I have a friend who can drink a gallon of sparkling water and maintain a perfectly flat stomach. I, on the other hand, am extremely sensitive to any and all potential belly bloaters, including “bubbly” H2O.
For this reason, I’m particularly conscientious about a handful of habits, at least 24 hours before I’ll be wearing a form-fitting outfit, or sporting a swim suit. If you’re like me, and you have any midriff-bearing activities on the horizon, here are eight tricks that can help prevent uncomfortable, distressing belly bloat!
Avoid carbonated drinks
I adore sparkling water and all natural seltzer, but the little bubbles that add pizzaz can cause your belly to swell like a balloon filled with air. Instead, stick with flat water, sip on hot or chilled ginger tea, or add fresh grated ginger to your green or black tea, water, or meals. Ginger has a calming effect on your GI tract and can help reduce gas, which adds to belly bloat.
Curb salt and sodium
Water is attracted to sodium like a magnet, so when you’re heavy handed with the salt shaker, or you eat sodium-rich foods like bread, or soy sauce, you’ll retain more water, which can leave you looking and feeling puffy and bloated. To alleviate water retention or prevent this effect, choose high potassium foods, including avocado, papaya, mango, banana and cantaloupe. Potassium is a natural diuretic, so it helps flush out surplus sodium and fluid and de-bloat your body.
Nix gas producers
While they’re incredibly healthy, if you want to avoid bloating, steer clear of gas-producing foods, including broccoli, cabbage cauliflower, cucumbers, onions, Brussels sprouts, celery, apples, and beans. Each naturally produces gas, triggering an expansion of your midsection. Fruits and veggies less likely to create this effect include carrots, zucchini, bell peppers, cantaloupe, grapes and berries
It may seem counterintuitive to avoid alcohol to prevent bloating, since it’s dehydrating, but alcohol’s diuretic effect can trigger rebound water retention, leaving you feeling puffy and swollen. Instead, stick with water, but to make it feel special, add fresh sprigs of mint, slices of lemon, lime, or a few mashed berries.
Sidestep surplus carbs and sugar
Your body has the ability to store roughly 500 to 700 grams of carbohydrate as glycogen, energy “piggy banks” your body stockpiles for fuel. Some glycogen is stored in your liver, but most is stowed in muscle, and for every gram you stock away, you also amass about three grams of water. When you eat more carbs and sugar than usual, you retain more glycogen and fluid, which leads to a spike on the scale and a bloated feeling.
While I don’t recommend avoiding carbs altogether, there are healthy ways to keep them in check. For example, make veggies the main attraction in each meal, along with lean protein, a little healthy fat, and a small portion of a healthy whole grain. Instead of ordering Chinese take-out (which typically includes mondo portions of rice and sauces laden with starch and sugar), whip up a simple stir fry made with a few handfuls of veggies, shrimp or tofu, in a sauce made with brown rice vinegar, coconut oil, fresh squeezed citrus juice, garlic, and fresh grated ginger, over a small scoop of brown or wild rice.
Dodge “bulky” foods
Foods that take up a lot of space in your stomach, like big salads and popcorn, are healthy choices most of the time. But if you want your stomach to look flat, your best bet is to keep your portions small, and reach for fruits and veggies that take up less space in your stomach, like cooked carrots and unsweetened, preservative free dried fruit (a half cup of cooked veggies is the equivalent of one cup raw, and a cup of fresh fruit shrinks down to a quarter cup when dried). You’ll get a healthy dose of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, without a lot less belly distention.
Skipping meals, eating too fast, chewing gum, sucking on hard candy or mints, and drinking through a straw all cause you to swallow more air, which can get trapped in your belly, creating a poochy look. To avoid it, don’t let more than five hours go by without eating, slow down, chew your food well, take your time with meals and snacks, and nix the other habits.
Steer clear of spicy foods
I’ve fallen in love with hot peppers and fiery spices, from jalapenos to harissa, but they can irritate the GI tract and increase gas production. Prior to baring your belly, keep your meals simple, and reach for GI-soothing herbs and spices for seasoning, including mint, rosemary and cinnamon.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.