It was supposed to be my friend’s dream anniversary celebration: a night out at an exclusive restaurant for a steak dinner and crème brûlée, followed by an intimate stroll under the stars. She told the story over coffee the next day:
“It was awful! I was so bloated after dinner that I could hardly stand, much less enjoy a romantic walk on the beach. I spent the rest of the night stuck on the couch, crampy, and miserable.”
I know gas and bloating aren’t very sexy subjects! But I think it’s better to talk about it now, instead of waiting until the next time you have to run to the restaurant bathroom or head home early to shed your skinny jeans that are suddenly unbearably tight.
First, it’s important to clarify that no matter how often you experience gas or bloating after eating, it’s never normal. The culprits are usually the food itself or the enzymes your body creates during the digestive process.
Here are five simple strategies you can use to reduce or eliminate gas, bloating, and other digestive issues without turning to antacids or other potentially harmful medications.
1. Address food intolerances
If you’re often bloated and uncomfortable soon after eating, you may have an intolerance to common problem foods like gluten, dairy, soy, or eggs.
These four foods are among the most common irritants. You’ll know if you’re allergic to them (allergies cause immediate and often dangerous reactions), but intolerances can be a lot sneakier. Their impact can be as subtle as brain fog and acne, or it can be as obvious and uncomfortable as gas and bloating.
You may have heard of people with Celiac disease being intolerant to gluten. But you don’t have to have this diagnosis to experience similar issues. Studies show that people without Celiac disease can still be sensitive to gluten and experience bloating and other bowel symptoms,1 especially those who suffer from IBS.2
Note the difference between a full, happy stomach and true bloating. When you pay attention to your fullness signals, you’ll stop eating when you’re comfortably full—before you want to unbutton your jeans (although they may feel a teeny bit tight).
A feeling of fullness is different than bloating from food intolerance. Bloating feels like your abdomen is stretched tight, like you swallowed a balloon. It is often painful, too.
If this is something you’ve been dealing with for a while, it’s worth investing the time to figure out the cause. Long-term exposure to these sorts of inflammatory foods causes changes to the lining of your small intestine that make it harder to digest your food. Bloating after meals is one of the main symptoms of these intestinal issues.
You can find out whether you have food sensitivities by removing those foods from your diet and reintroducing them one by one to see which ones cause symptoms. I walk you through exactly how to do this in The Virgin Diet, plus my book offers meal plans and delicious, guilt-free recipes to enjoy as you move through the process.
2. Dump the sugar
Research shows that gas and bloating are often caused by trouble absorbing sugars.3 And it’s not as straightforward as skipping apple pie after dinner!
There are different kinds of sugars that the body can be sensitive to, such as lactose (from dairy), fructose (from fruit), and sucrose (white table sugar). It’s pretty obvious where to look for those and you can remove them accordingly to find out what you may have issues with.
But these sugars and more also hide in places you’d never suspect, from salad dressing and savory sauces to “healthy” foods like granola bars and fruit juice. Little by little, it’s sneaking into these packaged foods, especially those touting labels like “low-fat.” This makes you think it’s healthy, but when you take out the fat you also take out a lot of the flavor. So what do you add to make it taste better? Sugar, of course.
Head to your pantry right now and take a look at all the ingredient labels. You’ll find sugar as molasses and syrups, any word ending in “-ose,” plus other creatively camouflaged names like barley malt, cane juice crystals, evaporated cane juice, juice concentrate, and more.
This doesn’t mean you should swap sugar with artificial sweeteners, though. Sorbitol, for instance, cannot be digested. Instead, it passes through the digestive tract to feed gas-producing bacteria, and boom—that balloon in your stomach is growing bigger and bigger. (Learn why I give a big thumbs-down to artificial sweeteners in this blog.)
To find out whether your sugar consumption might be an issue, check out the quick quiz in this blog: Sugar Burner vs. Fat Burner: Which One Are You?
3. Try digestive enzymes
When you’re over 35 or struggling with chronic stress, your stomach produces fewer digestive enzymes.4 Those enzymes are vital to breaking down the food you eat so it can be digested and absorbed properly.
This especially applies to protein, so if protein shakes, meat, or legumes make you feel like your abdomen has ballooned, you could benefit from taking a quality digestive enzyme supplement before meals.
Our body’s own digestive enzymes, especially our stomach’s hydrochloric acid secretion, slow down by the time we’re in our thirties, which means we have more problems breaking down our food. If you’re experiencing the fallout from that with bloating after you eat, you may be tempted to self-medicate.
Let me tell you, you’re not doing yourself any favors by popping antacids. Low stomach acid is often the reason behind bloating because we’re not able to break down our food as quickly, so it sits there, ferments, and creates gas. That gas can also be behind your heartburn, something we often mistake for too much stomach acid. Antacids will only make this worse.
You need to give your gut a chance to heal, and you might need reinforcements like probiotics, antimicrobial herbs, fermented foods, and digestive enzymes.
No more post-meal miseries! We’ve combined digestive enzymes and select botanicals in Protein First Enzymes to help promote efficient digestion of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates like a pro!*
4. Limit drinking with your meals
And I mean any kind of fluid here, not just glasses of merlot!
It’s important to drink plenty of water every day, starting with a big glass when you wake up.
Hydration is so important for all the processes in your body, and especially for getting the nutrients in your meals where they need to go.
It may be tempting to try to habit stack your water drinking with a healthy meal, but the one time you shouldn’t be hydrating is right before or while you eat. That’s because liquid can dilute those all-important digestive enzymes that you need to process your food.
According to integrative dietitian Ali Miller, the stomach’s preferred acidity level is 1 to 2 on the pH scale. This helps your body break down proteins, release digestive enzymes, and absorb nutrients more efficiently. That breakdown turns food into a liquid solution that makes the digestion process much easier. Drinking water during meals can slow all of this down and encourage bloating.5
Ideally, you’ll stop drinking big glasses of water 30 to 60 minutes before each meal. It’s okay to have a drink while you eat to help wash down your food, but you’ll want to limit it to 4 to 8 ounces. You can then resume your regular water intake about an hour after you put the fork down.
How much water should you be drinking? Use our handy calculator here.
Need some help with your water intake outside of meals? Try an app on your phone to track your glasses of water, or do it the old-fashioned way by writing it down in a journal. Make sure to keep a water bottle around to help you remember to sip as well.
5. Consider your microbiome
For a healthy gut, you need a balance of good and bad bacteria.
When the scales are tipped towards the bad guys, we have a problem.
Gut health can be impacted by stress, poor diet, antibiotics, food intolerances, and more. If you’ve followed the above recommendations and are still experiencing bloating, you may want to look into probiotics.
Probiotics replenish the good bacteria in your gut. Fermented foods will certainly help you out here, but they don’t offer the full spectrum of bacteria strains that you may need to fully heal your digestive system.
A high-quality probiotic supplement (like Flora Harmony) will help you better absorb the nutrients you get from your food, produce short-chain fatty acids that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut, and help support the production of those all-important digestive enzymes.
With a little time and help from a healthy diet and smart supplements, you can say goodbye to gas and bloating for good!
“Where do I start?” I get that question a lot. That’s why it’s so important to have a roadmap you can trust. A roadmap that breaks down your health journey into small, manageable steps. Download my Ultimate Health Roadmap and take control of your health… one step at a time. Get your FREE guide here.
The views in this blog by JJ Virgin should never be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Please work with a healthcare practitioner concerning any medical problem or concern. The information here is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. Statements contained here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
- Antvorskov JC, Fundova P, Buschard K, Funda DP. Dietary gluten alters the balance of pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines in T cells of BALB/c mice. Immunology. 2013;138(1):23-33. doi:10.1111/imm.12007
- Niland B, Cash BD. Health Benefits and Adverse Effects of a Gluten-Free Diet in Non-Celiac Disease Patients. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2018;14(2):82-91.
- Fernández-Bañares F, Rosinach M, Esteve M, Forné M, Espinós JC, Maria Viver J. Sugar malabsorption in functional abdominal bloating: a pilot study on the long-term effect of dietary treatment. Clin Nutr. 2006;25(5):824-831. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2005.11.010
- M.J. Hopkins, R. Sharp, G.T. Macfarlane. Variation in human intestinal microbiota with age. Digestive and Liver Disease, Volume 34, Supplement 2, 2002, Pages S12-S18, ISSN 1590-8658, https://doi.org/10.1016/S1590-8658(02)80157-8.