7 Ways To Feel Less Bloated

7 Ways To Feel Less Bloated
Abdominal Pain In A Woman (Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)
Abdominal Pain In A Woman (Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)

By Corrie Pikul

Feel like your abdomen is suddenly filled with helium? Here's how to gently and naturally decompress -- and how to prevent it from happening again.

1. Try the breath freshener that's also a bloat buster.

fennel seeds

Leave the mints for your grandmother: Fennel seeds are a better, more natural digestif, says Robynne Chutkan MD, a Maryland-based gastroenterologist and the author of Gutbliss: A 10-Day Plan to Ban Bloat, Flush Toxins, and Dump Your Digestive Baggage. They also helps relax your digestive tract and eliminate gas, she says, and enhance the production of gastric juices that aid digestion. Another idea: make fennel tea -- boil whole seeds in water, then strain the tea to remove seeds before drinking

2. Find the air that has been sneaking into your body, and head it off at the pass.

Swallowing air is one of the most common causes of bloating, says Chutkan. Try this test: Put your hand just above your tummy, where your sternum ends. If it's sticking out and feels tight like a drum, then you've probably been taking in too much air. Chutkan has a long list of culprits: Eating while talking on the phone; breathing through your mouth (hard to avoid when you're giving a speech or presentation); chewing gum or sucking on hard candies; drinking through a straw; gulping fluids or racing through meals. It's impossible to divert all air through the correct nasal passages, but maybe put aside straws, hard candies and gum until you've deflated a bit.

3. Tame your sweet tooth.

woman straw

Sugar, especially high-fructose corn syrup, is the preferred food for gas-producing bacteria in the GI tract, says Chutkan. It's also beloved by yeast species like candida, and too much of it can lead to a bacterial imbalance called dysbiosis, a major cause of bloating. The amount that most of us can comfortably process in a day is only about 50 grams (a 12-ounce can of cola has 33 grams; a drinkable low-fat yogurt could have 22 grams). Chutkan says that about one-third of the population has something called fructose malabsorption, which means that an excess of about 25 grams of sugar is fermented by colonic bacteria -- and results in lots of stinky gas.

4. Don't let anything get between you and your water (not even your yoga teacher).

You eat more leafy greens than a koala bear (juiced, blended, tossed, sautéed), and you never miss a hot yoga class. Yet by the late afternoon you feel like you've gained a few pounds -- all in your midsection. Chutkan says that the problem is most likely dehydration. While exercise moves food through your system, it also causes you to sweat out fluids (as much as a liter and a half in some yoga classes, says Chutkan). One of the worst combinations for bloating is a cardio-yoga combo, because so many yoga teachers are dogmatic about restricting drinking during their class. Be sure to adequately hydrate before working out. And if you're eating fiber, Chutkan says you should be drinking at least 2 liters of water to prevent all that fiber from clogging your system and causing a backup.

5. Eat gassy vegetables...just in moderation, and with this type of fruit.

broccoli lemon

It's nature's cruel irony that many of the healthiest foods out there are also some of the hardest to digest. You may have heard about the low-FODMAP eating plan, which steers you away from foods that contain high levels of fermentable oligo-, di, mono-saccharides and polyols -- basically, carbohydrates that aren't easily absorbed in the small intestine. This way of eating has been proven to help, says Chutkan -- but it's complicated (cherries are high in FODMAPs, yet strawberries and raspberries are low...?!). Chutkan doesn't like to tell patients to avoid healthy-yet-gassy foods altogether. Instead, she recommends portion control (as in one ingredient in a soup, for example), as well as spritzing veggies like broccoli, kale and cauliflower with lemon juice, which, she says, stimulates digestive enzymes.

6. Get your probiotics from a more reliable source.

We hear a lot about yogurt's probiotic benefits, but Chutkan says that most brands of yogurt you find at the store don't have enough live bacteria to make much of a difference to your GI tract (they also tend to be high in sugar, which can make bloating worse). More effective choices are kefir and fermented foods like sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi. They're loaded with the kinds of "good" active bacteria that displace bad bugs in the gut, and can help ease bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation and other digestive issues.

7. Change your approach to beans.

dried beans

Beans are not the enemy, says Chutkan -- they just require a little extra TLC. Choose dried beans over the canned variety, which tend to be covered in congealed starch, salt and other preservatives that are challenging to digest. Soak them overnight, then cook with a sea vegetable like kombu, which, Chutkan says, has natural enzymes that break down some of the indigestible sugars before the food even gets into your body. Finally, recognize that beans and their notorious oligosaccharides are hard for everyone to break down completely, Chutkan adds, so a little bit of gas is natural.

Before You Go

Accidentally Swallowing Air
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Besides gulping down your food (which of course you try to avoid), gulping air is the most common cause of bloating, says Patricia Raymond, MD, a gastroenterologist and an assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. And it's really easy to do without realizing it. If you're drinking your beverage with a straw while reading this, you're doing it right now. You've also been swallowing excess air when chewing gum, sucking on hard candies, chewing on your fingernails or the ends of your hair or talking on the phone while eating. The medical term for air-swallowing is "aerophagia," says Raymond, and the connection is obvious: The air comes in through your mouth, travels down your esophagus and gets trapped in the digestive tract. Fortunately, air that exits from the opposite end of where it enters rarely has an odor, says Raymond, but it still makes you and others around you uncomfortable.
Eating The Right Foods For Your Body...
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...Which happen to be the wrong foods for your small intestine. Experts have recently determined that some of the most formidable culprits of bloating and irritable bowel syndrome are small carbohydrates that aren't well absorbed in the small intestine, says Cynthia M. Yoshida, MD, a gastroenterologist in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the author of No More Digestive Problems. They fall under the umbrella term "FODMAPs," short for "fermentable oligo-, di, mono-saccharides and polyols." Yoshida explains that these particles travel on down to the colon and large intestine where they're fermented by normal gut bacteria, forming gases that result in bloating and flatulence. Unfortunately, some of the healthiest foods we know (cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, leeks, cherries, avocados, many kinds of beans--including soy, and more) contain FODMAPs. The good news is that there are many other superfoods (berries, pumpkin, leafy greens, to name a few) that are FODMAP-free. If you suffer from frequent bloating or IBS, memorize this cheat sheet developed by UVA Digestive Health Nutrition Support Services. Yoshida says it's quickly become the go-to reference for GIs and nutritionists around the world.
Starting Crash Diets
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Almost 50 percent of the women in one study from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine who said they routinely went on strict diets suffered from frequent bloating, compared with 20 percent of those who said they rarely or never dieted. We're not even talking about the cabbage-soup diet that became famous-by-fax in the 1980s and has since wreaked gastrointestinal havoc on the lives of millions of women. Anytime you drastically reduce your caloric intake, you're setting yourself up for stomach and intestinal issues, says Yoshida. Our bodies become conditioned to expect food at certain times, so skipping meals on a short-term diet throws off our highly sophisticated digestive system. Yoshida says that this can lead to constipation, which is exacerbated by the fact that many dieters neglect to take in enough water or fiber to help keep food moving. And really, what's the point of any diet that says it will help you lose 10 pounds in 7 days if it makes you look like you gained 10 pounds after one meal?
Stressing Out
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Women are more likely than men to blame their escalating stress levels for their upset stomach and indigestion, according to the American Psychological Association. Stress contributes to bloating in a couple of different ways. First, when we're overwhelmed, we tend to do even more nail-biting, gum-chewing and smoking--all result in extra air-swallowing and, thus, bloating. Yoshida says one study found that frazzled volunteers took in three times the amount of air than those who did relaxation exercises. What's more, Yoshida says that stress makes your intestines more prone to irritation, so you'll feel blimpier even when normal amounts of gas are passing through your system. Thankfully, the same researchers found that relaxation techniques can directly slow the rate of swallowing. When your blood pressure starts to rise (or as soon as possible thereafter), try taking 10 minutes to practice progressive muscle relaxation.