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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.

Weight gain is different from fat. “Weight gain from fat shows up on the scale and doesn’t go away on its own,” says Lee.

What causes bloating?
Bloating can have several causes. Here are some more common triggers:

Accumulation of gas in the stomach. While this is a common cause of bloating, it can also be a symptom of other gastrointestinal problems and disorders. If you are concerned or have persistent bloating or swelling, see your doctor.
Diet. Eating too much fiber, beans, dairy, and other foods is a major cause of gas and bloating.
Constipation. Having infrequent or infertile bowel movements means that stool stays in your colon longer than it should. This gives the bacteria more time to ferment, which can lead to excess gas and bloating, Olesiak says.
Inflammatory bowel disease. In Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract can cause gas and bloating.
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). In SIBO, there is an abnormal growth of bacteria in the small intestine. When the balance of bacteria in the colon is out of whack, known as dysbiosis, bacteria can multiply in the small intestine, Olesiak said. This can lead to many digestive symptoms such as bloating.
Eating too fast. Eating too quickly can cause temporary bloating, Lee says.
Other medical conditions. Certain medical conditions can make you feel bloated. The following conditions can slow the passage of food through the intestines, change the microbiota from healthy bacteria to unhealthy bacteria that produce gas, or cause constipation, Lee said.
gluten intolerance
food allergies
irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
parasitic infections
Ascites is a serious condition that causes fluid to accumulate in the abdominal cavity

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