It’s that time of the month again. You are feeling lazy and cranky. You have cravings, aches, and pains, and your favorite skinny jeans just won’t button again even if they fit perfectly last week!
You know the drill! And you aren’t alone in this journey!
Weight gain is common during periods and it can be a serious drag.
The stress of trying the scale during this time may make you feel like a loser, even if you’ve been eating healthy and exercising regularly.
Sure, the scale may read a little higher, but this isn’t permanent.
It’s actually very easy to get rid of those fats and we’ll discuss some tricks later.
Is Weight Gain Normal?
During menstruation, it is normal to gain approximately 3-5 pounds. It’s a symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) caused by hormonal changes (1).
PMS occurs in more than 90% of women (1).
When does weight gain start and how long will it last?
You may start feeling the bloat a few days before your period.
This is brought about by the increase in progesterone level, which causes water retention (2).
Good news is that your weight should return to normal by the time your menstruation ends.
What causes weight gain during a period?
As mentioned earlier, hormonal changes can cause weight gain.
Aldosterone, a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, helps with fluid management, especially when it comes to the amount of liquid we put through our kidneys.
Aldosterone levels also increase before the menstrual cycle and decrease once you are already actively menstruating. This causes an increase in water retention.
According to a study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology International, it is on the first day of a woman’s period that most water is retained (3).
Progesterone also plays a huge role in why your body keeps water.
It allows fluids to leak out of the blood vessels into the surrounding tissues. This causes temporary weight gain and edema (1).
Water retention causes swelling in different body parts, especially in the breasts, stomach, and extremities. This gives you extra weight, but not fat.
Everybody knows that women look for chocolates and comfort foods during their menstrual period than usual.
The exact reason for the cravings remains to be unknown, but it is believed that high progesterone levels can contribute.
Progesterone plays a weighty role during the second half of your period. It increases your appetite (4).
Others think that cravings are solely due to hormonal changes, but that’s not always the case.
One study found that 50% of women in the US crave chocolates before menstruation and only 17% of foreigners found themselves with the same craving. This proves that the types of food women look for are also based on their culture (2).
About 1 week before your period, you’ll have premenstrual syndrome.
Depression or anxiety are also hallmarks of PMS (4). These happen because of the cyclic changes in serotonin levels.
For some women, these mood swings can also cause an increase in food intake.
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, approximately 3-8% of women suffer from severe PMS. This condition is also known as premenstrual dysphoric syndrome (PMDD) (4). Binge eating is a common symptom of PMDD (4).
Throughout your period, hormonal changes can cause GI problems like constipation, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
One week before your cycle, progesterone level shoots up. This causes relaxation of the smooth muscles, slowing down digestion. This will eventually lead to constipation (4).
But as menstruation starts, your uterus will release prostaglandins. Muscle contractions begin in the uterus and gut. This explains the pain you’re feeling in the abdomen and pelvic areas (1).
Prostaglandins may also cause diarrhea by altering fluid and electrolyte balance in the small intestine (1).
Low Levels of Magnesium
At the start of your period, magnesium level decreases.
Magnesium plays an important role in keeping your body well hydrated. Dehydration may occur if there are low levels of magnesium (1).
Dehydration may also be perceived as hunger. This can cause sugar cravings and will eventually contribute to weight gain.
One study monitored 18,000 adults of different weights for more than seven years. Results showed a strong correlation between obesity and lower levels of magnesium (5).
Let’s be honest. It is never easy to do workouts if you are feeling sored and pained.
Fatigue is real during menstruation, and it may really keep you from hitting the gym.
Also, because of the decreased levels of different hormones, it is common for women to have less energy.
The combination of being less active and indulging in more treats can cause add-ons on your waistline.
But the benefits of workouts during menstruation prove you must try to push through the urge to skip. Studies showed that exercise can help reduce PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps (6).
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects 3 out of 5 women (7). It is an imbalance of the reproductive hormones that causes metabolism problems.
PCOS makes it harder for the body to use the hormone insulin, which helps convert sugars and starches from the diet into energy. This condition is called insulin resistance (8).
High levels of insulin will be then kept in the bloodstream, prompting the production of male hormones known as androgens (8).
High androgen levels may lead to weight gain, irregular menstruation, acne, and more (8).
And since weight gain is caused by male hormones, they tend to accumulate in the abdominal area. This gives women with PCOS an apple shaped body.
Luckily, there are tricks that can help you prevent weight gain during your period.
Ways to Prevent Weight Gain During Menstruation
Listed below are some of the most practical ways to help prevent weight gain during menstruation.
Nothing beats preparedness. Try to understand your cycles and the way your body responses to hormonal changes.
Keep some healthy snacks like fruits and home-made low-sugar cookies so that once hunger strikes, you do not have to resort to unhealthy snacking.
Because you’re feeling more anxious during PMS, cutting back on caffeine can help make you feel calmer to prevent crankiness and other related symptoms.
Drink More Fluids
This may sound counter-intuitive as we are trying to prevent water retention, but drinking lots of water will help keep your cells hydrated, flushing out toxins, and keeping your metabolism active.
This, in turn, will control weight gain before and during your cycle.
Try Not to Skip Meals
Take at least 5-6 moderate amount of meals daily (7).
This will keep you satiated and your hormones balanced.
Take Less Salt
A high-sodium diet can cause water retention (7).
Cutting down on these before and during your cycle will help prevent water weight gain.
It’s understandable that you’ll feel lazy to do workouts, but doing simple exercises at home can help uplift your mood and reduce pain and aches.
If you feel better, you will less likely binge on unhealthy foods, sleep well, and feel happy.
Calcium can help combat PMS symptoms.
Diuretics or natural herbal remedies can also help control weight gain (7).
Magnesium should be taken to balance hormonal changes in the body.
Omega-3 or fish oil supplements can also help reduce stress during PMS.
But be sure to consult a medical doctor to know the right dosage and duration.
Vitamin B6 can help reduce estrogen levels and increase progesterone in the blood.
This balances the fluctuating hormones and controls weight gain.
It is recommended to take 100-200 mg of vitamin B6 daily to control PMS symptoms (7).
Again, it is normal to gain a few pounds during your period. Generally, it will go away a few days after you start menstruating.
Period-related weight gain as discussed above is caused by several factors.
Luckily, by understanding your body better and taking action accordingly, you will find it easy to go through this problem.
Tweak your lifestyle and see improvements on your next menstrual cycle!
Marixie Ann Obsioma, is a licensed Medical Technologist (Medical Laboratory Science) and an undergraduate of Doctor of Medicine (MD).
She had her internship training in a government hospital for a year, serving mostly retired Veterans and their dependents. Her experiences during preceptorships in medical school allowed her to see patients regularly from different medical departments.
The combination of having a good medical background, being a mom, and wanting to help people especially the elderly has cultivated her passion of working in remote areas with love and compassion.