Ugh, it’s happened again. You woke up this morning with a flat belly, and now at 7pm you look 6 months pregnant.
Bloating not only makes many people feel self-conscious, it’s also uncomfortable. And it can force you to change outfits at the last minute or even be so bad it ruins your fun pool party plans.
The more I’ve learned about bloating, the more I’ve realized it affects everybody!
Yes, everybody. Don’t let Instagram fool you.
For the longest time, I was annoyed by the vague bloating advice out there. It’s always the same – and pretty much always unhelpful. Drink tons of water, have a shot of apple cider vinegar every day, drink a glass of celery juice every morning – gah! I don’t have time, energy, or money to implement all these things, especially when they probably won’t even work!
So is there no hope for preventing bloating? Or reducing it if it’s already occurring? Do you have a big event coming up, like a wedding or a beach vacation, and want to do everything you can do decrease bloating that day?
I feel ya. And I do have good news! As someone who’s done so much research into this topic already, I’ve gotten quite a few bloating prevention tricks up my sleeve.
Our bodies are fickle things, and I definitely don’t have all the bloating answers. Plus, I like food. So sometimes I’ll eat things even if I know they aren’t in my de-bloating best interests (whoops!).
But I know how frustrating bloating can be, so I wanted to share my experience with you in the hopes that you’ll find some of this information new and useful!
How to Reduce Bloating
Why do we bloat?
Alright, let’s get down to business. Bloating can be caused by two things: water retention and/or gas build-up. There are a number of reasons either of these can occur.
1. Water Retention
Okay, this is kinda bloating 101. Water retention is a really common cause of bloating, and the fixes are actually already widely known.
Culprit #1 – Sodium
It’s true what they say. Eating lots of salt (aka sodium) will cause you to bloat.
(For more on this and a recommendation for daily sodium intake, read my post on sodium!)
You can absolutely help prevent and decrease water retention bloating by limiting the amount of salt you eat.
Try these tips:
– Avoid eating out the day before and day of an event (restaurants put so much salt in their food!)
– Don’t add salt when cooking at home
– Avoid obviously salty foods like chips, popcorn, and pretzels
– Check nutrition labels and avoid sneakily salty foods like pasta sauces, breads/bagels, and salad dressings
If you’ve eaten a lot of salt and are suffering from water retention, try out some natural diuretics. These are things that will cause you to urinate, ridding your body of excess water. Some examples of natural diuretics include asparagus, lemon, hibiscus, and dandelion.
Tips for including these foods in your diet:
– Eat asparagus for dinner the night before a big event
– Drink a mug of hibiscus or dandelion root tea that night after dinner, a couple hours before bed
– Begin your big day with a glass of warm lemon water
Culprit #2 – Dehydration
It’s true what they say: drinking more water helps reduce bloating. This is because when you’re dehydrated, your body will react by holding onto the water already in it.
To counteract this mechanism, drink plenty of water throughout the day. Keep a bottle of water by you and take sips from it frequently.
This is one of those tips that everyone says for a reason. Personally, I’ve noticed a decrease in my bloating over the course of a day just from drinking more water. If you’re not an avid water drinker, having a few more glasses a day could be a game-changer for you.
2. Gas Build-Up Caused by Certain Foods
I need to preface this section with reminding you that everyone’s bodies are different! So the food that works for me may not work for you.
But when you eat a food that your body doesn’t tolerate well, it will have a hard time breaking it down to use it as fuel. This will increase your intestinal gas production and lead to bloating.
Food is the number one reason we bloat. Or I should say, certain foods.
It’s still unclear if the huge rise in food intolerances is due mostly to antibiotics, but I personally attribute most of my bloating issues to them. I can pinpoint two times I was on antibiotics in college, both of which preceded worsening stomach issues.
And since then, I’ve had to pay a lot more attention to what I eat.
Take it from someone who’s tried pretty much every food lifestyle: there’s no “one size fits all” diet for everyone. And you don’t necessarily need to fit into any one eating plan.
A few days ago, I was reading an article on bloating with a 3 day meal plan that actually had a lot of really good advice, but the comments tore the article apart. Many people said they could never eat the foods on the meal plan and called out a few of the foods.
BUT EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT! Even a 3-day de-bloating meal plan may need to be tweaked a little for each person.
For example, I tolerate dairy really well. Yogurt doesn’t bloat me at all – and actually soothes my stomach – whereas soy, cashew, and coconut yogurts all give me terrible stomachaches 30 minutes later. But for someone with lactose intolerance, dairy will be a no-go!
If one meal calls for yogurt and you’re lactose intolerant, of course you couldn’t eat it. Have another protein-rich food you tolerate instead, such as eggs. If you’re vegan, make a tofu scramble.
My other individual bloating trigger foods include bananas, beans, and hummus. All foods typically considered “healthy.”
I think that’s why bloating has become such a frustrating problem for so many people. Many work so hard to eat healthy, only to get even more bloated when they do. And when they search for helpful tips, they find different things that work for different people.
Common problem foods
However, there are some overarching bloating foods that dietitians continually share. These are the foods that tend to cause bloating for most people, regardless of their individual food intolerances.
– Sugary foods/foods with added sugar
– Raw, hard-to-digest veggies such as cabbage, broccoli, and brussel sprouts
Edit (1/8/2021): Added sugar is a HUGE bloating cause for me. Whether it’s fruit juice, a cinnamon roll, or a granola bar, foods with added sugar almost always leave me extremely bloated.
A good test may be to eat eggs (or a tofu scramble if vegan) with no salt for breakfast one morning and the next morning eat a sweet pastry. Monitor your bloating each morning for a few hours. See a difference between the two days?
You can can perform this test will all sorts of different foods. Just make sure you check to see how bloated you are when you first wake up to get a baseline for the day!
Work out consistently
I’ve definitely noticed a flatter, less bloated belly with regular exercise. Working out keeps our metabolism revved and our GI tract moving. While it’s just one piece of the puzzle, it’s a helpful way to keep bloating to a minimum.
Get tons of sleep
There’s no doubt about it: the more sleep I get, the flatter my stomach. 8 hours is definitely better for bloating than 6 hours, but I’ve noticed that when I completely sleep in – I’m talking 9 or 10 hours – that’s when my bloating’s at it’s least.
While it may not be realistic for us all to get 10 hours of sleep every night (and I definitely don’t have time for that!), prioritizing your sleep should definitely help with your bloating.
Before a big event, try to go to bed early. This is also what model and YouTuber Sanne Vloet recommends the night before a bikini photo shoot. Aim to get at least 8 hours – and if you can get more, even better!
Watch what you eat before bed
I don’t subscribe to any set plan like “don’t eat 2 hours before bed” or “don’t eat after dinner.” If you’ve read my late night snacking post, you’ll know I have to eat something after dinner.
But when I tried out the Fit Girls’ Guide a couple years ago, I learned something extremely helpful. In the guide (which is often used to lose weight, but I used to tone up), the meal plan suggested light snacks such as a piece of fruit. So after dinner, I would eat an apple or an orange before bed with nothing else.
And I noticed that my bloating decreased immensely!
Yes, fruits have sugars in them. But they’re naturally occurring, and fruits also have fiber, water, and are unprocessed.
So if I really want to make sure I’m not bloated the next day, my only after dinner snack will be a piece of fruit that I know I can tolerate.
Still struggling with how to reduce bloating?
Lastly, if you still can’t shake the bloating, keep a food diary.
Personally, I hate keeping food diaries. It’s time-consuming and inconvenient to write down everything you eat. But when you’re stumped, it’s really your best option to identify your bloating culprits.
And when in doubt, see a registered dietitian or other qualified health professional. They’re a trained, objective resource and can help identify your individual bloating triggers.
“Bloating remedies” I didn’t find helpful
Like I said before, I’ve tried pretty much every eating lifestyle and pretty much every bloating tip. But they haven’t all been helpful.
1. Proper food combining
One thing that didn’t help me was proper food combining. This is where you only eat certain foods at the same time, depending on how well they digest together. It’s based on the idea that some foods will travel through your GI tract much faster than others.
For example, watermelon will go extremely quickly, whereas a piece of chicken will go much slower.
While some people swear by it, I didn’t notice any lasting results. It was also very stressful finding the right foods to eat at the right times. For me, it just wasn’t sustainable.
Any meal plan that’s that hard to maintain long-term just isn’t worth it, in my opinion.
2. Mono meals
Along the same lines, eating mono meals – or just one food at a meal – didn’t sit very well with me. A lot people who do this will typically just eat one type of fruit, like bananas, oranges, or mangoes.
For me, although I think fruit sugar is just fine, this was probably a fruit sugar overload. Many dietitians who review these mono meal eating plans also say they’re just not healthy.
And because you have to eat so many pieces of fruit to feel full and get enough calories, I felt too full afterwards. I may not have been bloated exactly, but it gave me a food baby for sure.
My takeaway? Stick with “normal” meals. Any diet that makes you eat odd things at odd times is just not needed – and won’t necessarily help either!
Those are my tips! I hope you found something helpful in here that’ll help you get rid of that pesky bloating on your important day.
I may not be bloat-free all the time, but now I can almost always identify what it was that I did or ate that caused it – whether that be lack of sleep or a sugary juice I drank. If I want to be sure I’m not bloated on a certain occasion, I use these tips and they work!
Have any other tips on how to reduce bloating? Like I said, everyone’s different! Share your experience below and maybe you’ll help someone else!