There are many annoying side effects us women have to put up with when we’ve got our period, however, in this article we’re going to focus on one in particular… bloating. Yep, the uncomfortable and unsightly affliction that happens in the run up and during the worst days of our period. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to help reduce bloating on your period and we’re going to take a look at a few of them now.
1. What You Eat
The food we eat has a massive impact on our health. Too much of the foods that don’t serve us well nutritionally and we start to see the side effects. Bloating occurs when the body retains water and this is worsened when we have our period as changes in our hormone levels mean we retain even more water.
Some foods encourage bloating more than others. Therefore, if we try to avoid these bloat-inducing foods around the time of our period, our stomachs should feel more comfortable. Foods to avoid include:
- Salt – Changes in our progesterone and oestrogen levels before and during our period results in the body retaining more salt, which leads to bloating. Eating salty foods only exacerbates the problem. Avoid high sodium foods like smoked meats and fish, canned foods, pretzels, crisps and surprisingly cottage cheese, which also has high levels of salt.
- Simple Carbs – Whilst you don’t need to cut them out entirely, eating too many simple carbs, like white bread, pasta, rice etc., on your period can cause blood sugar to spike which raises insulin levels. To counteract this, the kidneys retain more sodium and the effect of this is bloating.
- Processed Foods – Processed foods tend to have higher levels of salt, sugar, and fat all of which worsen bloating. Which is a shame really, as these are exactly the types of food many of us crave when we have our period.
Eating a balance of different foods is the best thing for your health in general. But to ease any discomfort, try eating these foods to reduce bloating on your period:
- Fibre Rich Foods – Foods that are rich in fibre, like vegetables, fruits, and wholegrains help to keep you regular. And a healthy, regular digestive system will help reduce the risk of you experiencing bloating on your period. Just be aware that if your body isn’t used to a high fibre diet it may take some time to adjust. And during this adjustment phase you may actually find your bloating gets worse for a while, before it gets better.
- Complex Carbs – Complex carbohydrates are better for us as not only do they contain more nutrients, but they are also digested slower. And this slower digestion reduces the risk of bloating. Complex carbs include things like wholegrain bread, brown rice, sweet potato, and quinoa.
- Calcium – Calcium aids healthy digestion, and healthy digestion means reduced bloating. Try eating calcium rich foods such as yogurt, cheese, and green leafy vegetables.
- Potassium – Foods that contain potassium, like bananas, tomatoes and avocado, help to decrease sodium levels, which means the body is then less likely to retain water and therefore appear less bloated.
2. How You Eat
It’s not just what you eat that can increase the chances of bloating on your period, it’s also how you eat.
Eating too quickly or eating with your mouth open can lead to air being swallowed and this is a fast track to bloating. Taking the time to slow down and fully appreciate each mouthful will not only help you to enjoy your food more, but it will also reduce the risk of bloating during your period. Similarly, chewing gum and carbonated drinks will add air to your digestive system, so avoid these if you can.
Sitting straight up in a chair at a table is also much better for you then curling up on the sofa to eat your meals. This will help to aid digestion and will again encourage you to eat more mindfully. You might also find that it suits you better to eat 5 or 6 smaller meals throughout the day rather than the 3 big meals we’re accustomed to. It will certainly ease your digestive system if you do this, even if you only do it around the time of your period.
Going for a short walk after a meal can also aid the digestive process and reduce the chances of bloating.
3. Drink More Water
As we’ve learnt, bloating is caused because the body for whatever reason is retaining water. So it’s easy to understand why you would think that drinking more water wouldn’t necessarily help the problem. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, staying hydrated on your period is an effective solution to combating bloating, as it helps flush the system through and prevents constipation.
When you don’t drink enough fluid, your body holds onto water, as a kind of panic reaction because it’s not sure where its next fluid will come from. By drinking plenty of water you will not only aid digestion but you will also improve kidney function, reduce the chances of suffering from hormonal acne outbreaks, and just generally feel a whole lot better.
Aim for 8 glasses of water a day and avoid sugary or carbonated drinks as this will definitely cause bloating on your period. Herbal teas, like green tea, peppermint and fennel can help to reduce inflammation and will ease your stomach if you are also experiencing period cramps.
4. Avoid The Bad Stuff
Things like smoking, too much caffeine and excess alcohol are not good for our health at the best of times. But around the time of our period it’s even worse.
Caffeine can have a laxative effect, so in theory you might think it would help shift things along a bit so to speak. However, too much caffeine can also irritate the lining of the stomach and stimulate the production of stomach acid which can lead to bloating. On top of that, many people add milk, sugar, or sweeteners to their coffee which can also encourage the bloat.
Drinking too much alcohol when you have your period can make PMS symptoms like anxiety, mood swings, breast tenderness, sleeplessness, and bloating much worse. It can also dehydrate you, which will send signals to your brain to instruct your body to hold onto water and therefore result in a bloated stomach.
We know that smoking is bad for our lungs, but the tobacco in cigarettes can also irritate the digestive tract, which can then lead to bloating, cramping, and gas.
5. Exercise Regularly
We understand that exercising when you have your period is probably the last thing you feel like doing. However, if you can manage to motivate yourself it is hugely beneficial in terms of helping to alleviate bloating and other PMS symptoms.
But go easy on yourself. We’re not asking you to go to a mega pumped up spin session, or a frantic high energy HIIT workout. Save those for the days you feel more yourself. Instead, go for a walk in nature or if you’re happy swimming on your period, why not head down to your local pool and do a few gentle lengths for a healthy boost of endorphins. You can also try some gentle yoga stretches like Cat-Cow and Sphinx Pose, both of which will help with bloating.
6. Reduce Stress
Stress has a massive impact on not just our mental health but also our physical health and wellbeing too. High levels of stress can affect us in many different ways and one of those is our digestive health. On the one hand, stress can slow down digestion, which leads to bloating and constipation. And yet on the other hand it may also cause the digestive system to speed up, resulting in diarrhoea.
To help reduce your stress levels you need to take some time out and concentrate on a bit of self care. Here are some ideas to help you destress and debloat:
- Take a warm bath.
- Practice yoga.
- Go for a walk.
- Give yourself a gentle abdominal massage.
- Try some deep breathing exercises.
Having your period can already make you feel more fatigued than normal, but throw in disrupted sleep or even worse, no sleep at all and that has all kinds of implications. Lack of sleep can increase stress, which as we’ve just read above plays havoc with our gut. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night, making sure to come off all devices a good couple of hours before you plan on falling asleep. Focus on creating good sleep habits by trying to go to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
It can be difficult to sleep when you have your period, as your body temperature is often higher and so you may feel hotter than normal. Wear cooling nightwear, leave a window open, and sleep with a sheet instead of a duvet to see if that helps. If you’re feeling bloated or are suffering from menstrual cramps, you may find it difficult to get comfortable in bed. And all that tossing and turning is definitely going to stress you out! If you’re not feeling too hot, hold a lavender scented heat pad on your abdomen to help relieve the pain, or take some ibuprofen to help ease inflammation.
If it feels as though you’re tried everything, but you’re still experiencing bloating on your period it might be worth trying out some supplements.
Probiotics are a great option for optimal gut health and regular daily consumption should help to reduce bloating. There are lots of different ones available on the market, so do your research to find one that will best suit you and your lifestyle. Look out for things like the number of CFUs (Colony Forming Units), storage information (some need to be kept in the fridge), and that they are free of all major allergens and preservatives etc.
Vitamin B6 can help to ease bloating. It is found in food such as fish, poultry, oats and bananas. However, if you are not getting enough vitamin B6 from your diet alone it might be worth considering supplementing your diet with it. Vitamin B6 assists in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, as well as helping to regulate levels of serotonin. Both of these can directly affect the health and functionality of the gut, so by taking a B6 supplement you should see a reduction in bloating on your period.
Try also to look out for supplements that contain magnesium, as this may help to decrease water retention and improve bloating symptoms.
Bloating can be uncomfortable at any time, but period bloating can feel especially bad. When you have your period, you may also notice that your bowel movements are different, and you may feel as though you suffer with more gas. This is completely normal, but it is not something you should have to put up with. As you can see from the tips above, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help alleviate bloating on your period. If you have any concerns about your symptoms or if your bloating seems to be continuous then you should speak to your GP.