If your midsection is a bit larger than usual, you may be wondering if it’s due to weight gain or bloating. Although the two may look and perhaps feel similar, there is a major difference between weight gain and bloating.
Bloating is a subjective feeling of fullness, pressure, or gas in the abdomen, according to Brian Curtin, MD, MHSc, director of the Center for Neurogastroenterology and Gastrointestinal Motility at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. In other words, it’s when your stomach becomes distended with gas or fluid. This is generally a temporary condition.
In contrast, belly or abdominal fat builds up over time. To make it disappear, you need to eat less calories and increase exercise.
With that in mind, here are the main differences between bloating and belly fat, the causes of each, and ways to relieve them.
How do you know if you’re getting fat or if you’re bloated?
Not sure if you’re gaining weight or just feeling bloated? Here are some ways to differentiate.
Appearance and storage
There are a few easy ways to tell if it’s fat or bloated, says Matthew Olesiak, MD, CEO of SANESolution. “Fat is stored throughout the body through adipocytes (fat cells),” he said. So, if you’re gaining weight, you’ll notice it in other areas of your body, like your back and thighs, Olesiak says.
But if your belly is the only part that’s enlarged, you may be bloated, Olesiak says.
How does it feel?
The next time you feel your belly grow, pay attention to how it feels. Bloating can make your belly hard and tight, while belly fat becomes soft.
Length of time
One way to tell if you’re gaining weight or just feeling bloated is how long it lasts. Bloating can occur, Curtin says. But generally, belly fat is more consistent.
Can be measured on a scale
William Lee, M.D., author of “Eat to Relieve Illness,” says, “Bloating is an unpleasant feeling that everyone experiences. It can come and go, and it’s not something you can measure on a scale.