It all starts with healthy breakfast choices, and follows through to lunch and dinner.
Carbohydrates hold water in your body, which may make your belly bloat.
Plus, high-carb, high-sugar breakfast foods like bagels or cereal might fill you up initially, but you’ll probably end up searching for more food within an hour, says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS, spokesperson for the US-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Those digest pretty rapidly, and then your blood sugar spikes up and drops back down pretty quickly because they digest so fast,” she says.
That extra morning munching will likely add up to more calories and bloat than you would have had if you’d started with a more filling breakfast.
For more low-carb dieting tips, try these 15.
Look for a brand of Greek yogurt that contains live and active cultures, which will promote healthy bacteria in your gut to prevent bloating.
Plus, the protein in the yogurt will keep you full. Beef it up with fiber-rich oats, berries, and chia seeds for an extra filling morning meal – just don’t go overboard if your body isn’t used to digesting that much fibre, says Jessica Crandall, RDN, CDE, spokesperson for the US-based Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“If you’re not used to that amount of fibre it causes gas, but if you work up to it slowly, it promotes a healthy GI system,” she says.
Slowly add a little more fibre to your diet every day for a flatter belly, and increase your fluid intake to aid digestion and reduce icky symptoms like diarrhoea and bloating.
Here’s what else you need to know about the link between complex carbohydrates and fibre.
Sodium is a big culprit of bloat by causing your body to retain water, but potassium helps counterbalance that salt.
“By eating more potassium, you can help reduce bloating,” says Torey Armul, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson based in the US.
Slice banana into your yogurt, or scramble up eggs with tomato and spinach, which are other good sources of potassium.
Did you know that potassium intake also helps relieve blood pressure? Eat more of this to get more of a potassium boost than any other fruit or vegetable.
A healthy lunch should consist of half non-starchy vegetables, with the other half split between whole grains and protein, says Rumsey.
“That way, you have some carbs but not too much,” she says.
Pick a dressing low in sugar and sodium – olive oil with balsamic vinegar will give you a little healthy fat to keep you full and help absorb nutrients from your veggies.
Add at least three vegetables, 3 to 6 ounces of a protein like chicken or beans, and just a thumb-sized amount of extras for crunch or flavour such as dried fruit, croutons and olives, says Rumsey.
Double wash canned beans before adding them to your salad to rinse away their gas-forming, bloat-producing properties, says Crandall.
Try here for some more delcious and healthy salad options.
Eating every three or four hours will prevent you from getting too ravenous.
Curb your hunger with a mid-afternoon snack so you aren’t starving by dinnertime.
“If you wait too long or build up this intense hunger, you’re more likely to choose those convenience foods and more likely to overeat at that next meal,” says Armul.
“You want generally smaller to moderate portion sizes because they’re an easier load for your body.”
If you’re struggling, here’s how to keep your portion sizes under control.
Not only will the protein in cheese keep you full so you’re not tempted to snack more later, but it can also help you avoid bloating and gas.
Pairing it with an apple gives you an extra kick of nutrients.
“Protein helps the flow of digestion, and produce gives you the nutrients your body needs, along with fibre,” says Crandall.
A banana with nut butter, or carrot sticks with hummus make other good combos of protein and produce.
Looking for more ways to get cheese into your diet?
Not only does drinking water prevent you from misinterpreting thirst signals as hunger, but contrary to popular belief, it actually can reduce water weight.
Staying well hydrated will help you digest and flush out the sodium holding water in, giving you a flatter belly.
“A lot of people refrain from drinking more water if they’re bloated, but you actually do want to continue drinking more water throughout the day,” says Armul.
“It helps restore fluid balance.”
And while you’re at it, here are the arguments for and against drinking bottled water.
Like lunch, your evening flat-belly meal should consist of half non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter whole grains, and one-quarter protein.
That combination is packed with nutrients, but will also keep you full.
A healthy plate might contain vegetables roasted in olive oil, a serving of quinoa, and 85 to 170g of chicken or fish, says Rumsey.
And by the way, quinoa is one of the 15 best super-foods for diabetics.
Try to cook fresh when you can instead of relying on packaged foods, says Armul.
“There are preservatives in them to prolong shelf life,” she says.
“The thing that makes them so convenient is they’re there all the time, waiting on the shelf – but that also means they’re higher in sodium.”
When that extra sodium holds water, you’ll end up feeling bloated.
Not all processed foods are bad news, though – some convenience foods can save time without costing your health.
It’s probably no surprise that pasta isn’t the best flat-belly dinner choice – after all, simple carbs won’t fill you up, so you’ll probably end up eating a huge portion – but even your vegetable choice can make you overdo it on carbohydrates.
Load your plate with starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn and peas, and you could practically watch your belly blow up.
“That’s going to take you longer to digest, which will make you feel bloated,” says Rumsey.
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage could also make you gassy and bloated, says Crandall. While all of those veggies can be a part of a healthy diet, stick with non-starchy, non-cruciferous choices like tomatoes, capsicum and mushrooms on days when you’re particularly worried about bloat.
Even though it’s a carbohydrate, fibre can actually flush out bloat rather than holding water in like simple carbs do.
“It’s slow-digesting and really nourishes the gut,” says Armul.
Leave the skins on fruits and vegetables so you don’t throw out any of that healthy fibre. And if you really want your fruit stores to last beyond their normal season, why not try your hand at preserving them? It’s easier than you think.
Even calorie-free sodas can make your belly bigger because the carbonation will bloat you up.
“With carbonated beverages, there’s nowhere else for gas to go but out, so either belch or gas,” says Crandall.
As a general rule, perhaps you should just keep the soda for cleaning the carpet.
Plus, the artificial sweeteners in diet drinks can cause bloating and gas in some people, says Armul.
Try water infused with lemon or cucumbers instead for a flavourful, refreshing drink.
Your brain takes about 20 to 30 minutes to register fullness signals from your stomach.
If you finish in just 15 minutes, you might go for seconds, thinking you’re still hungry, says Rumsey.
Eating more slowly will give your body time to realise if it’s full, plus it can help you swallow less air into your digestive tract.
“You tend to swallow more air when eating fast, and that can cause bloat,” says Rumsey.
Put your fork down between bites so you don’t end up shoveling food in your mouth, and count to 20 before you swallow each forkful, recommends Crandall.
Then, after your slow-food experience, speed it back up again for these 7 fast fat burning exercises.
Make dessert an occasional treat rather than an everyday event so it doesn’t become a habit, says Rumsey.
If you’re already feeling bloated, eating sweets full of simple carbs could just make it worse, says Armul.
“But if it’s been a healthy day and you’ve stayed active, a small portion of dessert should be fine and won’t cause major bloating,” she says.
The key to making it fit into your flat-belly day is sticking with one small portion – a serving of ice-cream is probably smaller than your usual scoop (or two) – or picking a healthier choice, like frozen fruit, to satisfy your sweet tooth.
If you find you do have a yo-yo relationship with sugary desserts, here’s how to kick the sugar habit without missing out on the sweet stuff.