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Many of us have found ourselves feeling the need to unbutton our pants or loosen our belts after a big meal. Whether you’re treating yourself or dinner just tasted great there’s nothing wrong with feeling bigger.
While it isn’t always as noticeable, some people also look (and feel) fatter after eating even their normal-sized portions. Understanding why this happens can help you feel better about eating and give reassurance that it’s okay to eat and that the bloating will go down later.
So, why do you look fatter after eating?
The reason you look fatter after eating is that the sodium in the foods you eat causes water retention. Plus, it takes time for your body to digest food. Food in the stomach takes anywhere from 6-8 hours to move into the small intestine. These things don’t mean you’ve gained weight from eating, though.
Below, we’ll take a look at how digestion and water retention affect how big you look after eating. I’ll also talk about how different foods, swallowing air, and the timing of when you eat plays a role in how fat you look after eating, too.
Why Do You Look Fatter After Eating?
There are a lot of reasons why you might look bigger right after eating, even if you’ve only eaten a small amount. More often than not, salt in foods you eat causes your body to retain water. Additionally, you might look fatter from the physical bulk of the food if you’ve eaten a lot- digestion takes time!
Of course, these aren’t the only factors. Certain foods are more likely to trigger inflammation that makes you look puffier and timing matters, too. Plus, people tend to swallow air when they eat, especially if they’re rushing through the meal. Let’s take a closer look at these five reasons you look fatter after eating below.
Reason 1: Sodium Causes Water Retention
That initial puffiness that happens after eating anything is usually water retention. This is especially true if you’re eating prepackaged, processed, or fast food.
That’s not to say that all sodium is a bad thing. People actually need about 500 mg of sodium each day to balance hydration and minerals, contract and relax muscles, and send nerve impulses through the body. According to the CDC, however, the average American exceeds that and consumes around 3,400 mg of sodium.
Eating carbohydrates also causes water retention. Your body converts carbohydrates to glycogen that can be used for energy, but it also stores several grams of water for every gram of glycogen stored for later. This can make you gain water weight until you’ve burned that stored energy.
It can take days (or sometimes longer) for your body to need this stored energy and until it uses it, those grams of water are going to hang around. This is one of the reasons you may notice day-to-day fluctuations in your weight or that you look fatter some days than others.
Reason 2: Digestion Happens Slowly
You’re most likely to notice food in your belly if you’ve eaten a big meal or if you’ve had a lot of drinks with dinner. It takes time for digestion to happen and until it does, foods and drinks stay in your belly.
On average, it takes about 6-8 hours for food to be broken down enough to pass through the stomach and small intestine. Once there, waste matter absorbs water so it moves more easily along the digestive tract. From start to finish, digestion is a process that can last 36 hours!
The presence of food is also more noticeable in people who are thinner. For example, people who look skinny from the front but fat from the side after eating.
Reason 3: Most People Swallow Air While Eating
The average person swallows around 2 kg of air per day just from breathing, eating, and drinking. Once swallowed, air can rise through the body as a burp or it can move through the digestive tract and pass through the other end.
Before this air moves along, however, it’s trapped in the digestive tract and can make your tummy appear bigger and bloated. You’re also more likely to swallow air if you are eating or drinking quickly, consuming carbonated beverages, or drinking through a straw.
Reason 4: Certain Foods Cause Bloating
Some people’s bodies have a hard time processing grains, dairy, or other inflammatory foods. When this happens, it causes gas and inflammation that results in bloating which makes you feel fatter than you are.
Some people also feel bloated after eating fibrous foods and whole grains, especially if they suddenly change their diet. To help with this, try making dietary changes gradually instead.
Keep in mind that not everyone’s body responds to the same foods in the same way. That being said, some common inflammatory foods include red meat, processed meats like hot dogs and lunch meats, refined, white grains like bread, cereal, and pasta, fried foods, snack foods, sodas, and other sweetened drinks.
Sometimes, healthy foods also cause gas and bloating, though this comes from bubbles produced when the food is digested. Foods that commonly cause gas and bloating include beans, lentils, barley, rye, wheat and high-fiber foods, onions, and cruciferous foods like broccoli.
For people who are unsure about what in their diet is causing their indigestion or bloating, it’s best to eliminate possible trigger foods and then add them back one at a time until you find the culprit.
Reason 5: When You Eat Matters, Too
In addition to what foods you eat, people who are watching their weight should also be aware that the timing of when you eat affects how big you look and feel after a meal. You see, humans have a natural circadian rhythm that affects things like when they feel sleepy and how fast their metabolism is running.
At night, your metabolism is slowest. This is because as you sleep, your body is less worried about digesting food to provide you with energy because you’re laying still. There is still a LOT going on, but your metabolism is much much slower than it is during the day.
If you eat a big meal right before bed, your body doesn’t have time to digest it properly. This means not only will you feel fatter at night, but you may feel bigger in the morning. Those nighttime calories can also contribute to weight gain.
As a general rule, you should avoid big meals at least 3 hours before eating and choose a light snack if you need one an hour or two before bed. Otherwise, it can disrupt your sleep cycles and cause indigestion or acid reflux.
Additionally, if you eat big meals before bed, there isn’t a lot of time for your body to work those calories off. This means more often than not, those calories are going to get stored as fat.
Is It Normal To Look Bigger After Eating?
Yes, it is 100% normal to look bigger after you eat. Digestion isn’t something that happens right away, so until your body either digests and passes that food, uses it for energy, or stores it away for later, that food is going to be sitting in your stomach and the physical weight of the food can make you look and feel bigger.
Some people also experience puffiness or bloating after eating. This can happen from foods triggering an inflammatory response in some cases. In others, puffiness is caused by water retention which happens when water molecules bond to any sodium or salt that was in your food.
If I Look Bigger After Eating, Does it Mean I’ve Gained Weight?
No, you didn’t necessarily gain weight from eating just because you look and feel bigger. As I mentioned above, people look bigger after eating for a number of reasons and none of them have to do with gaining weight.
In fact, you’d have to consume a lot of food in a single sitting to affect your weight. Weight is something that happens cumulatively, over the course of any time period. You need to consume 3,500 calories more than you already eat to gain a pound of fat and this doesn’t even take into account calories burned.
For example, say you had a 1,500 calorie fast food meal one night instead of dinner. First, you’d have to take away the average calories you were planning on eating. Let’s say 800 calories. This means you only added 700 calories to your entire week.
Plus, you might have to consider calories burnt when you’re looking at the total. The average person burns 1,800-2,000 calories just from activities like pumping blood through their bodies and breathing, though this varies based on age, sex, metabolism, and current weight.
So, while food choices can change your weight, there’s nothing wrong with treating yourself every once in a while and there’s a good chance it’s not even going to affect your weight that much.
My opinion? You only live once! You should take care of your body- but you also shouldn’t deprive yourself.
Why Do I Think I Look Fat After I Eat?
If you think your belly looks a little bit bigger after you eat, it’s likely because it does. However, as I was mentioning earlier, this is something that’s completely normal, especially if you’ve eaten certain foods or eaten a lot. This doesn’t mean that you’ve gained weight, though!
That being said, if you’re obsessing about how you look after you eat to the point where you are eating less because of your appearance, it could be body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is rare, affecting only about 2.4% of the United States population.
Body dysmorphia is about more than just disliking your appearance sometimes. People with BDD take this to the extreme. For example, someone with body dysmorphia is going to see their stomach as fat no matter how much weight they’ve lost or how little they’ve eaten. This is a serious medical condition that often needs treatment.
So, to recap, why do you look fatter after eating? In most cases, you look fatter after eating because the sodium in foods you eat causes water retention, in addition to the physical bulk of food and water you’ve consumed.
There are also other factors that affect bloating and how big you look after eating, including timing, how much air you’ve swallowed, and the types of food you eat.
Any slight changes you notice in how your belly feels or looks are completely normal, though. This initial bloating also doesn’t mean you’ve gained weight, so you shouldn’t let them deter you from enjoying your food!