Ah, the holidays — it’s the best of times (family fun, falling snow, cozy sweaters) and the worst of times (frostbite, holiday cookie bloat). Bloated bellies can take an extra toll during the winter, when people are spending more time cozied up indoors. It’s the worst time to experience the feeling of internal pressure and physical discomfort that often comes with bloat. Most of us just want a fast hack to get rid of it.
Tamara Duker Freuman, RD, the author of The Bloated Belly Whisperer, says in order to reduce bloating, first we need to figure out why it’s happening. “Bloating is not just one thing,” Duker Freuman says. “It could be caused by things going on in stomach or bowel, or it could be a physical distention.” This means your belly sticks out when you eat a big meal because of a malfunction in the nerves and muscles that control the abdominal wall.
Duker Freuman says she usually breaks down bloating into three categories: food babies, gas babies, or poop babies. If it’s a physical distention, it might take a more aggressive treatment like physical therapy. But for the other two kinds of bloating — gas and poop babies in the stomach and bowel — there are daily routine changes you can make to get rid of the bloat that’s bumming you out.
Reduce salt intake
“Limit very salty overly processed foods to help eliminate bloat,” says Keri Gans, RDN, and author of The Small Change Diet “Also be aware [of what you're eating when] dining out, especially with Chinese or Japanese food, which can be rather high in sodium.”
Gans says you can also try foods that may help eliminate excess water. “Asparagus and watermelon may help, also potassium rich foods such as sweet potatoes and bananas,” Gans says.
However, Duker Freuman cautions that if you’re feeling really full, it’s not always a good idea to eat more. There’s a reason it’s not intuitive to eat another sweet potato when you’re already bloated.
Take an enzyme if you have an intolerance
Duker Freuman says that if a food is causing you to produce gas in your intestines and bowel, it could be because it’s high in FODMAPs, which is an acronym for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides And Polyols. She says these are a family of carbs that are fermentable by bacteria in the gut, and they include things such as lactose, fructose, and fake sugars. Any or all of those kinds of foods can create intestinal gas.
A person might be sensitive to one letter of FODMAP, and not the others. So, you might have an intense bloating reaction to chickpeas, but not cheese, for example.
Duker Freuman says you can take different enzymes to combat bloating once you target the specific FODMAPs you have issues with. So, you can take the lactase enzyme if your stomach doesn’t do well breaking down dairy. “The enzymes need to be tailored to the actual foods causing your bloating, not just a generic enzyme,” Duker Freuman says.
If your bloating is connected to constipation, Duker Freuman recommends taking magnesium supplements to help move things along in the bowel. She says you can do this everyday, if needed. Dietitian Jessica Cording, who’s writing her book The Little Book Of Game-Changers: 50 Healthy Habits For Managing Stress & Anxiety, seconds the rec, suggesting drinking magnesium citrate powder mixed with warm water before bed if you’re constipated.
Don’t chew gum
When you chew gum, you can swallow air, which often leads to stomach bloating, Duker Freuman explains. She notes it’s a tip off that you’re swallowing air and adding gas to your stomach if you find yourself belching. The extra gas is getting caught in your stomach.
Jeff Brannigan, director of programming at STRETCH*D, an assisted stretching studio in New York City, previously told Refinery29 that stretching can relieve tension, reduce inflammation, and promote blood flow to your digestive organs. Reducing your post-meal bloat by stretching is a quick and easy remedy that you can do in your own home — and hey, maybe it'll soothe that computer-induced shoulder pain too.
Go for a walk
Any kind of physical activity can cause your bowel movements to occur more regularly, which in turn will help you release any excess gas in your system. So, if you're feeling extra bloated — whether it's after a big holiday meal or not — a quick walk around your block can relieve your symptoms.
Keep it low-key, though. Duker Freuman also cautions intense exercise can make you swallow air. If you’re a runner and you’re gasping for air or chugging water, for instance, that could also cause you to have a gas build up in the stomach. Snoring is another way we take in air.
Gans says that some research shows probiotics can help improve gut health and, in turn, potentially reduce bloating.
“Look for a probiotic supplement that provides a balance of microflora and unique probiotic strains to support your digestive health needs such as MegaFood’s Digestive Health Probiotic,” says Gans, who partners with the brand. “Foods rich in the healthy bacteria also may help, such as kimchi, miso, and yogurt.” There’s also Kombucha, a drink rich in the bugs, Gans notes.
Drink a reasonable amount of water
Gans says drinking lots of water could be helpful, especially if you are bloated because of a high sodium consumption. However, Duker Freuman cautions not to get too carried away, because you can gulp down air if you’re chugging it. Plus, if your stomach is always filled with water, it’s not going to help you with feeling full.
Head off period bloating
“Women may find they experience more bloating the week before and during their period,” says Cording. Duker Freuman says this is more of a hormonal issue than a dietary one, but you can try to head it off by following her magnesium tip to keep the bowel functioning normally. You can also try taking anti-inflammatory medication if things get really bad.
Be cautious about colonics
It may seem like a "quick fix," but Duker Freuman says she doesn't recommend them. "They certainly can be risky," she says. "People who deliver colonics are not [always] trained to administer what is essentially a medical procedure, and there are risks associated with delivering a forceful blast of water into the colon, which can be very delicate. Risk of perforation is non-trivial."
Add ginger to your diet
Ginger has been used for thousands of years for a ton of medical reasons, like digestive issues and yes, you guessed it — bloating. You can sip on some ginger tea, add it to a smoothie, and even put it in a salad to reap in its de-bloating benefits.