Bust the Bloat
Natural Remedies and What to Avoid
- Higher levels of estrogen cause water retention, gas, and constipation that is common to PMS bloating
- Period-related hormones can also trigger compulsive eating and negative feelings about your body
- Avoiding salty, sugary, or processed food while choosing naturally diuretic foods can naturally fight bloating
- Getting enough sleep and exercise and staying hydrated can also reduce PMS bloat and help digestion
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… Why do your favorite high-waisted leggings (you know, the ones that make your waist look snatched and 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%, say they get some premenstrual symptoms, such as bloating, headaches, and moodiness (1).
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 on how to fight the bloat and get back to feeling like yourself inside and out.
So What Causes Period Bloat?
One word: HORMONES. The week before your period, the amount of progesterone in your body drops while estrogen levels rise. Higher levels of estrogen cause water retention, gas, and constipation. Dutch oven anyone?
Not to gaslight the situation, but in the time leading up to your period your body releases hormone-like fatty acids, aka prostaglandins, into the bloodstream. Prostaglandins are released from the lining of the uterus and causes muscles to contract, making any existing gastrointestinal issues, like gas or constipation worse.
Your genetics, vitamin and mineral levels, and diet can also influence how much your hormones cause you to bloat.
Period Bloating and Food
If getting your period equals giving into 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 (2). 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 (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 reduce your intake of:
- Salty foods [Cheese, chips, olives, pizza, french fries]
- Sugars [raffinose, lactose, fructose, and sorbitol]
- Raffinose: Beans contain large amounts of this complex sugar. Smaller amounts are found in cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, other vegetables, and whole grains. (3)
- 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. (3)
- 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. (3)
- 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. (3)
- Processed foods [breads, pastas, frozen meals, etc.]
- Alcohol [yup, this includes your favorite wine and margaritas]
- Caffeine [but how do you even live without coffee??]
- Gas-producing foods [dairy, broccoli, beans, cabbage, cauliflower]
- Carbonated drinks including flavored waters like LaCroix [that fizzy goodness leads to gases getting trapped in your belly]
- Starchy foods [potatoes, rice, 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 making 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 water retention.
Which Foods Help Fight Bloating?
Fresh fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber and have high water content to help with regularity like:
High-potassium foods that promote a healthy water balance in the body:
- Coconut water
- Butternut squash
Healthy fats that lower prostaglandins (those hormone-like fatty acids we mentioned that cause bloating and muscle contraction) include:
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
High-protein foods to stay fuller longer and reduce snacking:
- Lemon juice
- Coconut water (Yup, it’s high in potassium + helps you get rid of water weight0
Supplements to help reduce water retention
- WATER! Staying hydrated is helpful for several symptoms and can benefit your digestion.
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. 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 digestion when it might be feeling like the struggle is real.
[Pro Tip: If chocolate is your period snack of choice, choosing a dark chocolate with less sugar 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 PMS swelling:
- Working out can help your bloat by speeding up the digestive system and relieving constipation.
- Getting enough sleep reduces water retention by allowing time for excess fluid to move through the body
- Oral contraception can help PMS symptoms and balance hormones
- Anti-inflammatory painkillers (such as Ibuprofen) can decrease the swelling associated with inflammation.
PMS and Weight Gain
When you’re feeling like The Hulk because of your bloating, you might convince yourself that you’ve also gained some weight. 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 is temporary. Hormonal water retention coupled with constipation can technically make you heavier (for some people, up to five lbs!), but typically it’s just water weight that will go away when the bloat subsides.
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.
Working out can also be really great for improving self-love and releasing those feel-good endorphins when you have PMS or your period, but if you’re not feeling up to it, the best thing to do is, DO YOU.
- Winer, S. A., Rapkin, A. J. (2006). Premenstrual disorders: prevalence, etiology and impact. Journal of Reproductive Medicine; 51(4 Suppl):339-347.
- Hildebrandt, B.A., Racine, S.E., Keel, P.K., Burt, S.A., Neale, M., Boker, S., Sisk, C.L. and Klump, K.L. (2015), The effects of ovarian hormones and emotional eating on changes in weight preoccupation across the menstrual cycle. Int. J. Eat. Disord., 48: 477-486. doi:10.1002/eat.22326
- Norton, William F. Adapted from IFFGD Publication #155 Foods That May Cause Gas. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.