First, figure out why you're bloated, then learn how to deflate your stomach and get relief.
Bloat Culprit: Sluggish Digestion
If you've ever struggled to zip jeans that went on fine just a few days earlier, lived through an uncomfortable episode of gas, or simply felt as if your belly was fuller than it should have been, you know about the battle of the bloat. Bloating is usually caused by either a buildup of gas or fluid retention, both of which can make your stomach feel heavy and distended. Because neither the triggers nor the symptoms are the same for everyone, you need to figure out what's causing your bloating to get relief.
If your digestive tract seems to take longer than normal to process food, you may feel uncomfortable long after a meal should be out of your system. A good indicator that your transit time is on the slow side? You have a bowel movement less than three times a week.
How to Beat It
A high-fiber diet -- 25 grams per day if you're under 50; 21 grams after that -- can help move food through your body faster. One caution: Raise your fiber intake too quickly and you can actually worsen bloating because many high-fiber foods produce gas. "Increase fiber by three to five grams per week until you reach the recommended amount so your body can adjust," advises Leslie Bonci, RD, director of sports medicine nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. That's equal to one apple, a half cup of baked beans, or a cup of oatmeal.
Eating foods with certain probiotics -- good bacteria naturally found in the digestive tract -- can also jumpstart your digestive system. Lactobacillus acidophilus, for example, helps the body break down food, speeding transit time. An eight-ounce serving of yogurt with live cultures (check the container) has enough acidophilus to give you the benefits. Or take an acidophilus supplement that contains about 1 to 10 billion live cultures.
Bloat Culprit: Your Diet
The fiber-rich foods you're already eating -- for example, beans, broccoli, cabbage, pears, and whole wheat bread -- can make you gassy. The body breaks down the complex sugars in these foods with gas-producing bacteria in the large intestine. (Protein-rich fare like chicken and eggs is fully digested by enzymes before it reaches the large intestine.) Also to blame? Fried and fatty dishes. These typically take longer to digest, creating extra gas.
How to Beat It
Foods that produce gas in one person may not have the same effect on someone else. Think about what you ate in the last few hours. If you suspect fried foods, try avoiding them for a few days to see if you feel better. (Gassiness and intolerance to fatty foods are signs of gall bladder disease, though; check with your doctor if that's your problem.)
Obviously, vegetables are too important to stop eating altogether. Instead, cut back on those that tend to make you gassy for about three days, then gradually increase your intake -- or stick to those that don't pose a problem for you, recommends Michael Levitt, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. And consider using Beano drops or tablets right before eating problematic vegetables. If these steps don't prevent gas completely, try an over-the-counter antigas medication with simethicone, such as Gas-X. This will help break up gas and reduce bloating.