by Alexandra Owens
We've all been there: One minute your stomach looks perfectly fine (think adorable '90s Britney) and the next you feel out-of-control full and puffy (head-shaving meltdown Britney). The culprit is bloat, which has the obnoxious ability to make your clothes feel tight and your rings pinch without setting off any alarms on the scale.
The beast we call bloat could be one of two very different things. The first is the formation of gas in the digestive tract, which can leave your belly uncomfortable and distended. The other is water retention, a buildup of excess fluid that is more likely to affect your limbs, hands, and feet and can be a sign of a serious medical problem. They both cause a swelling sensation, but they have different triggers--and solutions.
So how do you know for sure that your skirt is snug because of bloat? "There should be cyclical variation to it," says gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan, the founder of the Digestive Center for Women in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and the author of the forthcoming book GutBliss (Avery). "You can't button your pants in the evening, but the next day it's better. It often gets worse as the day progresses." Fluid retention is a bit trickier to distinguish, but take note if your face and limbs, rather than your whole body, appear swollen; other signs include puffy cheeks and sock lines. And don't be surprised to find yourself suffering from both forms, since five or six factors may contribute to a runaway stomach. Fortunately, there are plenty of bloat-busting foods to avoid, others to embrace, and even a few tricks that have nothing to do with what you're eating.
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