Sometimes when we overindulge in our favorite foods, we get a bloated, uncomfortable stomach. But what if you have a bloated belly and you can’t blame it on a recent pig out?
There are some surprising causes of a belly bloat that have nothing to do with overeating.
Bloating can be defined as any abnormal swelling in the abdominal area. A feeling of fullness, increased stomach growling, and pain are sometimes also present. Over 30 million Americans report they suffer from bloating regularly.1
Bloating can be a sign of poor eating habits—or a symptom of something more serious.
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3 Common Causes of Bloating
There are three common causes of bloating you can easily cure:
- Overeating. Smaller portions should end the problem.
- Rich foods. Fat takes longer to digest than protein or carbohydrates, so it keeps your stomach full longer. Fats are an important part of any healthy diet. But going overboard can make you feel queasy.
- Fast eating. When you eat fast, you tend to eat more. It takes your brain about 20 minutes to register that you’re full. But if you are gobbling your food quickly, your stomach is stretched before your brain can tell you to stop. The solution is simple: Eat more slowly. Put down your fork after every bite. Take a sip of water.2
After overeating, the second most common cause of bloating is gas in the abdomen. Half of the gas in our digestive system is swallowed air. The rest is produced by gut bacteria that help digest food.
Some everyday habits unknowingly can cause us to increase the amount of air we swallow to bring on bloat:
- Drinking with a straw. When you drink through a straw, you suck in a considerable amount of air along with the liquid.
- Eating hard candy. When you suck on hard candy, you tend to swallow air.
- Chewing gum. The constant opening and closing of your mouth traps air and forces it down into your stomach.
- Carbonated beverages. The bubbles end up in your abdomen.
- Smoking. Smokers tend to swallow more air than non-smokers. This leads to a buildup of gas in the esophagus and stomach, and even the colon. Smoking has been linked to bloating, heartburn, and other digestive problems.3
For women, there is another cause of bloating: hormones. If a woman is premenstrual or in early pregnancy, levels of the hormone progesterone are elevated. This can slow down the gut’s ability to process and pass food through the body. This causes bloating and sometimes constipation.
Drinking plenty of fluids and getting exercise—30 minutes of walking should do it—can end the problem.4
6 Foods that Cause Bloating
Difficult-to-digest foods can trigger bloating:
- Beans and Lentils. They contain indigestible sugars called The stomach can’t break down these sugars. Your body must pass them lower in the intestines to process them. In the meantime, you may feel uncomfortable and gassy.
- “Bulky” fruits and vegetables. Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, prunes, apricots, and carrots contain sugars and starches that cause bloat. They are healthy foods, but they could be the source of your discomfort.
- Artificial sweeteners. For years we have told you to stay away from artificial sweeteners. They can cause everything from cancer to memory problems to impaired liver function. Artificial sweeteners also kill off the gut bacteria you need for proper digestion. This can lead to bloating and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Dairy. Lactose intolerance can cause severe bloating and cramping. But even people who aren’t lactose intolerant may have trouble digesting dairy.
- Whole grains. Their high fiber content means they are difficult to digest.
- Sugar. Anybody who has eaten an extra piece of cake can tell you that sugary foods can make you bloated and nauseous.5
When to See a Doctor About Bloating
There are some serious medical conditions that can cause bloating, and they require medical treatment:
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If you experience a bloated stomach on and off over several weeks and have pain, constipation, or diarrhea, you may be suffering from IBS. Another telltale sign is that your discomfort worsens in the evening.
Diverticulosis. The symptoms are usually the same as those of IBS. But it can include blood in the stool. This means your intestines or colon are inflamed.
Celiac disease. This is an allergic reaction to gluten, a protein in wheat. It causes bloating, abdominal pain, and unexplained weight loss.
Splenic-flexure syndrome. This condition causes gas to get trapped in the bends of the colon. It causes pain in the upper left side of the abdomen, similar to the pain of a heart attack. Often, a special diet will end the problem.
Crohn’s disease. This is a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Outside of stomach bloating, symptoms include fever, cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, and anemia. Crohn’s can become a life-threatening health issue.
Ovarian Cancer. The symptoms of ovarian cancer often are vague, which makes diagnosis difficult. If bloating is persistent and non-stop accompanied by increased abdominal size, abdominal pain, difficulty eating, and urinary symptoms, check with you doctor.6