When you experience the feeling of a swollen waistline from time to time, it can’t help but put a damper on your day. Before jumping to the conclusion that you’ve gained weight (despite your commitment to regular workouts at the fitness center and a healthier diet), it’s important to realize that belly bloat can be caused by many things besides how many calories we consume.

The most frequent reason for feeling bloated is that there’s too much air or gas trapped in the stomach or intestines due to swallowed air or digestive processes. It can also be a sign of fluid (water) retention related to hormonal activity or eating habits. Finally, it can also be a sign of more serious problems like celiac disease, a perforated digestive tract, or even cancer (if you have severe, chronic bloating beyond the occasional discomfort we’re referring to, you should definitely visit a doctor).

Whatever its cause, belly bloat is an uncomfortable experience that can interfere with our ability to enjoy life through social activities and exercise. Here are some practical ways to reduce belly bloat at its source and get back to feeling normal again.

Bloating caused by swallowing air

If your bloating is caused by gas, there are a few things you can do to reduce the amount of air trapped in your stomach. The first is reducing the amount of air you swallow (not the air you breathe…breathing’s important!). Things like chewing gum, eating or drinking too quickly, smoking (this is bad for your health, anyway) and even loose dentures can lead to swallowing extra air. Making a point to limit gum chewing and eat more slowly can make a tremendous difference in how often you experience belly bloat.

Bloating caused by gassy foods and beverages

Sometimes it isn’t how fast we eat, but what we eat and drink that produces excess gas during digestion. Here are the main culprits:

  • Carbonated beverages. Carbonation equals gas, so drink in moderation, even if it’s strictly carbonated water.
  • Foods high in soluble fiber. Many vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes can also increase abdominal gas, so your new healthy eating habits could be the problem. Slowly increase your intake of fiber so your body can adjust, choose less gassy vegetables, and consider cooking or steaming veggies like Brussels sprouts, kale, and broccoli. Although it’s important to get enough fiber in your diet, the Institute of Medicine recommend men cap their fiber intake at 38 grams a day and women at 25 grams a day (21 if you’re over 50) to avoid any negative side effects.
  • This one might be surprising. Many types of sugar also create excess abdominal gases. It’s always wise to avoid processed and added sugars as much as possible in a healthy diet.

Other causes of bloating

Sometimes belly bloat means you’re holding on to excess water weight. This sometimes goes along with hormone fluctuations certain times of the month, but it can also be caused by a high-sodium diet (salt helps the body hold on to water). Watch how much sodium you’re consuming. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend keeping your salt intake below 2,300 milligrams a day: the average person gets about 3,400!

If you’re already avoiding processed meats, cheeses, and canned foods, look at other sources like sports recovery drinks you might be downing after a hard workout at the fitness center. It’s important to replace salt lost from a sweaty workout, but balance sports drinks with fresh water.

Along with avoiding salt, make sure you’re getting enough water. A general guideline is to drink half your body weight in ounces if you’re sedentary and twice that if you’re active.

Bloating isn’t a pleasant experience, but knowing what causes it and how to reduce it can help you live and enjoy life a little more freely.