Are You Bloated Or Have You Gained Weight? Here's How To Tell The Difference, According To MDs
Ah, bloating. It can stem from a number of causes, whether that be hormones, a large meal, or even simply a food sensitivity (because who can really live without cheese?)
But sometimes when you're experiencing bloating, it can be difficult to believe that you haven't simultaneously gained weight. So, we investigated exactly how to discern between bloating and weight gain in order to provide some clarity and help you best set a course of action for your health. (And remember: Even if you did gain weight, that's not necessarily a bad thing.)
What is bloating?
Bloating occurs when gas gets trapped in your stomach and leads to the feeling that you've been pumped full of air. "Bloating often refers to accumulation of gas in the abdomen causing a full or tight feeling. This can result from a variety of causes: inability to digest foods properly, slow digestive tract or slow stomach emptying, or an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, to name a few," explains emergency and integrative medicine physician Eudene Harry, M.D.
However, bloating itself is not permanent weight gain, nor does it cause it. Rather, it's a temporary issue in the body—and there are actions, such as dietary changes, you can take to ease the bloat. "The big culprits (as seen in the Whole30 nutrition plan on items to avoid) are dairy, sugar, grains, legumes, and carrageenans," explains functional medicine physician Leah Johansen, M.D. Therefore, if you're going to bed with a bloated stomach, it's likely going to be less noticeable or completely gone when you wake up in the morning.
The difference between bloating and weight gain.
Weight gain and bloating are caused by different things and are therefore largely unconnected. However, "if bloating is accompanied by significant or rapid weight gain, then you should reach out to your doctor to discover the cause," notes Harry.
One of the biggest differences between bloating and weight gain is the speed at which they come on. If you have gained weight, it's going to be a more gradual process over time (as this may involve a surplus of calories, reduction in physical activity, underlying hormonal issue, increase in stressful inputs, or something else), while bloating can hit you like a ton of bricks.
The best way to distinguish between the two is if you woke up with a flat stomach and ended the day with it feeling hard and full of air—that is bloating and not weight gain. "Weight gain tends not to happen suddenly after eating a meal," adds Harry. "While our weight may fluctuate slightly over the day, true weight gain happens over time."
Of course, weight gain can also occur when we build lean muscle tissue (hello, strength training) or even bone density, so weight fluctuation context is key.
Bloating can also come from water retention due to changes in hormones, and is actually quite common (albeit, annoying). "Bloating related to hormonal water retention is normal and resolves itself through the course of the menstrual cycle, whereas too much gas in the GI tract warrants some attention," adds holistic psychiatrist and mbg Collective member Ellen Vora, M.D.
Harry notes that other common causes of bloating include:
- Chewing gum
- Carbonated beverages
- Eating too quickly
- Not eating enough food with probiotics
- Drinking through a straw (swallowing air)
- Frequent use of artificial sweeteners
- Eating too many refined carbohydrates and skimping on fiber
- Going heavy on the dairy products if you're lactose intolerant
How to prevent bloating.
Thankfully there are a number of changes you can make to your routine that may ease bloating and soothe your stomach. Making sure to slow down while you're eating your meals and keeping a food journal of potential triggers (or even trying an elimination diet) are great ways to help ease extra gas in the belly. Even drinking a cup of chamomile or peppermint tea may keep bloat at bay.
However, focusing on your overall gut health and microbiome in the long term will ensure that these changes stick, and the best way to do this is by regularly taking a high-quality probiotic.* That's why mbg created probiotic+ with four targeted strains, clinically shown to help ease bloat, promote proper digestion, and even support a healthy weight.*
A gut-centric probiotic is also a great tool for aiding in regular bowel movements, which can naturally help with bloating, as well.* Of course, you won't see results overnight, but with time your gut will get the support it needs so you can experience less bloating.
Nobody enjoys being bloated: It's confusing and frustrating, not to mention the number it can do on your self-esteem over time. But one thing that's for certain is just because you are bloated does not mean you have gained weight. The two can be differentiated by the time period in which you've noticed changes, and while it can be difficult to pin down the precise cause of bloating, you can use it as an indicator that your body may need a little extra attention. However, with some tweaks to your diet that prioritize balance and a variety of nutrients, alongside a great probiotic, you can keep bloating and general well-being in check.
Merrell Readman is the Associate Food & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. Readman is a Fordham University graduate with a degree in journalism and a minor in film and television. She has covered beauty, health, and well-being throughout her editorial career, and formerly worked at SheFinds. Her byline has also appeared in Women’s Health. In her current role, she writes and edits for the health, movement, and food sections of mindbodygreen. Readman currently lives in New York City.