One downside of seeking out destinations far enough off the beaten path that they afford transformative travel experiences is that they typically require sitting on a plane for long periods of time in order to reach them. (Talking about you Ubud and Bhutan.)
Long distance travel can throw off your body’s normal routines, including your circadian rhythms (hello, jet lag), as well as your gut, which can lead to all sorts of fun side effects such as diarrhea and bloating. Eating and avoiding certain foods can help you deal with the former, but what about the latter? Is there a surefire way to bid adieu to the type of swelling that makes you want to unbutton your pants or roll down your high-waisted leggings?
“Airplane bloat is a common problem, which can be avoided,” says Charles Passler, MD, a celebrity nutritionist. But first, he says, you need to figure out what’s causing you to swell. “There are two types of bloat: digestive bloat and bloat caused by water retention,” he explains. “Digestive bloat primarily affects the gut or abdominal area and is caused by inflammation or an increase of gasses in the digestive tract. Water retention bloat, or edema, affects the whole body and is created by the body’s inability to properly circulate the blood and eliminate water. The day-to-day techniques to prevent both types of bloat are similar and can be easily achieved.”
That doesn’t, however, mean there’s a single solution to your situation. So, we turned to top nutritionists and food experts and asked them to share their best tips for staying bloat free while flying. Keep reading for all their intel.
1. Figure out what foods make you feel bloated and skip them pre-flight
“Everyone’s body reacts differently to different foods,” says Dr. Passler. “If you know a food bloats you, not consuming that food is the easiest way to avoid unnecessary discomfort. If you’re unaware of which food could be responsible for causing bloating, the most common foods that may create bloat are wheat/flour products, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, dairy products, and beans.
2. Stick to healthy snacks in flight
“I like to have a hearty meal an hour or so before the flight to avoid eating a large meal on the plane, which can cause bloating,” says Lily Kunin, founder of Clean Market and a Well+Good Council member. “I make sure to have a ton of water and herbal tea on the flight and a few protein-rich snacks (her favorites are rainbow seed crisps and sprouted trail mix). I’ll also pack my favorite supplements to keep me healthy and de-bloated during travel—like Lypo-spheric vitamin C, probiotics and digestive bitters.”
3. Don’t drink alcohol or caffeine in flight
“Skip the alcohol,” suggests Eliza Savage, a CDN at Middleberg Nutrition in New York City. “If airports automatically equal booze for you, be sure to keep it to a minimum. Alcohol is very dehydrating and can make you feel and look extra puffy when you deplane. If you must, choose a glass of wine or hard alcohol with club soda/lime/lemon and down a glass of water for every drink you have. Also, skip the coffee (it’s a diuretic, which will cause you to lose water), and choose an herbal tea, or a hot water with lemon to boost hydration.
4. Make sure to pack some magnesium.
“I recommend Natural Vitality Natural Calm magnesium supplements to most of my clients regardless, but it’s extra important when you travel,” says Brooke Alpert, CDN. “This important mineral is a natural relaxant so it helps your aches and pains that are common with traveling and airplanes. It also helps control fluid retention so those swollen fingers can get a break on the plane. Even better, its great for traveling constipation and can keep you regular no matter where you are.”
5. Stay away from fizzy drinks
“Do not consume carbonated beverages,” cautions Dr. Passler. “Carbonated beverages will expand in the gut, causing an increase of air in the digestive tract, which will result in bloat.”
6. Drink lots of water
“Keep moving,” advises Alpert. “Fortunately if you’re drinking a lot of water (hydrating, and refilling your water bottle is Alpert’s number one tip!), it means extra trips to the bathroom—this is a good thing. Taking a bunch of short walks will keep your system moving so this helps with fluid retention and belly discomfort. As such, an aisle seat may be the best seat option whenever possible so you can get up without disturbing your seatmate!”
7. Get your gut right pre-flight
“Taking probiotics can be helpful and available in supplement form, or you can get them from foods like yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, or even sauerkraut,” says Dana Murrell, executive chef of the healthy meal kit company Green Chef. “Eating a meal before your flight with these ingredients is one way to banish bloat. For a morning flight, plain yogurt with fresh fruit is a great breakfast option.”
8. Get rid of your gum
“Gum is particularly dangerous while trying to avoid bloat because gum not only contains artificial sugars/sugar alcohols, but [it] also increases the likelihood of bloat from unknowingly swallowing air,” says Dr. Passler
9. Pack your greens for on the go
“My forever travel companion is my green’s blend,” says Keri Glassman, RD, Nutritious Life It’s packed with antioxidants, and shaking it into my water helps remind me to hydrate- which is always the #1 recommendation when traveling.”
10. Wear compression socks in flight
“When I get on the plane, I wear these compression leggings from Anna Zahn at Ricari Studios in Los Angeles,” says Whitney Tingle, co-founder of Sakara Life. “They help to stimulate the lymph and encourage circulation and lymphatic drainage as long flights can leave our bodies feeling stagnant and puffy.”
11. Opt out of anything with artificial sweetener
“Skip sugarless gum or anything with artificial sweeteners, i.e. the sugar-free gummy bears you thought were the better choice,” says Savage. “I would recommend this always, but artificial sweeteners cause gas/bloating.”
12. Sip an anti-inflammatory tea
“Teas such as mint or ginger tea may be helpful in managing reflux and indigestion and bloat,” offers Glassman. “I always travel with my own tea bags—you can get hot water on any plane and any rest stop.”
13. Pack hydrating fruits and veggies
“Portable fresh fruits and veggies make great plane snacks,” says Murrell. “Sliced cucumbers, green peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes, and watermelon are all great options—they’re all more than 90-percent water! These also are full of fiber so they’ll keep you full and satisfied. To make a more balanced snack, pair them with protein like nuts, seed butter, or hummus—just watch out for added salt/sodium, which can bloat you.”