Start off with some real talk: “Assess whether or not weight gain may be a possibility in the first place,” says Alex Caspero, R.D., owner of Delish Knowledge. “Have your eating patterns changed? Activity habits? Stress levels?” Even the smallest of lifestyle changes—from getting an hour or two less sleep per night to taking a new medication—can influence your caloric balance.
2. How do I look in the morning?
When you wake up in the morning, take a look in the mirror. Not in a judgey way, but just to get a sense of what’s going on in your body. “When we wake up in a fasted state, our food has already left our stomach and is probably well into our colon, so we don’t get that ‘bloated’ feeling and look,” says Caspero. So if you wake up with a stomach that’s a good two sizes smaller than when you go to bed, something is definitely going on in your gut, she says. (Start working towards your weight-loss goals with Women’s Health’s Body Clock Diet.)
3. What do I look like after meals?
“Bloating tends to happen around and after meal times and changes throughout the day. So if you eat lunch and feel bloated afterward but that feeling goes away when you hit the gym, it’s likely bloat,” says Caspero.
4. Is it my time of the month?
Oh, yes, good ‘ol Flo. Throughout the menstrual cycle, changes in female sex hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone, can result in serious water retention. “The fluid can spread around the body, but seems to affect your tummy most of all,” says Lisa M. Davis, Ph.D., chief nutrition officer of Terra’s Kitchen, a meal delivery service.
5. Where’s the “weight?”
“When you gain weight, it’s rarely in one area,” says Caspero. It spreads out over your belly, thighs, butt, arms, face—the list goes on. Though you might notice it most in areas where you tend to carry more of your body fat, bloating is all about the abdomen, she says.
6. When was the last time I pooped?
“Being ‘backed up’ causes you to weigh more until your body releases the waste it’s holding onto,” says Davis. And it can literally expand your stomach. While every woman’s “regular” is slightly different, if yours isn’t on a pretty reliable schedule, it’s not regular. Irritable bowel syndrome, PMS, dehydration, low fiber intake, stress, sleep changes, and even traveling can all contribute, she says.
7. What color is my pee?
Yes, actually look into the toilet. “Your pee should be a light lemonade color. It doesn’t need to be clear or very pale, but it shouldn’t look like iced tea or dark lemonade,” says Caspero. If it does, you’re dehydrated, which causes bloat via constipation and makes your body hold onto whatever water it’s got—camel style.
8. Did I recently have a lot of salt or carbohydrates?
Both can cause tissues all over your body to retain water, says Davis, noting that just two cups of water weighs one pound. (Did we just blow your mind?) And while there’s nothing wrong with the fluids that your body naturally holds onto when it stores carbs as glycogen (your body’s main fuel source), if you’re used to a low-carb eating approach, you’ll definitely have more fluid in your system post-pasta.
So you’re bloated: The best way to combat bloat is by taking on the root source. If your answers revealed that you’re constipated and dehydrated, well, then that’s what you need to work on. But oftentimes the problem isn’t that easy to ID. If you find yourself regularly puffy and struggling to pinpoint the trigger, talk to your physician and/or registered dietitian, says Caspero. “While we all tend to experience bloating in some capacity, it shouldn’t be happening after every meal,” she says.
So you’re gaining weight: If your weight is changing, some part of your routine is, too. Are you eating more take-out, making changes to your workout routine, or dealing with a new stressful desk job? Don’t freak. Just as gaining weight typically results from small changes to your daily routine, so does weight loss. “Ask yourself where you can make simple changes to go back to the place where you felt your best,” says Caspero.