If your midsection feels a little larger than usual, you may be wondering if this increase in size is caused by weight gain or gas. Although the two look and may feel the same, weight gain and gas are key differences.
According to Bryan Curtin, MD, MHSc, director of the Center for Neurogastroenterology and GI Motility at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, gas is the subjective feeling of fullness, pressure, or trapped gas. In other words, when your stomach enlarges with gas or liquid. It is generally a temporary condition.
In contrast, belly or belly fat develops over time. It requires lower calorie intake and more exercise to go away.
With that in mind, here are the main differences between gas and abdominal fat, their respective causes, and ways to get relief.
Not sure if you’re getting fat or just dealing with gas? Here are a few ways to tell the difference.
Appearance and storage
You have a few easy ways to tell if it’s fat or gas, says Matthew Olesiak, MD, chief medical director at SANESolution. “Fat is stored in adipocytes (fat cells) throughout the body,” he says. So, as you gain fat, you will notice it in several other areas of your body, according to Olesiak, such as: B. on the back and on the thighs.
But if your belly is the only part of your body that has expanded, Olesiak says it is likely bloated.
How it feels
The next time you feel your stomach expand, notice how it feels. Flatulence usually makes your stomach feel hard and firm, while belly fat feels soft to the touch.
Length of time
One way to know if you’re getting fat or just struggling with gas is by duration. Curtin says gas comes and goes. But in general, belly fat is more constant.
Measurable on the scale
“Bloat is an uncomfortable feeling that everyone has experienced before,” says William Li, MD, author of Eat to Beat Disease. It can come and go and it is not something that can be measured on a scale.
The weight gain from fat is different. “The actual weight gain from fat is shown on a scale and doesn’t go away on its own,” says Li.
Flatulence has several possible causes. Here are some of the most common triggers:
- Accumulation of gas in the intestines. This is a common cause of gas, but it is also a symptom of other gastrointestinal problems or disorders. Talk to a doctor if you have concerns or have recurring or constant gas.
- Diet. Eating too much fiber, beans, dairy products, and other foods is a major cause of gas and gas.
- Constipation. Infrequent or unproductive bowel movements means the stool is staying in the colon longer than it should. Olesiak says this gives the bacteria more time to ferment it, which leads to excess gas and bloating.
- Inflammatory bowel disease. In Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract can trap gas and cause gas.
- Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine (SIBO). At SIBO there is an atypical reproduction of bacteria in the small intestine. When the large intestine has an imbalance of bacteria known as dysbiosis, olesiac bacteria can overgrow in the small intestine. This leads to many digestive symptoms, including gas.
- Eat too fast. Li says eating too quickly can temporarily make you feel bloated.
- Other medical conditions. Certain medical conditions can make you feel bloated. Li says the following conditions can slow down the movement of food in the intestines, change the microbiome from healthy bacteria to unhealthy, gas-producing bacteria, or cause constipation:
Bowel obstruction and untreated ascites can both be medical emergencies. Go to the nearest emergency room if:
- You have recently had abdominal surgery and are suffering from gas, severe constipation, and loss of appetite.
- You have gas next to a suddenly bloated stomach, stomach pain, difficulty breathing when lying down, heartburn, nausea and vomiting.
When it comes to gas, you have two ways to keep it at bay: you can avoid foods and activities that cause gas, and you can intervene the first time you notice your stomach feeling full or swollen. The good news is that there are as many cures for gas as the causes. Here are some remedies to try next time you feel bloated.
Cut down on gas generating foods
Olesiak says if you are struggling with gas or gas in your stomach after eating, cut down on the following gas-producing foods:
Avoid processed foods
Curtin says sugar and preservatives in processed foods can be a common source of gas.
Monitor bowel movements
Having regular bowel movements can help prevent gas by providing information about possible gas triggers.
This includes eating smaller portions. Slowing down your food also means you can swallow less air, which can lead to gas and gas.
Sip some herbal tea
The following herbal teas can help reduce gas:
- Lemon balm
Use peppermint oil
Peppermint oil taken as a supplement may help improve various symptoms in people with IBS by reducing muscle spasms, according to a 2014 research report.
Talk to a doctor before taking any supplements as they are not closely monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some dietary supplements may contain higher concentrations of active ingredients that can pose a health risk, as well as other ingredients that are not listed on the label.
Avoid carbonated drinks
Carbonated drinks like soda and energy drinks deliver gas into your intestines, causing gas to bloat in your stomach.
Li recommends taking probiotics or eating fermented foods. This can help restore healthy gut bacteria and decrease the production of gas and other irritating toxins by harmful bacteria.
You may want to take a nap after you eat. But Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, says steady movement during a walk can stimulate the passage of gas through your digestive tract and provide relief.
Try an abdominal massage
Fleming says that with the right technique, abdominal massage can relieve tension, cramps, and gas. A 2015 study found that an abdominal massage was helpful in reducing malignant ascites, which is a build-up of fluid in your abdomen.
Gently squeeze your fingers to perform this abdominal massage:
- Starting on the right side of your abdomen at the pelvic bone, rub up in a circular motion for 1 minute until you reach your ribs.
- Move forward to the left for 1 minute.
- Rub down in a circular motion until you reach your left hip bone for 1 minute, then walk back to your belly button for 2 to 3 minutes.
- You can easily press with your fingers.
- Repeat the massage clockwise for 10 minutes.
Unlike gas that comes on and goes throughout the day, belly fat, also called visceral fat, stays around unless you make permanent changes to eliminate it. Belly fat is usually the result of general weight gain. This happens when you are consuming more calories than your body is burning.
For some people, belly fat is the result of an unbalanced diet and minimal physical activity. But for others, it can be caused primarily by diet, and more specifically, from consuming too many calories. This can happen even though you exercise regularly.
Foods that can help build belly fat include:
- sugary foods and drinks
- Foods high in trans fat
According to a 2021 research report, wearing excess fat around your midsection can put you at risk:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- high blood pressure
- Metabolism problems
Menopause is another factor that contributes to an increase in belly fat. This is due to a drop in estrogen levels, which causes fat to be stored in the abdomen.
Most of us deal with belly fat. Trying to shed a few pounds to reduce belly fat can help adjust your diet and increase your physical activity.
Overall, the loss of belly fat is a balance between diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. This includes eating more fruits, vegetables, and lean protein, and reducing the amount of trans fats, refined carbohydrates, sugars, and alcohol that you consume.
On the exercise side, you should get at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every week. Additionally, 2 days of strength training per week can help reduce belly fat.
Flatulence is generally a temporary condition that you can treat at home. But sometimes a visit to the doctor is a good idea.
See a doctor if your stomach is bloated, and also if the stomach becomes noticeably larger after a meal. Also make an appointment if you have flatulence and:
- strong pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weight loss
You can also see a doctor if you gain belly fat. A doctor can provide helpful information about proper diet and exercise techniques that can help you lose fat.
Understanding the differences between bloated stomach and belly fat can help you determine the cause of your symptoms and the best way to treat them.
Flatulence is often temporary. It’s usually caused by something in your diet, a medical condition, or your lifestyle.
Belly fat, on the other hand, is the result of an unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle and, in some cases, medical conditions. It’s also more permanent unless you take steps to reduce it.