Have you ever woken up feeling ten pounds heavier, seemingly overnight, with ominous gurgles emanating from your digestive tract? And had your bout of bloating entirely ruin your day when you get on the subway and a stranger offers up their seat because they think you’re pregnant? (Wrong!) If you haven’t, you’re incredibly lucky, and if you have, I’ve got some good news.
I always assumed bloating was exclusively related to my period: it’s five days away, and that’s why I’m bloated. But what explains bloating when I just finished my period? Or, I’m not even close to starting it? But then, I learned something that made me totally rethink my stomach swell: the main culprit behind bloating, it turns out, is digestion. A combination of what you’re eating and how you’re eating it, to be exact. And it’s totally possible to control it! Read on for 6 tips on how to beat the bloat. (But don’t worry, we won’t judge if you still snag that stranger’s subway seat.)
What you’re eating:
1. Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, or broccoli
Why the bloating?: Cruciferous vegetables contain raffinose, a complex sugar that’s difficult to digest and, in turn, causes gas buildup and bloating.
Beat the bloat: Trade these veggies for alternatives that are easier to digest, like lettuce, cucumbers, and zucchini. Can’t live without your brussels sprouts? Cook these types of vegetables before eating them and they’ll be easier to digest.
2. Dairy products
Why the bloating?: If you have trouble digesting lactose, or milk sugar, it can cause some intestinal distress.
Beat the bloat: Try avoiding dairy products and see if your bloating decreases. If it does, it may be a sign that you need to head to the doctor and see if you’re lactose intolerant — 25% of the US population is! (Need some tips on what types of milk to drink instead? Check out our alternative milk guide.)
Why the bloating?: Sorbitol, an artificial sweetener found in many diet foods touting “no sugar” on their labels, is digested incredibly slowly, which frequently causes bloating.
Beat the bloat: Sorbitol is found in a myriad of foods, from pancake-mix to oatmeal. Since it’s technically not sugar, it’s especially prevalent in foods labeled as “sugar-free,” so make sure you read your labels!
How you’re eating it:
4. You’re eating too quickly
Why the bloating?: When you’re wolfing down your food, you’re not only getting food in each bite, you’re also swallowing air. The air, in turn, gets trapped in your digestive tract and can cause bloating.
Beat the bloat: Slow. Down. I know I sound like your mother, but dinner (or any other meal) isn’t a race! And, if you tend to mindlessly each lunch at your desk (guilty!), do something to actively slow yourself down like putting your fork or sandwich down between each bite.
5. You’re not chewing thoroughly
Why the bloating?: According to NYC nutritionist Stephanie Middleberg, RD, if “you don’t chew thoroughly, that leads to larger food pieces sitting in your gut, waiting to be fully digested.” Gross!
Beat the bloat: Fair warning, another mom tip coming your way. Not only do you need to think about chewing with your mouth closed, but you need to think about chewing thoroughly. According to experts at Ohio State, you should chew softer foods 5-10 times and more dense foods, like meat, 30 times. (I also suggest you don’t start a conversation before you take a bite.)
6. You’re eating too close to bed
Why the bloating?: I totally get the need to hop right into bed as soon as your stomach is full. But, being horizontal can impair your digestion — so much so, in some cases, that it causes bloating.
Beat the bloat: Wait a little longer after eating before you tuck yourself in. Try to avoid eating anything less than 2 hours before your head hits the pillow. Aside from avoiding bloating, you’ll experience some other health benefits, too.
Next time you feel the bloat coming on try following these 6 tips to stop it in its tracks. (And if all else fails, wear a dress and wait it out. We promise, this too shall pass!)