Feeling bloated and confident it’s not your diet? Then consider these triggers.
Bloated and not sure why? You aren’t alone. Many of us—both men and women—experience feelings of bloat more often than we care to admit. The discomfort that comes with it is enough to make you want to put on your athleisure and call it a day; and, unfortunately, it may not even be noon yet.
While diet is a likely culprit—after all, bloat usually originates in your gastrointestinal tract and nutrients are crucial to its proper functioning—it’s not the only cause. For example, have you considered the gum you chewed after sipping your iced latte out of that sustainable straw? Your head would spin if you started thinking about all things that could be causing your bloat.
Rest assured, we have the expert advice you need to avoid the sneaky reasons you may feel a little, well, extra, right now—and tips to help soothe that bloat. Baby steps and deep breaths, we’ve got you.
What Is Bloat?
While you may associate bloat with difficulty buckling your belt or snapping that pants button, it’s actually distention, according to a 2023 review published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. And abdominal distension and abdominal bloat often coexist, but they can also occur individually, adds gut health expert Kate Scarlata, M.P.H., RDN, co-author of Mind Your Gut.
For instance, abdominal bloating typically refers to symptoms like gas, fullness and abdominal pressure, while abdominal distention tends to be related to an underlying condition that causes a measurable increase in the girth of your abdomen. So let’s figure out what might be going on.
6 Sneaky Causes of Bloat
1. You’re Constipated
Digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) often come with a collection of symptoms, one being bloating. However, even a mild case of constipation can also lead to bloating. Scarlata notes that a high stool burden (yup, too much poop in your colon) is one of the common symptoms she sees in her gastrointestinal practice that leads to bloating. While consuming a high-fiber diet, drinking plenty of fluids and getting movement in can help prevent constipation, sometimes it happens despite doing everything “right.” For example, if you happen to be stuck in a sitting position on a road trip or international flights with little to no movement, constipation may occur despite downing those fluids. Remember, when you can (and when it’s safe), get up and move. A little bathroom-break walk can help provide some gentle movement even if you can’t go No. 2 just yet.
2. You’re Menstruating
Yes, it’s true. Hormonal fluctuations can cause you to feel bloated during your monthly cycle. According to Lauren Manaker, M.S., RDN, LD, “Hormones like estrogen and progesterone can cause fluid retention, which is why some women feel bloated before their period.” Estrogen receptors in your GI tract can cause fluid retention and increase your sensitivity to abdominal changes. And when progesterone levels drop as your period begins, some women may experience an increase in bowel movements, while others notice a stall. However your system responds, know that within a few days all should be back to normal. In the meantime, consider taking a look at your movement, diet and supplement use (keep on reading for those details).
3. You’re Taking Supplements
Supplements are a safety net that nutrition experts often use themselves. However, Scarlata says, “Supplements such as probiotics, which contain live and active microbes, can contribute to bloating as they arrive in your gut and impact the ecosystem.” While it may seem contradictory that a supplement that’s supposed to reduce bloat can actually make you feel more distended, it’s actually more common than you think. Consider working with a trained professional, since different strains of probiotics work for different conditions, and you’ll want to be sure you’re taking the right one for your personal needs.
4. Your GI System Isn’t Working Quite Right
“Both pelvic floor dysfunction, which can occur when the muscles that normally help you eliminate stool tighten instead of relax, and abnormal motility of the GI tract, which allows microbes to overgrow or trap gas, are common triggers of bloating too,” says Scarlata. While it may be challenging to decipher if this is the case for you, there are a few situations that may warrant a deeper look by a health care professional. One of them is childbirth. If you have given birth and not received a postpartum pelvic floor evaluation, you may want to consult a pelvic floor physical therapist. Your pelvic floor muscles can become weak regardless of your mode of delivery, and you may need physical therapy to rebuild strength and help improve your GI health. In addition, Scarlata says, conditions such as diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and undernutrition can also contribute to reduced gut motility.
5. You’re Swallowing Too Much Air
No, we’re not telling you not to breathe. Rather, consider how and what you eat and drink, says Scarlata: “Adding air to the GI tract can contribute to bloating—this can occur if you chew gum a lot, have a lot of carbonated drinks, or even use a straw, or if you eat too fast.”
Unsure if this is the case for you? Then consider keeping a diary of when your feelings of bloat occur. See if you can pinpoint if it was related to sippy fizzy beverages or chewing gum, or if it happens after you wolf down a quick lunch at your desk. Changing your behavior can go a long way to easing your symptoms.
6. You Have a Medical Condition
Medication prescribed for a specific condition—including statins, antidepressants and opiate painkillers—may come with side effects like bloating. But sometimes the condition itself can also cause bloating. Manaker says that ovarian, uterine, pancreatic and colon cancers may trigger bloat. Bacterial infections that cause inflammation, like gastritis (inflammation of the stomach) or enteritis (inflammation of the intestines), can lead to bloating as well. Plus, if your pancreas isn’t producing the necessary enzymes for digestion, you may experience bloat. Be sure to seek medical attention if you have frequent and painful bloat and feel there may be a deeper cause.
How to Banish Bloat
We wish it was as easy as 1-2-3, but unfortunately, it’s not. However, with a little planning and attention, you may find that controlling what brings on your bloat may help you find some relief.
1. Consider How You’re Eating
“If you are stressed and eating fast, this can lead to bloating,” says Scarlata. “Get your gut ready for food by taking a few cleansing deep breaths before you eat. This helps to engage the “relax and digest” part of your nervous system. And, don’t forget to chew your food thoroughly, as digestion starts in your mouth!”
2. Try Adding Yoga into Your Regular Routine
“Some people experience bloat relief by practicing yoga, because it can help relax certain muscles and strengthen your core, which may improve your GI health,” says Manaker. Much of the research on the use of yoga as a strategy to help with symptom relief is specific to IBS patients, but the results are still promising. Recent 2023 research published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine studied the impact yoga had on managing symptoms related to chronic dyspepsia, or indigestion that is often accompanied by feelings of fullness and bloating, and found that patients struggling with chronic indigestion found relief through regular practice. Whether it was the tranquility yoga provides that helps calm the gut-brain axis or the core strengthening movements it includes, it’s safe to say doing yoga in conjunction with your prescribed plan of care has practically no risk—and can be done from the comfort of your own home.
3. Consider Melatonin
A 2023 study published in BMC Gastroenterology found that IBS patients who took melatonin supplements felt relief from bloat—though more research is needed on the general population. Melatonin is naturally produced in both your brain and gut, and it’s believed that supplementing with it may help alleviate symptoms of bloat. Plus, melatonin is widely considered to be safe, so it’s worth a shot.
Also, consider trying one of these 23 Recipes For When You Feel Bloated.
The Bottom Line
Bloating is a common condition that many individuals experience. While diet is often a trigger for bloating, it’s not the only reason you may be feeling this way. Physiological changes, like hormonal fluctuations, medical conditions and frequency of bowel movements, as well as your use of supplements, may also be contributing to bloat you’re experiencing. If you encounter consistent bloating accompanied with a swollen belly and/or pain, it’s important to consult with your physician. Working with a trained health care professional can help identify the triggers and provide an individualized plan of care to banish the bloat (hopefully) for good.