Physical Health

14 Hacks Dietitians Say Will Reduce Bloating Overnight

Source: @shoptanlines
Source: @shoptanlines

We all experience it: the uncomfortable digestive drama after an indulgent meal, while traveling, or before your period that relegates your OOTD to the most forgiving pair of sweats you own. While painful and uncomfortable bloating is common, we shouldn’t have to accept it as normal. Just like any other symptom, bloating is a sign the body is communicating that something is off, and there are things we can do to help it.

While there is no such thing as a quick fix for health, there are action steps experts recommend trying to help ease bloat when you’re experiencing it or preventing it. I asked dietitians for their tricks of the trade to de-bloat ASAP and help your digestive system function at its best. But first, let’s get into the bloating culprits and what to watch out for, because it’s not enough to ask what to do about symptoms; we also have to ask why we have them in the first place. 

What are the common causes of bloating? 

“Bloating is frequently caused by a build-up of gas in the intestine,” explained Colleen Webb, MS, RDN, a gut health nutrition expert. “Everyone gets gassy when our gut bacteria (good and bad) feed on certain foods and ingredients, but some people make more gas or feel more bloated than others. To some, bloating is a sensation of fullness, but for others, it’s a distended belly that looks like you swallowed a beach ball.”

While it can be difficult to pinpoint what may be causing the bloat (every body is different!), certain triggers are known to set it off. We’re all guilty of scarfing down our lunches to rush back to work, but eating too quickly or not chewing thoroughly enough is a common culprit. Eating certain foods and drinks, like cruciferous veggies (think: broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage), beans, and carbonated beverages can bring on bloating for people with food intolerances or sensitivities.

Lastly, bloating is common during various phases of the menstrual cycle due to progesterone and estrogen levels that cause the body to retain more water and salt. A combination of these factors could cause bloating, or other causes such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease, so always talk to your doctor about symptoms–especially when you’re also experiencing other digestive symptoms.

Hacks to reduce bloating 

1. Practice mindfulness during meals

Between work deadlines and keeping up with your daily to-do list, being fully present during each mealtime may seem difficult. However, being fully mindful and chewing food thoroughly are crucial pieces of the digestion process. Skipping these steps may result in bloating because the food isn’t broken down enough when it reaches the gut. Getting your body into “rest and digest” mode is also important before eating. “Chewing each bite well without distractions or multi-tasking can help you relax and digest better by setting you into a more ‘rest and digest’ phase,” conveyed Paulina Lee, MSHS, RD, LD, a functional gut health dietitian. According to Sarah Olszewski, MS, RDN, CDN, chewing your food thoroughly helps “pre-digest” it, making it easier to break down later in the digestive process. So take a few deep breaths before you dive into your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and chew your food slowly. 

2. Identify food intolerances

Food intolerances and allergies are on the rise; in fact, more than 20% of the population in industrialized countries suffer from food intolerance or allergy. The top three most common ones are dairy, gluten, and caffeine. When you have a food intolerance, symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, and rashes generally show up within a few hours of eating the food. Nutrition coach Nicole Swingle, RD suggested keeping a food journal: “Assess what foods or beverages are causing your bloating symptoms and what time of day or month bloating usually occurs.” If you suspect a food intolerance, look to your doctor or a registered dietitian who can diagnose or test for any food intolerances.

3. Reach for foods with added benefits  

You already know you’re supposed to avoid certain foods to get rid of bloat–processed or sugary foods can negatively affect the gut), but there are also certain foods to eat that can positively affect the gut. Incorporating a variety of unprocessed animal and plant-based proteins into your diet can support microbial diversity. According to Webb, antioxidant-packed foods like asparagus, spinach, berries, and sweet potatoes and herbs such as ginger, oregano, turmeric, and cinnamon don’t just taste great, they also help fight inflammation and support a healthy gut microbiota. “Consider adding more foods with prebiotic fiber and resistant starch to your diet, such as oats, barley, potatoes, legumes, and fruit to feed your healthy gut microbes and increase the production of certain types of fatty acids, including butyrate, which strengthens your gut barrier,” she said.

4. Eat lighter meals in the evening

Sometimes there’s no getting around those late-night munchies (and that’s OK!). But as a general rule of thumb, sticking to smaller, lighter meals after 4-5 p.m. will benefit your gut (and sleep). “Because of our body’s circadian rhythm, it starts to wind down and get ready for bed as the sun begins to set, meaning it will produce less stomach acid and may slow digestion compared to early mornings,” Lee described. Substitute heavier fare like pizza and steak with lighter dishes like soups or stews. You might also want to experiment with eating dinner slower than other meals to identify when your body has had enough food.

5. Take supplements

Another bloating offender is an imbalanced gut microbiome (read: an imbalance of good versus bad bacteria in your gut). Probiotics can tip the balance in favor of less gaseous bacterial strains overtime for preventing gas and bloat. Webb recommended checking out the US Probiotic Guide to find the best probiotic for your needs. Also load up on fermented, probiotic-rich foods including sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and sourdough bread.

If you’re already experienced digestive discomfort, taking digestive enzymes like Arrae Bloat supplements or HUM Nutrition’s Digestive Enzyme (supplements high in natural digestive enzymes like bromelain and stomach-soothers like ginger) can help the body digest food. Another supplement worth considering having in your arsenal is peppermint oil. “Peppermint is an antispasmodic, so it can help reduce abdominal pain, cramping, mild gas, bloating, and overall discomfort,” Webb said. Interest piqued? Ask your healthcare provider to help you time and dose a peppermint oil supplement. 

6. Drink plenty of water

Water seems to be an answer to everything (for good reason), and it’s also an answer to digestive symptoms. “Hydration is both a long-term tip and a quick hack for relief from bloating,” Webb voiced. “When you’re dehydrated, the body holds onto fluids, leading to bloating and fluid retention. Plus, dehydration contributes to constipation, another culprit of bloating.” Start your morning with a glass of water and set small goals to drink water throughout the day. And if plain water isn’t your favorite, try adding flavor to it with fruits, cucumber, or mint. However you take your water, sip slowly—chugging it can lead to GI discomfort, as Webb warned.

7. Make a cup of tea 

Specifically, opt for peppermint, ginger, dandelion, and fennel varieties to relax stomach muscles and aid in digestion to ease bloating. “Peppermint is an antispasmodic, so it can help reduce abdominal pain, cramping, mild gas, bloating, and overall discomfort,” Webb stated. As for ginger tea, Lee explained that the plant known for its spicy zest has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can help with digestion by stimulating saliva and stomach acid production. She also gave her stamp of approval for dandelion and fennel teas: “As a bitter digestive, the bitter properties in dandelion can aid upset stomach, bloating, gas, and constipation, help with protein and fat breakdown, improve stomach acid, and support liver and detox function. The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial abilities of fennel seeds relax digestive muscles.”

8. Assess your fiber intake   

High-fiber foods—popcorn, whole nuts, raw vegetables—are harder to digest and can worsen bloating and gas in some individuals if you’re experiencing disorders such as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Webb encouraged breaking down the so-called roughage of those foods: roast your veggies, steam leafy greens, and choose nut butter over whole nuts. Swingle advocated gradually increasing your dietary fiber intake, namely soluble fibers like bananas, oats, and flaxseeds to help you stay regular and reduce bloating.  

While high fiber may increase bloating in some individuals, high fiber may help ease bloating in other, thanks to its ability to detox the colon. The body produces a microbiota called butyrate to break down dietary fiber in the colon, which then leads to less bloating. The simple way to get more butyrate? Eat more fiber (such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and legumes) to provide the necessary substrates for gut bacteria to produce butyrate. 

9. Consider ginger your bestie

Ginger has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and gingerol, a natural component of ginger root, benefits gastrointestinal motility (the rate at which food exits the stomach and continues along the digestive process). Get ginger in the form of tea, freshly grated or minced ginger root that you can add to sauces, dressings, salads, or use as a condiment (think: sushi). Bottom line: However you choose to add ginger into the mix, you’ll be helping along your digestion and combating bloat.

10. Do a soft workout

Check off working out and getting rid of bloat in one fell swoop by opting for a soft workout like yoga or taking a walk. “Not rigorous workouts, but simple movements and yoga stretches, like side bending and downward dog can help massage the digestive tract to relax and enhance our digestive system to stimulate digestive enzymes,” Lee said. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases found that walking helped move food through the stomach much more quickly. As stated by Everyday Health, the faster the stomach empties, the more quickly gas can move into your small intestine and cause less distress. No burpees or fast jog needed, but a brief walk or yoga flow after meals can help ease post-meal bloating.

11. Apply gentle heat 

Webb cited that while heat doesn’t directly improve bloating, it can help to ease the discomfort that stems from bloat. Applying a little heat can go a long way in helping relax the muscles in the gut that experience added pressure when bloated and do away with gas and gas pain. To take it a step further, Webb recommends laying on your left side with your knees to your chest with your heating pad placed on your stomach. This position helps to release trapped gas that may be contributing to bloat.

12. Try self-massage

Call it self-care or a natural remedy for bloating, Olszewski touted self-massage of the abdomen for its ability to aid in encouraging passage through the gastrointestinal tract. Lymphatic drainage massage is a manual technique that stimulates the lymphatic system, which helps the body detoxify and remove damaged cells, bacteria, or toxins and may minimize excess fluid retention and bloat. Start by opening your lymph nodes (around your pelvis) with light presses, then make circular, clockwise movements around your navel, followed by consecutive up-and-down movements, from your stomach to your lymph nodes. Then, on one side of the body, using both hands, make pushing movements from the side towards the lymph nodes. Repeat on the other side.

13. Manage stress 

Stress can wreak havoc on your health and digestion. “Stress affects so many bodily functions, especially those related to the digestive tract,” Webb confirmed. “When feeling bloated, check in with yourself… Are you feeling extra stressed?” Enter: your stress management toolkit, whether that looks like meditating, journaling, or taking in nature. Olszewski served up her go-to method: meditation. “Meditation and deep breathing stimulate the vagus nerve, which signals contraction of the gastrointestinal tract to push components through,” she explained.

14. Prevent swallowing excessive air

Yes, air may be the cause of your uncomfortable bloat. “Eating too quickly, drinking through straws, chewing gum, or drinking carbonated beverages can lead to excessive air intake that builds up in the gastrointestinal tract,” Olszewski indicated. Webb agreed: “Most sugar-free gums have sugar alcohols, which are poorly absorbed, so they travel to the colon where they produce gas, but even sugar-free gum can lead to bloat via ingesting too much air.”