Now that the holiday season has ended, you might be feeling a tad guilty for overindulging. With all of the rich foods and sweet treats seemingly around every corner, it’s not exactly easy to end the year feeling especially svelte. If your pants are feeling a little snug, there are steps that you can take to get rid of bloating and begin on a healthy track for the new year.
Weight Gain Doesn’t Always Mean Fat
After a short period of overindulgence, you might find that your weight is up a few pounds, you feel sluggish, your pants are tighter, your skin is not so clear and radiant, and you just feel blah. It can be easy to get down, but rejoice in the fact that this is all temporary. To truly gain one pound of fat, you would need to consume 3500 calories more than your body uses. The weight gain and stomach distension that you are experiencing following that holiday meal or office party is most likely due to bloating and water retention, which should resolve itself within a few days.
What Is Bloating?
Abdominal bloating is a condition in which the abdomen feels uncomfortably full and tight and may be visibly swollen (distended). Other symptoms may include excessive gas, frequent burping, and abdominal rumbling. Bloating is a common complaint, affecting between 10 and 30 percent of adults.
Bloating can be caused by many things, including:
- swallowing air
- irritable bowel syndrome
- intolerance to dairy products or other foods
- eating too fast
- overgrowth of bacteria in the small bowel
- some medications
- sugar substitutes
Top 10 Tips to Prevent Bloating
The best thing you can do to fight bloat is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Here are 10 things you can do to prevent abdominal bloating:
1. Don’t chew gum, and stay away from hard candy.
When you chew gum or suck on hard candies, you swallow air. All that air gets trapped in your GI tract and causes pressure, bloating, and belly expansion.
2. Avoid the common gas-causing foods that affect you the most.
Common offenders include beans, peas, lentils, cabbage, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, whole grains, wheat, and dairy. While these are all healthy foods, some people may be more sensitive than others. If you suspect your diet is to blame, try removing all of these items, and then add them back in slowly, one at a time to determine the true culprit(s).
Lactose-free dairy and over-the-counter gas medications can be helpful if you don’t want to give up your favorite foods.
3. Limit your intake of carbonated beverages.
The fizz in carbonated drinks (even diet ones) can cause gas to get trapped in your belly. Instead, drink water flavored with lemon, lime, or cucumber. Or reduce the number of fizzy drinks you consume each day. Try some peppermint tea for a soothing beverage that may help reduce bloat.
4. Eat and drink slowly.
Eating quickly and not chewing your food well can cause air swallowing that leads to bloating. So, slow down and enjoy your food. Your meals should last at least 30 minutes. Also, keep in mind that digestion begins in the mouth, and you can decrease bloating just by chewing your food more. Eating when you’re stressed or on the run can also interfere with digestion, particularly for those with irritable bowel syndrome.
5. Ditch the straw.
Drinking through a straw can increase swallowed air, which increases gas and pressure in the GI tract.
6. Get moving.
Regular exercise helps to keep the GI tract moving regularly, which can help prevent gas buildup and constipation. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and avoid sitting for more than an hour at a time.
7. Stay regular.
Too little fiber, fluids, and physical activity can lead to constipation, which can result in bloating. Constipation means that waste products remain in the colon for longer periods of time, which increases pressure and discomfort while also lengthening the time for fermentation by intestinal bacteria resulting in more gas.
To avoid this, eat a diet high in fiber (25 grams per day for women and 38 for men) from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Also, drink plenty of fluids (aim for 6-8 glasses a day) and aim for physical activity for at least 30 minutes, five times a week.
8. Minimize artificial sweeteners.
Sugar alcohols such as xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol are found in many “low-carb” and “sugar-free” foods. Since they are not absorbed in the GI tract, they are able to be consumed by bacteria in the colon, which can cause excessive gas and pressure. Try to consume no more than 2 or 3 servings of artificially sweetened foods and drinks per day.
9. Rule our wheat allergies or lactose intolerance.
Food allergies and intolerance can cause gas and bloating. But these need to be confirmed by your doctor. Many people self-diagnose these conditions and unnecessarily eliminate healthy dairy and whole grains from their diets. If you suspect you have an allergy or intolerance, see your doctor for tests.
You may benefit from reducing the amount of the suspected food or eating it with other foods. In the case of dairy, it can help to choose aged cheeses and yogurts, which are lower in lactose.
10. Eat smaller meals.
Your body can only digest and absorb food at a certain rate. Larger meals mean longer digestion time. This can lead to increased gas, pressure, belching, and heartburn. Instead of three big meals per day, try eating smaller meals more often. This can keep you free of the bloated feeling that often follows large meals (think Thanksgiving). Eating more frequently can also help control blood sugar and manage hunger.
Make Sure You Don’t…
Don’t try to fast, skip meals, or use laxatives or water pills to help you de-bloat or lose weight. If you’re looking to flatten your belly for the long term, the best thing you can do is clean up your diet.
There is no such thing as spot reducing. You can do crunches all day long, and it won’t get rid of excess belly. However, overall strengthening of the core can help your muscle tone and posture which can help your belly appear flatter.
Sarah Wood, the author of this article, is available to speak to groups or hold classes on a variety of health-related topics such as nutrition, physical activity, healthy cooking, stress management, and wellness. To schedule an event or get more information, call 816-279-1691 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.