Understanding why we bloat

Beth Furness - Assistant Nutritionist | 19 Feb, 2024

Ever felt that uncomfortable sensation when your stomach swells to the point you feel like you could burst, but you haven’t even eaten a huge amount? Many of us will have been there. But don't worry, bloating is very common and mostly harmless.

Unfortunately, as a society we seem to have a fear of bloating, and with lots of conflicting advice across the internet and methods claiming to 'stop bloating forever' it's no wonder we seem to have a phobia of it. But our concerns are not really merited as it's a completely natural bodily function!

In this blog we’re diving deep into the mystery of bloating, uncovering its common causes and sharing some handy tips to avoid it where possible (because we understand it's an unwanted side effect for most!)

What is bloating?

Before we delve into the causes, we need to understand what bloating actually is.

Bloating refers to the uncomfortable sensation of fullness or tightness in the stomach, often accompanied by a visibly swollen belly. It typically occurs when the gastrointestinal tract becomes filled with liquid, solid or gas, leading to the expansion of the digestive organs. This sensation can make you feel gassy and generally uncomfortable. It can also reduce self-confidence or in extreme cases, even decrease quality of life. However, bloating will happen to everyone at some point in their lives and is generally just a sign that your body is doing its job.

Now, this is not to say that all bloating is a sign of a healthy digestive system. If you experience bloating for extended periods of time, have frequent bouts that cause severe pain or you feel as though something isn't quite right, it's definitely worth a trip to your GP to rule out any potentially more serious causes.

So, aside from the most extreme cases, what are some of the most common reasons we bloat?

Why do we bloat?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a common condition identified by several negative digestive symptoms, with bloating being the most frequently experienced. People who suffer with IBS have an increased sensitivity within their large or small intestine. While the exact cause is unknown, we do know that it can be triggered by factors such as stress, a family history of IBS or over sensitive nerves in the gut. IBS is generally diagnosed by a GP and although there is no specific cure, your GP can advise ways to help reduce the symptoms. IBS is very individual and can be triggered by specific foods, but exactly which foods can vary from person to person. This is why it's important to discuss your gut reaction with your GP and to get medical guidance in helping you identify your specific trigger foods.

Food Intolerances

Food intolerances

Certain food sensitivities, like dairy or gluten intolerance, can trigger bloating. When your body is incapable of digesting specific foods, the negative response from your gut can cause you to bloat. Identifying and managing intolerances can significantly reduce bloating discomfort.

Keeping a food diary is the best way to identify your trigger foods – enter Nutracheck! The Nutracheck app allows you to record all the food and drink you consume with a time stamp, you can also write notes in your diary about how you are feeling. You can then print or send a copy of your food diary to your doctor for discussion. (If you need help with any of these features in the Nutracheck app or on our website, just drop an email to customercare@nutracheck.co.uk).



Believe it or not, stress can be a sneaky contributor to bloating. As stress increases, the nerve endings in our digestive tract can become more sensitive. This may speed up or slow down the digestive process, or even heighten gut reactivity to certain foods. These reactions can in turn cause bloating. We're learning more and more about how our gut and brain are linked, and this stress response in the gut is just one of the signs of that.


Over eating

We've all been there – scoffing that extra slice of pizza or overindulging in a huge meal. Overeating can lead to a swollen belly as your body works hard to digest a larger amount of food. Going hand-in-hand with this can be eating quickly and swallowing air with your food, which can also increase the likelihood of excess gas in your digestive tract. Feeling overly full and bloated is a good reminder that eating in moderation and slowing down to chew properly is the key to avoiding that uncomfortable balloon belly sensation.



Constipation occurs when everything starts to slow down in the digestive system. The build up of stool in the colon can lead to discomfort, excess gas, and a visibly swollen stomach. Keeping things moving with a healthy balanced diet, getting plenty of fibre from fruit and veg, and proper hydration can help to reduce this kind of bloating.

Specific food and drinks

Specific food and drinks

Certain foods and drinks are renowned troublemakers when it comes to bloating, even without having an intolerance to them. The reason for this is that some foods are harder for your body to digest than others, causing a build up of gas, resulting in that uncomfortable bloated feeling. Examples of these include:

  1. Fatty foods – fatty cuts of meats and fried foods.
  2. Carbonated drinks – sparkling water, fizzy drinks and mixers.
  3. Alcohol – beer, cider, wine and spirits.
  4. Onion and garlic.

It's important to note that not all foods/drinks that cause bloating are harmful to us. For example, onions and garlic are healthy foods! It's just a harmless side effect that they may lead to a bit of bloating.

A sudden increase of fibre

A sudden increase of fibre

Fibre is fantastic for digestive health and overall wellbeing, but in some cases, a sudden increase can cause bloating and discomfort, especially for those new to fibre-rich foods such as fruits, raw unpeeled vegetables, and whole grains. To avoid these issues, slowly increase your intake over a few weeks, ensuring you maintain good hydration as you do so. Pay attention to your body's response and adjust as needed to enjoy the benefits of fibre without the bloating discomfort.

Steps to reduce bloating

Steps to reduce bloating

1Understand your own triggers

Recognising and understanding your individual food intolerances or sensitivities is crucial for successfully reducing bloating. Keep a detailed food diary in your Nutracheck app and log any symptoms within your Diary Notes section – this can help you look back over time and spot patterns or potential trigger foods. Before eliminating any specific foods it's important to discuss this with a medical professional to ensure you’re still getting a good dietary balance.

2Reduce stress

Identify any reasons for stress you can control and work on managing them where possible. Practice calming activities like meditation or breathing exercises and aim to maintain a consistent sleep and healthy lifestyle routine.

3Increase exercise

Physical activity helps bloating by stimulating digestion and reducing gas buildup in the digestive system. It encourages movement in the GI tract, preventing constipation and promoting healthier bowel function, resulting in reduced bloating. Try to find ways to increase exercise and aim to move your body frequently and everyday.

4Eat a balanced diet

A well-rounded diet, choosing whole foods over processed options, can reduce bloating by supporting a healthier digestive system. Trying to lower your consumption of processed foods, fats, and sugars will decrease bloating and digestive discomfort. Whole foods will better support a healthy gut microbiome too (friendly gut bacteria), which can also help manage digestive issues such as bloating.

5Eat regularly

Establishing regular eating habits throughout the day helps to regulate appetite, preventing overeating and minimising the chances of experiencing bloating due to large or irregular food intake.

6Increase fibre slowly

Gradually introducing fibre into your diet can lower the risk of bloating by allowing your digestive system to adjust more smoothly to increased fibre intake.


Understanding the causes of bloating, identifying your trigger foods, eating a balanced diet and managing stress, are all vital steps to reducing it. By incorporating these lifestyle changes, it's possible to alleviate and manage bloating effectively, ensuring better digestive health and overall wellbeing. If bloating is persistent or severe, seeking medical advice is always recommended.

Nutritionist Beth Furness (ANutr), holding a BSc in Nutrition and Health, is deeply dedicated to applying evidence-based knowledge to all aspects of nutrition. Her passion lies in fostering healthy relationships with food, ensuring that everyone maintains a balanced and sustainable approach to nutrition.

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