Why Bloating Can Be Normal and Healthy, According to a Dietitian
As a registered dietitian, I am (unfortunately) very aware of all of the less-than-credible nutrition information out there. It seems like there are social media influencers and celebrities ready to give their two cents about what is and isn't healthy (usually without any research to back it up). Misinformation about nutrition can lead people to unhealthy relationships with food and confusion about what to eat, when in reality there are several sustainable ways to lead a healthy lifestyle.
One trend I have been seeing that is particularly concerning is when influencers claim that "bloating isn't healthy" or that it's "unhealthy" for our bodies to change at all throughout the day. For starters, any influencers whose posts I have seen about this topic all have small bodies, so the claim is inherently shaming those who don't look like them. Not to mention, as a credentialed nutrition professional, I can assure you that their claims are absolutely not true. There are several completely natural and even healthy habits that can cause bloating. So long as your bloating isn't coupled with regular digestive discomfort, it should not be a source of concern or shame. Here are some evidence-based, science-backed reasons why some bloating can be totally normal and healthy.
Stomachs are not meant to be "flat"
First off, our bodies and stomachs are not meant to be flat. We have internal organs that do a whole host of amazing things within our body every day. Around our midsection are some of our most important organs, like our lungs, heart, stomach, liver, digestive system and more. As these organs do their incredible work, they might have more or less volume throughout them. This could be from increased blood flow, water intake, digestion or simply your stomach filling in response to a meal. We all should be more focused on supporting our bodies and our organs so that they can support us—not trying to make them as small as possible.
Healthy habits can cause bloating
Since our bodies are dynamic, it makes sense that different habits could cause our bodies to look a little different throughout the day. In fact, there are several healthy habits that can naturally cause some bloating. Adding a new food to your diet—like probiotics, fermented foods or nut milks—can require a little bit of time for your gut to adjust. Foods that are high in fiber or protein also need to bind to water to be digested, so they can cause some completely healthy bloating while they move through your system.
Water itself takes up a lot of space in our bodies, so you could also bloat from drinking a lot of water at one time or ramping up your exercise routine (which can lead to water retention). Unless you are feeling notable discomfort from bloating, none of these things should be cause for concern. Staying hydrated, moving your body and eating a variety of gut-friendly foods are much more important for your overall health than trying to avoid harmless bloat.
Sometimes we eat too much—and that's OK!
While some causes from bloating like exercise and staying hydrated can lead to bloating, you might also feel bloating after eating more than you usually do. To be very clear, we are all human and we all eat too much sometimes—and that is OK! As a dietitian, I firmly believe in the concept of intuitive eating. In short, this means that everyone has unconditional permission to eat any foods they want (including that holiday cookie or an extra serving of your mom's casserole).
That said, eating moderate portions of nutritious foods and meals is ideal for our overall health. To help our bodies function at their best, we should focus on eating a balanced diet. However, one meal will not make or break your health, so enjoy it and don't worry about bloating. Try to have your next meal focus on lighter foods to help you get back to feeling your best (we have these recipes for when you feel bloated that can help).
The bottom line
Nothing grinds my gears quite like when I see someone with a large platform spreading nutrition misinformation—especially when it shames people for things that are completely normal and healthy. If you have seen or heard that no bloating is healthy, don't fret. There are plenty of science-backed reasons why your body might fluctuate throughout the day, and more often than not they aren't cause for concern. Many are even super healthy habits that are way more important than trying to maintain an unattainable "flat" stomach. If you are regularly experiencing digestive discomfort, talk to your doctor or dietitian.