Ask Marge

Help! I Have Embarrassing Stomach Issues. How Do I Handle It When I Go to a Friend’s House for Dinner?

published Nov 12, 2019
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Dear Marge,

I have ongoing stomach issues. Sometimes my stomach makes really loud, nasty-sounding snarls, and other times, well, I can’t always control my, uh, flatulence. It is truly mortifying, and I just don’t know how to handle it. I am seriously ready to quit yoga, but what do I do when it happens at a friend’s dinner table, or in the car with people? 


Dear Horrified,

First, while I know this doesn’t solve the problem, it is important that you know that everyone passes gas 12 to 24 times a day. So, for what it is worth, passing gas is a normal, very human thing that we actually must do. 

Obviously, the problem arises when you can’t control your gas on an ongoing basis. (Anyone who doesn’t admit to the occasional inappropriately timed fart is just a liar.)  The good news is that a change in diet really might help. Certain foods, or certain digestive conditions, may be causing your intestinal distress. It is well worth trying to determine if that is the case by seeing your primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist. 

But let’s go to the reason you wrote in: the social embarrassment of passing gas in public. If you are in a situation where it is obvious you are the source of the gas, you have a few options: Ignore it, blame someone else, try to cover it up, or own it. 

If you are surrounded by people polite enough to ignore it, know this. A study published last year shows that when something embarrasses you, chances are you are so focused on your own discomfort that you forget about the empathy of the people around you. In the study, participants were shown ads of people passing gas (in a yoga class or in front of a crush at a party). Participants who were encouraged to take the perspective of the outside observer (that is, not the person passing gas) before seeing the ads experienced far less distress. In other words, one thing that might help — which is certainly easier said than done — is to try to get out of your own head about it. Ask yourself how you would react if someone else in yoga class passed gas. It really might help you. (And for the record, yoga is notorious for causing people to pass gas.) 

Blaming someone else when you pass gas is just childish and rude. Plus, you accomplish nothing, because everyone knows it was you. Saying otherwise makes a big deal out of a small one, and calls more negative attention to it. 

There are times when it is worth going for the cover-up. If you are in a crowded car, open the window. The sound of the car moving combined with the infusion of fresh air will likely make your gas a non-issue. In other situations, you might cover a sound with a cough, or a smell with a sudden need to wash your hands with a scented hand wash. 

Finally, you can just own it. When you pass gas, try to make as little of it as possible and — just like when you belch — simply say excuse me. Remember what the study showed: You care much more about it than the people around you.


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