Everyone gets bloated from time to time. You know, that uncomfortable feeling of fullness and gas that happens after a big meal, eating a food you’re particularly sensitive to,or when you’re on your period.
And while it’s totally normal and common to experience bloating, if this is something that happens to you every time you eat or more often than you’d like, chances are, you’re probably sick of having to unbutton your jeans under the table. (Just me?) Plus, it can make you sluggish, drowsy, and less productive, too.
The good news is, there are things you can do to get rid of bloating- and prevent it from happening in the first place.
What Actually Is Bloating?
Bloating occurs when there’s a buildup of “excessive amounts of gas and air,” explains Niket Sonpal, M.D., an NYC-based internist and gastroenterologist. “Bloating is the term used to describe when the stomach feels distended or enlarged after eating or drinking,” he tells InStyle. “It can also develop when a person eats too much, or if they have a sensitivity to a type of food.”
Bloating is also a very common occurrence during your time of the month and can include abdominal distention, cramping, fullness, and the inability to suck your stomach in, says New York-based gynecologist and Midol partner Dr. Alyssa Dweck, M.D.
What Causes Bloating?
Dr. Sonpal says a certain category of carbohydrates, referred to as FODMAPs, are more likely to trigger bloating due to their hard-to-digest nature. But they’re certainly not the only foods that can cause irritation. You could also be reactive, sensitive, or intolerant to a specific food, meaning your body’s difficulty digesting the food is causing you to be bloated.
“Foods high in FODMAPs can cause excess bloating and gas in the body because the body struggles to break down their nutrients in the small intestine,” says Dr. Sonpal, adding that food sensitivities and intolerances differ from person to person. “Some people may find themselves extremely bloated after eating gluten or lactose, while others have no issues at all.” (This is why consulting a dietician, nutritionist, or gastroenterologist to get tested for any food sensitivities or intolerances can be helpful, so you can find out if there are any foods or ingredients that your body has a hard time digesting.)
On the other hand, if you’re experiencing bloating during your period, Dr. Dweck says it’s more likely to be a hormonal reaction. “Bloating may be due to the hormone progesterone, which is elevated at or about day 21 of the cycle,” she says. “Progesterone causes intestinal sluggishness and decreased motility, leading to a feeling of bloat.” Bloating can also be caused by the specific foods you tend to eat more of during your period – especially if you’re someone who craves something salty, Dr. Dweck says.
How Do I Get Rid of Bloating?
If you’re experiencing normal, short-lived bloating, it’s typically OK to let it dissipate on its own. But since bloating can be uncomfortable, if you don’t feel like just waiting it out, here are some ways you can treat a full and bloated belly.
Chew on Celery
Celery has long been used as a digestive aid to control bloating and gas, and is effective both as a diuretic and a laxative, says nutritionist and founder of NAO Nutrition Nikki Ostrower. She adds that it’s especially great for bloating from hangovers. You can chow down on it with peanut butter, or add it into a smoothie with some of the other de-bloating foods below.
Dr. Sonpal recommends a form of cardio, even if it’s just walking around the block, or practicing certain yoga poses, including Pawanmuktasana, Child’s Pose, and Happy Baby, to expel excess gas in your abdominal region. He also says massaging your stomach in circular motions can relieve some bloating.
Pour Yourself a Cup of Tea
Paula Simpson, a holistic beauty nutritionist and the co-founder of Zea Skin Solutions, recommends drinking herbal teas like peppermint, ginger, and even dandelion after and between meals to support digestion and reduce bloating. She says that peppermint, specifically, is a natural digestive enzyme-rich food.
Pick Up Prebiotics
These will help you give your stomach some TLC. “Detoxify and rebalance gut flora with prebiotic rich foods such as dandelion greens, asparagus, artichokes, leeks, apples,” says Simpson. Ostrower adds that asparagus root is one particularly helpful food for easing constipation and soothing bloating. Ostrower suggests roasting or boiling and eating ½ bunch of asparagus per day.
When Is Bloating Cause for Concern?
If the above tips don’t help get rid of your bloating and you’re experiencing chronic and painful bloating, Dr. Sonpal says that could be a sign of a larger health issue like celiac disease (gluten intolerance), certain forms of cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, or a perforated GI tract. In this case, he recommends seeing your doctor or a gastroenterologist for an evaluation.
Dr. Dweck adds that while temporary and mild bloating is, again, totally normal during the second half of your cycle when progesterone is elevated, it should typically resolve with the onset of your period, or shortly thereafter. If the bloating worsens or is persistent throughout your cycle, it could be caused by an underlying condition, like an ovarian cyst, gastrointestinal distress, or even ovarian cancer, so it’s important to talk to your ob-gyn.
Can I Prevent Bloating?
Sometimes it can be impossible to prevent bloating, but there are some general tips you can follow to decrease your chances of becoming bloated and avoid any discomfort.
Avoid Irritating Foods
Avoid foods like simple carbs, processed starches, sugar substitutes, and faux sweeteners, raw cruciferous vegetables, and salt says Dr. Sonpal. Additionally, stay away from spicy, fried, and fatty foods to “reduce the risk of indigestion,” says Ostrower.
Don’t Eat Too Quickly
Dr. Sonpal suggests “observing the pace at which you eat” to reduce your air intake while enjoying a food you love. This will also allow you more time to just savor the meal.
Don’t Sleep Immediately After a Meal
Going to sleep immediately after a meal doesn’t allow your body any time to process the meal, says Dr. Sonpal. He recommends going for a walk after eating in order to produce the energy needed to digest the food. “Going to bed right after eating cripples your digestive process, slowing down the breakdown of your food,” he says.
Eat Smaller Proportions
So this is a little obvious, but to avoid the type of bloat you deal with post Thanksgiving dinner, Simpson says that smaller “more frequent” meals, versus one large meal, can help prevent those bloating symptoms.
Don’t Drink from a Straw
It seems silly, but according to Dr. Sonpal, it increases your intake of air, therefore creating an excess amount of air and gas in your stomach, which will lead to bloating.
Drink Plenty of Water
Because water is pretty much the solution to everything. It will keep you full enough to avoid snacking, and will also help prevent bloating on your period, according to Dr. Dweck.
The Bottom Line on Bloating
You’re not always going to be able to avoid bloating, especially if you don’t want to give up certain types of food that you love (looking at you, pizza). But if you know what’s causing you to be bloated, you can avoid specific foods and take preventative measures to keep bloating at bay. And if the bloating is persistent and painful, it’s probably time to schedule a doctor’s visit.