Bust the bloat: All about period bloating

Period bloating: Why it happens and how to make it stop

The highlights: 

  • Hormonal changes leading up to your period are the culprit behind one of the most common but annoying PMS symptoms: bloating and water retention
  • Period-related hormones can also trigger compulsive eating and negative feelings about your body – so it’s important to be extra kind to yourself when PMSing or on your period
  • Avoiding salty, sugary, or processed foods and instead sticking to fresh fruits and veggies, healthy fats, and lean protein sources can fight bloat naturally 
  • Getting enough sleep, exercising, and staying mega-hydrated will also keep your belly happy and minimize bloating

The full read:

It’s day two of your period, and you’re feeling all the feels – but cute isn’t one of them. 

The bloat is real, so you decide to slip into your comfiest leggings. But, wait a sec… why do your favorite high-waisted leggings (you know, the ones that make your butt look like a perfect peach) feel SO tight right now? It sort of feels like you’re trying to shove a marshmallow into a straw. 

That puffy, water-retaining, swollen-joints feeling you’re having is common, and you’re definitely not alone: over 90% of menstruators say they experience bloating, headaches, mood swings, and other (PMS) symptoms.1 And it’s also normal for those symptoms to linger during your period.  

But just because suffering during your period is common, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. We’ve gathered some tips below on how to fight the bloat and get back to feeling like yourself inside and out.

Why do you get bloated on your period? 

One word: HORMONES. As explained in a 2011 study, it has a lot to do with the hormonal fluctuations that take place during your menstrual cycle. More specifically, the dive in estrogen and progesterone your body takes in the days leading up to your period: “Results of some early studies suggest the involvement of aldosterone or deoxycorticosterone, a progesterone metabolite and aldosterone agonist, in the pathophysiology of premenstrual bloating.” 2

Not to gaslight the situation, but in the time leading up to your period, your body also releases hormone-like fatty acids, aka prostaglandins, into the bloodstream. Prostaglandins are released from the lining of the uterus and cause muscles to contract, making any existing gastrointestinal issues, like gas (period farts, anyone?) or diarrhea, even worse. They’re also the culprit behind period cramps and the now-infamous “period poops.”

For some, this hormonal bloating may explain a feeling of weight gain before their period starts. It can also feel like your abdomen or other parts of your body are tight or even swollen. In some extreme cases, period bloating can even make menstruators look pregnant (think 1st trimester). Some, also experience more gas before a period.

Your genetics, vitamin and mineral levels, and diet can also influence how much your hormone fluctuations cause you to bloat.

How to get rid of period bloating

If getting your period equals giving in to all the cravings and stuffing your face with your favorite junk food and sugary sweets, you can once again blame good old hormones. There’s scientific evidence that period-related hormones can trigger emotional eating which can lead to weight gain.3 

The best way to bust the bloat is by choosing foods that will work with your body’s needs. While that’s easier said than done when all you’re craving is a slice of (or whole) pizza, it’s all about balance. Fortunately, how you balance your nutrition is in your control. Mind over matter, #amiright?

To reduce bloating, try to cut back on these foods:

SALTY FOODS: Cheese, chips, olives, pizza, french fries, canned or frozen foods with high sodium can make your body retain more water. Try to limit your overall sodium intake to 2,300 mg or less.  

SUGARS: Raffinose, lactose, fructose, and sorbitol – both natural and artificial sugars. You don’t need to avoid ALL sugars, since there are healthy sugars in things like coconut water and berries. But limiting the following types of sugars will help significantly reduce bloating:4

  • Raffinose: Beans contain large amounts of this complex sugar. Smaller amounts are found in cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, other vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Lactose: Lactose is the natural sugar in milk. It is also found in milk products, such as cheese and ice cream, and processed foods, such as bread, cereal, and salad dressing. 
  • Fructose: Fructose is naturally present in onions, artichokes, pears, and wheat. It is also used as a sweetener in some soft drinks and fruit drinks. 
  • Sorbitol: Sorbitol is a sugar found naturally in fruits, including apples, pears, peaches, and prunes. It is also used as an artificial sweetener in many dietetic foods and sugar-free candies and gums. 

PROCESSED FOODS: Cured meats like salami and pepperoni, canned soups and pastas, frozen meals, any packaged food comprised mostly of ingredients you can’t pronounce

ALCOHOL: Yup, this includes wine and margaritas… and beer, hard liquor, spiked seltzers, etc. 

CAFFEINE: Coffee, tea, energy drinks (sad face)

GAS-PRODUCING FOODS: Dairy, broccoli, beans, cabbage, cauliflower

CARBONATED DRINKS: That fizzy goodness leads to gases getting trapped in your belly (hello, abdominal pain!)

STARCHY FOODS: Potatoes, pasta, white rice, white bread

It’s one of life’s cruel jokes that our holy grail PMS snacks, like Hot Cheetos and Oreos, fall into the list above, but it doesn’t mean you need to cut all your favorite mood-boosting snacks forever. 

If you want a hunk of chocolate or a small glass of wine and it’s going to boost your mood, have at it. But make sure you don’t go overboard and do this for every meal is key.

If you’re open to swapping some of your cravings, there are snacks that can satisfy the need for something crunchy, fatty, or sweet while also helping to decrease fluid retention.

Which foods help fight period bloating? 

FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES: Especially ones that are rich in fiber and have high water content to help with regularity. Try incorporating berries, cucumbers, fresh greens like spinach, kale, and chard, and chickpeas, celery, and zucchini. 

HIGH-POTASSIUM FOODS: These help promote a healthy water balance in the body (and may also help with period pain). A few options include bananas, cantaloupe, tomatoes, asparagus, watermelon, avocados, coconut water, and butternut squash.

HEALTHY FATS: These may help to lower prostaglandins (those hormone-like fatty acids we mentioned that cause bloating and muscle contraction). Try things like avocados, walnuts, almonds, salmon, chia seeds, and hemp seeds.

HIGH-PROTEIN FOODS: They’ll help you stay fuller longer and reduce snacking. Grass-fed beef, organic chicken, and wild caught fish (especially salmon) are some of the best choices – or try tofu, tempeh, or seitan if you’re plant-based.  

NATURAL DIURETICS: Celery, cucumbers, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, and coconut water (yup, it’s high in potassium + helps you get rid of water weight). 

SUPPLEMENTS: Magnesium (magnesium citrate is best; aim for about 200 mg per day) and Vitamin B6.  

HYDRATION: WATER! Staying hydrated is helpful for several period-related symptoms and can benefit your digestion overall. 

If skipping your daily latte sounds like torture, have your latte but try to balance it with a breakfast that includes bloat-reducing foods like the ones we mentioned above. Here are a few amazing recipes to get you started (think loaded avo toast and a nutrition-packed smoothie).

Minimizing foods from the bloat list when you know you tend to feel puffy and swollen can make a huge difference, as can eating smaller meals to avoid overloading your digestive tract when it might be feeling like the struggle is real. 

Pro tip: If chocolate is your period snack of choice, choosing a dark chocolate (i.e. 60% or higher) can not only boost your mood, but it can also give you a magnesium boost. That’s what we call a win-win.

Other ways to reduce period bloat

You can tackle period bloat in several other ways that don’t have to do with food. The following have also been known to remedy Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and period-related bloating:

  • Working out can help your bloat by speeding up the digestive system, sweating out excess sodium, and relieving constipation. Just make sure to hydrate really well afterwards!
  • Getting enough sleep reduces water retention by allowing time for excess fluid to move through the body.  
  • NSAIDS, aka over-the-counter painkillers (like ibuprofen and naproxen) can decrease the swelling associated with inflammation. Keep in mind that Tylenol (acetaminophen) is NOT and NSAID and won’t have the same anti-inflammatory effects as Advil and Aleve.

PMS & weight gain

When you’re feeling like The Hulk because of your bloating, you might convince yourself that you’ve also gained some weight, but can PMS bloating cause weight gain for real? For some people, satisfying every unhealthy food craving or impulses to skip workouts could lead to actual long-term weight gain, but for most, it’s only temporary.

Hormonal water retention coupled with constipation can technically make you heavier. Some people experience extreme bloating during period, gaining up to five extra pounds!

But how long does period bloating last? Luckily, in most cases, it’s just water weight that will go away when the bloat subsides. So don’t freak out if the number on the scale looks a little higher than usual. 

Be kind to yourself

If you end up eating a whole pizza or cancel that workout class, DON’T beat yourself up over it. The same hormones that trigger period cravings can also make you feel unhappy about your body, so sometimes it helps to remind yourself that what is happening psychologically is genuinely influenced by the chemicals in your brain. 

Physical activity can also be really great for improving self-love and releasing those feel-good endorphins when you have PMS or your period. It doesn’t have to be an intense cardio sesh: Something as simple as a 20-minute slow flow yoga class can be a great pick-me-up.

However, if you’re not feeling up to a workout, that’s perfectly okay! Listen to your body and do whatever feels best for it in the moment. 

This article is informational only and is not offered as medical advice, nor does it substitute for a consultation with your physician. If you have any gynecological/medical concerns or conditions, please consult your physician.  

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