How to Avoid “Jet Belly” (aka Bloat) and Generally Feel Good when Flying

I fly a lot with my day job. Over the years I have observed the way my body reacts to this situation. Sometimes not so well.

The biggest problem I have noticed isthe bloated, rumbly stomach (apparently known in the airline industry as “jet belly”) I am struck with during and up to 48 hours after flying, particularly long-haul flights. Fortunately, I seem to be learning a thing or two in all these years of flying, and the result is my enjoyment – or shall we say, reduction of discomfort – of the flight experience is steadily improving.

To be clear, part of the bloat problem is unavoidable, as pressure decreases (which happens as altitude increases during flight) gas expands.  So any gases in your body will expand by about 30%.  Ugh.

But there is no need to exacerbate this situation, and over time I have learned that the bloat can be diminished to almost zero.

10 Tips to Fly-Healthy

My current strategies to feel as good as possible en route and after long-haul fights may contain some useful nuggets for you.

 1. Be Mindful about What You Eat Before Boarding

Avoid processed, salty foods.  The high salt content and preservatives add to water retention and bloat during flight.  Stick with whole foods with which you know your body reacts well.  My current favorite pre-flight meals tends toward green salads with boiled eggs or poached chicken and a vinaigrette, or a vegetable soup, or sushi.

2. Decline the Airplane Food

This one tip aIone almost totally solves the problem for me.  I learned it the hard way through trial and error. I eventually experimented by avoiding eating the airplane food, or really much of any food while in-flight, and the post-flight bloat problem was 95% resolved every time. Airplane meals will never go down in history as your top dining experiences anyways, so you know you’re not really missing anything.

I challenge you to give this a try just once.

Like me, you may get hooked on Flight Fasts.

3. Use a Green Super-food Powder

So, what do you consume on the plane for nourishment?

I have become a proponent of green super-food blends, in general, but in-flight they are essential. If you take your favorite, and add it to an 8 oz glass of water, you will have all the nutrients you need for the next 12 hours.  This allows your brain the confidence to override your stomach or whiny inner 5-year-old, which may be complaining, silently to the rest of the passengers, but loudly to you, that it is starving. You will be able to proceed steadfast knowing that you are nutrient-fortified. You can also congratulate yourself for engaging in an intermittent fast.

4. Eliminate or Strictly Limit Alcohol Consumption

I admit this is a tough one for me.  I’m a much happier flyer, though, when I succeed. Alcohol is a diuretic, which contributes to dehydration in flight.

If you do choose to drink it, supplement those G&T’s or red wines with plenty of extra water.  I notice that often the flight attendants will even ask if I want extra water when I order a glass of wine.  Nice touch.

5. Avoid All Carbonated Beverages (Soda & Tonic Waters, Cokes)

They contribute to the gas in your stomach.

6. Drink Plenty of Water

There is a lack of humidity in airplanes which can be dehydrating.  Water is always available on demand in the back of the planes, (in case you are not flying in a plane or class that comes with frequent service).

But because you never really know how clean the airplane water filters are, before boarding is the perfect time to indulge in the purchase of a large bottle of the best mineral water you can find in the airport shops.

7.  Avoid Coffee

It’s dehydrating.

Bring along an alternative clean healthy hot beverage mix. Airplane coffee is bad tasting, and if it’s moldy like many, it can also be allergy inducing.

Why not bring a healthy elixir along instead – these mushroom elixirs are caffeine-free and taste great.  Plus, personally speaking, they do not make my nose run immediately like airplane coffees seems to do.

Further, they are filled with health-inducing components.  I will ask for hot water (also always available in the back of the plane, in case you are in Zoo Class and, service is waning), add a packet to it, and down that instead of coffee.

8. Bring Healthy Whole Food Snacks (Hippie Critics be Damned)

Normally I avoid eating solid food full-stop.  But sometimes it is good psychological help knowing I have something available, just in case.  Raw nuts, dates, clean beef jerkeys can all be good choices.

9. Move Around as Much as Possible

This is actually an advantage to #6 above.  Drinking plenty of water will require you to get yourself to the bathroom regularly.  This is a good thing (book an aisle seat).

If you find yourself in a bathroom queue, even better.   Take some basic yoga asanas like tree pose or half moon variations.  Really.  No one else cares what you’re doing on the plane, and anyways, what they think is not your business. So get up and move about regularly.

10. UPDATE (Nov 2018): Consider Compression Travel Socks

If your feet swell, or even if they don’t, these can be transformative.

My experience using them is described here and here.

Wrap Up

It’s a process, but I can tell I’m improving my habits and strategies to stay healthy while flying long distances.

During my most recent long-haul flight, I side-stepped the post-flight bloat by following my own advice.  Apparently #2 above did not go un-noticed by one of the flight attendants.  As I de-boarded he asked me if I was hungry, having already observed that I ate nothing in 11 hours.   I replied, truthfully, that I felt great, all things considered.

He replied, with a knowing smile, “Yes, it’s the best way to fly – without eating the food.”

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