You can probably relate to this scenario: You slip on your go-to pair of jeans (the ones you wear often enough that they always seem to be lying on your floor), but on this particular occasion, you just can’t seem to button them. Ugh, you’re bloated.
We’ve all felt swollen after going in on super-salty foods, but there are quite a few other causes of bloating worth noting, too. Here are 10 of the most common culprits behind your balloon belly.
1. You’re Stressed
You know that being frazzled has plenty of downstream effects on your system—and, yep, feeling bloated is one of them. You see, stress increases your body’s production of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone), and elevated levels of cortisol cause the body to retain fluid, leading to bloating,” says Rachita Reddy, M.D. Obviously, managing stress can require more than spending a few minutes sitting cross-legged every day, but adding meditation to your routine (as well as yoga) can certainly help you calm your nerves, she suggests.
2. You’re Not Getting Enough Shut-eye
The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night—and you should heed their advice. “Your entire body regulates itself and ‘resets’ while you sleep,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine. “The gut is no different: Getting enough sleep allows your bowels to do their job and fights bloating. Sleep also keeps your stress levels down, too.” (Remember: Stress can lead to bloating!)
3. You Chowed Down On Too Much Fiber
Wait, isn’t fiber a good thing? Yes—but context matters here, folks! Here’s the deal: The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that the average adult woman eat around 25 grams of fiber a day, while the average adult man eat approximately 30 grams. But in reality, most people don’t come close to that amount, says dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N, author of Read It Before You Eat It. So, when you down a ton of fiber in one sitting when your body isn’t used to it, you can say hello to gas and bloating galore. That’s why Taub-Dix recommends incorporating more fibrous foods (think broccoli and beans) into your diet slowly in order to build up your tolerance and get to that daily recommended amount without any annoying side effects.
4. You Have A Salty Tooth
Potato chips sure do satisfy crunchy cravings, but the salt in them acts like a magnet to water, leading to fluid retention if you down a lot of them. Here’s the gist of what happens: “After eating a salty meal, the ingested salt has to be dissolved in the body; it can’t remain in its crystal form,” says Reddy. “In order to dissolve this higher concentration of salt, water is sucked out of other parts of your body and ultimately gets stored in all the wrong places.” The result: You feel unbelievably bloated—and thirsty since so much of the water in your body has been relocated.
A surefire way to tell if your bloating is salt-related? In addition to an inflated middle, you might notice that your rings are tighter and your ankles are swollen, says Taub-Dix.
Luckily, in this case, drinking a few large glasses of H2O to replenish your dehydrated cells can help deflate the situation. “Once your cells are plump with fluid, your body will release all the stored salt and water, helping you de-bloat,” Reddy explains.
5. You’re On Your Period
Sorry, ladies: One of the not-so-convenient aspects of being a cyclical creature is the changes in water retention that fluctuating hormones can bring. “Estrogen and progesterone are potent hormones that cause the body to hold onto water,” says Reddy. In fact, she says, many menstruating women experience bloating (yeah, in addition to the cramps and exhaustion) around their time of the month. Reddy recommends drinking a few extra glasses of water throughout the day while Aunt Flo is in town to support fluid balance. (If you noticed intense fluctuations throughout your cycle, check in with a healthcare provider about your hormonal health and consider taking a supplement like TrueYou Balancing Act, which supports healthy estrogen balance.)
6. You Have A Food Intolerance
A variety of food intolerances can impact your gut enough to leave you feeling bloated and gassy. According to Sonpal, lactose intolerance and celiac disease are the most common ones associated with bloating.
In the case of lactose intolerance, your body can’t digest milk sugars—and the gas produced by your gut bacteria when you eat or drink dairy can cause your stomach to expand. In addition to avoiding foods with lactose in them (which is most dairy), supplementing with digestive enzymes can also keep your gut happy.
Meanwhile, if you have celiac disease, your immune system produces antibodies as a reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Those antibodies break down the lining of the GI tract, leading to gas and bloating (among a slew of other potential symptoms). If you’re diagnosed with celiac disease, it’s important to stick to a strict gluten-free diet, says Sonpal.
7. You Have IBS
According to Sonpal, almost all GI conditions can cause bloating to some degree—and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common. In fact, between 25 and 45 million people in the U.S. suffer from it, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. “IBS is a complex interplay between gut bacteria, fermentation, mood and anxiety, and diet that yields abdominal discomfort, bloating, and bouts that alternate between constipation and diarrhea,” says Sonpal. In IBS, the lining of the GI tract becomes irritated, which hinders your ability to absorb water, salt, and nutrients properly—hence the bloating, adds Reddy.
If you have IBS, you’ll want to increase the good bacteria in your stomach with probiotics, fiber (a supplement can help here), and stress relief, says Sonpal. (You’ll most likely need prescription meds if these tactics don’t work.)
8. You Always Drink Through A Straw
You probably don’t think twice about sipping your favorite beverages through a straw, but it could mean trouble for your gut. “Every time you suck up air, you trap it within your gut,” explains Taub-Dix. The situation only turns out worse if you drink something carbonated (think sparkling water or soda) through a straw, since carbonation can also contribute to bloating, she notes.
Your best move here: Ditch the straw—and don’t rely on bubbly beverages as your only source of hydration. If you struggle with just plain water, try spicing things up with fruit slices, a splash of juice, or a flavored hydration mix.
9. You’re A Serial Gum-Chewer
Chewing gum is yet another overlooked habit that can lead to tummy troubles down the line. One reason for this: the sugar alcohols that many chewing gums contain, which aren’t completely broken down by the digestive system and cause gas as they pass through somewhat undigested, says Taub-Dix.
The other culprit? The act of chewing itself! “When you chew, you trap air in your mouth and end up swallowing it,” Taub-Dix explains. When you chomp away on a stick of gum for minutes (hours?) on end, the air you swallow really adds up.
10. You Don’t Drink Enough Water
By now, you know that water is often involved in bloating. Falling short in the H2O department can ultimately, and perhaps unexpectedly, leave your midsection feeling quite swollen. According to Northwestern Medicine, inadequate hydration slows down digestion and leads to constipation and water retention, while drinking enough water ensures your digestion moves along regularly and signals to your body that it’s a-okay to release any water it’s holding onto.