Your stomach's so swollen you can barely button the pants that fit perfectly a few days ago. What's going on? Bloating, which is "caused by excess gas in the intestines," says Beth Schorr-Lesnick, M.D., a gastroenterologist and an assistant clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "Bad eating habits, certain foods, or hormones can bring the feeling on—and it's extremely common in women." To help you feel better fast, check out these smart ways to beat the bloat.
- Drink up. Boosting your water intake can work wonders. Water flushes waste out of your system and helps get things moving if you're constipated—a frequent cause of bloating, especially in pregnant women and new moms. And don't forget to eat lots of fruits and veggies, because they're about 80 to 90 percent water. Oranges and watermelon are two great options.
- Eat more fiber. Fiber prevents constipation by adding bulk, which helps everything move through the intestines more quickly. Women need at least 25 grams of fiber daily, yet most of us get barely half that amount. To fix the fiber shortage, start your morning with a bran cereal that has at least five grams of fiber per serving. Throughout the day, snack on other high-fiber foods like strawberries, blueberries, dried apricots, and dried plums. But be careful that you don't add too much fiber too fast, or you'll feel even more bloated than before. Your body needs time to get used to processing the increased bulk.
- Outsmart PMS. Increases in progesterone, estrogen, and prostaglandins right before your period can slow digestion and cause water retention, making you sluggish and bloated. To relieve symptoms, cut back on excess salt, especially in the week before your period. Taking 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day may also help alleviate premenstrual bloating, according to some experts.
- Plan ahead. If you've got an important meeting coming up and want to feel your best, try popping an over-the-counter anti-gas product before your meals that day. Products like Phazyme and Gas-X contain simethicone to break up gas bubbles—though they don't work for everyone. Steer clear of antacids and calcium supplements containing bicarbonate or carbonate, which can cause gas and make bloating worse.
- Cut back on gassy foods. Beans and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage contain sugars that are difficult for some people to digest. But you don't have to give them up entirely. Instead, eat just a half-cup serving of these foods at a time, says Leslie Bonci, R.D., author of the American Dietetic Association Guide to Better Digestion. "Once your body adjusts to them, you can gradually increase the serving size over the course of a few weeks," she says. It may also help to take a digestive enzyme such as Beano before meals, because it breaks down the sugars in vegetables and grains.
- Get moving. Even a quick ten-minute walk can relieve bloating. Exercise helps gas pass through the digestive tract more quickly, so you feel better faster. And don't neglect your abdominal workout-toned abs make you feel less self-conscious about your belly when you're bloated.
- Do dairy wisely. If milk, yogurt, and other dairy products give you gas, start with small servings and slowly up your intake over time, just as you would with other hard-to-digest foods. You may want to try taking lactase enzymes like Lactaid before indulging in foods such as ice cream and cheese, since this will help your body digest the dairy products more easily. If gas still gives you grief, try switching to soy or lactose-free foods.
- Don't bite off more than you can chew. One big cause of bloating is swallowing too much air when you eat. For example, you might gulp air if you snack on the run and eat too quickly, talk while eating, drink from a straw, or down a lot of soda. Force yourself to take more time for meals, skip carbonated drinks, and eat smaller amounts of food at each sitting. One of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of air you swallow: Chew with your mouth closed.
- Consider going natural. Although there's no definitive study on the effectiveness of natural products for relieving bloating, some remedies may be worth a shot. Peppermint capsules, available at health-food stores and pharmacies, may relieve bloating by relaxing digestive muscles. Peppermint also comes in enteric-coated tablets, since the capsules have been known to irritate some people's stomachs. Dr. Schorr-Lesnick also suggests charcoal capsules like CharcoCaps, which absorb gas and can help relieve bloating for some people.
- Monitor your meds. Numerous over-the-counter and prescription drugs, such as antidepressants, antihistamines, iron pills, and calcium supplements with bicarbonate or carbonate, can cause constipation and bloating, especially when you first start to take them. Talk to your doctor about the side effects of any medications or supplements you take so you know the potential pitfalls.
Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the October 2004 issue of Parents magazine.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.