It’s not unusual to feel bloated after eating a meal. This is when your tummy feels swollen or tight, causing you to feel pain or discomfort.
Bloating affects 10 to 30% of the adult population, according to the World Gastroenterology Organisation.
But what you eat isn’t always the cause. Certain foods can bring on these symptoms, but bloating is also linked to habits like eating too fast or chewing a lot of gum.
In rare cases, bloating can be a sign of a more serious medical condition like inflammatory bowel disease or ovarian cancer.
So what’s the most likely cause of a swollen tummy after eating?
Common causes of bloating
Swallowing too much air
It’s natural to swallow a small amount of air when you eat, but certain habits can make you swallow more air than normal.
Studies show that eating or drinking too quickly, chewing gum or smoking can make you swallow larger amounts of air, and some people swallow air when they feel anxious or stressed.
Most of this air will be released through burping, but some of it may pass into your digestive system, leaving your tummy feeling bloated and uncomfortable.
If you think your bloating is due to swallowing too much air, try to eat and drink more slowly, and cut down on cigarettes if you smoke.
Lying down after eating
Your posture can affect the way that gas builds up in your digestive system.
Sitting with your back straight helps to push air up the oesophagus and out of the mouth, but lying down can encourage air (and other gasses) to pass down into the small intestine, and this can make you feel uncomfortable.
If you think this is the cause, try to sit up for a while after eating rather than lying down on the sofa, for example.
Eating gas-releasing foods
Some foods release a lot of gas when they’re digested. This gas is usually harmless, but it can cause discomfort in your tummy.
Here is a more complete list of the foods, drinks and products that can cause gas and bloating.
|asparagus||apple juice||sorbitol (found in chewing gum)|
|artichokes||pear juice||mannitol (found in sweets)|
|black beans||fizzy drinks||xylitol|
|mushrooms||sugary fruit drinks|
|cheese and yoghurt|
If you feel bloated and think this may be caused by what you’re eating, try to reduce your intake of these foods but don’t cut them out altogether without first checking with a doctor or dietitian.
Remember that fruit, vegetables, wholegrain foods and pulses (beans) are an important part of a balanced and healthy diet.
Bloating and food intolerances
Bloating is a symptom of food intolerance. You can be intolerant to a range of different foods and substances, but some of the most common include:
- dairy produce (for example, milk and cheese)
- artificial colourings, sweeteners or flavourings
If you think you may have a food intolerance, try to keep a food diary for 1 to 2 weeks. Note down everything you eat, and keep a record of any symptoms.
If you notice a trend between the food you eat and symptoms like bloating, visit a doctor so they can help you make the necessary changes to your diet.
When should you be concerned about bloating?
Persistent or chronic bloating can also be an early warning sign of ovarian cancer.
If bloating persists or you’re worried at all, always see a doctor.