10 Ways to Stop Belly Bloat

Aaron Goodman/Fitness MagazineAaron Goodman/Fitness MagazineBy Hallie Levine

When you feel as though you might literally bust a gut, follow these simple, speedy strategies for beating the bulge.

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1. Switch your birth control.

Oral contraceptives contain estrogen, which causes your adrenal glands to produce fluid-retaining hormones, explains Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine. The experience is highly individual: Some women don't notice an increase in bloating, while others feel themselves puffing up within days of starting a new pill. If you fall in the second camp, talk to your ob-gyn about trying another brand. Both Yasmin and Yaz contain the hormone drospirenone, which may ease bloat, since it's also a diuretic. Of the 70 percent of women in a recent study in the journal Contraception who reported abdominal bloating while taking birth control pills, about half said their symptoms were gone after six months of switching to Yasmin. One caveat: Because drospirenone can increase levels of potassium in the body, women who frequently take other medications that increase potassium (such as NSAIDs and ACE inhibitors) aren't good candidates for this type of oral contraceptive.

2. Go easy on diet drinks.

Many sugar-free beverages, candies, and gum contain the sweetener sorbitol. Though it's a great calorie cutter, sorbitol isn't digestible, so it sends stomach enzymes into overdrive, says Tara Gidus, RD, a nutritionist in Orlando, Florida. When patients with abdominal bloating were put on sorbitol-free and sugar-free diets, nearly half saw their symptoms disappear, one study found. Although the FDA requires companies to put a warning label on products that "may result in a daily consumption of 50 grams of sorbitol," experts note that as little as 10 grams can trigger stomach trouble. Sorbitol can add up quickly: One piece of sugar-free gum has about 1.25 grams, for instance.

3. Trim the fat.

You ate fried onion rings on Friday night, but now it's Saturday afternoon and you swear they're still hanging out in your belly. It's possible: High-fat foods delay the emptying of the stomach, which may lead to bloating and an overall feeling of fullness. A study in Australia found a direct correlation between bloating and the amount of fat in women's diets. "I've seen many women who assumed they were lactose intolerant because they felt bloated after eating a bowl of ice cream; it turned out it wasn't the milk but the fat that was the culprit," says Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, a wellness manager for the Cleveland Clinic Lifestyle 180 program. Don't eliminate fat: "Foods rich in heart-healthy fats, such as avocados, olive oil, and nuts, are actually low-gas producing," explains Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a dietitian in Sarasota, Florida. "The key is to focus on these good fats and pair them with lean protein, such as chicken or fish, which aids in their digestion."'

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4. Eat broccoli every day.

It sounds counterintuitive, but regularly eating foods that are likely to cause gas, like beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and onions, helps your body adjust and learn to break them down efficiently. "I've seen women run into problems when they eat these foods infrequently, say once a week," Kirkpatrick says. "Their digestive tract isn't used to them, so they produce a ton of extra gas and bloating."

5. Slow down.

"A lot of my clients are busy working moms who are eating food either in their car or walking to the office," says Jeannie Gazzaniga-Moloo, PhD, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "The problem with eating on the go is that you take big bites of food and don't chew properly, so you end up swallowing a tremendous amount of air." Her advice: Take 15 to 20 minutes to eat each meal -- yes, even if you're munching on the run. "Take a deep breath after each bite and chew with your mouth closed. This forces you to breathe through your nose, which relaxes and slows you down." While you're at it, if you're sipping on the go, opt for a cup, not a straw: The latter promotes ingestion of gas.

6. Choose supplements carefully.

If you take a calcium supplement, know which compound is in it. One that contains calcium carbonate, like Tums or Os-Cal, is more likely to cause gas and bloating because it's harder for your stomach to break down than one with calcium citrate, such as Citracal, according to the National Institutes of Health. Either way, taking a supplement with an acidic drink, such as orange or grapefruit juice, will help you absorb calcium. Many women also experience bloating if they use an omega-3 supplement, Gazzaniga-Moloo says. "Put it in the refrig­erator and have it cold; this seems to help reduce the burping and bloating that often come with taking such a supplement," she says.

7. Cut back on the sweet stuff.

Fructose, the simple sugar found in syrup, honey, and soft drinks, may be the source of some of your tummy troubles: Three out of four people with unexplained GI symptoms, such as bloating, had fructose intolerance, according to a University of Iowa study. Like lactose intolerance, this condition can be diagnosed with a simple breath test. The good news: Being fructose intolerant doesn't mean you have to swear off this healthy, sweet diet staple. "Most people are fine with actual fruit, especially if they spread their servings throughout the day, but you may need to steer clear of processed foods or soft drinks made with high-fructose corn syrup, like sweetened drinks or soft drinks,"says Yuri Saito, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Juice may also trigger a reaction, since it's more concentrated.

8. Get checked for allergies.

If your bloating is accompanied by nasal congestion, allergies may be the surprising reason. "When your nose is stuffed up, you end up primariy breathing through your mouth, which means you swallow a lot of air, which could cause bloating," Dr. Saito says.

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9. Be takeout savvy.

"Steamed veggie plates seem like a smart option if you're ordering Chinese food, but if you're prone to bloating, you should realize that many of the vegetables, like bok choy, can produce tons of gas," says Jackie Keller, a celebrity nutritionist in Los Angeles.

10. Skip the salt.

You've heard it before, and we'll say it again: Salt causes your body to retain fluid. That's good news if you're training for a marathon. Bad news if you're trying to squeeze into a new dress for your friend's wedding. The biggest culprit? "Sauces and salad dressings," Keller says, "especially at restaurants." To play it safe, order dressings and sauces on the side, or season lightly with olive oil and vinegar.

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