There’s no denying the fact that bloating is downright uncomfortable. It can make our clothes feel tight, our bellies feel puffy, and it can be a real Debbie downer when it comes to our overall energy levels and productivity for the day.
Plus, walking around super bloated all day is no way to live and can significantly impact the overall quality of life.
Here’s a bit more about what causes bloating, plus some ways to reduce bloating with exercise and some simple lifestyle tweaks.
What Causes Bloating?
So, what’s really at the root of this awful bloating feeling that seems to pop up the most inconvenient times?
Here are some of the most common culprits.
Consuming Too Much Food in One Sitting
When you eat a lot of food at once, it can impact your digestive tract two-fold. For one, there’s more volume, but nowhere else for that volume to go; this can cause distention simply from the food itself protruding outward, creating abdominal distention. Secondly, all that food entering your body at once (if you are truly overeating) can create gas, leading to bloating.
If you are consuming certain foods that don’t agree with you (dairy is a big one), then you may experience digestive upset, and yes, this includes bloating.
“Every single person’s body — and therefore digestive tract — is unique, and we all have different reactions to food,” explains Lisa Mastela, MPH, RD. “While a piece of toast might sit just fine with your stomach, your sibling or friend may have a gluten intolerance — even Celiac or Crohn’s — meaning that same piece of toast could lead to intense digestive discomfort, distress, and bloating for them.”
While you may have a sensitivity to any number of foods, there are some really common ones: dairy, gluten, soy, eggs, fish and shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, sulfites, and food additives. Some people even have specific sensitivities to types of sugar and carbohydrates (called FODMAPS) and it varies from food to food within the same group. Those with FODMAP allergies and sensitivities experience frequent bloating, alongside other uncomfortable and even painful symptoms.
If you’re suspecting that an allergy or sensitivity may be the culprit for consistent, chronic bloating, the best way to approach this is to work with a physician or registered dietitian to ensure you’re tracking your consumption and logging any symptoms.
Drinking Too Many Carbonated Bevvys
If you’re a big club soda fan, and you find yourself bloated more often than not, you may have to lay off the fizzy drinks for a while. All those bubbles can make you feel puffy and uncomfortable.
Because these drinks are loaded with — you guessed it — gas and the consumption of gas bloats the digestive system, which can potentially cause discomfort and a distended stomach. If you’ve been guzzling sparkling water and wondering why your waistband is starting to feel uncomfortable, it may be time to switch to still water.
Estrogen and progesterone levels directly affect bloating and gastrointestinal discomfort and distress, typically around the time of your period (if you get a period, that is!). If you’re dealing with PMS bloating, these two hormones may be to blame. This also affects women during menopause.
Stress is an exceptionally pervasive (and common!) trigger for bloating. As you probably already know, we have phrases in our everyday vocabulary for stress-induced digestive problems. Getting butterflies, a pit in your stomach, feeling like something is gut-wrenching, feeling like your stomach is in knots… this is because stress (both good and bad, physical and emotional!) can disrupt the digestive process. The fight or flight response slows digestion, which leads to bloating for some people.
In addition, stress can agitate preexisting digestive conditions, including IBS and IBD, Crohn’s, and more. It can also disrupt the gut microbiome, again — leading to bloating.
Note: If your bloating is severe and impacts your day to day life, it’s important to speak with your doctor to rule out any other more serious underlying causes.
Reduce Bloating With Exercise
We know bloating stinks, and it’s not a feeling that anyone wants to deal with, but what can you do about it? In addition to cutting back on those fizzy beverages, reducing stress, and taking a look at your diet, exercise is also key.
While exercise isn’t a “cure” for bloating, getting your body moving is always a good idea. It may just help alleviate some of that uncomfortable full feeling you get when you’re super bloated.
Exercise may help reduce bloating by moving some of that built-up gas through your digestive tract. Less gas equals less bloating.
Exercises that help strengthen the abdominal muscles are also super beneficial, and walking is also a great bloat buster. Walking can help move food through the stomach more quickly, which can be helpful after a big meal.
So, while you may want to do nothing but lay down and chill after a large meal that’s left you feeling full and bloated, get up and walk! It may actually help you feel better faster than if you were sitting and binge-watching your favorite Netflix show for hours.
Reduce Bloating with These 3 Exercises
So, we know that moving the body can help get the gas moving along, but which exercises are best? In addition to walking, here are some great exercises for bloating that can help strengthen your core, stretch the body, and reduce stress — aka the three essential pillars to help combat bloating.
Yoga targets a number of different bloating causes, chiefly stress. The breath-to-body connection can help calm your nervous system, so if stress is your number one concern (and the cause of your bloating), this is an excellent way to target it. In addition, the gentle twists in yoga can stimulate the digestive system and potentially ease bloating as well. Feeling a little stuffed or puffy? Try Chair pose with a twist, or a gentle supine twist while laying on your back.
Similar to yoga, Pilates also focuses on a breath-to-movement workout, connecting the body and mind. The emphasis on breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, helping your body to get into “rest and digest” mode, which is obviously very beneficial in this instance.
Additionally, because Pilates is (like yoga) a low-impact exercise, you’ll mitigate cortisol levels and contribute to a more balanced, healthier body — in theory, this contributes to a healthier digestive system as well, allowing you to recalibrate your stomach (and hopefully soothe those belly woes!).
When you’re feeling so uncomfortable and like you couldn’t possibly work out, try stretching! Stretching the body can help promote relaxation and can really help open everything up. Your body may be super tense when you are feeling bloated. Try loosening up the body and reducing some built-up gas, and boosting circulation for better digestion by doing some simple stretches. Lay flat on your yoga mat and bring your knees to your chest. You can also drop your knees to one side of your body with your arms out to your sides for a nice twist. Repeat this on the other side. Take your time stretching it out, and let the bloat melt away!
While there’s limited research on the direct impact stretching has on bloating specifically, there is research on stretching’s impact on bodily inflammation and stress. Similar to yoga and Pilates, this more so comes down to how slowing the body down, mindfully breathing, connecting mind and body, and focusing on on the breath can reduce stress levels, which, as mentioned before, are a common culprit behind bloating. Further, if you are using stretching to improve your posture, you may have the added benefit of reducing bloating as well; one study from 2003 found that posture directly affected bloating and digestional gas.
Ready to bring for stretching into your wellness routine? Try this Sweet Stretch with Vytas.
Other Tips to Reduce Bloating
Some other things to keep in mind — it’s important to get to the root of bloating. Remember: bloating is a symptom… So what is your body trying to tell you with this symptom? Are you allergic to something you’re eating? Eating too much at once? Are you too stressed at work? Not sleeping well, or missing micronutrient diversity to balance your gut flora?
Some general lifestyle tips that contribute to bloat reduction:
- Don’t chew gum (swallowing air → gas buildup in your GI tract)
- Work with a dietitian
- Keep a food journal and log what you eat
- Go for a walk after a meal
- Drink more water
- Eat fiber to regulate digestion
- Avoid cruciferous veggies (particularly if they’re a trigger)
- Eat smaller meals
- Eat more slowly, chew more, and put your fork down between bites
- Get good sleep to ensure you’re managing stress levels
- Practice mindfulness, deep breathing, and meditation
Above all, it’s important to see your physician for any chronic issue — bloating included. If this is something that impacts you once a week or more, it’s worth looking at this as a “check engine light” for your body. Go see what’s up, and make sure there’s nothing going on “under the hood,” so to speak.
If bloating has you down, get your body moving, and preferably daily. Daily movement is going to help keep things flowing, combat gas built-up, and support abdominal strength. Try adding yoga, Pilates, stretching, or all three into your fitness routine to help combat bloat. Say goodbye to those leggings that have been your BFF. With daily movement, reduced stress, and a healthy diet, it may just be the trifecta you need to combat bloating once and for all.