Bloating can happen if you eat too quickly, consume foods and drinks that cause gas, or have a food intolerance. How long it takes to go away can depend on the cause.
Ever felt uncomfortably full after a meal? Maybe you even wondered whether you might feel better in looser-fitting pants. If so, you’re familiar with bloating.
Essentially, bloating happens due to an excessive level of solids, liquids, or gas in the digestive system. It’s often mistaken for water retention, but they aren’t the same thing.
“Bloating is more specific to the abdomen, and it relates to diet, stress, and lifestyle,” explains Lisa Mastela, a registered dietician in Los Angeles.
Bloating often involves pain, burping, excessive gas, or abdominal rumbling. It can also leave your stomach looking swollen, or bigger than it typically does.
In most cases, though, bloating is temporary and doesn’t pose any serious concerns. You can also take steps to ease the discomfort it brings.
“There are so many different causes of bloating,” notes Mastela. “It can be as simple as eating too fast, too much, slow digestion, or having too much salt or carbonated drinks. Or it can be as nuanced as poor sleep, chronic stress, imbalanced hormones, or a food sensitivity.”
Still, you can often trace bloating back to your diet.
Possible explanations include:
- Eating too much too quickly. You could also be overeating if you consistently feel uncomfortable after meals. Eating too much can leave you with a similar abdominal discomfort.
- Food allergies and intolerances. Common allergens like lactose, fructose, eggs, wheat, soy, and gluten can cause excess gas production and bloating, among other symptoms.
- Carbonated beverages or drinking through a straw. Bacteria in your gut produce gases, but you also swallow air, another type of gas, when eating and drinking. Carbonated drinks exacerbate this by releasing carbon dioxide in the stomach. Using a straw, eating too quickly, and even talking while eating can all increase the amount of air swallowed.
- Gassy foods. Foods high in fiber, like beans, lentils, and certain whole grains, can also increase the production of gas.
- High FODMAP foods. Certain carbohydrates, including wheat, onions, garlic, apples, pears, and watermelon, among others, can cause bloating, particularly in people with irritable bowel syndrome.
- Sugar alcohols. These sweeteners, often found in sugar-free foods and chewing gums, can trigger digestive issues that include bloating.
- Hormonal changes. Bloating commonly happens before or during menstruation.
“The most common forms of bloating tend to go away in less than a day, as the gastrointestinal system processes whatever was causing the bloating,” explains Kent Sasse, MD, MHP, FACS, FASCRS, FASMBS and founder of K Sasse Surgical Associates in Reno, Nevada.
Pinpointing the cause of bloating can be a helpful first step, since the speed with which bloating recedes can depend on the underlying trigger.
The strategies below can help ease bloating in the moment and, in some cases, reduce or even prevent future instances of bloating.
Sipping water before, during, and after meals can help reduce bloating by flushing excess sodium, which can often lead to bloating.
Get some exercise
If you’re bloated, you may not feel up to a vigorous workout, but that’s OK. Even a walk around the block can help stimulate your digestive system and move trapped gas along.
Give yoga a try
Some yoga poses can help improve digestion and ease bloating by promoting intestinal movement.
Give these poses a try:
- Torso Twist
Try peppermint oil
It’s always a good idea to check with your regular medical provider before trying peppermint oil or any other supplements.
Note: Do not ingest peppermint oil straight from an essential oil bottle. Only ever take capsules that are specially formulated for internal use and recommended by a doctor.
Massage your abdomen
A gentle, circular massage can help stimulate your bowels and provide some relief.
Try massaging from your right hip bone up toward your ribcage, across the upper part of your belly, and down toward your left hip bone.
Digestive enzyme supplements
Digestive enzyme supplements can also help with bloating.
Over-the-counter products like Lactase and Beano help break down food components for quick relief.
Soak in an Epsom salt bath
Epsom salt is a chemical compound made of magnesium, sulfur, and oxygen.
Some anecdotal evidence suggests adding Epsom salt to a warm bath can help ease symptoms of bloating. Very little scientific evidence supports this practice, but a warm bath can still help reduce stress and promote relaxation, which could help you feel better.
You may feel inclined to do almost anything to relieve the discomfort and appearance of a bloated belly, but it’s always best to avoid so-called “detox” drinks and pills.
“There’s no magic pill or product, and anything marketed as such is just a waste of money,” says Mastela. “Bloating has nothing to do with ‘detox.’ Your body can detox on its own quite easily without expensive products.”
Some people also recommend taking Epsom salt by mouth with water for a laxative effect, but this won’t do much to relieve abdominal discomfort. In fact, taking Epsom salt orally can actually cause bloating.
While bloating can sometimes happen as a symptom of an underlying health concern, the cause often lies in your diet and eating habits.
Sasse explains that mild, intermittent bloating is pretty normal part of life.
“The best strategy often involves watching for dietary items that cause the bloating and avoiding them. This could mean getting tested for a gluten allergy or lactose intolerance and making dietary modifications accordingly.”
For more long-term relief from bloating, Sasse recommends:
- reducing portion sizes
- getting regular exercise
- drinking enough water
- getting plenty of dietary fiber
It can also help to avoid or cut back on carbonated drinks, chewing gum, using straws, and foods that cause gas.
These tips may not automatically ease bloating in the moment, but they could help minimize bloating in the future.
If bloating is an ongoing issue, it never hurts to connect with your doctor.
Sasse also recommends keeping a food journal and making sure to note any foods that lead to that bloated feeling.
“Each month, review the food diary by yourself or with a dietitian to go over patterns or strategies. In some cases, a specific food allergy may become evident, or it may become clearer that you are in fact gluten sensitive or lactose intolerant.”
In some cases, abdominal bloating can be a symptom of serious health conditions. It’s best to get medical support right away if you experience bloating with any of the following:
- severe abdominal pain
- blood in your stools
- stools that are dark or resemble tar
- high fever
- heartburn that seems to worsen over time
- unexplained weight loss
Feeling bloated after a meal isn’t pleasant, but bloating by itself typically doesn’t present any major health concerns. Pinpointing the cause can help you take steps to ease bloating in the moment and reduce the chances of it happening again.
If you have any concerns, consulting your doctor or dietitian is always a good option — especially when bloating persists or causes serious distress.
Jessica Timmons has been working as a freelance writer since 2007, covering everything from pregnancy and parenting to cannabis, chiropractic, stand-up paddling, fitness, martial arts, home decor, and much more. Her work has appeared in mindbodygreen, Pregnancy & Newborn, Modern Parents Messy Kids, and Coffee + Crumbs. See what she’s up to now at jessicatimmons.com.