Feeling like you've suddenly turned into the Michelin woman is the opposite of fun. Whether you're actively trying to lose weight or are pleased with your current physique, bloating can completely throw you off. In the worst case scenario, it might send you into a panicked thought spiral about whether you've actually gained as much weight as your favorite skinny jeans would have you believe. In short, you probably haven't.
"Bloating and actual fat gain feel the same, so it's easy to confuse the two," says Abby Langer, R.D. "But they really aren't— fat is different from gas and water, which are what often contribute to bloating, and fat comes onto your body much more slowly." So when you feel like you've ballooned overnight, or even over the span of a few days, you can usually chalk that up to bloating instead of true weight gain. Now that you have that reassuring bit of information, one question still remains: is there any way to cut down on bloat ASAP? Luckily, the answer is yes.
1. Swap all other beverages for water.
It may sound counterintuitive, but drinking a lot of water won't blow you up, says Langer. Your body often holds onto water so as not to get dehydrated, but if you're constantly knocking back bottles of H2O, that gives it permission to flush out some of its stores. "Make sure you consume water consistently throughout the day," says Langer, who recommends drinking around 1.5 liters per day. It's not just that water trumps all other beverages in terms of hydration— the bubbles in popular carbonated liquids deliver air straight to your gut, and you might have a hard time processing dairy-based options. The result either way? Your body feels like a distended gas factory.
2. Avoid sugar alcohols.
Foods that are comprised of sugar alcohols, which are technically natural sweeteners, can still turn you into a roly-poly version of yourself. "These sweeteners— xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol to name a few — are used in everything from gum to energy bars," says Langer. "They play serious games with your gastrointestinal tract and can lead to gas, cramping, bloating, and even diarrhea if you eat too much of them." Those unpleasant symptoms are a hint that it's hard for your body to fully break these sweeteners down during the digestive process. There's also the fact that they tend to be present in lots of foods that are highly processed, which just compounds the digestion problem.
3. Pay attention to your fiber intake.
Fiber is key for staying healthy. It keeps your digestive system chugging along smoothly and helps you feel satiated for longer, which is a plus if weight loss is what you're after. The issue is when you go from eating very little fiber to taking in way too much, like when you've decided to overhaul your eating habits in an effort to get healthy. "Overdoing the fiber when you're not used to it can make you really bloated," says Langer. Too much fiber can be tough to digest and create gas, both of which might puff you up. Langer recommends aiming for between 20 and 25 grams of fiber per day and drinking a lot of water along with any fibrous food to help your body digest it more easily.
4. Choose your fruits and veggies wisely.
Pretty much everything in the produce aisle is fair game health-wise — obviously whatever you find there will probably be better for you than the wares in the frozen food section. But certain fruits and vegetables can still make you feel as plumped up as pufferfish. Fruit like cherries, peaches, grapes, and mangoes can bloat you even though they have also have plenty of awesome nutritional benefits. "These fruits are healthy, but they naturally have a lot of sugar or sugar alcohols," says Langer. When you're trying to shrink down to your usual size, stock up on fruits like blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, and oranges, which have less sugar content. They also happen to be packed with water, which can help with the debloating action.
As for vegetables, cruciferous ones like brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower are loaded with raffinose, the same compound that produces gassiness when you eat beans, says Langer. What is gas but air trapped inside you, inflating you way more than you'd like and popping up at the least convenient moments? To get your vegetable fix while avoiding any potential troublemakers, nix the cruciferous ones and aim for veggies that have high water content, like cucumber and zucchini.
5. Lay off the carbohydrates.
In addition to being delicious, carbs are not the enemy. They're your body's go-to fuel source, so you need them, period. But in order to create glycogen, a form of energy that's stored in your muscles and liver, carbohydrate molecules bind with water like it's their job, says Langer. The more carbs you eat, the more water you hang onto, and the more bloated you feel. "This is still a bad reason to completely remove carbs from your diet," says Langer. "But if you want to de-bloat, you can cut down on carbohydrates for a day or so and make the basis of your diet greens and lean proteins."
6. Keep mum while you're chewing.
Sometimes the culprit isn't what you eat, but how you eat. "When you talk while you eat or eat too fast, you're getting a lot of air in your digestive tract along with your food," says Langer. Instead of chatting away as you chow down, make a conscious effort to eat slowly (chewing your food as much as possible makes it easier to digest, which can also lead to less bloating), and only talk in between bites.
7. Banish salty foods.
If your bra suddenly has no chill and is feeling as tight as a corset, staying away from sodium-rich food may help. "When you eat sodium, your body retains water to try to maintain the proper balance in your bloodstream," says Langer. She recommends staying below 2,500 milligrams of sodium a day if possible, and again, drinking water throughout is key for warding off a lot of that resulting bloat.
8. Watch your portions.
Holiday season makes this one tough, but overdoing it on portion sizes is one of the top reasons for that sluggish, inflated feeling. "The more food you have in your stomach, the more bloated you're going to feel!" says Langer. 'Tis the season to indulge, so by no means should you refuse to let even a crumb of goodness pass your lips in fear of bloating. Instead, remember that it's all about moderation. A few treats here and there aren't going to result in any actual weight gain, so go forth, be merry, and feel free to have a few cookies after a well-balanced holiday meal.