Sworn enemy of skinny jeans and bodycon dresses, bloating affects everyone at some point — but what even is it that’s causing you to swell up? “By definition, bloating is basically a buildup of gas and/or fluid in the abdomen area,” explains Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN, a registered dietician working near Denver, CO. But why you, why now? Here are some common causes of bloating, and what to do about it.

woman sitting on bed

Common Causes

1. Food Intolerances: Having a food intolerance just means that your body can’t digest particular types of food, or is irritated by them. It’s different from having a food allergy, which triggers a response in the immune system. Bloating is one of the less severe symptoms of intolerance, which can include diarrhea, vomiting, and headaches. To find out what food is giving you grief, Gulbin recommends, “writing down what you eat and when, as well as when you experience gas, bloating, or other digestive symptoms. Over time, you may start to see a pattern, which can help you figure out which foods are causing your bloating.” Sometimes, she says, you need to call in a pro: “Visiting a registered dietitian can also help you determine these symptom trigger foods.” Time to turn digestive detective.

2. Air: One of the most obvious yet ignored causes of too much gas entering the abdomen comes not from your food intake, but your air intake. This often happens when you eat too fast. Diane Teall Evans, NTC, a certified nutritionist based in Grand Rapids, MI, explains, “When we eat hastily or are stressed during our meal, our stomach doesn’t get the signal from our brain that it’s time to rest and digest. Food that hasn’t been properly chewed will sit in the stomach until it’s acidified and ready to move on, creating more gas the longer it’s there, which leads to burps and bloating.” Speaking of burps, Gulbin calls out carbonated drinks, which cause “a buildup of gas in the abdomen. Try to limit these beverages if you find that you are experiencing any bloating or discomfort.” Slow down when you chow down.

3. Periods: Bloating is just another fun symptom that some women experience with their period. In this case, says Gulbin, “this bloating is mostly due to fluid retention that is caused by changes in your hormone levels during your menstrual cycle.” You’re probably going to feel the bloat about a week before you start to bleed, when your progesterone levels peak, causing the smooth muscles in your body — including your digestive muscles — to dilate, allowing more water in. Once your progesterone levels start to dip (which also causes the shedding of the uterine lining, AKA your period) the bloating should go down too. Other than that, Gulbin advises that you avoid other factors that cause bloating (so it’s lucky you have this list!).

4. High-Fiber Foods: Um, but isn’t fiber good for digestion? Absolutely, says Gulbin, but if you suddenly up your intake, your body will struggle to adjust. “Although it’s recommended that most adults eat about 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, if you are currently only eating about 10 grams per day, try to slowly increase fiber a few grams every few days to help your body get adjusted to the higher fiber intake.” Specifically, if your newfound fiber source includes cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, they may be the well-intentioned perpetrators of that bloating. “Some people can be sensitive to cruciferous veggies,” warns Evans. “If you are switching from a diet heavy in refined, simple carbs to eating more fresh veggies, you might experience bloating. Try slowly introducing cruciferous veggies to allow your gut bacteria to adjust.” It’s not easy going green, but it’s worth it!

5. Salt: Say no to sodium. Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, a Seattle-based dietitian and a coach with nutrition support website Arivale, cautions, “Sodium can cause the body to retain water. Foods like soup, bread, and sauces can be very high in salt, even if they don’t taste very salty. Instead, eat potassium-rich fruits and veggies like tomatoes, bananas, spinach, and yogurt — all of which can soothe the gut and promote digestion.” While you’re checking labels, she adds, look out for sugar alcohols. “These potentially irritating compounds, like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and isomalt, are found in chewing gum and some candy, and can cause uncomfortable gas and bloating.”

6. High FODMAP Foods: Fod- what? “FODMAP is an acronym that stands for ‘Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Monosaccharides and Polyols,’ which sounds like a mouthful but is essentially describing certain carbohydrates that are fermentable by our gut bacteria,” explains dietician Alyssa Lavy, MS, RD, CDN, who owns Alyssa Lavy Nutrition & Wellness LLC in Connecticut. “The process of fermentation produces gas as a byproduct, which can contribute to bloating, excessive flatus, and other symptoms. Some examples of high FODMAP foods include apples, honey, mango, onion, garlic, and inulin, which is a fiber added to foods such as bars, cereals, and breads, and is also very fermentable.” Don’t throw out your honey just yet: Lavy reassures us, “While people with conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may benefit from a low FODMAP diet guided by a dietitian, most people don’t need to cut them out.”

What You Can Do About It

It might seem counterintuitive, but drinking enough water is one of the best ways to help reduce bloating. “Regularly drinking water helps signal to your body that it can release extra water, because it is not in danger of becoming dehydrated,” explains Hultin. If you’re feeling gassy, rather than carrying water weight, Gulbin recommends you get moving: “Staying active can help the gas move through the intestines, which can help relieve your bloating.” And, she adds, avoid processed foods as much as you can, especially ones high in salt.

Ultimately, as long as you’re not in pain, bloating isn’t necessarily bad. Lavy reminds us, “It is normal to experience bloating, and many foods that contribute to it have beneficial properties, and should generally be consumed as part of a nutritious diet. A food (or types of foods) should only be eliminated from your diet with the guidance of a healthcare professional, after ruling out other potential medical causes. Just because a food contributes to bloating doesn’t mean that you need to cut it from your diet completely; this could potentially lead to nutrient deficiencies and an unnecessarily restrictive diet.” Drink your water, unbutton your pants, and embrace the bloat.

How do you rock your bloated days? Share your tips and tricks @BritandCo.

(Photo via Getty)