What Causes Belly Bloat and How to Prevent It

Bloat is the one guest we’re all hoping doesn’t show up on Thanksgiving this year. I mean, we get all excited and fancied up to celebrate this special day with our loved ones, and then right after dinner, that over-inflated balloon feeling hits and takes hours, even days to finally go away. Talk about a holiday weekend buzzkill.

The key to keeping belly bloat from ruining your Thanksgiving is to know all the different food-related reasons bloat happens, so you can steer clear of each one—or quickly ease any bloating that does slip in and strike during your feast. Here are 8 belly bloat causes nutritionists want you to be aware of.

Overeating

Two words: food baby. We’ve all been there. When we eat more than we usually do, our stomachs stretch out to accommodate the volume of food, Gina Sam, MD, gastroenterologist in New York City, tells Health. “The muscle stretches out, and that in itself can cause bloating,” Dr. Sam explains. Luckily, if eating that much is a one-off, it won’t take long for your stomach will snap back to normal.

Preventing overeating might not be as simple as it sounds. If you go too long without a meal and don’t eat until you’re starving, it’s easy to let your eyes be bigger than your stomach and dive into a monstrous plate of everything you can get your hands on. Dr. Sam suggests eating small, frequent meals to keep your hunger in check leading up to dinner and drinking plenty of water throughout the day.

Gas-producing foods

Some of our favorite greens, like kale, broccoli, and cabbage, fall into the cruciferous vegetable category. This means they contain a sugar called raffinose, which sits in your gut until bacteria ferment it. That produces gas, which then makes you bloat, Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health contributing nutrition editor, said previously. Legumes, apples, and anything super salty can also cause your stomach to swell.

So slow your roll, but that doesn’t mean you need to totally cut these things from the holiday menu—or out of your diet permanently. “Consistently eating nutrient-rich, high-fiber foods leads to having a stronger, healthier digestive system that’s less prone to bloating,” Sass said. Basically, the more you eat raffinose-heavy vegetables, the less they’ll bother you. Plus, there are ways to make these foods easier to digest, like steaming veggies to soften the fiber.

Swallowing air

This might sound obvious, but when you’re chewing and swallowing your meal, you’re also swallowing air. Your intestines can handle a certain amount of air, but if you’re in a rush and gulp down two slices of pumpkin pie in under three minutes, you’ll likely swallow more air than usual, causing your belly to inflate, Dr. Sam says.

To prevent yourself from taking in too much air, Dr. Sam suggests eating slowly, avoiding carbonated beverages, and steering clear of straws. When you do feel bloated from trapped air, you’ll expel it by burping, passing gas, or going to the bathroom. Ah, the body’s natural remedies.

Lactose intolerance

If you wash down your holiday feast with a glass of milk or load up on dairy-infused desserts and suddenly feel your stomach roll over the top of your pants, you could be lactose intolerant. That means your body lacks the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, the sugar found in dairy products, Michael Nusbaum, MD, bariatric surgeon and founder of Healthy Weight Loss Centers, tells Health.

Luckily, there are plenty of equally delicious dairy-free milk options these days, including almond milk and soy milk. The American Gastroenterological Association also suggests taking lactase tablets like Lactaid, which can help you digest foods that contain lactose.

Sugar intolerance

Sugar is another food many people develop an intolerance to. A common type of intolerance is a sensitivity to carbs like fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, which are part of a group called FODMAPs, Brooke Alpert, RD, founder of New York City nutrition practice B Nutritious, previously told Health.

To make things even more confusing, FODMAPs aren’t just found in sweets; they’re also in veggies like cabbage, broccoli, and asparagus. If you have a FODMAP intolerance, your stomach will feel achy, bloated, and gassy after eating foods with these sugars. Avoiding trigger foods is the best treatment, so go easy on the veggie casseroles if you suspect you might have this kind of food sensitivity.

Celiac disease

For people with celiac disease, gluten-free isn’t a trend, it’s a fact of life. Celiac isn’t an allergy or a sensitivity; it’s an autoimmune disease triggered by the ingestion of gluten, Dr. Nusbaum says. That means when you take in gluten, your body actually attacks itself, causing damage to the small intestine.

Celiac can manifest in a number of ways, but some of the many symptoms include abdominal bloating and pain, vomiting, weight-loss, fatigue, joint pain, and sores inside the mouth. If you consume food with gluten at the Thanksgiving table, the bloat can come on soon after. It can be hard to spot celiac because these symptoms are common for many other conditions as well. The only way to truly know if you have this autoimmune disease is to be screened by a doctor.

Food allergies

Why do some people love things like peanuts and shellfish and others can be hospitalized from eating them? “With a food allergy, the body’s immune system, which normally fights infections, sees a food as an invader,” Sass said previously. “This leads to an immune response in which chemicals like histamine are released, triggering symptoms such as breathing problems, throat tightness and swelling, hoarseness, coughing, and hives.” Another symptom: abdominal bloat, which can hit if you consume something on T-day you are allergic to.

Constipation

The typical Thanksgiving feast is filled with foods containing whole grains and vegetables. But if you avoid these as you feast and then feel bloated hours later, your bloat could be constipation. “It causes bloating because when all of the stool has built up in your colon and things aren’t moving, your small bowel and stomach, which are above your colon, will become extended with trapped air and gas,” Dr. Sam says.

One way to prevent constipation is always making sure to drink at least eight glasses of water a day, Dr. Sam adds. You should also take in 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day—that equals four to five servings of fruits and vegetables (which you can score from celery stuffing, roasted sweet potatoes, and other T-day staples).

Exercise is another thing that can help. Working your muscles could give your colon the push it needs to keep things moving. If you’re feeling bloated from constipation after dinner, consider it a great excuse to organize a late afternoon turkey trot fun run for you and your fellow dinner guests.

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