Bloating is easily a least-favourite symptom for many women when it comes to periods. It’s annoying and uncomfortable, let’s be real. Not to mention, those cramps that come with it aren’t a picnic, either.
Bloating can leave you feeling super self-conscious. But it’s actually a completely normal and common symptom of periods. And luckily women on social media have begun to embrace their bloated bellies to portray a more realistic version of a woman’s body (real talk: no has a six-pack 24/7).
Take fitness blogger and influencer Maeve Madden, who shared a photo just like this, getting real about her period bloating. She captioned the photo, “Hi Hormones👍🏻Thanks for being LATE!! (5 days between images) im so swollen even today during my workout my hands looked like sausages. Ive been so focused on our workouts then BOOM.”
Here for the #realness. Because the truth is: An estimated 70 per cent of women experience bloating during their period, says Diana Bitner, MD, a Michigan-based ob-gyn. WH spoke to experts to understand why women bloat before their period—and the best ways to fight it off if it’s uncomfortable for you.
Why does period bloating happen in the first place?
You can thank fluctuations in estrogen levels and a sharp drop in progesterone right before your period. “When estrogen levels are higher, our bodies tend to retain water,” says Meggie Smith, MD, an obstetrician-gynaecologist and reproductive endocrinology and infertility fellow at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.
“Progesterone, which is high in the latter half of your cycle, can make for a slower digestive tract, so to speak, which also may not help symptoms of bloating or fullness,” she adds. Basically, it’s a bloating double-whammy.
Bloating usually starts to kick in about one to two days before the start of a woman’s period, according to the Mayo Clinic. But some women experience symptoms up to five days beforehand (see, annoying!), often interfering with normal activities. Period bloating will typically go away once you’ve been menstruating for a few days.
So…what helps PMS bloating?
The good news: There are some seriously easy steps you can take to de-bloat during your period. Switching up the foods you eat, like swapping in more potassium-rich foods and nixing the caffeine for a few days can do some serious remedying to your bloated belly.
You can also consider even simpler fixes, like getting more sleep or cooking at home more often. Just scroll though the options below. There’s definitely a remedy in this list that will *fingers crossed* work for you.
1. Pick protein- and potassium-rich foods.
Fill your plate with ingredients that won’t cause you to puff up. “High-potassium foods like bananas, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and asparagus help promote a good balance of fluids,” says Isabel Smith, RD, a New York City-based celebrity dietitian and fitness expert. “The same goes for healthy fats like chia, nuts, and salmon.”
Protein is another safe bet—think chicken, fish, and tofu. “Foods that act as natural diuretics like celery, cucumbers, watermelon, lemon juice, garlic, and ginger will also make you feel lighter on your feet, even on your period,” says Sherry Ross, MD, an ob-gyn and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.
2. Stay away from foods that cause gas.
Yep, we’re looking at you broccoli and Brussels sprouts. They may inspire your favourite healthy-eating Pinterest boards, but they also contain a complex sugar called raffinose. Humans lack the enzyme to help break it down properly, which leads to gas and bloat. “Other dietary culprits in this category include beans, cabbage, cauliflower, and lettuce,” says Ross.
3. Don’t skip your workout routine.
I get it: Working out is probably the last thing you feel like doing. But experts say getting your heart rate up is one of the best ways to alleviate PMS symptoms—including bloat.
“People who live a more sedentary lifestyle tend to have more sluggish digestive systems,” says Dr. Ross. Sweating it out can also help keep you stay regular and reduce constipation. Lighter workouts like swimming and yoga are your best bet, though; high-intensity exercises may actually promote inflammation and, in turn, add to the bloat.
4. Cut back on caffeine and alcohol (just for now).
“Pre-menstrually, alcohol can enhance PMS symptoms like breast tenderness, mood swings, and bloating,” says Bitner. “And coffee can overstimulate the digestive tract and irritate the bowels, not to mention dehydrate you, which causes you to retain water.” Hey, you’ll save some serious dough by bypassing your morning latte.
5. Pop an OTC anti-inflammatory.
Ibuprofen and Naprosyn block the chemicals that cause inflammation, and in turn, bloating, says Kelly Roy, MD, an ob-gyn in Phoenix. “A couple days before your period, take 200 to 400 milligrams every six to eight hours,” she says.
6. Nix the carbonated or sugary drinks.
Chugging fizzy beverages might make you feel better temporarily, but they’ll leave you way more bloated than before, says Dr. Smith. The same goes for sugary drinks like Gatorade. “Don’t let brands that use artificial sweeteners fool you—they too cause you to puff up,” says Dr. Smith.
Instead, rely on your good buddy water, and aim for eight glasses a day. “Mix in some green, peppermint, or fennel tea to help eliminate inflammatory mediators,” says Dr. Ross.
7. Score a little more shut-eye.
“Sleep is often impacted by the pain of menstruation, bloating, and feeling out of sorts,” says Dr. Roy. It’s during these crucial hours, though, that the excess fluid in your belly is able to move back into the body and be eliminated, she explains. So aim to get eight hours a night—here are tips to help you drift off.
8. Ask your ob-gyn about going on the Pill.
Oral contraception is not only great birth control, it also significantly reduces painful periods and stabilises hormones, says Dr. Roy. “In fact, medical studies have shown that it lowers the effect of PMS by over 50 per cent,” she says. That’s some serious incentive.
9. Bring up a diuretic to your doc.
Lauren Streicher, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, sometimes prescribes her patients a mild diuretic to help with bloating.
“It’s one thing to gain a little weight or be bloated, but some women also get really significant breast tenderness because of the water retention and a mild diuretic can be very helpful with that,” she says. “It’s definitely not harmful.”
There are also natural diuretics that you may already be consuming on a regular basis, such as caffeine, Dr. Streicher says. “Of course, some people don’t do well with caffeine, so I will always tell patients to also drink plenty of water and to restrict never fluid,” she says.
10. Cook at home more often.
Making your own meals can drastically decrease bloating. “People are often unaware of hidden salt in restaurant meals, as well as in processed foods,” Dr. Streicher says. “Of course, that’s why restaurant meals taste so good, but if you do your own cooking you can make sure not to over-salt your food, which can make a huge difference as far as keeping bloating down.”
11. Don’t suddenly overdo it on the fibre.
If you’re feeling shitty, it might seem like a good idea to load up on as many fruits and veggies as you can—but that tactic might backfire.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly good to have a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet, but if you suddenly begin eating them in mass quantities during your period, you may experience increased bloating simply because your body isn’t used to the fibre, says Sara Twogood, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.
Got it. But when should you see a doctor?
Yes, period bloat is super normal, but if it doesn’t seem to cycle with your cycle (and is more like an all-the-time problem type of thing), or the bloating and your other PMS symptoms are really bothering you, talk to your ob-gyn.
Your doc may suggest keeping a symptom diary, according to the Mayo Clinic. This will help you keep track of your bloating and give your MD useful data to help determine next steps.
This article originally appeared on Women’s Health US.
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