Most of us feel bloated at one point or another. When that happens we also feel heavier, like we’ve gained a few pounds. Feeling heavier is one thing, but the actual weight gain is something else entirely. The question that probably came across your mind is whether bloating can really make you put on a few pounds. We’re going to answer that question in this post. Read on to learn more about this important subject.
What is Bloating?
Bloating is defined as a sense of gassiness or a sense of being distended and it occurs when the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is filled with gas or air. The exact prevalence of bloating is unknown, but epidemiologic studies have determined 15% to 30% of the general US population experience symptoms of bloating (1).
Keep in mind these surveys were limited by a lack of ethnic diversity as most subjects were white. However, these figures indicate that millions of people experience bloating, and that’s staggering info.
Although harmless, bloating can interfere with the ability to work or take part in recreational and social activities. A common occurrence in adults and children alike, bloating can be frustrating and uncomfortable. This is particularly the case if bloating happens often.
Causes of Bloating
As mentioned above, gas is the most common cause of bloating, particularly after eating. You see, gas accumulates in the digestive tract when you swallow air or when undigested foods get broken down. While everyone swallows air when eating or drinking, some people do so more often than others. This particularly happens when you’re:
- Chewing gum
- Eating or drinking too fast
- Wearing loose dentures
Swallowed air leaves the body with burping and flatulence. Slow gas transport combined with gas accumulation leads to bloating.
Bloating can also occur due to medical conditions such as (2):
- Consuming too much soda or other carbonated beverages
- Eating disorders
- Food allergies
- Food intolerance
- Hormonal flux (particularly for women)
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Menstrual period and/or PMS
- Stress, anxiety, and/or depression
Can Bloating Cause Weight Gain?
A short and simple answer to this question doesn’t exist. Whether abdominal bloating leads to extra pounds or not depends on the causes behind it. Let’s say you eat too quickly and feel bloated afterward; you won’t weigh more than usual. Although you may feel heavier, the actual weight remains the same. When the gas is out of your system, you won’t feel the heaviness or like you’ve gained a few pounds.
On the flip side, if the abdominal bloating results from binge eating or you’re in PMS, then chances are that bloating could contribute to temporary weight gain. The same thing happens with constipation. In these cases, the weight gain is subtle (a few pounds only) and once the body digests extra food, the bowel movements start, or your period arrives, the extra weight will go away as well.
Of course, this only applies if you binge eating from time to time. However, if you overeat constantly, then weight gain is inevitable (3) and it has nothing to do with bloating.
Can Weight Gain Cause Bloating?
The relationship between bloating and weight gain is poorly explored. Current evidence shows there is no correlation between bloating and body mass index (BMI). However, bloaters do have a little bit of intraabdominal fat. A few kilos of extra intra-abdominal fat could make a person more susceptible to the normal fluctuations in an intra-abdominal volume that all people experience.
About 40% of patients with bloating have put on at least 10 pounds in the preceding year. A great deal of recently gained weight is stored as intraabdominal fat. In turn, there is a reduction of space into which the abdominal contents can expand comfortably. This can lead to bloating (4). In other words, weight gain can make you more prone to bloating and discomfort it causes.
The underlying mechanisms through which excess weight may lead to bloating require further elucidating. For example, one potential mechanism could be through the use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) i.e. drugs used to reduce stomach acid. Overweight and obese patients are more likely than their counterparts to have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Patients with GERD are more likely to use PPIs than healthy people. This matters because PPI therapy could promote different forms of bacterial overgrowth through its potential to eliminate gastric acid. As a result, you may experience different gastrointestinal symptoms including abdominal pain and bloating (5).
Rapid weight gain is a risk factor for bloating, according to a study from the Gut journal. In this study, recent weight gain coincided with the new onset of bloating in about 25% of the participants (6).
Besides the above-mentioned mechanisms, other factors may also play a role such as abnormal visceral-somatic reflex originating in the abdominal adipose tissue that modulates the brain-gut axis.
Can Weight Loss Help Reduce Bloating?
Considering the potential of bloating to contribute to temporary weight gain in some situations and the impact of excess weight on the onset of bloating, it’s natural to wonder if you could solve this problem by slimming down. More research on this topic is necessary but current evidence says that weight loss can, indeed, improve bloating (7).
Weight loss requires burning body fat, especially in the abdominal area. Since intra-abdominal fat, also known as visceral fat, plays a role in the development of bloating then working to lose fat in this region can help manage the discomfort you feel.
A simple reminder; visceral fat is stored within the abdominal cavity near vital organs and it may also accumulate in the arteries. Since it can actively increase the risk of serious health problems, visceral fat is also referred to as active fat (8).
Moreover, successful weight loss also requires diet changes for a long-lasting result. This is particularly important if we bear in mind that dietary modifications are a major part of bloating management (9).
How to Reduce Bloating?
Bloating is a prevalent problem, but in some people, it appears sporadically while in others it’s more common. Dealing with bloating regularly can be bothersome for many due to the feelings of heaviness, fullness, and increased weight in the stomach. The good thing is that bloating can be managed successfully. The first thing you need to do to eliminate bloating is to identify the cause of the problem.
Do your eating habits cause bloating?
Do you feel bloated after eating certain foods?
Do you experience bloating when you’re stressed out or have anxiety?
If you’re not sure about the source of bloating, you may want to keep a journal where you will log when you feel bloated, including what foods you ate, how much you consumed, and whether you chewed slowly. Write other notes you find important as well. Once you read the log, you’ll be more likely to recognize the source of bloating.
In situations when you can’t identify the cause of bloating, or you already have an underlying chronic condition, you may want to schedule an appointment to see the doctor. The healthcare provider will recommend the most suitable treatment method.
Some management methods may include probiotics, dietary interventions, gas-reducing substances, antidepressants depending on the root cause of bloating (10).
Below, you can see other important management methods that may help you tackle bloating.
1. Chew slowly.
A common mistake we often repeat is that we hurry to eat food and thereby chew quickly. When you chew quickly you, actually, get more air into the system. At the same, the body doesn’t get to break down food properly since people tend to swallow without chewing their food thoroughly. Chewing your food better can decrease the amount of air you swallow with the food and it can also help you reduce food intake and decrease portions (11). So, not only does proper chewing manage bloating but also supports weight loss.
2. Avoid swallowing gasses and air.
Gas in the digestive system comes from two sources:
- The gas produced by bacteria in the gut
- Air or gas swallowed when you eat and drink
Fizzy drinks are the biggest culprit for the latter. These beverages contain bubbles with carbon dioxide, a gas released from the liquid once it reaches your stomach.
One of the most convenient ways to alleviate bloating is to avoid swallowing gasses and air. You can do so by avoiding chewing gum, trying not to drink through a straw, and strive not to eat while in a hurry.
3. Avoid gas-producing foods.
Some foods can produce large amounts of gas and therefore contribute to bloating. Food diary could be practical as these foods can be different from one person to another. Generally speaking, some of the biggest gas-producing foods include (12):
- Dairy products
- Whole grains
- Certain vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower
- Fruits such as peaches, apples, prunes, and pears
- Hard candy
- Processed foods
Generally speaking, you may want to opt for a stomach-healthy, well-balanced diet. For example, you may want to try a low-FODMAP diet.
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides, and polyols. These scientific terms classify groups of carbohydrates well-known for their potential to trigger digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating. You can find these compounds in the above-mentioned food groups. A growing body of evidence confirms that a low-FODMAP diet can, indeed, reduce bloating (13). This diet is particularly useful for men and women with IBS and other gastrointestinal problems.
4. Consider taking digestive enzymes.
It’s not uncommon for people to have lower levels of digestive enzymes, which are crucial for breaking down food and supporting gut health. Digestive enzyme supplements work to support the balance of these enzymes and thereby improve digestion, gut health, and help the body break down carbohydrates. With the proper breakdown of carbs and improved digestion, you can reduce bloating and gas.
5. Tackle constipation.
Constipation is a major risk factor for bloating and it only contributes to feelings of heaviness in your stomach. You are more likely to feel constipated if you’re an older adult, a woman, and dehydrated (14). Other risk factors include a low-fiber diet, sedentary lifestyle, certain medications, PMS, anxiety, and depression.
Constipation negatively affects your quality of life. Managing this problem can also reduce bloating and take away that feeling of a heavy stomach. Make sure to consume enough fiber and stay hydrated throughout the day. Of course, it’s more useful to drink water rather than sugar-laden beverages. Besides staying hydrated, you may also want to exercise more (15) in order to get rid of constipation and thereby bloating as well.
6. Do abdominal massage.
One of the most widely overlooked methods for bloating relief is an abdominal massage. You see, abdominal massage promotes blood flow and relaxation both of which are crucial for the proper functioning of the body and digestive tract. Evidence confirms that abdominal massage can manage bloating as well as poor wellbeing, depression, and anxiety (16). You may want to give yourself an abdominal massage two times a day. If you’re not sure how to perform abdominal massage, it could be useful to schedule an appointment to see a professional massage therapist.
When to See A Doctor?
Bloating is usually harmless; it’s not a condition on its own. Instead, bloating is a result of certain actions (too much air or gas) or a symptom of certain health problems. Bloating that happens from time to time usually is not a source of concern. But if it happens frequently, you may want to schedule an appointment to see the doctor especially when it’s accompanied by:
- Unexplained changes in weight
- Severe or prolonged abdominal pain
- Worsening heartburn
- Blood in stools and/or stool looking dark and tarry
- High fever
Bloating happens to most of us at some point. We feel it in the form of heaviness and firmness in our stomachs. That’s why it’s easy to assume bloating made us gain weight. The relationship between bloating and weight is complex and requires further research. The influence of bloating on weight gain depends on the cause of bloating. If bloating occurs due to gas, the weight changes are unlikely. But if other causes such as PMS or overeating are behind bloating, subtle changes in weight are possible. Weight gain in this case is temporary.