoms may include:

  • Tender breasts
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Headaches
  • Back pain

"All the symptoms associated with PMS improve once the period comes and goes," said Dr. Ross.

Some supplements may help relieve PMS bloating, such as vitamin E, vitamin D, thiamine, magnesium, or omega-3 fish oil. Dr. Ross also recommended eating natural diuretics foods like celery, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, asparagus, melon, and lettuce.

Stress

Your brain constantly communicates with your gut. Therefore, your mood may affect your stomach and vice versa.

Stress activates your fight-or-flight response, which is your body's reaction to what it perceives as danger (even if there is no real danger). Essentially, your hypothalamus and pituitary gland in your brain release hormones, stimulating your adrenal glands to release cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone.

People react differently to an extra wave of stress hormones in their gut. They may experience diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, nausea, or bloating. 

When we were cave people and had to run away from some danger, our bodies prioritized shunting energy to our muscles—not processing food. So, during times of stress, our bodies shut down bowel movements.

How To Identify Triggers

It can be frustrating figuring out what is causing your belly bloat. But with patience, there are some methods to help you figure it out.

For starters, keeping a food diary can be a simple way to identify if you are sensitive to a particular food. You can sort out a list of culprits by keeping track of what you ate and how your body responded.

Another helpful approach to identifying the triggers causing bloating in your body is the elimination diet. The elimination diet is a short-term diet that helps identify potential food issues, including:

  • Allergies
  • Intolerances
  • Triggers of irksome symptoms—from bloating, joint pain, and fatigue to skin issues like eczema

It's not a diet in the traditional sense but a way to find out if certain foods are causing symptoms in your body.

An elimination diet typically involves two phases. First, you eliminate several foods for four to eight weeks. Then, you add those foods back into your diet, one at a time.

Bloating is typically an annoyance triggered by specific foods, hormones, or overeating. But bloating can also signal a more severe illness. Other warning signs can help your healthcare provider distinguish bloating as a nuisance from bloating that warrants medical attention. Some symptoms include pain, bloating that does not resolve, fatigue, and appetite changes.

A Quick Review

Bloating is a nuisance that happens to most people. That uncomfortable feeling is usually caused by simple everyday practices, like overeating or eating too many foods that release gas. Most people can avoid bloating by paying attention to what they eat and drink.

If you are consistently experiencing bloating, try to identify what is causing the condition by using a food journal or an elimination diet. Also, several natural supplements, including peppermint and ginger, may help relieve bloating.

And though most cases of bloating are not severe, you should see a healthcare provider under certain circumstances.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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