Bloating is the condition of your belly feeling swollen after eating (1). It is usually caused by excess gas production, and/or disturbances in the movement of the muscles of the digestive system (2). This can cause increased pressure and discomfort, and can sometimes make the stomach look bigger (3). The effect can be quite extreme in certain cases, and some have even used the term “food baby.” “Bloating” is not the same as water retention, but the two terms are often used interchangeably.
Read this article for ways to reduce water retention. Put simply, bloating involves excessive amounts of solids, liquids or gas in your digestive system. However, in some people, bloating is caused mostly by increased sensitivity. It just feels as if there is increased pressure in the abdomen, even though there isn’t (4, 5). About 16-30% of people report that they regularly experience bloating, so this is very common (6, 7, 2). Bloating can often cause pain, discomfort and a “stuffed” feeling, but it can also make you look heavier and give the perception of large amounts of belly fat. Although bloating is sometimes caused by serious medical conditions, it is most often caused by the diet and some foods or ingredients you are intolerant to.
Here are 11 proven ways to reduce or eliminate bloating.
1. Don’t Eat Too Much at a Time
Being stuffed can feel like being bloated, but the problem is that you simply ate too much.
If you’re eating big meals and tend to feel uncomfortable afterwards, then try smaller portions.
Add another daily meal if necessary.
A person with a tendency to be bloated will experience discomfort from a smaller amount of food than a person who rarely feels bloated.
For this reason, simply eating smaller meals can be incredibly useful.
Chewing your food better can have a two-fold effect. It reduces the amount of air you swallow with the food (a cause of bloating), and it also makes you eat slower, which is linked to reduced food intake and smaller portions (10).
Bottom Line: People who experience bloating often have increased sensitivity to food in the stomach. Therefore, eating smaller meals can be very useful.
2. Rule Out Food Allergies and Intolerances to Common Foods
Food allergies and intolerances are relatively common.
When you eat foods that you are intolerant to, it can cause excess gas production, bloating and other symptoms.
Here are some common foods and ingredients to consider:
- Lactose: Lactose intolerance is associated with many digestive symptoms, including bloating. Lactose is the main carbohydrate in milk (11).
- Fructose: Fructose intolerance can lead to bloating (12).
- Eggs: Gas and bloating are common symptoms of egg allergy.
- Wheat and Gluten: Many people are allergic to wheat, or intolerant to gluten (a protein in wheat, spelt, barley and some other grains). This can lead to various adverse effects on digestion, including bloating (13, 14).
You can try avoiding some of these to see if it helps. But if you strongly suspect that you have a food allergy or intolerance, see a doctor.
Bottom Line: Food allergies and intolerances are common causes of bloating. Common offenders include lactose, fructose, wheat, gluten and eggs.
3. Avoid Swallowing Air and Gases
There are two sources of gas in the digestive system.
One is gas produced by the bacteria in the gut (which we’ll get to in a bit).
The other is air or gas that is swallowed when you eat or drink. The biggest offender here is carbonated beverages (soda, or fizzy drinks).
They contain bubbles with carbon dioxide, a gas that can be released from the liquid after it reaches your stomach.
Chewing gum, drinking through a straw, and eating while talking or while in a hurry, can also lead to increased amounts of swallowed air.
Bottom Line: Swallowed air can contribute to bloating. A major cause is carbonated beverages, which contain gases that are dissolved in the liquid.
4. Don’t Eat Foods That Give You Gas
Some high fiber foods can make people produce large amounts of gas.
Major players include legumes like beans and lentils, as well as some whole grains.
Try keeping a food diary to figure out if certain foods tend to make you more gassy and/or bloated than others.
Fatty foods can also slow down digestion and emptying of the stomach. This can have benefits for satiety (and possibly help with weight loss), but can be a problem for people with a tendency to bloat.
Try eating less of beans and fatty foods to see if it helps.
Bottom Line: If certain foods make you feel bloated or give you gas, try cutting back or avoiding them. Eating fatty foods can also slow digestion and may contribute to bloating in some individuals.
5. Try a Low FODMAP Diet
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is the most common digestive disorder in the world.
It has no known cause, but is believed to affect about 14% of people, most of which are undiagnosed (15).
Common symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, discomfort, diarrhea and/or constipation.
FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligo, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols.
If you have problems with bloating, with or without other digestive symptoms, then a low-FODMAP diet may be a good way to fix it.
Here are some common high-FODMAP foods:
- Here you can find a detailed list of high-FODMAP foods.
This diet can be difficult to follow if you’re used to eating many of these foods, but may be worth trying out if you have bloating or other digestive problems.
Bottom Line: Carbohydrates called FODMAPs can drive bloating and other digestive symptoms, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
6. Be Careful With Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols are commonly found in sugar-free foods and chewing gums.
These sweeteners are generally considered to be safe alternatives to sugar.
However, they may cause digestive problems, because they tend to reach the bacteria in the large intestine, which digest them and produce gas (22).
Sugar alcohols are actually FODMAPs as well, so they are excluded on a low-FODMAP diet.
Try avoiding sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol. The sugar alcohol erythritol may be better tolerated than the others, but it can also cause digestive issues in large doses.
Bottom Line: Sugar alcohols can cause digestive issues such as bloating, especially when consumed in large doses. Try avoiding sugar-free chewing gums and other sources of sugar alcohols.
7. Take Digestive Enzyme Supplements
There are certain over-the-counter products that can be useful.
This includes supplemental enzymes that can help break down indigestible carbohydrates.
Notable ones include:
- Lactase: an enzyme that breaks down lactose, useful for people with lactose intolerance.
- Beano: contains the enzyme alpha-galactosidase, which can help break down indigestible carbohydrates from various foods.
In many cases, these types of supplements can provide almost immediate relief.
Bottom Line: Many over-the-counter products can be useful against bloating and other digestive problems. These are usually digestive enzymes that help break down certain food components.
8. Don’t be Constipated
Constipation is a very common digestive problem, and can have many different causes.
Getting more soluble fiber is often recommended for constipation.
However, increasing fiber needs to be done with caution for people who have gas and/or bloating, because fiber can often make things worse.
Bottom Line: Constipation can exacerbate bloating symptoms. Increased magnesium intake and physical activity can be effective against constipation.
9. Take Probiotics
Gas produced by the bacteria in the intestine is a major contributor to bloating.
There are many different types of bacteria that reside there, and they can vary between individuals.
It seems logical that the number and type of bacteria could have something to do with gas production, and there are some studies to support this.
This may depend on the individual, as well as the type of probiotic strain used.
Probiotic supplements can have numerous other benefits, so they are definitely worth trying out.
They can take a while to start working though, so be patient.
Bottom Line: Probiotic supplements can help improve the bacterial environment in the gut, which can help reduce symptoms of gas and bloating.
10. Peppermint Oil Can Help
Bloating may also be caused by altered function of the muscles in the digestive tract.
Drugs called antispasmodics, that can help reduce muscle spasm, have been shown to be of use (33).
Peppermint oil is a natural substances that is believed to function in a similar way (34).
Peppermint oil is available in supplement form.
Bottom Line: Peppermint oil has been shown to be effective against bloating and other digestive symptoms, at least in IBS patients.
11. See a Doctor to Rule Out a Chronic and/or Serious Condition
If this problem persists, causes severe problems in your life or becomes a lot worse all of a sudden, then definitely see a doctor.
There is always the possibility of some chronic and/or serious medical condition, and diagnosing digestive problems can be complicated.
However, in many cases, bloating can be reduced (or even eliminated) using simple changes in diet.