How to Tell the Difference Between Weight Gain, Fat, and Bloating
It can be difficult to distinguish between bloating and abdominal weight gain. After all, they feel relatively similar. Both can cause discomfort and feelings of fullness around the central torso.
Although weight gain, bloating, and abdominal fat are often used interchangeably, they each mean different things. It's important to understand the differences between them so you can recognise each one and take the right management steps if needed.
If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘I have no idea what the difference is between weight gain, abdominal fat, and bloating, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to discuss the differences between each of these things and how to relieve bloating.
What is Fat vs. Bloating?
We all know what it feels like to be bloated. It’s easy to indulge in a little too much cake or eat a larger-than-usual plate of food for dinner. Bloating is uncomfortable and can sometimes be painful. It’s a feeling of fullness that is caused by excessive gas in your digestive tract.
Although uncomfortable, bloating is temporary. This is contrary to abdominal fat, which is permanent (unless you lose weight). Fat is medically known as adipose tissue, and it can accumulate in all areas of the body.
The areas where you’ll store the most fat depend largely on your genetics. However, the most common areas of the body for adipose tissue accumulation include the abdomen, thighs, and buttocks.
Body fat is essential for overall health, providing insulation, energy storage, and protection for vital organs. It’s especially important for women who require a high percentage of body fat than men to stay healthy.
However, carrying excess body fat can be harmful to your health and increases your risk of various health conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. Unlike bloating, fat doesn’t go away on its own, and instead, you have to make dietary and lifestyle changes to get rid of it.
What Causes Bloating?
There are lots of different things that can cause bloating, and some of the most common causes include the following.
1. Eating too much
The most common cause of bloating is overconsumption of food. It’s all too easy to eat too much food at dinner time and end up with a huge, bloated stomach. The risk of bloating is particularly high if you eat a high-carbohydrate or high-fat meal.
2. Excessive gas
The build-up of gas can quickly lead to bloating. Your stomach and intestines will swell to make room for the gas that is produced during the breakdown of certain foods by your gut bacteria.
Foods that increase gas production in your digestive tract include high-fat foods, salty foods, beans, legumes, onions, garlic, and cruciferous vegetables. Excessive gas and bloating can also be the result of swallowing too much air when eating your meals.
3. Hormonal changes
A lot of women experience more bloating in the days leading up to their periods than they do the rest of the month. This is due to changes in reproductive hormone levels (oestrogen and progesterone), which cause increased water retention and bloating.
Although these hormonal fluctuations are totally normal and healthy, the resulting bloating can be difficult to deal with. A lot of women feel sluggish and larger around their periods, and might experience additional symptoms, like abdominal cramping and mood changes.
Menopause is associated with huge changes in hormone levels and energy metabolism, and can lead to an increased risk of central weight gain.
Lots of medications can cause bloating, including
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Anti-seizure medications
While you might be tempted to quit taking your medications if they keep making you bloated, it’s important to speak to your doctor before making any changes to your regular medications. Your doctor might be able to offer alternative medications that don’t cause you the same level of digestive discomfort.
4. Digestive disorders
Bloating is a common symptom of many digestive disorders. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), you’ll probably find that you get bloated quite regularly.
Additional medical conditions that can increase the risk of bloating include eating disorders, giardiasis (an intestinal parasite infection), diabetes, and other metabolic disorders.
What Causes Fat Around Your Stomach?
Your genetics determines where your body chooses to store fat first when you gain weight. However, there are several factors that cause fat to accumulate around your stomach more than anywhere else in your body.
So, what causes weight gain around your stomach (abdominal fat)? Some of the most common causes of this include.
- High alcohol consumption
- Consuming foods with high amounts of trans fats
- Leading a sedentary lifestyle
- High cortisol levels in the body (caused by chronic stress)
- Gut dysbiosis (imbalances in the types and amounts of different bacterial species in your gut)
How to Tell the Difference Between Weight Gain and Bloating
Depending on whether you’re dealing with chronic bloating or central weight gain, your management steps will look different. It’s important to learn how to distinguish between the two, so you know the right steps to take to manage them effectively.
A great way to identify whether you’re experiencing excess gas or abdominal weight gain is to keep a diary of when you feel the most bloated. You can tell the difference between weight gain and bloating by considering whether your stomach is distended all the time or whether it only enlarges after large meals or during times of stress. Weight gain and fat might fluctuate slightly but the big difference is whether it's around meals and whether it's painful - bloating can be very uncomfortable while fat is not.
Bloating occurs suddenly or in response to specific stimuli, whereas abdominal fat is there permanently and doesn’t go away when you avoid certain foods or triggers.
How to Reduce Fat Around the Stomach
Reducing abdominal fat can be challenging, but there are plenty of things that you can do to lose weight.
Note that you can’t spot reduce fat. In other words, you can’t choose where your body takes fat from (no matter how many sit-ups you do!). Overall, weight loss will lead to a reduction in abdominal fat.
Here are some top tips on how you can reduce central adiposity:
1. Reduce your calorie intake
This will aid in full body fat loss, including the reduction of fat around your stomach.
2. Increase your protein intake
Protein is the most satiating nutrient, so consuming high-protein meals will help to keep you fuller for longer.
3. Eat fiber-rich foods
Fiber helps to keep you full and reduce cravings. Include fiber-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and nuts in your diet.
4. Start strength training
The more skeletal muscle you have on your body, the higher your resting metabolic rate and the more calories you will burn on a day-to-day basis. This can lead to weight loss, even if you eat the same amount of food as usual.
5. Reduce your stress
High cortisol leads to central weight gain. Effectively managing your stress can reduce the risk of weight gain and abdominal fat. Stress-reducing activities include meditation, deep breathing exercises, yoga, and physical activity.
6. Get enough sleep
A lack of sleep can disrupt your hunger hormones and increase your cravings. Aim for 7-9 hours of undisturbed sleep each night to keep your hunger hormones in check and minimise the risk of weight gain around your stomach.
How to Relieve Bloating
If you’re dealing more with bloating and excess gas than weight gain, your management techniques will look a little different from the above. It involves some lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments.
Here are some things you can do to tackle bloating:
1. Take probiotics
Probiotics are live bacteria that are beneficial for your gut health (and overall health). You can take probiotic supplements, like A Dose For Bloating, or through foods that contain high amounts of probiotics, such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, tofu, and miso.
2. Eat high-potassium foods
Potassium can help to eliminate water retention and reduce bloating. Potassium-rich foods include bananas, avocados, potatoes, and dried fruit.
3. Take digestive enzymes
Your body naturally produces digestive enzymes, but you can take supplements to aid your digestive system. Supplementation can be one of the best bloating remedies for those of you who deal with a medical condition that causes you to produce inadequate amounts of digestive enzymes.
4. Avoid gassy foods
Staying clear of gas-producing foods can be helpful to reduce excessive gas in your digestive tract and keep bloating at bay.
5. Eat smaller, more frequent meals
Doing so gives your digestive system time to break down ingested food properly before you eat again.
6. Change mediations
If you suspect that the medications you’re taking are causing you to be chronically bloated, speak to your doctor to see if there are alternative options for you.