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Bloating vs. Fat: What Is the Difference, and How Can You Tell?
Gut Health

Bloating vs. Fat: What Is the Difference, and How Can You Tell?

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Written by Edibel Quintero, RD | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on November 22, 2022
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8 min

If your stomach is sticking out more than usual, you may be wondering if it is caused by bloating or excess body fat. We take a close look at the two to determine how they differ and how you can tell them apart. Learn more below.

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If you’ve recently noticed that your midsection is larger than before, you may be wondering whether you have gained belly fat or if it is simply bloating. Sometimes the two can look very similar, but excess abdominal fat and stomach bloat are separate things.

Belly bloating and belly fat are caused by several factors but have different symptoms that can help you know whether it is excess fat or a bloated belly. In this article, we’re going to give you the tools to be able to tell the difference between stomach bloating and abdominal fat gain. Take a look below to learn more.

Bloating vs. Fat: How to Tell?

#1 Take a look at your body to see if you have gained weight in other places or just your belly.

#2 Bloated belly is hard, while excess belly fat is soft.

#3 If your stomach is constantly larger than before, it is more likely weight gain.

Bloating vs. Fat: How to Tell the Difference? We Have 3 Tips for You

Bloating and abdominal fat may look similar, but there are key differences. Belly fat refers to visceral fat accumulation in your midsection. This kind of fat can be grabbed onto and is widespread in the area. A bloated belly expands across the day and cannot be grabbed.

Both excess fat and abdominal bloating can be linked to what we consume. However, belly fat is a slow accumulation of body fat, whereas bloating can be linked to excess gas accumulation and other digestive system problems.

In fact, bloating can be caused by quite a list of issues happening internally, including irritable bowel syndrome, sugary foods, too much salt, food allergies, infections, bowel obstructions, and constipation. Excess belly fat, on the other hand, can be linked to the consumption of foods high in sugar and trans fat, as well as excess alcohol consumption.

For more information on how to recognize the difference between bloating and abdominal fat accumulation, take a look at the key differences below.

#1 Take a look at the appearance

Belly fat refers to excess body fat in the stomach region, but when we gain weight, it isn’t localized. This means if you have gained fat on your stomach, you’ve probably gained it elsewhere too. Take a look at your body to see if you have gained weight in other places.

While belly fat accumulation tends to be more widespread, bloating only occurs in the belly. If your stomach has expanded throughout the day, the chances are that it is bloating and not weight gain.

Bloating is usually caused by something we have consumed during the day, which makes the distinction much easier to make if you think back to what you have consumed. If you’ve consumed something you know can cause digestive issues, such as a medication like ibuprofen, then you should be able to tell the difference. Period bloating is also common.

#2 Touch your belly

A bloated belly causes your stomach to feel hard and tight, whereas belly fat is softer and easier to grab onto. If you can’t grab your stomach and it feels uncomfortably tight and hard to the touch, it is bloating and not weight gain.

#3 Monitor how long it lasts

Bloating will come and go throughout the days, particularly if you have digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome. Belly fat accumulation happens over a period of time and is more consistent.

If you’re noticing that your stomach expands and then flattens over the course of the day or week, then it is likely stomach bloat. If your stomach is constantly larger than before, it is more likely weight gain.

What Does Bloating Look Like?

Bloating results in an expansion of the stomach region and causes a hard, tight, and uncomfortable feeling in the belly. Sometimes, bloating can cause you to feel fuller, and your stomach may also make noises.

A bloated stomach swells and sticks out more than usual, but differently to the way that excess belly fat sticks out. The swollen stomach that occurs during bloating is hard; excess belly fat is soft.

Though it is referred to as a bloated stomach, it does not only occur around the stomach region. Bloating happens throughout the gastrointestinal tract, and so you may find that your entire abdomen is swollen.

Why Am I Gaining Weight in My Stomach?

If you have noticed weight gain around your stomach, there are several factors that could have caused it. These include the consumption of sugary foods, foods high in trans fat, and alcohol, and it could also be linked to a lack of physical activity.

The food we eat plays a major role in our body composition. Eating processed foods high in sugars, trans fats, or saturated fats can be linked to an increased risk of belly fat. These foods cause a range of health issues, and excess fat in the abdominal region can be linked to a number of chronic conditions.

Lack of physical activity and sitting for long periods of time also puts you at greater risk of excess weight gain and obesity. It is recommended that you get at least 150 minutes of physical activity each day, but many people don’t meet these requirements.

Other factors that affect belly fat accumulation include hormonal changes, like menopause, the composition of your gut microbiome and your digestive health, increased stress levels, and diets that are low in fiber.

Excess abdominal fat occurs for a variety of reasons, but you can make a few changes to your lifestyle, which will help you lose belly fat once more. These can include getting more exercise, like taking up running to reduce belly fat and choosing to eat mindfully and more healthily.

What Causes Bloating?

Bloating can be triggered by many things, including your diet, digestive problems like constipation and excess gas in the gastrointestinal tract, bacterial imbalances in the digestive system, medical conditions like gluten intolerances and IBS, hormonal changes, and simply eating your food too quickly.

Diet is a huge factor in bloating. What we eat can affect our digestive system, and eating too much fiber, too many dairy products or too much sugary junk food can lead to bloating. You may also have sensitivities to certain foods/medications that can cause bloating. An elimination diet could help you identify them.

Gas buildup, constipation, and other digestive issues can cause bloating and, if they happen frequently, could be caused by gastrointestinal issues. You should speak with a doctor if you find you bloat frequently.

There are many medical conditions that can be linked to bloating, including Crohn’s disease, IBS, food allergies, gluten intolerance, infections, and ascites. If you have been diagnosed with a condition previously, speak with your doctor about ways to calm bloating. If you have not, you may need to seek medical attention for frequent bloating to find out if there is an underlying cause.

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth is also commonly associated with bloating. This could be improved by eating more probiotic and prebiotic foods, but a nutritionist or doctor would be able to give you the best advice on dealing with imbalances in the gut microbiota.

How to Alleviate Bloating?

If you bloat frequently and do not have an underlying condition, then you’re probably looking into ways to alleviate these symptoms. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can prevent bloating and the frequency of digestive symptoms. We’ve summarized a few of them below.

#1 Eat fiber-rich foods

Fiber is an essential macronutrient in the health of the digestive system. Getting enough each day is one of the easiest ways to stay on top of your gut health. Great places to get fiber include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

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If you struggle to get enough fiber into your diet, you may want to try a fiber supplement like ColonBroom. ColonBroom is a psyllium husk-based fiber supplement that is taken twice a day to boost the fiber in your diet.

Psyllium husk is known to increase metabolism, improve body detoxification, prevent constipation and bloating, and boost your energy levels. It has a great strawberry flavor and could improve your weight loss efforts, too.

#2 Try sipping herbal tea

Herbal tea is an excellent method of alleviating bloating. There are many herbs that can have a positive effect on digestive symptoms, like bloating, including peppermint, lemon balm, ginger, and chamomile.

You can find many of these herbal teas in blends designed for digestion or on their own. Peppermint, in particular, has been used for centuries to alleviate digestive problems and is thought to not only reduce bloating but also help reduce cramping.

#3 Include exercising into your daily routine

We already know that a lack of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to bloating, so it stands to reason that exercising more could reduce these symptoms. Aim to get 150 minutes of physical activity a week, which is just 30 minutes per day, and it could be anything from a daily walk to a gym class.

If you are feeling bloated, it can help to go for a short walk after eating. This can get things moving in your digestive system and prevent gas buildup.

If you’re looking for a way to incorporate more exercise into your life, you could consider downloading the Perfect Body app. This app offers a personalized workout plan with exercise videos to help you embark on a fat-burning program.

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It provides you with workouts you can do at home that take 10–30 minutes and are perfect for adding a quick exercise session to your daily routine. You can also access meal plans to follow a healthier and more balanced diet.

A Word From Our Nutritionist

Bloating and excess abdominal fat are two very different problems. Bloating tends to be caused by problems in the digestive tract, like gas buildup, food sensitivities, and digestive conditions, whereas excess belly fat can be caused by poor diet, lack of exercise, and hormonal changes.

Bloating is experienced by many people and can be alleviated by eating more gut-healthy foods, like fiber and probiotics, as well as increasing your physical activity. Excess belly fat can also be shed through a healthier diet and regular exercise.

While bloating may be the cause of a digestive condition, belly fat can lead to conditions of its own. Excess fat around the stomach can actually put you at higher risk of developing a number of conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

The visceral fat cells that accumulate around the abdomen are incredibly dangerous for your health, and care should be taken to reduce belly fat as much as possible. If you think your excess stomach fat may be caused by an underlying condition, speak with a doctor.

Likewise, if you are frequently bloated, it could be a sign of a digestive condition, but remember that many things can cause digestive upset. Indeed, everything from antibiotics to too much fiber could cause bloating and other digestive symptoms.

Conclusion

Belly fat and bloating are very different. Belly fat is widespread, and bloating is not, but if you are frequently bloated, you may start to wonder if it is just weight gain. In this article, we have covered the basics of what to look out for in both cases. For a quick and effective relief, try using a fiber supplement such as ColonBroom.

Remember that both belly fat and bloating may be caused by underlying conditions and have an impact on your health. If you are concerned about either, speak with a doctor.

HR_author_photo_Edibel
Written by
Edibel Quintero is a medical doctor who graduated in 2013 from the University of Zulia and has been working in her profession since then. She specializes in obesity and nutrition, physical rehabilitation, sports massage and post-operative rehabilitation. Edibel’s goal is to help people live healthier lives by educating them about food, exercise, mental wellness and other lifestyle choices that can improve their quality of life.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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