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We’ve all been there – you just finished up a big holiday meal with your family and now you’re feeling discomfort in your stomach – and maybe a little gas. Overeating is a common cause of bloating, but there are many more reasons you can experience an uncomfortable tummy.

What is bloating?

Bloating is a common – and often uncomfortable – condition characterized by a sensation of fullness, tightness or swelling in the abdomen. It can result from a variety of dietary and lifestyle factors. Understanding these can help you manage and reduce its occurrence.

Causes of bloating

1. Dietary choices

Certain foods are known to cause gas and bloating. Common culprits include beans, lentils, broccoli, cabbage, onions and carbonated beverages. “These foods contain sugars and fibers that can be difficult to digest for some people, which can lead to gas production and feeling bloated,” says Gundersen registered dietitian Abby Breitbach.

2. Overeating

Consuming large meals can stretch the stomach and intestines, leading to a feeling of bloating. Eating too quickly can also cause you to swallow air, which contributes to gas in the digestive tract.

3. Food intolerances

Lactose intolerance and gluten sensitivity are common causes of bloating. Lactose intolerance is due to a deficiency in lactase, the enzyme that breaks down lactose – a sugar found in dairy products. Gluten sensitivity, including celiac disease, involves an adverse reaction to gluten – a protein in wheat, barley and rye.

4. High fiber diet

While fiber is beneficial for digestion, increasing your fiber intake too quickly can make you feel bloated. It's important to increase fiber gradually to allow your digestive system to adjust.

5. Artificial sweeteners

Ingredients like sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol – often found in sugar-free products – can be difficult to digest and lead to bloating.

6. Constipation

Infrequent bowel movements can cause bloating as stool builds up in the intestines.

How to get rid of bloating

You’re feeling uncomfortable and bloated. What do you do now? Here are some tips to help you get some relief.

Eating tips for reducing bloating

1. Identify and avoid trigger foods

Keep a food diary to track what you eat and how it affects your bloating. “Do your best to avoid foods that seem to cause bloating and consider alternatives that are easier to digest,” says Abby.

2. Eat smaller, more frequent meals

Instead of three large meals, opt for smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. This can help prevent overeating and reduce the amount of gas produced.

3. Increase fiber gradually

It’s always beneficial to incorporate fiber into your diet. If you need to increase your fiber intake, do so gradually over several weeks. Drink plenty of water to help fiber move through your digestive system and reduce the risk of constipation.

4. Chew food thoroughly

Chewing your food well can help reduce the amount of air you swallow and improve digestion, reducing the risk of bloating.

5. Consider probiotics

Probiotics can help balance the bacteria in your gut, which can reduce gas production and improve digestion. Foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and other fermented foods.

6. Stay hydrated

Drinking water helps maintain regular bowel movements and can prevent constipation. Aim for at least 8 glasses of water per day. Here are some tips to help you drink more water.

7. Limit carbonated drinks

Carbonated beverages contain gas that can get trapped in your digestive system, leading to bloating. Opt for water, herbal teas or other non-carbonated drinks instead.

Lifestyle changes to help reduce bloating

1. Manage stress

Stress can affect digestion and contribute to bloating. Practice stress-reducing techniques such as yoga, meditation or deep-breathing exercises to maintain your mental health.

2. Exercise regularly

Physical activity helps stimulate digestion and can reduce bloating. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as simple body weight exercises or walking, every day.

Relief for bloating with supplements and medications

Consider digestive enzymes

If you have food intolerances, digestive enzyme supplements can help your body break down difficult-to-digest foods. For example, lactase supplements can help with lactose intolerance.

When to contact a medical professional about bloating

While occasional bloating is common, persistent or severe bloating may indicate an underlying medical condition such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or gastrointestinal disorders.

“If you experience significant discomfort, changes in bowel habits, or other concerning symptoms, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment,” adds Abby. “By making mindful dietary choices and adopting healthy eating habits, you can effectively manage and reduce bloating and improving your overall digestive health and well-being.”

For tips that are more tailored to your individual needs, talk with a registered dietitian today.

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