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Say Bye-Bye to Belly Bloat

A distended abdomen isn’t always belly fat. Here are 9 nutrition and lifestyle hacks to banish belly bulge.

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Jeans don’t zip when they fit fine yesterday? Sometimes belly fat isn’t actually fat; indigestion, constipation, excess gas and water retention can cause puffiness and swelling in the abdominal area. If you’re wondering where your waistline went, try these nine tips to de-bloat, banish belly bulge and slip into your skinny jeans by next week.

1. Swap Your Sweetener

Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, lactitol and isomalt may be puffing out your belly. Because they’re not completely absorbed, they’re fermented by gut bacteria, leading to gas, bloating and, in some cases, cramping, pain and diarrhea. They’re common in sugar-free gum, mints and low-calorie processed foods, as well as snacks designed for Keto or low-carb diets. Minimize your consumption of sugar alcohols (erythritol may be an exception, since it’s mostly absorbed before it reaches the large intestine), or swap them for stevia or monk fruit; both are carb- and calorie-free, and won’t make you bloat.

2. Up Your Fiber

Constipation can cause abdominal puffiness; boost your fiber intake to encourage regular bowel movements and slim your middle. Focus on nutrient-dense options like raspberries, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, oats, apples and chia seeds. Or try a natural fiber supplement; those with a combo of soluble and insoluble fiber pull water into the colon and speed elimination of stools, promoting regularity. Go slowly, gradually increasing the amount you take to avoid gas. And stay super-hydrated; water helps keep stools soft and supports regularity.

3. Pass on the Salt

Excess sodium makes the body retain water, causing puffiness, swelling and belly bloat. The biggest culprits: processed foods and fast foods are loaded with salt, and account for as much as 70 percent of the sodium intake in an average diet. Emphasize whole foods and minimize canned soups, frozen meals and packaged sauces. Be especially wary of condiments like ketchup, soy sauce and salad dressing; they’re loaded with salt. Check labels, and stick to those with less than 400 mg of sodium per serving. And instead of salt, enhance flavors with herbs and spices—and fill your shaker with a low sodium herbal blend.

4. Try an Herbal Diuretic

If you’ve overdone it on the movie popcorn or fast food fries, a diuretic can ease you through the worst of the bloat. Prescription diuretics have significant side effects; choose natural, gentle options that enhance kidney activity, increase the frequency of urination and help shed that excess fluid. Dandelion, used for hundreds of years in traditional herbal medicine, increases the frequency and volume of urination. Horsetail may be as effective as prescription diuretics, without side effects. And parsley, juniper, hawthorn, nettles and hibiscus can help you shed excess water, safely. Look for them as single herbs, or in a combo formula designed to banish bloat.

5. Fire Up Digestion

If foods aren’t completely broken down and absorbed, they can be fermented by intestinal bacteria, leading to gas and abdominal distension. Boost your digestive fire and minimize bloat: chew foods thoroughly, eat slowly and don’t overeat—smaller meals are easier to digest. Try peppermint tea; it contains compounds that support digestion and ease gas. Ginger and fennel also amp up digestion to lessen belly bulge. And if your system is less than robust, enzymes can help your body break down foods and ease bloating and indigestion.

6. Beware the FODMAPS

Some of the superstars in your nutrient-dense diet may be causing belly bloat. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, onions, garlic, beans, apples and other uber-healthy foods are high in FODMAPS—carbohydrates that aren’t fully digested and can be fermented by gut bacteria, causing excess gas, constipation and other digestive disturbances. If you’re chronically distended and gassy, you may be sensitive to FODMAPS; people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other chronic gut issues are especially at risk. Try cutting down on bloat-promoting foods, or consider a low-FODMAP diet; studies show it can significantly improve symptoms of IBS and other chronic gut issues.

7. Add Flat-Belly Foods

Slim that middle, with foods that fight water retention and constipation. Some of the best: watermelon, cucumber, celery, tomatoes, zucchini and lettuce are loaded with water to support hydration and ease constipation. High-potassium foods like spinach, potatoes, avocados, beet greens and mushrooms balance sodium levels and help the body let go of excess fluids. Asparagus acts as a natural diuretic to rid the body of excess salt and fluid. And pineapple and papaya are rich in enzymes that promote digestion and minimize tummy bulge (bonus: they’re high in water for extra hydration).

8. Eat Slowly

Speed eating means you’re not chewing thoroughly, impacting digestion. And if you’re gulping down meals, you’re also swallowing air, leading to a buildup of gas and tummy puffiness. Sparkling water and other carbonated beverages also increase gas and distend your belly. And chewing gum makes you swallow more air, promoting bloat—especially if you’re chewing sugar-free gum sweetened with sugar alcohols. Take your time at meals; eat slowly and chew thoroughly with your mouth closed, to minimize intake of air. Kick your chewing gum habit, and stick to flat, not fizzy, beverages; or sip on celery juice or dandelion tea for extra bloat-banishing.

9. Check Your Probiotic

A healthy gut is key to banishing bloat, but if you’re taking the wrong probiotic supplement, you may be doing your belly more harm than good. Many probiotic supplements contain prebiotics like FOS (fructooligosaccharides) or inulin, added to nourish beneficial intestinal bacteria. But both can cause gas, bloating and, in some cases, cramps, pain and diarrhea. If you’re using a probiotic supplement, avoid those with FOS or inulin, and choose a high-quality version with a wide variety of strains. And try to get most of your probiotics from fermented foods. Best choices: yogurt, kimchi, miso, tempeh and naturally fermented sauerkraut.