You’ve been eating clean.
Maybe even taking supplements to improve your gut health.
Why, then, is your stomach bloated all the damn time?
Why is it flat some days and bulging like you’re in your third trimester on others?
Why all the gas and discomfort?
Well, you’re going to get answers to those questions in this article.
You’re going to learn several of the most common causes of bloating, and five simple strategies you can use to banish it for good:
- Determine if it’s bloat or fat.
- Balance your sodium, potassium, and water intakes.
- Take time to de-stress.
- Reduce your intake of FODMAPS and dairy.
- Don’t bother with natural diuretics.
(I know, the fifth isn’t an anti-bloat strategy per se, but it should be mentioned because too many people place their hopes in these worthless supplements.)
Let’s take a closer look at each.
Want to listen to more stuff like this? Check out my podcast!
1. Determine if it’s bloat or fat.
Here’s something many people don’t want to accept:
What they think is bloating is just belly fat.
And they don’t need to do anything to resolve the issue other than reduce their body fat percentage.
Now, what does that mean for you?
Well, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between legitimate bloating and body fatness. The most telltale sign is this:
If you can grab mushy skin around your belly by the handful, it’s not bloat. It’s fat.
When you’re bloated, you might be able pinch a bit more skin than usual, but if you have significant amounts of flesh to grab around your midsection, you’re looking at too much blubber, not bloating.
Another way to know what you’re up against is to measure your waist at the navel every morning.
If the readings change frequently, then bloating is at least partially to blame, and if they stay about the same, it’s likely belly fat.
The reason for this obvious: gassiness and water retention (the two main culprits in bloating) can fluctuate quite a bit day-to-day, whereas belly fat levels don’t.
Want to know how to lose belly fat as quickly as possible? Check out this article.
Find the Perfect Supplements for You in Just 60 Seconds
You don't need supplements to build muscle, lose fat, and get healthy. But the right ones can help. Take this quiz to learn which ones are best for you.Take the Quiz
2. Balance your sodium, potassium, and water intake.
Sodium helps your cells stay hydrated by pulling water into them.
Thus, when you drastically increase your sodium intake, your cells temporarily pull in large amounts of water, which can result in rapid bloating and weight gain. That’s why a particularly salty dinner can cause you to wake up looking waterlogged and weighing several pounds more than usual.
Potassium, on the other hand, helps pump water out of cells, which is why eating too little increases water retention levels (and thus contributes to bloating).
This is why a big part of keeping bloating to a minimum is keeping your sodium and potassium intakes balanced.
And unfortunately, most people don’t even come close. They eat way too much sodium and way too little potassium, which is bad for many reasons, with bloating being the least of them.
So, in terms of how much sodium and potassium you should be eating, I like to go by the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations here, which are:
- About 1.5 to 2.3 grams of sodium per day.
- About 4.7 grams of potassium per day.
If you sweat profusely several times per week (due to exercise, for example), you should increase your intake of both by up to 100%, depending on how much you’re sweating (check out this article to learn more).
Now, the last point we have to discuss here is water intake.
If you don’t give your body enough water through food and drinking, it takes actions to hold on to the water it is getting.
This includes releasing hormones like aldosterone and vasopressin that increase water retention through various mechanisms.
Basically, if you drink too little water every day, you’re always going to look a bit puffier than you should.
Here again, I like the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation, which is that we drink about 3/4 to 1 gallon of water per day.
Want to learn more about how to keep water retention to a minimum? Check out this article.
3. Take time to de-stress.
Working out a lot.
Getting parking tickets.
Arguing with people about politics.
We do all kinds of things that cause us stress, and one of the ways our body responds to it is by releasing the hormone cortisol.
This isn’t bad per se, but when cortisol levels remain too high for too long, it can cause numerous negative effects in the body.
One of them is higher-than-normal levels of water retention, which is why being over-stressed contributes to being bloated.
The solution isn’t to stop doing everything that causes you stress, of course, but to do things that help offset it.
Here are a few simple but powerful ways to reduce stress and cortisol levels:
- Create and follow a daily relaxation routine.
- Don’t eat a low-carb diet.
- If you’re cutting, have a refeed day every 5 to 10 days.
- Deload in the gym every so often.
- Get plenty of sleep.
Want to learn more about de-stressing effectively? Check out this article.
4. Reduce your FODMAP and dairy intake.
I’m not one for restrictive dieting, but unfortunately, some people just don’t do well with certain foods.
And when we’re talking bloating, the two that tend to be most problematic are FODMAPs and dairy.
FODMAPs are a type of carbohydrate that are hard to digest, and, accordingly, that can cause gassiness, cramping, and bloating in some people.
Here’s a list of commonly eaten foods that are rich in FODMAPs:
- Grains like wheat, barley, and rye
- Brussels sprout
- Sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol
As you can see, they’re in a lot of foods that all of us generally like to eat, and especially if we’re eating plenty of fruits and vegetables (as we should be).
So, if you notice that you experience any gastrointestinal discomfort after eating a hearty portion of any of those foods, you may have a FODMAP intolerance.
The solution is simple: eliminate them from your diet (eat a low-FODMAP diet) and see how your body responds.
If you do indeed have an intolerance, then going low-FODMAP will significantly improve your situation.
Now, onto dairy.
Dairy products contain a sugar called lactose, which is poorly digested by most people because their intestines fail to produce enough of an enzyme called lactase, which is needed for the job.
Thus, undigested lactose passes through the small intestine unabsorbed and when it lands in the large intestine, bacteria eat it and produce gas as a byproduct. This causes the large intestine to expand, giving you a swollen, bloated stomach, and diarrhea is common as well.
If you experience any of that in response to a dairy-rich meal, then you can probably benefit from reducing your dairy intake or eliminating it from your diet altogether.
If I were you, I’d start with getting rid of it altogether and see how my body responds.
Find the Best Diet for You in Just 60 Seconds
How many calories should you eat? What about "macros?" What foods should you eat? Take our 60-second quiz to get science-based answers to these questions and more.Take the Quiz
5. Don’t bother with natural diuretics.
If you’re to listen to Internet health gurus, you can beat bloating by just eating the right foods or by taking the right supplements.
Well, you can’t.
Unfortunately, foods and natural substances billed as diuretics either have too slight of an effect to matter, or no effect at all.
For example, caffeine has light diuretic effects, but the liquid consumed with it more than replaces whatever water it helps you shed. Alcohol is a known diuretic, too, but drinking regularly to hold a bit less water is probably a bad idea.
The bottom line is there are no foods or herbal supplements that will noticeably reduce bloating.
The Bottom Line on Getting Rid of Stomach Bloating
Bloating is a common problem.
We’re all going to deal with it from time to time, and to one degree or another.
Our bodies do a good job normalizing, though, so it’s just a temporary annoyance in most cases.
For some people, though, bloating plagues them to no end and for no apparent reason. They have to carry a food baby around every day and have no idea why.
Well, if that’s you, this article is going to help.
Follow these five simple steps and chances are you’ll be able to get rid of that bloated stomach for good.
What’s your take on stomach bloating? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
- Maughan, R. J., & Griffin, J. (2003). Caffeine ingestion and fluid balance: A review. In Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics (Vol. 16, Issue 6, pp. 411–420). J Hum Nutr Diet. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-277X.2003.00477.x
- Taivainen, H., Laitinen, K., Tähtelä, R., Kiianmaa, K., & Välimäki, M. J. (1995). Role of Plasma Vasopressin in Changes of Water Balance Accompanying Acute Alcohol Intoxication. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 19(3), 759–762. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1530-0277.1995.tb01579.x
- APPEL LAWRENCE J., BAKER DAVID H., & BAR-OR ODED. (2005). Dietary reference intakes for water, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfate. In Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/10925
- Gallen, I. W., Rosa, R. M., Esparaz, D. Y., Young, J. B., Robertson, G. L., Batlle, D., Epstein, F. H., & Landsberg, L. (1998). On the mechanism of the effects of potassium restriction on blood pressure and renal sodium retention. American Journal of Kidney Diseases, 31(1), 19–27. https://doi.org/10.1053/ajkd.1998.v31.pm9428447
- Schiller, L. R. (2001). Review article: The therapy of constipation. In Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Vol. 15, Issue 6, pp. 749–763). Aliment Pharmacol Ther. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2036.2001.00982.x
- De Schryver, A. M., Keulemans, Y. C., Peters, H. P., Akkermans, L. M., Smout, A. J., De Vries, W. R., & Van Berge-Henegouwen, G. P. (2005). Effects of regular physical activity on defecation pattern in middle-aged patients complaining of chronic constipation. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 40(4), 422–429. https://doi.org/10.1080/00365520510011641
- Gonlachanvit, S., Coleski, R., Owyang, C., & Hasler, W. L. (2004). Inhibitory actions of a high fibre diet on intestinal gas transit in healthy volunteers. Gut, 53(11), 1577–1582. https://doi.org/10.1136/gut.2004.041632
- Ho, K. S., Tan, C. Y. M., Daud, M. A. M., & Seow-Choen, F. (2012). Stopping or reducing dietary fiber intake reduces constipation and its associated symptoms. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 18(33), 4593–4596. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v18.i33.4593
- Agrawal, A., Houghton, L. A., Reilly, B., Morris, J., & Whorwell, P. J. (2009). Bloating and distension in irritable bowel syndrome: The role of gastrointestinal transit. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 104(8), 1998–2004. https://doi.org/10.1038/ajg.2009.251
- Whitworth, J. A., Mangos, G. J., & Kelly, J. J. (2000). Cushing, cortisol, and cardiovascular disease. Hypertension, 36(5), 912–916. https://doi.org/10.1161/01.HYP.36.5.912
- Lawson, E. A., Donoho, D., Miller, K. K., Misra, M., Meenaghan, E., Lydecker, J., Wexler, T., Herzog, D. B., & Klibanski, A. (2009). Hypercortisolemia is associated with severity of bone loss and depression in hypothalamic amenorrhea and anorexia nervosa. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 94(12), 4710–4716. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2009-1046
- Heer, M., Frings-Meuthen, P., Titze, J., Boschmann, M., Frisch, S., Baecker, N., & Beck, L. (2009). Increasing sodium intake from a previous low or high intake affects water, electrolyte and acid-base balance differently. British Journal of Nutrition, 101(9), 1286–1294. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007114508088041
- Elli, L., Roncoroni, L., & Bardella, M. T. (2015). Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: Time for sifting the grain. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 21(27), 8221–8226. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v21.i27.8221
- Lomer, M. C. E., Parkes, G. C., & Sanderson, J. D. (2008). Review article: Lactose intolerance in clinical practice - Myths and realities. In Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Vol. 27, Issue 2, pp. 93–103). Aliment Pharmacol Ther. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2007.03557.x