Don’t carbo-load at breakfast
Carbohydrates hold water in your body, which may make your belly bloat. Plus, high-carb, high-sugar breakfast foods like bagels or cereal might fill you up initially, but you’ll probably end up searching for more food within an hour, says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. “Those digest pretty rapidly, and then your blood sugar spikes up and drops back down pretty quickly because they digest so fast,” she says. That extra morning munching will likely add up to more calories and bloat than you would have had if you’d started with a more filling breakfast. Be sure to follow these other daily habits that reduce bloating and flatten your belly, too.
Choose Greek yogurt in the morning
Look for a brand of Greek yogurt that contains live and active cultures, which will promote healthy bacteria in your gut to prevent bloating. (These are signs you could have an unhealthy gut.) Plus, the protein in the yogurt will keep you full. Beef it up with fiber-rich oats, berries, and chia seeds for an extra filling morning meal—just don’t go overboard if your body isn’t used to digesting that much fiber, says Jessica Crandall, RDN, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “If you’re not used to that amount of fiber it causes gas, but if you work up to it slowly, it promotes a healthy GI system,” she says. Slowly add a little more fiber to your diet every day for a flatter belly, and increase your fluid intake to aid digestion and reduce icky symptoms like diarrhea and bloating—here's how to get more fiber into your diet without really trying.
Add a dose of potassium
Sodium is a big culprit of bloat by causing your body to retain water, but potassium helps counterbalance that salt—here are some other causes of bloating to know about. “By eating more potassium, you can help reduce bloating,” says Torey Armul, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson. Slice banana into your yogurt, or scramble up eggs with tomato and spinach, which are other good sources of potassium.
Make a healthy lunch salad
A healthy lunch should consist of half non-starchy vegetables, with the other half split between whole grains and protein, says Rumsey. “That way, you have some carbs but not too much,” she says. Pick a dressing low in sugar and sodium—olive oil with balsamic vinegar will give you a little healthy fat to keep you full and help absorb nutrients from your veggies. (Here are more food combinations that help you get the most health benefits.) Add at least three vegetables, 3 to 6 ounces of a protein like chicken or beans, and just a thumb-sized amount of extras for crunch or flavor such as dried fruit, croutons, and olives, says Rumsey. Double wash canned beans before adding them to your salad to rinse away their gas-forming, bloat-producing properties, says Crandall.
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Don’t skip your afternoon snack
Eating every three or four hours will prevent you from getting too ravenous. Curb your hunger with a midafternoon snack so you aren’t starving by dinnertime. “If you wait too long or build up this intense hunger, you’re more likely to choose those convenience foods and more likely to overeat at that next meal,” says Armul. “You want generally smaller to moderate portion sizes because they’re an easier load for your body.”
Snack on string cheese and an apple
Not only will the protein in cheese keep you full so you’re not tempted to snack more later, but it can also help you avoid bloating and gas. Pairing it with an apple gives you an extra kick of nutrients. “Protein helps the flow of digestion, and produce gives you the nutrients your body needs, along with fiber,” says Crandall. A banana with nut butter, or carrot sticks with hummus make other good combos of protein and produce. Try to eat this food every day to beat belly bloat.
Stay hydrated all day
Not only does drinking water prevent you from misinterpreting thirst signals as hunger, but contrary to popular belief, it actually can reduce water weight. Staying well hydrated will help you digest and flush out the sodium holding water in, giving you a flatter belly. “A lot of people refrain from drinking more water if they’re bloated, but you actually do want to continue drinking more water throughout the day,” says Armul. “It helps restore fluid balance.” Here are more things experts wish you knew about water weight.
Pick the right ratios at dinner
Like lunch, your evening flat-belly meal should consist of half non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter whole grains, and one-quarter protein. That combination is packed with nutrients, but will also keep you full. A healthy plate might contain vegetables roasted in olive oil, a serving of quinoa, and three to six ounces of chicken or fish, says Rumsey. (Read these secrets nutritionists won't tell you for free.)
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Stick with fresh produce and meat
Try to cook fresh when you can instead of relying on packaged foods, says Armul. “There are preservatives in them to prolong shelf life,” she says. “The thing that makes them so convenient is they’re there all the time, waiting on the shelf—but that also means they’re higher in sodium.” When that extra sodium holds water, you’ll end up feeling bloated. Here are more foods that relieve stomach bloating.
Choose your veggies strategically
It’s probably no surprise that pasta isn’t the best flat-belly dinner choice—after all, simple carbs won’t fill you up, so you’ll probably end up eating a huge portion—but even your vegetable choice can make you overdo it on carbohydrates. Load your plate with starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, and peas, and you could practically watch your belly blow up. “That’s going to take you longer to digest, which will make you feel bloated,” says Rumsey. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage could also make you gassy and bloated, says Crandall. While all of those veggies can be a part of a healthy diet, stick with non-starchy, non-cruciferous choices like tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms on days when you’re particularly worried about bloat.
Don’t peel your veggies
Even though it’s a carbohydrate, fiber can actually flush out bloat rather than holding water in like simple carbs do. “It’s slow-digesting and really nourishes the gut,” says Armul. Leave the skins on fruits and vegetables so you don’t throw out any of that healthy fiber. Are you showing signs of a low-fiber diet?
Skip that diet soda
Even calorie-free sodas can make your belly bigger because the carbonation will bloat you up. “With carbonated beverages, there’s nowhere else for gas to go but out, so either belch or gas,” says Crandall. Plus, the artificial sweeteners in diet drinks can cause bloating and gas in some people, says Armul. Try water infused with lemon or cucumbers instead for a flavorful, refreshing drink. Here's how stomach doctors deal with belly bloat.
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Your brain takes about 20 to 30 minutes to register fullness signals from your stomach. If you finish in just 15 minutes, you might go for seconds, thinking you’re still hungry, says Rumsey. Eating more slowly will give your body time to realize if it’s full, plus it can help you swallow less air into your digestive tract. “You tend to swallow more air when eating fast, and that can cause bloat,” says Rumsey. Put your fork down between bites so you don’t end up shoveling food in your mouth, and count to 20 before you swallow each forkful, recommends Crandall.
Pick a reasonable dessert
Make dessert an occasional treat rather than an everyday event so it doesn’t become a habit, says Rumsey. If you’re already feeling bloated, eating sweets full of simple carbs could just make it worse, says Armul. “But if it’s been a healthy day and you’ve stayed active, a small portion of dessert should be fine and won’t cause major bloating,” she says. The key to making it fit into your flat-belly day is sticking with one small portion—a serving of ice cream is probably smaller than your usual scoop (or two)—or picking a healthier choice, like frozen fruit, to satisfy your sweet tooth.