A woman’s menstrual cycle has a lot to answer for… mood swings, food cravings, spots, greasy hair, water retention, poor energy levels, headaches, severe abdominal pain and discomfort and the overwhelming irrational desire to murder someone! It can even affect who we find attractive! But of course what we are interested in, is whether it can cause weight gain.
We very often speak to women at the scales, who are expecting a weight gain because they are having or are due their period. And we do see that this is sometimes the case.
Our body weight and menstruation
Most of us will be aware that being heavily overweight or severely underweight can cause changes in our periods. With women who are very underweight often having no periods at all, and women who are heavily overweight can suffer from very heavy periods, due to the excess fat in their bodies tricking their body into not ovulating, but causing a huge build-up of the womb lining, resulting in a very heavy period.
Menstruation and our body weight
So, we know that our weight can affect our periods, but can our periods affect our weight, like we think it can?
There are several reasons or side effects that can cause weight gain, just prior to and during our period.
- Bloating – bloating is a common symptom of PMT, caused by excess gas in the gut, due to hormonal changes and cramps. The trapped wind may show up on the scales
- Water retention – hormones cause water to be retained in the bodies tissues. Changes in bowel movements too at certain times of the cycle will also result in a gain on the scales.
- Food Cravings and Overeating – we crave carbs and fat, during our periods as our brain perceives that we need more glucose. This could cause us to eat between 100-200 calories extra a day.
- Fall in magnesium levels – in the pre-menstrual phase, our magnesium levels can drop, causing our insulin levels to drop, increasing sugar cravings. If this permutates into increased sugar consumption, then there will be an associated weight gain.
Using your cycle to your advantage!
You can use your cycle to your advantage. It has been suggested that at different times in your cycle you can adapt your training to meet your hormonal needs.
During the luteal phase of your cycle, the time from ovulation to the first day of your period, your body has more oestrogen and progesterone. It is thought that during this period, our bodies burn fat more effectively, but will be less effective at building muscle and processing carbohydrate. So, it may be worth capitalising on this and increasing our cardio and high intensity exercise during this time to get the benefits of those hormonal changes. It may also be worth considering the amount of carbs we eat in this time, although it is essential to keep it in our diet all month round.
In the follicular phase of our cycle, the time from the first day of your period to ovulation, we are more effective at building muscle and are more insulin sensitive, which helps keep our blood sugar levels regular, reducing cravings. So, during this time, we can capitalise by doing more weight bearing and toning exercises to make use of our increased muscle building capability. We can also tolerate more carbohydrates in this period.
What can you do to help yourself, when your time of the month comes around?
Hormonal changes can make us crave fattier foods, or even just more food in general, so make sure you stick to your calories at this time, to keep on the right side of things. Try not to give in to those cravings, however irrational you are feeling.
Watch your salt intake, eat plenty of fruit and veg and drink plenty of water to keep water retention and bloating at bay, and hopefully keep those scales going in the right direction.
Get plenty of sleep and eat a well balanced diet, getting all your micro nutrients (vits and mins) to keep your hormones as balanced as possible. If you eat a restricted diet, consider taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement to make sure you are getting everything you need.
Exercise regularly to improve your mood and reduce cramps, reduce bloating and keep you regular. Sometimes it feels like the last thing you want to do, but there’s nothing to say you shouldn’t, and the evidence suggests it will help.
Lastly, don’t beat yourself up at that time of the month… having your period is rubbish enough without you feeling guilty about maintaining or gaining a pound or two. It is reported that women can gain on average between 2 and 10 pounds just before menstruation, but it will even itself out again, on the other side. So take it in your stride, don’t give up, and just stick at it.