Bloating can make you feel sluggish and uncomfortable. Find out more about the common triggers and whether changing your lifestyle may help
Written by Victoria Goldman on February 20, 2019
Reviewed by Amanda Hamilton on March 6, 2019
We need to eat, but the after-effects of a heavy meal aren’t always so enjoyable – in fact, nearly one in three of us experience an uncomfortable bloated feeling after meals.1 This guide gives you the lowdown on the causes of bloating, and how you can help manage it with the right food, lifestyle or supplement choices.
What is bloating?
Bloating is a feeling of pressure or heaviness in your tummy, usually caused by excess gas.2 Your trousers or skirt may feel tight around the waist, as if you’ve suddenly gained several pounds.3
Other symptoms of bloating include:4,5
- uncomfortable, full stomach
- stomach cramps
- burping and passing wind
For some people, bloating is just a minor inconvenience. But a 2014 article in Gastroenterology & Hepatology revealed that for more than half of people with bloating, it significantly impacts their quality of life.6
What causes bloating?
You may feel bloated when there’s more gas than usual inside your gut, or if your gut is extra-sensitive.7 This may be due to:8,9
- eating too many gas-promoting foods, like beans
- drinking fizzy drinks, which release carbon dioxide
- swallowing extra air, for example when eating or chewing gum
- stress – for some people, anxiety can make them swallow extra air
- gut bacteria – they ferment certain foods in your colon, producing gas
- certain digestive conditions, for example irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- food intolerances such as lactose intolerance
Hormones and bloating
For women, hormones are thought to play a role in bloating, too –particularly before and during your period – but excess gas isn’t the issue here. Instead, changes in oestrogen and progesterone levels cause your body’s cells to hang on to more salt and water, making you feel bloated.10
How to prevent gas-related bloating
The best way to prevent bloating is to keep a food diary,11 where you write down everything you eat and drink. If you suspect food intolerances or a gastrointestinal condition, like coeliac disease, see your GP for testing.
You can also:
1. Be cautious with gas-promoting foods
Certain foods are more likely to produce gas in your gut but many of them are also rich in essential nutrients, so you still need them in your diet. These include:12,13
- cruciferous veg, like broccoli and cabbage
- baked beans
- dried fruit
- pulses and lentils
- certain seeds, including fennel and sunflower
- dairy foods
The trick is to build up your tolerance slowly, gradually increasing portion size, so you don’t overwhelm your gut. Try soaking beans before cooking and lightly cook vegetables before eating to reduce gas.14 Some gas-promoting foods, like sugar and artificial sweeteners, should be avoided altogether.
2. Increase your fibre carefully
Fibre-rich foods can trigger bloating if you’re not used to them, but it’s still important to eat fibre for wider health benefits and to avoid constipation.15 Up your fibre intake gradually, starting with an extra couple of tablespoons a day.
3. Balance your gut bacteria
Friendly bacteria may help by curbing bacteria populations that are associated with bloating, according to a 2011 study in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.16 In addition to a high-fibre diet, fermented foods and drinks, such as kefir and sauerkraut, are a helpful source of beneficial bacteria for the gut.17
4. Avoid swallowing extra air
- cut back on chewing gum
- avoid fizzy drinks
- eat and drink more slowly
- don’t smoke – when you inhale, you also swallow air
- avoid wearing loose-fitting dentures18
How to reduce bloating
When you feel bloated, these tips could help reduce the discomfort:
- try activated charcoal – 1g of activated charcoal at least 30 minutes before a meal and another 1g after the meal can ease excess gas, says the European Food Safety Authority19
- try peppermint oil – a 2014 review by Italy’s University of Salerno reported it may help reduce bloating in people with IBS20
- exercise regularly – a 2006 study in American Journal of Gastroenterology reported that pedalling on an exercise bike reduced bloating, but you could try walking or jogging, too21
- consider digestive enzymes – a 2014 Belgian study found digestive enzymes may help with bloating22
When to see a GP
Bloating isn’t usually anything to worry about, but can sometimes be a sign of more serious health conditons.23 See your GP if your bloating continues or you also have unexplained weight loss, blood in your stools or persistent diarrhoea.24,25
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
1. Foley A, et al. Management Strategies for Abdominal Bloating and Distension
2. Iovino P, et al. Bloating and functional gastro-intestinal disorders: where are we and where are we going?
3. Dr Laurence Knott. Patient. Wind, gas and bloating
4. As Source 1
5. As Source 3
6. As Source 1
7. The MSD Manuals. Gas-related Complaints
8. As Source 3
9. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Bloating: Causes and Prevention Tips
10. Lana Burgess. Medical News Today. Seven tips for relieving period bloating
11. As Source 2
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13. Guts UK! Wind, burping, flatulence and bloating
14. Lana Barhum. Medical News Today. Which foods make you bloated?
15. British Nutrition Foundation. Dietary fibre
16. Schmulson M, Chang L. Review article: the treatment of functional abdominal bloating and distension
17. BBC Two Trust Me I’m a Doctor. Can I alter my gut bacteria and improve my health?
18. Mayo Clinic. Belching, intestinal gas and bloating: Tips for reducing them
19. European Food Safety Authority. Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to activated charcoal and reduction of excessive intestinal gas accumulation (ID 1938) and reduction of bloating (ID 1938) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006
20. As Source 2
21. Villoria A, et al. Physical activity and intestinal gas clearance in patients with bloating
22. Quinten T, et al. Can the supplementation of a digestive enzyme complex offer a solution for common digestive problems?
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25. As Source 13