Period weight gain – it’s something you’ve come to expect, right? Once or twice each month – when you ovulate and a week before your bleed starts – you puff up like a balloon. Clothes that fitted effortlessly when you went to bed, are suddenly a squeeze to get on and, despite your healthiest, most active efforts, you feel like the Michelin Man. Hefty. Fat. Icky.
It’s estimated that the average woman gains up to 5lbs of weight around the time of her period. Even though this is, in the most part, a temporary weight gain, it’s not to be ignored. Because of some of those extra lbs sometimes do stick.
So, why does period weight gain happen? And, more importantly, how can you prevent it? (Because, FYI, you can.)
The secret is taking control of your hormones. When it comes to period weight gain, it’s changing levels of oestrogen and progesterone that you’ve got to thank.
• They shift your body’s set point for sodium, meaning your body retains excess fluid and you say: hello, water retention.
• Progesterone relaxes the smooth muscle of your intestines and stomach, which means you have less gastrointestinal motility – put simply, you get constipated.
• Progesterone increases appetite and cravings – especially for salty and sugary foods, and caffeine (which worsens water retention).
• Dips in both hormones can lead to low mood and energy, so you’re more likely to skip the gym.
• Irregular periods re one of many PCOS symptoms. PCOS can cause actual weight gain because of the way in which the condition sends blood sugar levels AWOL.
Use a period tracker to monitor where you are in your cycle. This will help you better prepare for and manage PMS symptoms. Registered nutritional therapist Kym Lang’s has just the game plan. Follow her 8 tasty tips for balancing your hormones and preventing period weight gain – for good.
TWO WEEKS BEFORE YOUR PERIOD
SWERVE THE SALT SHAKER
And we don’t just mean when it comes to giving your steak frites an extra dowsing. ‘Salt is hidden in many every day foods,’ says Lang. So, although you may think you’re eating well, excess salt could be behind your period weight gain. ‘Choose an egg and cress wholegrain sandwich for lunch rather than your usual soup pot, which is often loaded with hidden salt, and buy reduced-salt alternatives of foods such as baked beans.’ Boost the flavour of your plate with herbs, spices and citrus, instead.
OPT FOR WHOLEGRAINS
According to a study by the University of Reading, women who take 200mg of magnesium every day have less period weight gain from water retention. Where to find it? Lang recommends wholegrain rice, as well as unsalted nuts, kale and yoghurt. You’ll benefit in other ways, too. White refined carbs are more likely to spike blood sugar levels and cause hunger pangs.
GO TRADITIONAL WITH YOUR TOPPINGS
For your porridge, that is. The reason is vitamin B6. This vitamin is your kidney’s sidekick, helping them to regulate the levels of water and minerals in your body. A deficiency could increase period weight gain. ‘Bananas and porridge oats are a good source, as is lean meat and fish, and a safer choice to high-dose supplements,’ says Lang. ‘Taking more than 200mg a day can lead to a loss of feeling in the arms and legs, in the long-term.
ENJOY TURKEY (EVEN THOUGH IT’S NOT CHRISTMAS)
Don’t limit the health-benefits of this lean white meat just to the festive season. Their high levels of potassium can help to counter high salt levels in your body – meaning you’ll hold onto less excess fluid. Vegetarian or vegan? “Bananas, beans and pulses are also high in the mineral,’ Lang says. Try this clean and lean turkey and butternut squash shepherd’s pie, for starters.
DURING YOUR PERIOD
CHOOSE COMPLEX CARBS
Which means? Sweet potatoes, lentils and oatcakes, over croissants and chocolate. Soz. ‘These will keep your blood sugar under control and maintain energy levels,’ Lang says. So, no excuse to flake out on spin class.
Free rein to indulge those cravings this is not. But, eating little and often, explains Lang, can swerve bloating by avoiding any challenging overloading of your digestive system. Enjoy these 4 sweet healthy recipes to satisfy cravings plus the 6 best healthy snacks, as approved by nutritionists.
Sadly, that doesn’t mean finished that bottle of Merlot (alcohol only makes water retention worse). It may seem counterintuitive but staying hydrated will actually prevent period weight gain – it’s like with fat on a crash diet; your body will hold onto fluid if it thinks there’s a shortage. ‘Drink plenty of water and herbal teas such as lemon, ginger or rooibos,’ Lang says.
CHANGE UP YOUR BREAKFAST
Porridge may have worked wonders ahead of your period but when your bleed starts, it could be the cause of your period weight gain and bloat. Instead, says Lang, you should opt for uncooked oats – think Bircher muesli – which contain gut-pleasing resistant starch. They’ll be easier on your digestive system. Cooked then cooled potatoes are another source.
Got a bloat that just won’t go away or isn’t linked to your menstrual cycle? In some cases, water retention can be the sign of something more sinister. If it’s gone on for more than three weeks or is accompanied by other unwanted symptoms, book up to see your GP.
Need more inspiration? Read a complete guide to your period cycle for advice on what to eat and how to exercise, when.
Cramping getting you down? Try these 15 fixes for instant period pain relief.