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What you’re eating and how you’re eating it can sometimes cause bloating and the feeling of being puffed up. Here are some common causes for that puffy belly feeling and what can you do about it.
Ever had this happen to you? You finish eating a meal and all of a sudden—you can practically watch it happen—your belly seems to almost double in size. It’s not that you’ve eaten too much; it’s more like your belly has suddenly been pumped full of air like a balloon. Your tummy presses against your belt or your waistband, and you grow more and more uncomfortable. Finally, you just have to give in. You loosen your belt, unzip your pants or rearrange the elastic on your underwear—since your bloating belly is becoming more uncomfortable by the minute.
When you get that ‘puffed up’ belly feeling, it’s often the result of air that gets trapped in your digestive tract. But that extra air can come from a surprising number of sources. Often, it’s simply a matter of swallowing excess air while you’re eating. This can happen if you eat too quickly, drink liquids through a straw or talk while you’re chewing. And if your meal includes carbonated beverages, even sparkling water, you’re chugging down not just liquid, but air, too.
Let’s say you take your time, you steer clear of straws and you never talk with your mouth full. But you’ve still got the belly bloat. Where else could that air be coming from? When you eat certain plant foods—like cabbage, broccoli or beans—you’re not actually swallowing air. But these are notorious gas-producers, simply because the body has a tough time breaking down some of the carbohydrates and natural sugars that they contain. Once the bacteria in your digestive tract get to working on them, there’s plenty of gas released in the process.
Some people find that certain sweeteners give them indigestion, especially if they take in a large amount at one time. And gum chewers should take note: you’re likely gulping down plenty of air while you’re chomping away. There’s also the possibility that you have a food allergy or intolerance that leads to indigestion, gas, and bloating, but that’s best determined by your doctor.
Eating quickly can sometimes be traced back to a skipped meal. So, don’t skip and make sure to take your time when you do sit down. Not using a straw is easy, and there are plenty of reasons not to chat with your mouth full. Instead of carbonated beverages, try switching to tea or plain water, which you can flavor with lemon, lime or cucumber if you don’t like your water plain. You might be tempted to give up the veggies and beans that give you gas, but they’re such healthy foods that you don’t really want to ditch them. Instead, try small portions and eat them frequently. This can allow your digestive system to adjust. You can even replace the gum-chewing habit by munching on healthy raw veggies instead.
If you suspect that you have a problem with lactose (natural sugar found in dairy products), or perhaps with gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), then you can try eliminating these foods to see if it helps. But you don’t want to give up these healthy foods unnecessarily, so it would be wise to check in with your doctor to be sure.
Susan is the Sr. Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife, where she is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife-sponsored blog, www.discovergoodnutrition.com. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds two Board Certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Susan is also a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas. Susan has taught extensively and developed educational programs targeted to individuals, groups and industry in her areas of expertise, including health promotion, weight management and sports nutrition.
Prior to her role at Herbalife, she was the assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of 23 research papers, 14 book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet” by Dr. David Heber, published by Harper Collins in 2001 and 2004, respectively.