“I swear my pants weren’t this tight earlier today.” We’ve all said it at one time or another. That’s because bloating is one of the most common — and obvious — stomach complaints around, says David T. Rubin, M.D., fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology and chief of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at The University of Chicago Medicine. Many of his patients even snap “bloating selfies” to show how much their waistlines fluctuate throughout the day. (We won’t blame you if you keep those off Facebook.)
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Before you swear off baked beans for good, bloating, which is nothing more than excess air and gas trapped in your digestive tract (primarily in your 20-foot-long small intestines) comes down to way more than what you eat, he says. Check out these six small things that might be having a surprisingly big impact on your waistline.
6 Things Secretly Making You Bloated
1. You Love Chewing Gum
Bad news for Orbitz addicts: If your tummy is feeling the effects, it might be time to limit those minty-fresh sticks. “A lot of people chew gum to keep them from eating between meals, but when you chew gum, you unwittingly swallow some air,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N. That excess air intake can make your intestines feel like a balloon animal. Plus, most gums contain sugar alcohols, which can cause gas and bloating as well, she says. Even sugar-free sticks generally contain sorbitol, which can cause a ton of stomach issues, bloating included, according to Rubin.
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2. You’re Scarfing Your Food
Here’s yet another legit reason to start eating more mindfully (aka: slowly). “Digestion starts in the mouth, not in the stomach,” says nutritionist Rania Batayneh, M.P.H., author of The One One One Diet: The Simple 1:1:1 Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss. With every chew, you not only crush each bite into more easily digestible bits, but that food mingles with saliva and specialized enzymes that break down your food upon impact. When you inhale your food, you largely miss out on that process, meaning your stomach has to work overtime to digest your food, leading to gas. Plus, you literally inhale air, she says. Slow down and don’t forget to chew.
“Many packaged foods are fortified with a form of fiber that’s especially hard on the stomach.”
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3. You Love Drinking Through a Straw
A colorful straw might make your morning smoothie even more Instagram-worthy, but it isn’t doing your body any favors. “Every time you sip through a straw, air comes up before the liquid,” says Taub-Dix, owner of Better Than Dieting nutrition consultancy and author of Read It Before You Eat It. Even reusable water bottles with built-in straws can cause problems. Sip straight from the lid during your next workout to save your stomach any unnecessary discomfort.
4. You’re Snoring Up a Storm
Do you feel bloated first thing in the morning? “Then you are probably snoring or at least mouth-breathing in your sleep,” says Rubin, who notes that most people who suffer from sleep apnea also struggle with a.m. bloating. Tomorrow morning, look at your stomach. If it seems bigger than when you went to bed, consider scheduling an appointment with a sleep doc to figure out a way to curb snoring for good.
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5. You’re Feasting on Fiber
Yes, fiber can help you feel full and lose weight, in addition to promoting heart health. But before you down a bowl of fortified cereal, some chia seed pudding and a mega-serving of Brussels sprouts, take pause. Ramping up your fiber intake all at once can cause a lot of bloating, Taub-Dix says. Instead, focus on increasing it gradually, over a number of weeks. This will give your belly more time to adjust and produce the enzymes necessary to pass fiber through your system without trouble. You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting your fiber from whole, unprocessed foods like veggies, fruits and whole grains. Many packaged foods are fortified with inulin (aka chicory root), a form of fiber that’s especially hard on the stomach, according to research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
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6. You’re Stressed 24/7
What evil does stress not cause? While the hormones can aggravate your digestive system and cause gas and bloating, stress can also prompt people to rush through meals at their desks, skip much-needed bathroom breaks and suck in air during anxiety attacks, Batayneh says. One way to cope: Try to manage your stressors using cognitive behavior therapy or relaxation therapy. Both can help prevent and relieve bloating, according to research published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.