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Lifestyle choices that improve your waist line

These 11 factors are often the reason your flat stomach has gone missing.

1. You sip through a straw.

What you drink and how you drink it can affect how tight and toned your tummy feels. One thing I counsel my clients on is to avoid using a straw. It causes you to swallow extra air. Not only are you getting the liquid you're drinking, but you're also getting the air that's trapped in the upper part of the straw. Why that matters: Excess air in your gut could fill you up more than that drink alone would.

2. Your go-to drink is bubbly.

Anything with carbonation—seltzer, beer, soda, and so on—delivers bubbles right to your gut. (That means more extra air.) And be careful of diet sodas or drinks with artificial sweeteners like aspartame in them. They cause bloating in themselves because artificial sweeteners are not digested by your body.

3. You sit on your bum all day.

We all know the cascade of health consequences that come from a sedentary lifestyle, but you might not know that being stationary could be the reason your pants feel a little tight. When you're sitting at your desk or on the couch for awhile, your whole body kind of slows down. Exercise—even walking around every now and then—can keep everything moving along regularly.

4. You travel a lot.

Fly all the time for work? Spend a weekend on the slopes in Colorado? Bloat is normal. High altitudes—on a flight, pressurized to around 7,000 feet, or in the mountains, which can be even higher than that—gases in your belly expand, leading to that heavier-than-normal feeling. This paired with the fact that when we travel we don't always keep up with our healthy at-home diets and salty plane snacks, carbonated drinks, and a lack of exercise can lead everything to get backed up while you're traveling as well.

5. You ate too fast.

The pace of life has us all in a hurry, but if that leaves you in a rush to eat, be warned: besides food, you're also swallowing gas-producing air, which can make you feel bloated. Trapped air isn't the only bloat trigger here. When you eat in a rush, you don't chew thoroughly, and that leads to larger food pieces sitting in your gut, waiting to be fully digested. Another speed-eating danger: you lose track of how much you're consuming, and stuffing yourself makes you feel stuffed. Instead of eating on the run, carve out at least 20 minutes for a slower sit-down meal. That's how long it takes your brain to register fullness, signaling that it's time to put your fork down so you don't overdo it.

6. Your go-to lunch is a sandwich.

Even the healthiest sammies tend to be packed with sodium. A recent USDA study discovered that the sodium content in the typical sandwich can chew up 20% of your sodium allowance. A 2012 CDC study listed the top sodium-loaded foods, many of which were sandwich staples. Bread and rolls ranked as the number-one source of sodium in the typical American diet, and deli meat was number two, with cheese not far behind. The CDC recommends keeping sodium intake under 2,300 mg, and you can stay within that number and prevent sodium-induced bloat by alternating your sandwich habit with other foods or forgoing the bread and wrapping it a crisp piece of romaine lettuce.

7. You eat lots of packaged foods.

Once again, the culprit here is sodium—it's used as a preservative for tons of processed convenience foods. You know that crackers and chips are sodium bombs, but even healthy-looking items such as soups, salad dressings, cereals, and tomato sauce can have crazy-high amounts of sodium that easily lead you to exceed the 2,300 mg daily recommended limit. It's a good bet that pretty much any product that comes wrapped in a package contains more sodium than you'd think, and you're unlikely to even taste the salt. Dodge the belly-bloating effects by reading labels and going for packaged foods that contain less than 500 mg per serving. And of course, try to cut back on the processed stuff and fill your plate with naturally low-sodium or sodium-free fresh fruits, grains, and veggies.

8. You choose diet or low-cal products.

Artificial sugars such as aspartame and sucralose have been added to everything from diet beverages to gum and candy. But the low or no calories come at a cost. While the FDA has recognized zero-cal sugar substitutes as safe, they're serious bloat inducers. Artificial sweeteners hang around your stomach a long time because your system doesn't digest them well (or at all). Makes sense, considering that they contain nothing your system recognizes as actual food. Banish them from your diet, and you'll feel instant relief.

9. You chew gum or suck on candy.

Gum and hard candy keep your mouth occupied, which can help you lose weight or quit smoking. But they too cause you to inadvertently gulp lots of excess air. And as with using a straw and eating too fast, excessive air can lead to belching and bloat. Try giving up the gum and suckers and instead take frequent sips of water—that will keep your mouth busy too. There's a bonus to H2O as well: plain water helps keep your GI tract moving, and that gets rid of excess air and water bloating out your system.

10. You eat dinner too close to bedtime.

If you eat a typical-sized dinner within an hour or two of hitting the sack, you're setting yourself up for morning discomfort. Lying down impairs digestion, so if you hit the bed with food in your stomach, it won't be broken down as quickly, leaving you bloated in the a.m. It's not always easy to shift your schedule, but try having supper at least three to four hours before turning in for the night. Stay on your feet as much as possible to keep things moving before you fall asleep. If you have no choice but to eat right before bedtime, make it something small, like a piece of fruit or yogurt, and refuel with a bigger meal at breakfast, when your metabolism is running high again and your body will benefit from the energy jolt.

11. You had a lot of fructose.

Fructose is a type of sugar and, if you want to get really technical, it's a two-unit sugar molecule that's a part of sucrose. And, yep, it can make you bloat. A lot of fructose in the gut attracts water into the gut. This can lead to feelings of fullness and bloating. Prevention is really the way to go here. Fructose appears in a lot of sugar-free gums and candies, as well as apple juice and honey. If it seems like fructose could be behind your bloat, it's time to scale back. Also, it's a good idea to see your doctor—you may have a fructose intolerance.

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