If you were one of the many people who took one look at fitness blogger Tiffany Brien's before and after bloating pictures and could totally relate, then you might want to continue reading.
While we're all acutely aware that it's largely to do with what we put in our bodies that causes bloating, it may not always be the case. We chatted with Dr. Ayesha Akbar, Consultant Gastroenterologist at St Mark's Hospital in the UK, to see if there are any other reasons many of us end up looking like we're sporting a five-months-pregnant belly at the end of a day.
As it turns out, there are:
1. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
"Inflammatory Bowel Disease is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the gut, and includes Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis," explains Dr. Akbar. If you've noticed symptoms such as diarrhea, blood in the stool, tummy pains, or weight loss, it could be due to IBD, so it's worth going to get this checked out. It can cause bloating, too, thanks to scarring tissue caused by previous surgery and gas trapped in your bowels. Hey, nobody said this was going to be glamorous.
2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
"Our digestive systems are made up of a complicated system of nerves," explains Dr. Akbar. "IBS is caused by a loss of coordination within this system and the way the bowel works." While IBS sufferers have nothing structurally wrong (it all looks ok down there), they have something functionally wrong. Like "constipation and/or diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain," says our medical expert.
We're always told to drink our two liters daily, but who knew it could ward off the bloat, too? "Drinking lots of water can potentially reduce the likelihood of bloating because dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can halt digestion," explains Dr. Akbar. She goes on: "When your body attempts to counter-balance the effects of being dehydrated, it holds on to excess water." Cue: a big round belly.
4. Lack of Sleep
It turns out not getting enough shut-eye at night doesn't just make us grumpy the next day; it can play havoc with our digestive systems, too."With lack of sleep, our bodies release a stress hormone called cortisol," says Dr. Akbar. "Cortisol can disturb our digestive system to cause things like bloating and constipation." Nice. Real nice.
5. Hormonal changes
"Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can lead to a bloated stomach, as it makes you prone to constipation and fluid retention," notes Dr. Akbar. But it can occur at any stage before, during, or after the menstrual cycle, and for some women it doesn't have an effect at all. "In the early days of a women's cycle, estrogen levels rise while the uterine lining thickens. This can lead to bloating, which can become stronger as ovulation occurs and more fluids and blood build up. Usually, the bloating goes away when the excess fluid and blood is shed when the woman has her period," explains the St Marks' medical expert.
6. Food Allergies or Sensitivities
Food allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances can lead to bloating; the problem is, it's just so damn hard to detect which foods are causing the problem. But as a heads up, "the two most common forms of food that lead to bloating are dairy products and foods containing gluten," says Dr. Akbar. "Even people who are not officially diagnosed as being 'gluten allergic' (celiac disease) can often experience sensitivity to these foods and can experience constipation and bloating." And she also notes that other foods which frequently induce a bout of the bloat are apples and avocados, so you might have to bump those down your list of favorite foods.
"Constipation may be the most obvious reason as to why you have a bloated stomach," notes Dr. Akbar. "Constipation can lead to stool remaining in the intestines, therefore giving you a hard-feeling stomach, pain, discomfort, and gas." Lovely stuff. But why do we become constipated in the first place? It could be with eating too little fiber, not drinking enough water, a lack of physical exercise, side effects of medication, or stress-related, explains the doctor.
8. Eating Too Fast
Raise your hand if you're guilty of THIS when you've got a delicious plate of food in front of you. "If we eat too quickly, it is possible that we inhale a lot of air. Therefore, we end up with large volumes of gas sitting in our stomach that can manifest as bloating," says Dr. Akbar. Who knew?
There's been extensive discussion around the link between IBS and stress, and it's all to do with how many nerves the guts contain. "The guts are very richly innervated, and stress can lead to a prolonged stimulation of the bowel. Even if not related to IBS, stress can put pressure on your stomach, leading to bloating," says Dr. Akbar.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.