4 Mistakes We Make When We Feel Bloated
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but some well-intentioned strategies can do more harm than good.
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Believing Carbonated Drinks Will Settle Your Ballooning Stomach
Why It Doesn't Work: Bubbly beverages like seltzer and ginger ale may make you burp, which offers a little relief, but they can also push air bubbles down into the stomach, making bloating worse, explains Jacqueline Wolf, MD, associate professor of medicine at Harvard University and author of A Woman's Guide to a Healthy Stomach. Fizzy drinks with artificial sweeteners—think diet soda and bubble teas—can add to that Stay Puft Marshmallow Man feeling, as certain sugar substitutes (manitol, sorbitol, xylitol) are known to trigger gas, cramps, bloating and even diarrhea. A 2015 study showed that a diet low in these sugar substitutes and other gas-producing foods known as FODMAPS, decreased these symptoms in people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
The Better Idea: Plain water will flush your system much better. Beyond that, try to incorporate more movement into your day—a study in The American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that exercising gets gas get to the exit and decreases bloating. "It moves things along because you're contracting the intestines," Wolf explains. Yoga might be particularly helpful: One study showed that daily practice lessened abdominal pain and bloating in adolescents. Working out is also a stress-buster, helping you relax and release—both your burdens and your bubbles.
Swearing Off the Healthy Foods You Blame for Your Bloat
Why It Doesn't Work: Those foods aren't the whole story. True, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage and, of course, beans and lentils, are considered "windy" foods, thanks to a type of carbohydrate they contain called raffinose, which gut bacteria gobble up, producing gas. But these same foods are also high in fiber, which your gut needs to move food through so gas can escape too. The real problem might be the rest of your diet. "When patients say they can't eat vegetables because they make them bloat, I tell them 'Yes, those foods are gas-producing, but what's really bloating you is a diet full of meat and starches that leaves you constipated," says gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan, M.D., author of the forthcoming book The Bloat Cure: 101 Natural Solutions for Real and Lasting Relief.
The Better Idea: Talk to your doctor about whether you're overdoing it on foods known to cause constipation. And rather than completely avoiding raffinose-rich foods, try cutting your portions in half to start, then continuing to play with portion sizes until you find amounts that don't leave you bloated.
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Going Hog-Wild with Fiber at Every Meal
Why It Doesn't Work: Fiber is an excellent bloat-buster because it creates a bigger, bulkier stool that's easier to expel, but too much at once can clog up the bowels and worsen symptoms, says Chutkan.
The Better Idea: Aim for the recommended 25 to 35 grams per day (not more) and do it by spreading your fiber intake among your meals and snacks rather than eating the majority of the day's grams at once. A few ideas: add 3/4 cup of quinoa to your lunch salad (5 grams of fiber), snack on 1 ounce of almonds (3.5 grams), have a side of 1 cup cooked broccoli (5 grams) with dinner or 1/2 cup of raspberries for dessert (4 grams). Be sure to drink enough water to wash it all down as well. (If your urine is light yellow to clear, you're likely drinking enough.)
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Continuing to Wear Pants That You Struggle to Button Up
Why it Doesn't Work: A tight waistband puts the squeeze on your insides. "Air can't move through—it's like having a clamp on your GI system," says Chutkan.
The Better Idea: Change into looser pants or, if you're at the office or the opera or otherwise in public, discreetly undo the top button to give your digestive system some room to maneuver. And, in general, make sure your clothes fit, because wearing tight pants, waist-cinching dresses that are a tad too small, etc., can cause bloat—even with a healthy diet. "An aspirational closet will not do your digestion any favors," Chutkan says. Embrace your size and enjoy a happier GI system.