As if you didn't have enough happening inside your body when your period arrives (cramps, bloating, headaches, backaches, weird nausea, whatever's going on with your intestines...), sometimes a bonus friend tags along with it: Period weight! Yes, because the world is cruel and periods feel like actual hexes upon your body, it's possible (and perfectly normal) to gain some extra pounds during that time of the month.
To help give you some peace of mind and reassure you that yes, this is happening to basically everyone and we're all equally distraught about it, Cosmopolitan.com spoke with Alyssa Dweck, a gynecologist in Westchester County, about all the little reasons you might be seeing a few extra pounds on the scale around your period. Take a deep breath. It's totally normal and you're gonna be fine.
WHEN YOU WAKE UP THREE POUNDS HEAVIER
It's more accurate to refer to this phenomenon as weight fluctuation, not weight gain. Even though you see an uptick in your body weight on the scale - you're not actually permanently putting that weight on. It goes away. The extra weight is just a fluctuation that happens in tune with a spike in hormones in the days leading up to your period - that's why it's so sudden (like, seemingly happens overnight).
Dweck said she's "always amazed" at how much fluctuation actually occurs. "Even though it's pretty difficult to find this in the medical literature, most literature says it's just a couple of pounds," she said. "But anecdotally, women will complain about a five plus pound fluctuation before the period." The amount your weight fluctuates just depends on your own body - three pounds on someone might be five for someone else.
If you're stepping on the scale and see an inexplicable uptick in weight (inexplicable as in you've been eating normally and exercising regularly, and still somehow put on some pounds), think about how far out you are from your period. If you're a few days away from when your period should be starting, congrats - you've got period weight fluctuation going on. Dweck said that the hormone progesterone, which spikes when your body is getting ready to start your period, is mainly what influences the fluctuation. You might also see a little bump up in weight around the time you ovulate (again, hormones).
WHAT'S IN THOSE EXTRA POUNDS
It's water. Water! Something you thought was your friend (it is still your friend). "There's definitely some water retention that occurs because of hormonal fluctuation right right before the period," Dweck said. And this is where things start to get especially cruel. The things that are most likely to make your body retain water (which, combined with those hormones, causes the momentary weight gain) are the very things PMS makes you crave - salt, sugar, and caffeine.
PMS makes you tired, so you're less likely to work out and more likely to drink extra coffee. It also makes you uncomfortable and irritable, and may make you crave snacky foods with lots of salt or extra sweet things between meals or for dessert. Those foods aren't great for you, but you'd have to eat a lot of them to actually put on fat just before your period.
Some of it may also be mental. Like, you haven't actually put on any weight but you look in the mirror and just feel a bit bigger. "It's the way women feel before their period," Dweck said. "It looks like they've gained weight, even though it's really just a feeling on the inside."
Sometimes a bit of that weight might also be caused by the fact that you may not be having, ahem, regular bowel movements. Another fun thing that progesterone does is affect your intestinal motility, and slow things down in that area. "Some people feel really constipated before their period," Dweck said, and that can result in bloating or just an overall feeling of heftiness.
WAIT, BUT THIS IS REALLY UNFAIR
*Pats head* I know. It really is. But if this is something that really bothers you and drives you insane each month, know that it's driving a ton of other people insane, too. You're absolutely not alone. The best thing you can do for yourself is stay off the scale, and wear clothes that make you feel hot and comfy.
Dweck also suggests tracking it with an anticipatory calendar or period tracker. That way, you can know when the weight is coming, know that the weight isn't actually real fat you're putting on, and maybe take some measures to be mindful of how much salt, sugar, and caffeine you're putting in your body. It could be that you dramatically cut back on those three things and still see the uptick. Bodies are nuts and basically do whatever they want. But take comfort in the fact that, as soon as the period starts, that weight will fall back off and your body will return to its homeostasis.
In no circumstance should you cut back on water. Not drinking water isn't a way to solve water retention. It's it's really bothering you, or you see yourself gaining weight with each menstrual cycle and it never actually goes away when your period starts, you can talk to your doctor. Otherwise, take solace in the fact that it's all very normal.
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