Is Bloating at Night “Normal”?
Despite what you may see on social media, you don’t have to live with a bloated belly. See what dietitians have to say about bloating at night. And later: 7 tips to alleviate digestive discomfort.
One of the best things about social media is people getting real about their bodies—and the images they post. It’s easy to snap a pic in the right lighting and at the right angle and put that on your feed. But it’s another when you post something extremely relatable, such as a post-meal belly bulge. Wellness influencers are now sharing pictures of themselves at night where their bellies look visibly bigger or bloated, in order to show that this is something everyone experiences—and that it’s okay.
However, experts say that this can be a dangerous trend. “What we’re seeing is a normalization of something that’s common, but not normal,” says Abigail Hueber, RD, a functional and integrative dietitian with Above Health Nutrition in Boston. This means that ongoing bloating—including bloating at night—suggests there’s something underlying going on with your health. “This message [may] prevent people from seeking help who want to ease their regular bloating,” she says. Here’s what you need to know.
Is Bloating Normal?
When you eat, you can expect a small amount of stomach bulging, says Michelle Shapiro, RD, a functional dietitian at Michelle Shapiro Nutrition in New York City. “It’s a heavy chemical process to digest, and it’s normal to experience a certain level of fullness while eating,” she explains. However, there are certain clues signaling that your nighttime bloat isn’t normal:
- When bloating is constant
- When you feel bloated even when you’re not eating
- When you feel abdominal pressure or pain associated with bloating
- When you have excessive gas, constipation, or diarrhea that accompanies the bloating
- You have visible stomach distention (when your stomach swells outward)
Shapiro agrees that normalizing this experience isn’t necessarily helpful—even if the commonalities with others make you feel like less of an outlier. “People think that having a distended stomach at the end of the day is something they just have to accept because other people have it, too. I think our definition of what’s normal needs to change a bit, too,” she says.
So, what is normal? According to Shapiro, normal, healthy digestive function entails:
- experiencing very little digestive discomfort
- having one to two BMs per day (where stool looks fully formed)
- not having much gas or stomach distention
Why You Might Be Bloated At Night
If you deal with bloating on the regular, there are so many people who (literally) feel your pain. One in seven adults said that they’ve experienced that stomach-filled-with-air feeling in the past week, according to a survey of nearly 90,000 Americans published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2021.
According to Kim Kulp, RDN, owner of the Gut Health Connection in the San Francisco Bay area, here are some reasons why your belly may be bloated:
- You ate a large meal
- You’re eating foods that you normally wouldn’t eat
- You’ve upped your fiber intake
- You recently switched to a predominantly plant-based diet
- You have an underlying digestive health condition
- Your gut microbes are imbalanced
- You’re constipated
7 Tips to Alleviate Bloating at Night
You should feel good after you eat, whether it’s following breakfast or after a full day of meals and snacks. To improve your digestive comfort, here are a few things you can do:
1. Find Your Calm Before Eating
Are you typically stressed and not paying attention to your food when you eat? Habits like answering emails during lunchtime “puts you in an actively stressed-out state that doesn’t allow your GI system the energy and focus to do its job effectively,” says Hueber. It’s important to eat in a calm environment without distractions. She recommends taking a couple of deep breaths before you eat to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, or your “rest and digest” state.
2. Give Yourself Eating Breaks
Consistently grazing or snacking your way through the day affects your body’s ability to effectively digest your food, says Hueber. Make sure you’re taking definitive breaks from eating to allow your body to process your last meal or snack.
3. Sit Up When You Eat
It’s not just the stress of working while eating at your desk that’s a problem—it’s your body position, too. “Our digestive tracts are extremely long, and food needs to go on a journey,” says Shapiro. “Make sure you’re not hunched over when eating, which puts pressure on your esophageal sphincter, pushing acid up. That’s a big root cause of bloating for some people.”
4. Take Digestive Enzymes
A digestive enzyme supplement—such as HUM’s Flatter Me—can help reduce bloating and promote healthy digestion. It packs 18 full-spectrum enzymes to help break down protein, carbs, fiber, lactose, and fats… all on the spot. In fact, in placebo-controlled crossover clinical study of 19 participants, people experienced two inches of less bloating after just one use.
5. Keep a Poop Journal
Nope, that’s not a typo! If bloating is a frequent or nightly event, it’s worth spending some time doing investigational work. Shapiro recommends keeping a “food-poop journal,” which means writing down:
- what food you’re eating
- digestive symptoms
- how often you go number two
Doing this may help you make some connection between what you’re eating and your symptoms, she says.
6. Consider Removing Gluten or Dairy
This isn’t going to be the right solution for everyone, but gluten and dairy can be drivers of GI symptoms for some people, says Hueber. The downside is that doing so may require big dietary changes on your part, which can be a lot of work. Plus, you’ll have exclude these ingredients in your diet for three to four months to see the full benefit. “These are the only two categories of food that I’d guide someone to remove. If that doesn’t have a tremendous impact on your symptoms, there may be something [bigger] going on,” she says.
Note: It’s always best to consult a healthcare expert before removing any major food groups from your diet.
7. Consult a Registered Dietitian
Despite the message on social media that bloating at night is normal, you deserve abdominal comfort—even after meals. However, in The American Journal of Gastroenterology study above, less than half of people sought help for their bloating. A registered dietitian who specializes in gut health, or a functional dietitian or doctor, can help you uncover the source(s) of your bloating and help you develop a treatment plan.
Again, while bloating at night may be common, it doesn’t mean that everyone who struggles with it should. In fact, quite the opposite. While the trend of posting images of bloated bellies may help you feel seen and less alone with your own digestive issues, things can go awry if you accept it as “normal” and don’t take steps to address ongoing bloating. After all, eating should make you happy and feel good.
On a parting note, while at-home food sensitivity testing and microbiome tests are popular and seem to offer promise to help you figure out your bloating with longed-for clarity, Kulp suggests avoiding them. “They’re marketed as a way to get information about your gut microbes that your doctor may not test for. But the biggest problem with these tests is while they may be able to tell you what microbes are in your sample, we don’t yet know what mix of microbes a person should have. There are likely many variations,” she explains. In addition, she says that the tests are often expensive and won’t provide much value. “Too often, they lead to unnecessary food restriction and little change in how you feel,” she adds.
Until then, stick to the tips above to inch toward relief from bloating at night, as well as throughout the day.
#Bloating #Night #Normal