We usually know where that food baby feeling comes from: food. Everything from beans, dairy, and salty snacks to onions, and—yep—even kale can lead to occasional bloating. But our diet isn't always to blame for that heavier than normal feeling in your mid-section. GI doctors know that these seven factors are often the reason your flat stomach has gone missing.
You sip through a straw.
What you drink and how you drink it can affect how tight and toned your tummy feels. "One thing I counsel patients on is to avoid using a straw," says Jennifer Inra, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "It causes you to swallow extra air. Not only are you getting the liquid you're drinking, but you're also getting the air that's trapped in the upper part of the straw." Why that matters: Excess air in your gut could fill you up more than that drink alone would.
Your go-to drink is bubbly.
Anything with carbonation—seltzer, beer, soda, and so on—delivers bubbles right to your gut, says Inra. (That means more extra air.) And be careful of diet sodas or drinks with artificial sweeteners like aspartame in them, she warns. "They cause bloating because artificial sweeteners are not digested by your body."
You have a GI condition.
GI illnesses like irritable bowel syndrome can cause diarrhoea, constipation, or both, says Inra. And a lot of patients—especially women—experience significant bloating, she says. If you have a GI disorder, your gut can be hypersensitive, says Inra. Breaking down food can leave you with a slew of unwanted stomach woes, pain, and bloating.
You're on a bloat-inducing medication.
The pills you're popping could be the reason you feel like a balloon. Inra says a common culprit for bloating is oral contraceptive pills. "Oestrogen can cause the GI system to slow down, leading to and gas." Also: Pain medication (think: any kind of narcotic) slows your GI system, too. Antibiotics can sometimes be to blame for a bigger belly as well, she says. "We use antibiotics to kill bad bacteria, but at the same time they also get rid of good bacteria, which are essential for gut health. If you have gas-producing bacteria starting to populate, bloating can be the result."
You sit on your bum all day.
We all know the cascade of health consequences that come from a sedentary lifestyle, but you might not know that being stationary could be the reason your pants feel a little tight. "When you're sitting at your desk or on the couch for awhile, your whole body kind of slows down," says Inra. Exercise—even walking around every now and then—can keep everything moving along regularly.
You travel a lot.
Fly all the time for work? Spend a weekend on the slopes in Colorado? Bloat is normal. At altitudes—on a flight, pressurised to around 7,000 feet; or in the mountains, which can be even higher than that—gases in your belly expand, leading to that heavier-than-normal feeling. This paired with the fact that when we travel we don't always keep up with our healthy at-home diets. And salty plane snacks, carbonated drinks, and a lack of exercise can lead everything to get backed up while you're traveling, says Inra.
In rare cases, it could be cancer.
Inra says that both colon cancer and gynecologic cancers like ovarian cancer can be associated with symptoms of bloating. With colon cancer, stool that can't pass through could be causing a backup. For women with ovarian cancer, a buildup of fluid that collects in your abdomen can cause bloat. But, Inra warns, cancers often come with other serious symptoms, too. With colon cancer, many people experience anaemia, rectal bleeding, and unexplained weight loss; and with ovarian cancer, abdominal pain and weight loss are common complaints, she notes. If you're worried, make an appointment with your doctor to find out what could be going on.
This article originally appeared on Womenshealthmag.com.