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Hormones Are Not The Only Reason You Gain Weight On Your Period

Women's Health logo Women's Health 11/29/2021 Emilia Benton, Cassie Shortsleeve, Jasmine Gomez
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Whether or not you’re diligent about tracking your period every month, it’s usually a safe bet to guesstimate when it starts based on PMS symptoms. In addition to the usual suspects—breast tenderness, breakouts, and mood swings—you likely also experience period weight gain, the unsavory icing on the cake.

Yep, feeling a little heavier or more bloated is totally normal. The good news is most of that period weight gain is actually water weight, meaning it’s only temporary, says Lauren Streicher, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and the medical director of the Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “You retain a lot of fluid when your period comes, and then the weight goes away afterward," she says.

Gaining weight (from two to six pounds) before or during your period is normal. Doctors explain the causes of period weight gain, like hormones and caffeine. © Catherine McQueen - Getty Images Gaining weight (from two to six pounds) before or during your period is normal. Doctors explain the causes of period weight gain, like hormones and caffeine.

How much weight is considered normal to gain during your period?

It's not uncommon for the scale to swing, regardless of having a period or not, explains Charis Chambers, MD, a gynecologist in Houston. "An average adult has weight fluctuations of up to five pounds in a single day, so it is safe to say that weight changes within that range are normal," Dr. Chambers says—on your period or not.

But PMS can make it more likely that you will experience these weight fluctuations, says Dr. Chambers, who adds that bloating and weight gain are some of the physical symptoms associated with PMS.

So how much weight gain is normal? Many women typically see around two to six pounds of weight gain around their period, but every body is different. You may notice that your clothes feel tighter and bloating around your abdomen, arms, legs, and breasts, says Jodie Horton, MD, an ob-gyn in Oakton, Virginia, and the chief wellness advisor for Love Wellness. But fear not; period weight gain caused by water retention usually goes away about three to five days after your period starts.

Though if you're experiencing rapid or persistent weight gain, it's best to speak with a doctor who can determine if there are other issues at play besides your period. Dr. Chambers also recommends seeking medical advice if you feel like your PMS symptoms are beginning to interfere with your life.

Here are five reasons why those numbers on the scale seem to inch up during your period. Plus, doctors explain how to combat that weight gain and bloating to make your time of the month a little less uncomfy.

1. Your hormones are probably to blame.

The female sex hormone estrogen peaks during the latter part of your menstrual cycle, right before your period, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine. And high levels of it can indirectly lead your body to retain fluid, making you feel bloated and potentially causing you to gain a few pounds of water weight.

The good news: Estrogen levels drop as you start your period, so you’ll feel some relief just in time for the cramps to kick in.

The other hormone at play here is progesterone, says Natasha Johnson, MD, a gynecologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Progesterone levels spike in the second half of your cycle, leading to water retention, breast tenderness, and sometimes water weight, she says.

Some women notice their breasts increase by a full size on their periods—again, thanks to progesterone, which causes your body to pull fluid from the blood vessels to the tissues, making them appear fuller, perhaps to get ready for a potential pregnancy, she says. But again, this is only temporary, so if you don't get pregnant, your body will go back to normal.

2. You’re having a ton of cravings, therefore eating differently.

The increase in progesterone levels leading up to your period can also ramp up your appetite and you may find yourself eating more calories during this time, says Dr. Horton. Wild guess: Your period probably doesn't leave you craving broccoli. It's the salty and sweet stuff that's on your mind.

Those foods contribute to period weight gain, says Lisa Dabney, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Why? Munching on salty chips and simple carbs, like candy or donuts, leads to fluid retention, she explains, resulting in a little extra water weight.

If you're soothing yourself with Dominos and ice cream (seriously, you do you), it's possible that an extra pound may stick around after your period peaces out. (Though, it would take a lot of pizza and ice cream to actually make you gain a pound of fat in a week).

If you're trying to lose weight or control bloating, make sure you’re hydrated, seek out lean protein like Greek yogurt to keep you full, and eat mindfully. When those sugar cravings strike, reach for fruits instead, which have natural sugars and can keep you hydrated, says Dr. Horton.

3. You don’t really feel like going to the gym, tbh.


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You feel irritable and tired—I get it. Even though hitting the gym may be the last thing on your mind, working up a sweat might help keep your body feeling normal, says Dr. Dabney.

That's because sweating helps you shed extra water weight. Plus, that endorphin boost can squash cramps, she notes. Then again, if you're not feeling a sweat session, there's nothing wrong with taking a day off. Once your period has come and gone and you resume your exercise routine and regular eating habits, you should return to your normal weight, says Dr. Horton.

4. You’re all kinds of backed up.

Your cravings might have you noshing more, but that’s not the only reason you could end up with bloating. According to M. Kathleen Borchardt, MD, an ob-gyn at Houston Methodist, levels of the hormone progesterone rise in your body before your cycle starts, and it acts as a smooth muscle relaxant, slowing down spasms in your gastrointestinal tract. As a result? You might notice your digestive tract gets a bit jammed.

“The progesterone can slow down your normal gut motility and result in constipation,” Dr. Borchardt explains, adding that you can take a probiotic if you’re constantly battling the GI bulge during your period. (Taking OTC diuretics, like Midol, isn’t the best idea, but your ob-gyn might be able to prescribe a diuretic if period-induced bloating is really a major issue for you.)

As an added bonus, if you suffer from the opposite problem (you know, diarrhea) during your period, the probiotic may help with that too.

5. You’re overloading on caffeine.

It's really tempting to load up on caffeinated beverages during your period because you feel so damn tired. But suddenly introducing more coffee into your diet can also introduce some, uh, gastrointestinal issues—namely bloating and discomfort.

But coffee's not the only culprit. Anything with caffeine contributes to this—and that goes double for carbonated drinks.

“Some women are also often mistaken in thinking carbonated beverages are hydrating," says Sara Twogood, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. But that's not the case, especially since soft drinks usually also come with a ton of added sugar or artificial sweeteners, which are even worse for bloating.

Is there anything I can do to alleviate period bloating?

Remember: With period weight gain, you're not gaining actual fat. It's mostly just water weight thanks to your hormones (and the GI irregularity...and less-than-ideal eating and exercise habits). Still, you might not feel like waiting around five to seven days for your period to end before your body feels normal.

You can try these fairly quick fixes to at least minimize the period puffiness.

  • Get more H2O. Drink tons of water, says Dr. Borchardt—at least eight glasses per day (roughly two liters) to flush your system. Staying hydrated actually helps combat fluid retention, even if that might seem counterintuitive.
  • Get moving. If you can, stick to your exercise routine in spite of your cramps and fatigue. "At least 30 minutes of exercise daily leading up to and during your cycle, with a good mix between weights and cardio, can help release endorphins and combat the hormonal effects [of your period]," Dr. Borchardt says.
  • Consider taking supplements. Dr. Borchardt says you can combat your hormones—and their side effects on your mood, hydration, and skin—with some supplements to reduce your PMS woes. She recommends a supplement like vitamin B, which can reduce bloating and other PMS symptoms.
  • Get more magnesium in your diet. "Magnesium decreases bloating by contributing to the production of normal stomach acid. When stomach acid is low, there is increased bloating and gas," says Dr. Chambers. To up your magnesium, you can take it as a supplement or add more magnesium-rich foods to your diet, like spinach.
  • Avoid eating too much salt. "Salt contributes to fluid retention because it attracts water," Dr. Chambers says, so salt could be another culprit contributing to your bloating. Monitoring you salt intake could help alleviate some of your period stomach issues.
  • Eat more citrus fruits. "Citrus foods like lemons, limes, and oranges are packed with fiber and vitamin C, which helps reduce bloating," says Dr. Horton. That's because vitamin C is a natural diuretic, helping you pee more and shed some of that water weight.

Other than that, consider that time of the month the perfect excuse to wear your fave flowy dresses or comfy activewear—and just save the high-waisted jeans for next week.

Is there anything I can do to avoid period weight gain altogether?

Tbh, no, not really, but you can minimize it. "The period weight gain caused by hormonal fluctuations is not entirely avoidable, but can be improved," says Dr. Chambers.

One way to minimize your period weight gain is keeping an eye on what you eat while you're on and off your period. "There’s a saying that you crave what you eat. Eating healthier in between menstrual cycles is just as, if not more, important than just what you eat while on your period," explains Dr. Chambers. "Eating healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and lean meats can help minimize calories and prevent excessive intake."

She also recommends eating more frequent smaller meals, instead of infrequent larger ones, which can turn down your cravings for that greasy slice of pizza.

Hormonal birth control can also help you mitigate period weight gain, says Dr. Chambers. "Hormonal medications like certain types of birth control that prevent ovulation, will lessen hormonal fluctuations and thus lessen this type of weight gain/water retention." If getting on or switching your birth control method is something you're interested in, consult your doctor.

But if all else fails, just wait it out. Weight fluctuation during your period is totally normal. But if you're really worried about it, check in with your doctor.

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