For some folks, their menstrual periods are symptom-free and relatively straightforward. But the vast majority of women (some research suggests up to 90%!) experience symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, anxiety, bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, changes in sleep and yes, an increase in weight before and during their cycle.
While you might be able to pop an ibuprofen to nip a headache in the bud or take melatonin to help you fall asleep, is there anything you can really do to avoid weight gain during your period?
We consulted with top OB/GYNs to learn the root causes of weight gain during your period and how you can prevent extra pounds from causing discomfort.
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Is weight gain during your period normal?
If you feel heavy and bloated during your period, it’s not in your head. “Water retention is a common premenstrual symptom and weight gain during your period is normal,” says Nita Landry, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN and the author of Dr. Nita’s Crash Course for Women. “Every person is different. Some people don’t notice any weight gain.”
If the extra pounds are related to your menstrual cycle, they’re only a temporary annoyance.
How much weight gain is normal during your period?
There isn’t a lot of research on this, but anecdotal reports suggests a person may gain up to six pounds during menstruation. Any more than that (especially if it remains after your period ends) should raise a red flag that there’s something more going on, and it warrants a call to your doctor.
Causes of period weight gain:
Here are the three primary reasons why you might put on pounds during your period, according to doctors.
This is the biggest reason why the number on the scale may rise during your period. “Oftentimes there is water retention that can occur due to hormonal fluctuations,” says Sonia Bahlani, M.D., a pelvic pain specialist and the author of Dr. Sonia’s Guide to Navigating Pelvic Pain. “I think it’s due to progesterone more than anything else. That’s what makes you feel like you’re gaining weight during your period.”
If you’re reaching for more salty foods during your period, that can cause your body to retain water. Some people also crave higher-calorie foods at this time of the month, but according to Dr. Bahlani, a few days of extra calories won’t lead to much of a change on the scale.
Your desire to work out may be low during your period, especially if you have menstrual cramps or you feel bloated, but it could be worth it to go for a long walk. “Working out during your period helps you shed some water weight,” says Dr. Landry. “Exercising also helps release endorphins or ‘feel-good hormones’ which act as your body’s natural painkillers and help you feel better overall.” That said, don’t beat yourself up for skipping the gym for a few days—missing a couple of workouts won’t lead to lasting weight gain.
How long does period weight gain last?
Don’t worry—assuming the weight gain is just temporary water retention, your weight should return to normal soon. “Water weight usually goes away about three to five days after your period starts,” says Dr. Landry. If the number on the scale keeps going up and doesn’t return to your pre-period weight, it might be smart to schedule a visit with your doctor to figure out what’s going on.
How to treat or prevent period weight gain
Even if you deal with weight gain during your period month after month, here are some steps you can take to keep it (and the accompanying discomfort!) to a minimum.
- Choose high-fiber foods. To reduce fluid retention, try to cut back on sodium and eat more fiber. “Fiber causes the water to be kind of sucked into it, and then you poop it out,” explains Dr. Bahlani. While you’re at it, opt for complex carbohydrates instead of refined sugars. “Complex carbs like sweet potatoes, whole-wheat pasta and beans enter the bloodstream gradually, causing only a moderate rise in insulin levels, which helps stabilize your mood and keep cravings under control,” adds Dr. Landry.
- Reach for H2O. “Drinking water is always really important because you’re—for lack of a better term — ‘flushing’ your system, and then you can pee more so theoretically, whatever salt intake is causing you to have that fluid retention should be released,” says Dr. Bahlani.
- Exercise. While you may not want to get moving, according to Dr. Bahlani, it may be exactly what you need to help get retained fluid moving around your body. Dr. Landry is also a proponent of working out during your period and recommends at least 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise (like walking, running, cycling or swimming) most days of the week.
- Consider a magnesium supplement. Dr. Bahlani often suggests 400 to 600 milligrams of magnesium citrate for patients who say they feel bloated during their periods. “Magnesium tends to be helpful with that, and it also can be helpful for period cramps,” she says. Just get the green light from your physician before you add any supplements to your regimen.
- Talk to your doc about meds. “If bloating is a major issue for you, ask your OB/GYN if they think a prescription for a diuretic would be a good option for you,” says Dr. Landry. “Hormonal contraception can also help alleviate PMS symptoms in some people.”
The bottom line:
“If your premenstrual symptoms are disrupting your life, talk to your healthcare clinician to ensure you understand all of your options,” says Dr. Landry. “A healthcare clinician can also tell you if they think your symptoms are due to something other than hormonal fluctuation.” For instance, if you’re gaining way more than a few pounds every month, you’re gaining weight that doesn’t go away at the end of your period or you’re noticing additional manifestations like puffy ankles or severe changes in bowel habits, those are things a physician can help you sort out. “If you’re noticing a constellation of symptoms that’s occurring during your period, that’s probably something to go over with your OB/GYN,” says Dr. Bahlani. “Look at your entire clinical picture from a more holistic point of view and pay attention to patterns.”
Weight loss, health and body image are complex subjects — we invite you to gain a broader perspective by reading our exploration into the hazards of diet culture.
Kaitlyn Phoenix is a senior editor in the Hearst Health Newsroom, where she reports, writes and edits research-backed health content for Good Housekeeping, Prevention and Woman’s Day. She has more than 10 years of experience talking to top medical professionals and poring over studies to figure out the science of how our bodies work. Beyond that, Kaitlyn turns what she learns into engaging and easy-to-read stories about medical conditions, nutrition, exercise, sleep and mental health. She also holds a B.S. in magazine journalism from Syracuse University.