We bet you can relate to this scenario: You slip on your go-to pair of jeans—the ones you probably wear a little too often because they’re lying on your floor—but on this particular occasion, you just can’t seem to button them. In fact, your belly’s looking a whole lot bigger than it did just yesterday. What gives?
Ugh, the dreaded bloat. Women are more likely to puff up around the midsection than men, thanks to water retention caused by higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, says Rachita Reddy, M.D. But that doesn’t mean guys are immune to belly bulge.
We’ve all felt swollen after going ham on too many Doritos or a grease-soaked burger, but there are quite a few sneaky causes of bloating. Check out the 10 most common culprits, and start deflating, stat.
Being frazzled increases your body’s production of cortisol (a.k.a. the stress hormone). “Cortisol causes the body to retain fluid, leading to bloating,” says Reddy. Try adding yoga or meditation to your routine to calm your nerves.
You’re Not Getting Enough Shuteye
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, fighting GI bloating—and sleep keeps your stress levels down, too.” (Remember: Stress can also lead to bulge.)
You Chowed Down On Too Much Fiber
The average adult woman should eat around 25 grams of fiber a day, while the average adult man should eat approximately 30 grams, according to the U.S. government’s dietary guidelines. But in reality, most of us don’t come close to that amount, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N, creator of Better Than Dieting nutrition consultation group and author of Read It Before You Eat It. And chomping on a ton of fiber in one sitting if your body’s not used to that? Say hello to gas and bloating galore. Instead, you should incorporate fibrous foods like broccoli and beans into your diet slowly, says Taub-Dix. The good news: “You do build up tolerance,” she says.
You Have A Salty Tooth
Those potato chips might satisfy your crunchy cravings, but salt acts like a magnet to water, leading to fluid retention, says Taub-Dix. In addition to an inflated middle, you might notice your rings are tighter and your ankles are swollen after inhaling an order of fries, says Taub-Dix.
Think of it like this: “After eating a salty meal, the ingested salt has to be dissolved in the body—it can’t be in its crystal form,” says Reddy. “In order to dissolve this higher concentration of salt, water is sucked out of your body and stored in all the wrong places.” The result: A double whammy of bloating and excessive thirst. And the fix? Drink three to four large glasses of H2O to replenish your dehydrated cells. “Once they are plump with fluid, your body will release all the stored salt and water, helping you de-bloat,” says Reddy.
You’re On Your Period
Sorry, ladies: As if cramps weren’t punishment enough, you might also deal with bloating during your time of the month. “Estrogen and progesterone are potent hormones that cause the body to hold onto water weight,” says Reddy. “This causes bloating.” When Aunt Flo visits, drink a few extra glasses of water, she suggests.
Your Body Can’t Handle Certain Foods
Lactose intolerance and celiac disease are the most common food intolerances that can lead to bloating, says Sonpal. If you’re lactose intolerant, 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. Avoiding foods with lactose and supplementing with enzymes will help.
Meanwhile, if you have celiac disease, your immune system produces antibodies as a reaction to your gluten intolerance. Those antibodies break down the lining of the GI tract, leading to gas and bloating. If you’re diagnosed with celiac disease, it’s important to stick to a strict no-gluten diet, says Sonpal.
You Have IBS
“To a certain degree, almost all GI conditions can cause bloating,” says Sonpal. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most common ones—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/anxiety, and diet that yields abdominal discomfort, bloating, and bouts that alternate between constipation and diarrhea,” says Sonpal. IBS irritates the lining of the GI tract, which hinders your ability to absorb water, salt, and nutrients properly—hence the bloating, says Reddy.
If you have IBS, you’ll want to increase the good bacteria in your stomach with probiotics, fiber supplementation, and stress relief, says Sonpal. (You’ll most likely need prescription meds if these tactics don’t work.)
You Always Drink Through A Straw
“Every time you suck up air, you’re trapping it within your gut,” says Taub-Dix. “That could be a problem.” Taub-Dix notes that a lot of people drink soda with a straw—and the bubbles from carbonated beverages can make you feel more bloated, too. So ditch the straw—and opt for a healthier (yet still sweet) drink instead. Taub-Dix likes Teavana Passion Tea. “I cut up an apple, pour the hot tea over it, and at the end, I have a baked apple,” she says.
You’re A Serial Gum-Chewer
“This can lead to bloat and discomfort, especially if the gum has sugar alcohols in it,” says Taub-Dix. That’s because sugar alcohols aren’t completely absorbed in the digestive system. But it’s not only the sugar alcohols in gum that cause belly bulge—the act of chewing itself is also to blame. “When you chew gum, you trap air in your mouth and end up swallowing it,” says Taub-Dix.
You Don’t Drink Enough Water
“Water plays an important role in moving food through your system and aiding in digestion,” says Taub-Dix. According to the Mayo Clinic, H20 helps break down food so you can absorb nutrients—so get guzzling!