Bloating is one of those dreadful things that everyone deals with from time to time. In fact, a 2018 survey of over 71,000 Americans found that 20.1 percent of respondents who reported having gastrointestinal symptoms in the past week experienced bloating.
“Bloating is the most common symptom I see as a gastroenterologist,” says Jeff D. Scott, M.D., CEO and founder of Happy Colon Foods.
Bloating usually involves a sensation of fullness throughout your entire abdomen that leaves you feeling swollen and uncomfortable, often up to many hours. Needless to say, it’s not a fun time—but there are some effective and natural ways to ease bloating, starting with your diet.
So sit back, relax (elastic waistband sweats are totally welcome here), and learn all about how you can finally kiss bloating goodbye.
First, What Causes Bloating?
Though you should always consult with your doctor to diagnose and treat any gastrointestinal issues, there are a few common culprits of bloating.
1. Certain foods
“The most common cause for bloating is excess intra-abdominal gas due to foods we may have difficulty digesting,” says gastroenterologist Lawrence J. Hoberman, M.D., founder of Medical Care Innovations. One you’re probably familiar with: lactose, the sugar found in dairy that many adults have trouble digesting.
A few other food sources that result in bloating (and excess gas) include fructose (a type of sugar) and sugar alcohols like xylitol, notes Hoberman.
Regardless of what you eat, overeating can also lead to bloating, says Rajagopal Manda, N.D, a consulting naturopath at YO1 Health Resort in New York. Swallowing air while eating or drinking can cause bloating, as well, he adds. This swallowed air increases the volume of food in your system, forcing your stomach and intestines to expand.
As a general rule of thumb, eat until you’re about three-quarters full at each meal, since the volume of your food increases during digestion, Manda suggests.
3. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Another, more serious cause of bloating is a gastrointestinal condition called IBS, which can result in stomach pain, gas, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and other issues. Scott frequently sees bloating as a symptom in IBS patients and in one study, 90 percent of IBS patients reported suffering from bloating.
“Another common cause of bloating is constipation, which causes abdominal distention and discomfort,” says Hoberman. In some cases, insufficient fiber in your diet (or even failure to drink enough water) can contribute to the issue.
How To Ease Bloating
Luckily for anyone who feels like they’ve got a balloon in their belly, there are a few things you can do to ease bloating and related discomfort. Use these expert-backed guidelines to reduce bloating safely.
1. Cut back on processed foods
“Cutting out highly-processed foods that are rich in salt, fat, and sugar will be beneficial to your bloating, but also for your overall health,” shares naturopath Jay Goodbinder, N.D., D.C., founder of the Epigenetics Healing Center. “Processed foods are more likely to spike insulin levels, produce excessive amounts of inflammatory chemicals in the liver, and put unwanted stress on your body,” he cautions. Often, one of the impacts is digestive discomfort.
Instead of picking up a preserved and chemically-fortified meal, opt for a whole foods-based diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and water.
Goodbinder also recommends nixing alcohol, which causes swelling in the body (especially when mixed with sugar or carbonation).
2. Consider a low-FODMAP diet
FODMAP is an acronym for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These groups of carbs may be difficult for some people to break down, in which case eliminating them can bring relief.
“Eliminating suspected foods [that disagree with your gut] can resolve the bloating and discomfort for many people,” shares Hoberman. A few common high-FODMAP foods to stay away from? Onions, beans, stone fruits like peaches, and anything that contains sugar alcohols.
3. Drink Enough water
Guzzling H2O throughout the day can also help keep belly bloat in check. “Our bodies are made up of 60 percent of water, and consuming enough water each day promotes proper digestion and helps to ward off inflammation,” shares Goodbinder. Experts recommend drinking at least half your weight in ounces per day.
4. Consume more probiotics and prebiotics
If your bloating is IBS-related, Hoberman recommends incorporating more probiotics and prebiotics, which can rebalance your microbiome, into your routine. (Research suggests that a disruption to the colon’s bacteria can cause IBS.)
To get your fill of probiotics, consume fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha. “These can help enhance a healthy microbiome and lessen GI issues like bloating,” Hoberman says. If you’re interested in a probiotic supplement, use this guide to determine which type is right for you.
If you’re not familiar with prebiotics, these non-digestible starches feed healthy bacteria, helping your microbiome thrive. Hoberman recommends incorporating sources of prebiotics, such as oats and flaxseeds (or an insoluble fiber supplement), to support your system.
5. When in doubt, see a doctor
Tried all of the above to no avail? “If symptoms are present most of the day, last longer than a month, are severe, or inhibit eating,” consult your primary care physician or a gastroenterologist, says Hoberman. “Several disorders can present as bloating, including intestinal and pancreatic cancers,” he says. Diabetes also causes nerve damage that can slow intestinal activity and lead to bloating and constipation.
When patients visit Goodbinder about bloating, he often finds that bloodwork reveals liver enzyme problems, a lack of stomach acid, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or undiagnosed food intolerances (often to dairy and gluten).
Since a whole host of issues can contribute to bloating, consulting with a trusted healthcare professional is often the best way to identify your specific culprit—and help you ease your bloating for good.