If you’ve wanted a slightly flatter stomach and are having trouble reaching your goals, there are two possible culprits that can get in the way: poor diet and bloating.
“We know that excess calories from oversized portions of food and sugar-sweetened beverages can lead to increased belly fat, making it challenging to get a flatter stomach,” says Amber Pankonin, MS, RD, registered dietitian and owner of Stirlist. “Abdominal bloating or swelling can be caused by underlying digestive problems, food intolerances, or not eating enough of a certain nutrient.”
Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDa registered dietitian and creator of the website Better Than Dieting adds that “constipation can also make you feel bloated and can make you mistake bloating for belly fat.”
Whether you’re trying to lose weight around your midsection, or just feel like you can’t get a flat stomach because of bloating, these six eating habits could be keeping you from reaching your goals, according to dietitians. Read on and for more healthy eating tips check out 57 Healthy Weight Loss Dinner Recipes for Super Busy Weeknights.
If you don’t eat enough fiber every day, it can cause stomach bloating. “A lack of fiber in the diet can lead to constipation or other digestive problems,” says Pankonin. “Fiber can improve bowel motility, making it easier to go to the toilet and therefore leading to less bloating.”
If you’re not sure you’re eating enough fiber per day, the Mayo Clinic suggests that women should try to eat 21-25 grams of fiber a day, and men should aim for 30-38 grams.
Skimping on protein can cause bloating and be detrimental to getting a flatter stomach.
“Protein helps maintain fluid balance in the body,” says Pankonin. “If you consume too many simple carbohydrates and not enough protein, this can cause fluid retention and bloating.”
The Mayo Clinic notes that the recommended dietary allowance to prevent protein deficiency for the average sedentary adult is 0.8 grams per pound of body weight. For example, a person who weighs 165 pounds, or 75 kilograms, should consume 60 grams of protein per day.
However, this may change depending on your age and activity level. As you age, your body requires more protein to prevent muscle loss, which the Mayo Clinic notes begins between ages 40-50. If it is, you increase your protein requirement to around 1-1.2 grams per kilogram.
They also note that if you exercise regularly, you need about 1.1-1.5 grams per kilogram. For people doing higher-impact exercise, such as lifting weights, running or cycling, you may need 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram.
While you can pop a piece of gum to stave off food cravings or keep yourself from overeating, it can also contribute to a bloated stomach.
“Air is swallowed when you chew gum, which can lead to bloating and discomfort,” explains Taub-Dix. “Sugar-free gums are often made with sugar alcohols that can actually cause bloating, gastrointestinal upset, flatulence and in some cases diarrhea.”
Drinking through a straw can lead to severe bloating. So if you want a flat stomach, consider removing the straw the next time you sip a drink.
“Every time you suck your drink through a straw, like blowing air into a balloon, you’re pumping air into the gut,” says Taub-Dix. “This process is made even worse when you drink carbonated beverages. You’d be better off lifting the glass or bottle to your lips and sipping slowly.”
Unfortunately, your seltzer or soda habit can also make you super bloated.
“Carbonated drinks, diet or otherwise, literally add bubbles to your gut, which can make you feel like your abdominal area is expanding,” says Taub-Dix. “Although some carbonated drinks can be healthy, like carbonated water, if you’re sensitive and regularly feel bloated, maybe still, non-carbonated water is best for you.”
Drinking too much alcohol can contribute to excess belly fat, which can prevent you from getting the flat stomach you really want.
“Excessive alcohol intake is associated with weight gain and a larger waistline because alcohol contains empty calories,” says Pankonin. “It’s also important to consider the foods that are often paired with alcohol such as fried or salty foods, which can often lead to bloating.”
One study also noted that alcohol can contribute to overeating by stimulating nerve cells in the brain associated with increased appetite.