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My favorite game to play over the holidays is one in which I am my own competitor, testing my own limits, pushing myself to see how much food I can eat without putting myself in a position of serious discomfort. How do I win? Well, it’s a delicate game that involves careful strategy (and Lactaid). Still, I am not always victorious. Many a time I’ve been left at the dinner table, hands laid gingerly across my belly, groaning for all to hear about how I’ve made myself terribly bloated. Doesn’t this game sound fun for the whole family?
“Bloated” often gets used as a blanket term any time your stomach is full, tight, or swollen. But what do we actually mean when we call ourselves bloated? Let’s review why bloating occurs, and how you can prevent it from happening to you this holiday season.
What bloating actually isFirst, what bloating is not: Bloating is not belly fat. Bloating is not the same as water retention (even though the descriptors get used interchangeably). Bloating is not something to feel guilty about because you’re full from a delicious meal.
Most people use bloating to describe feeling full, tight, or swollen in the abdomen, which can range from mildly uncomfortable to downright painful. And to the joy of everyone in the vicinity, bloating is often accompanied by passing gas, burping, and abdominal rumbling.
A number of factors can lead to bloating, such as constipation, food sensitivities, or swallowing too much air. Put simply, according to Healthline, bloating most often occurs when you have excessive amounts of solids, liquids, or gas in your digestive system. However, what ends up being excessive will vary from GI tract to GI tract, so it’s difficult to properly identify what may be causing your bloat.
So, rather than rely on “quick fixes” that are usually nothing more than placebo effects, here are the most common causes of bloating and what you can do to avoid that swollen belly feeling.
Consuming too much, too quicklyNot all feelings of fullness are necessarily bloating. In fact, the discomfort from bloating might not be from too much solid food, but from swallowing too much air. This can happen when you’re having a lively conversation and gulping air between bites. Other culprits include carbonated drinks, chewing gum, and drinking through a straw.
All the same, here’s how to eat more slowly in order to prevent upsetting your digestive system with too much gas, solid, or liquid all at once.
Good ol’ constipationBloating and constipation often go hand-in-hand. Luckily, we have a handy guide full of tips to get your systems moving smoothly, such as drinking a hot beverage or turning to high-fiber foods (more on that soon).
Potential allergies and intolerancesAnother common cause of bloating is some sort of food sensitivity. When you eat foods you are intolerant to, it can cause excess gas production, bloating, and other symptoms. We’ve previously covered how to find out which foods are potentially causing you pain. (Related: What’s the deal with gluten?) (Please read that in Jerry Seinfeld’s voice).
Common offenders that lead to bloating include lactose, fructose, wheat, gluten, and eggs. Both lactose and fructose are a part of a larger group of carbohydrates called FODMAPs, which commonly drive bloating and other digestive symptoms, especially in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
If you’re trying to identify specific foods that could be the cause of your bloating, consider keeping a food diary that helps you spot patterns in what you eat and how your body reacts to it.
Suddenly increasing your fiber intakeEven if you don’t have a specific food intolerance, high-fiber foods can make just about anyone produce large amounts of gas. These include legumes, like beans and lentils, and cruciferous veggies, like broccoli. Even though upping your fiber intake can be a solution to constipation, there’s a chance it will first lead to an excess of gas that needs to get passed.
Look out for sugar alcoholsAnother minor but underrated culprit: Sugar alcohols, which are commonly found in sugar-free foods and chewing gum. These have been found to lead to digestive issues when consumed in high amounts.
For immediate relief, try digestive enzyme supplementsThere is no magic food or pill that gets rid of bloating. So-called natural remedies like peppermint oil are usually nothing more than placebo.
Still, depending on the cause of your bloating, certain over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements can help. For instance, taking lactase enzymes will help provide relief if the issue is you’re lactose intolerance. Similarly, Beano is a great option to help break down gas-causing foods (like those high-fiber favorites).
For long term relief, the key to preventing bloating is to identify what causes it for you. The food diary mentioned above is a useful tactic to get to the bottom of your bloat. Similarly, there’s a good chance that our tips to overcome constipation will also provide you with ways to relieve your bloating. However, if you’re experiencing chronic bloating, you may want to talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Otherwise, best of luck on your holiday food journeys. A little post-Thanksgiving bloat can be worn like a badge of honor.