A GI expert uncovers sneaky culprits for bloat—and the easy fixes
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After a day or two (or OK, a week) of heavier-than-usual eating (especially these five foods), you're probably not surprised if you wake up feeling a little puffy. Same when you're on your period—bloating, while definitely not welcome, is at least expected. What's worse is when you wake up feeling as swollen as a balloon with no idea what's causing it.
To the rescue: Robynne Chutkan, M.D., an integrative gastroenterologist and bestselling author. Her newest book, The Bloat Cure ($12, amazon.com) uncovers some triggers for bloat that you may not know about.
Your Heartburn Meds
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Generally, you think of antacids as something that will help soothe GI woes caused by overeating. But proton pump inhibitors (or PPI) like Nexium, which are generally meant to be taken before you eat, and other antacid drugs can curb acid production too well, allowing gas-producing bacteria to flourish in your gut. If you're on a PPI or regularly take other antacid drugs and have been dealing with bloat, check with your doctor about dialing back your use. (Ever mysteriously get heartburn when you exercise? Here's why.)
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By "your body" we mean your actual anatomy. Women are especially prone to puffiness (great), because we have longer colons but smaller guts. Translation: Your GI tract is especially twisty and turny, which means there are a lot of places where gas can build up. Luckily, there's a solution, and it's simple—double up your water consumption, and be especially diligent about eating enough fiber (25 grams a day), spread out into each of your meals. (There are lots of Sneaky Ways to Eat More Fiber.) This will keep things moving smoothly.
Your Birth Control
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If you're on a hormonal Pill that's high in estrogen, you may naturally be holding onto more salt and water. The good news is, most OB-GYNs now try to prescribe patients the lowest dose of estrogen possible. If you take a Pill, ask your doctor about the estrogen levels and whether you need to downgrade. Ask yourself: Is Your Birth Control Causing Your Tummy Troubles?
Your Java Habit
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You might be confused by this one. Overdoing it with the coffee can have you heading to the bathroom every five minutes, but according to Chutkan's book, that diuretic effect can trigger dehydration. As a result, food moves more slowly through your intestines and—voila—bloat. Chase your coffee with tons of water, and cut back your intake. Chutkan actually recommends giving it up entirely in favor of herbal teas, green juice, and plain old water, which seems a little harsh—but she's the expert.
Your Lackluster Water Intake
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So about that dehydration. Besides bloating, it triggers a whole host of unpleasant side effects (including these five). And Chukan says you can't count on what she calls "portable bloatables" to make up for your water shortfall—soda, coffee, caffeinated tea, etc. No water means a dry intestinal tract that food has a hard time moving through, which = bloat. Drink up.
Your Blue Mood
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"Most of your body's feel-good hormone, serotonin, is housed in your gastrointestinal tract, and with depression, both you and your gut may be feeling the effects of suboptimal serotonin levels," writes Chutkan. If you're depressed, seek help. (Even if you're not, some experts says that everyone should be screened annually.) Getting your mood back on track may curb belly bloat, too, so it's a win-win.
Your Pain Meds
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Specifically non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds (NSAIDS). They've been shown to damage the intestinal lining, especially if you also exercise. According to Chutkan, they can also make you hold onto fluid. To nix the pain without bringing on puffiness, reach for pills without aspirin or ibuprofen.
Your Stress Levels
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"Of all the things that conspire to cause bloating and GI distress, stress is one of the most prevalent," Chutkan writes in her book. When you're stressed, your body diverts energy and blood flow away from the digestive system, leaving you backed up and bloated. Chutkan suggests asking your doctor about gut-directed hypnotherapy to relieve stress and GI distress, or try these 20 Simple Stress Relief Techniques.