Part of being a woman can be dealing with that monthly tightness, swelling, and major discomfort known as bloating. Weeee, lucky us! If the cramping and pain of a period wasn’t already enough, we also have to deal with this ‘water balloon inside our belly’ type of feeling for days at a time every month.
Tired of this chronic feeling, we enlisted a few experts—from a heralded doctor who specializes in digestion and inflammation to a clean eating expert to a women’s hormone specialist—to give us all the tips that can help bloat both in the moment and in the future. We are finally going to solve this, once and for all.
Okay, we hate that swollen feeling, but what is actually happening inside your body? What is causing it?
Turns out, as unhelpful as it feels, it’s your body’s way of protecting you. Estrogen and progesterone sharply rise in preparation for a possible pregnancy (which is the normal monthly occurrence, even when you aren’t planning on getting pregnant), and in doing so, your body retains water by curtailing urine output.
“Many of us in evolutionary medicine believe this happens in order for us to have adequate fluid stores when the nausea of pregnancy kicks in,” says Dr. Steven R. Gundry, MD and author of the bestselling book The Plant Paradox. “The nausea is actually protective of the newly developing embryo against potential plant toxins like lectins, which interfere with normal development.” So, all that fluid can be a good thing, except if you’re not actually pregnant: Then, it’s an uncomfortable feeling and kind of unnecessary.
To add more insult to injury (or swell to swelling), right before your period, both estrogen and progesterone fall steeply. “During this period, bile production, which is stimulated by progesterone, falls,” says Dr. Gundry. That bile is super helpful on a daily basis, as it’s one of the main components that digests the fats that cause inflammation in our intestinal wall. So, once that bile level drops, it results in even more swelling and bloating, along with the increase in water retention. (Fun!)
“Food—even healing, cruciferous veggies—can make you bloat.”
Beyond just hormones, food and lifestyle choices are major culprits, too. Part of the problem could be “poor gut health and poor nutrient absorption,” says Whitney Tingle, co-founder of Sakara Life. “Food—even healing, cruciferous veggies—can make you bloat, as is not having enough fiber, hormone imbalance, chewing too much gum, carbonated drinks, stress, inflammation, dehydration, poor digestion… there are a lot of contributing factors.”
Yep, you read that correctly—stress can cause bloating. “When you’re stressed and you step on the scale, you seem to weigh five pounds more than you did the day before—it’s not in your head. That’s the effect of cortisol: It puffs you up due to its antidiuretic function, causing your body to retain sodium,” says Alisa Vitti, functional nutrition and women’s hormone expert, as well as author of the bestselling WomanCode. “If you’re feeling chronically stressed, overwhelmed, stretched too thin, have low-grade fatigue all day, or a reliance on caffeine, then this is very likely what’s at the root cause for you.”
What can you do to stop and prevent bloating?
Kind of a lot, thankfully. From digestive enzymes to leafy greens to (oddly enough) jumping, the experts have some recommendations.
We’ve chatted before about how magical magnesium is, but if you haven’t hopped on the ‘mag’ train yet, here’s your reminder. Literally every single one of our experts cited it as a must for daily wellbeing, but especially helpful for bloating. “Magnesium is a critical mineral for digestion and overall calming of the body,” says Tingle.
“Magnesium is a critical mineral for digestion and overall calming of the body.”
Dr. Gundry suggests increasing the amount of magnesium in your diet (in pill form, ideally) to about 400 to 500 mg—particularly at bedtime. “Magnesium not only is an excellent sleep aid, but it enhances bowel motility and improves mood, especially during the time when your mood may not be at its best,” says Dr. Gundry.
Magnesium defeciencies, which many of us are plagued with without even knowing it, can cause a long list of issues. Aside from bloating, it can be a culprit in cramps, migraines, depression, and, of course, insomnia, according to Vitti.
Chocolate is good for bloating? (What is this, Christmas morning?!) Yep, Vitti loves recommending dark, high-quality chocolate as a “hormone-balancing medicine”—as long as it’s at least 70 percent dark chocolate, and made of organic, raw cacao. “It’s fairly high in magnesium, with 176 milligrams in a 100-gram serving,” says Vitti. “This is around half of your daily recommended intake. Some other good sources of magnesium that are both lower in fat and sugar than dark chocolate include halibut, green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.”
“High quality chocolate is a hormone-balancing medicine.”
When you’re bloated, the last thing that might sound helpful is more liquids. But if you’re selective with what you’re drinking, they can be a saving grace.
A classic option (it was actually told to me specifically for bloating after an aura reading) is ginger tea. Get the tea bags and drink a few cups per day. Better yet? Get fresh ginger, and either Magic Bullet it to grind it up finely, or just chop it up. Put it in an unbleached tea bag or metal tea ball, soak in hot water, and drink up. You can even reuse the ginger tea bag or ball for a few additional cups.
It’s also suggested to drink room temperature water, which is easier to absorb in the body, with absolutely no ice cubes.
“Try coconut water to keep those electrolytes balanced for less fluid retention,” says Vitti.
And (unfortunately) stop having so much caffeine, as that will throw off those electrolytes, and can lead to increased anxiety when you consume too much.
Vitti also swears by her “Anti-Bloat-ini,” which can help beat bloat as it’s happening, and also prevent PMS long-term. “And all the veggies are safe diuretics, full of magnesium, helping the liver break down estrogen,” says Vitti.
- 3 beets
- 3 carrots
- 4 celery stalks
- 1/2 cup spinach
- ½ bunch cilantro
- 1 lemon
Juice everything and serve immediately.
Probiotics and Enzymes
Guys, are you taking a probiotic? They are an honestly magical way to transform your overall wellbeing, but especially your gut, which helps to properly break down foods. “When the microbiome—the bacteria that live in your gut—are off balance, your digestive system starts to react to certain foods, stops being able to absorb certain nutrients, and becomes inflamed, which can lead to bloating,” says Vitti.
“Taking a proper probiotic—one with digestive enzymes—will dramatically help your gut bacteria improve,” says Tingle. “Our probiotic blend includes prebiotic fiber, probiotics, and enzymes so that your body can better break down your food, absorb its nutrients, and regulate your digestion—all of which help with bloat.”
Did you catch that other key phrase in there? Digestive enzymes. “Try digestive enzymes with meals,” says Dr. Gundry. That can help you break down and process potentially bloat-inducing foods, like the ones Tingle mentions in the 101 section.
If you weren’t noshing on some leafy greens previously, start to incorporate them more frequently into your daily diet. Tingle says to aim for six to eight cups, which sounds like a lot, but between juices or smoothies and a salad at lunch or dinner, you’ll easily hit that number.
Why the greens? “Eating six to eight cups of leafy greens every single day will transform your microbiome, aka, the six pounds of bacteria living in your gut,” says Tingle. “When your gut is thriving, you absorb your nutrients better, you feel lighter, your mood is better, you have more energy, and you even absorb your calories differently.”
Parsley and Celery
If the root cause of your bloat is the pre-period fluid storage Dr. Gundry chatted about above, then natural diuretics will majorly aid in de-bloating. He suggests utilizing both celery and parsley in your diet—in fresh and pill form—to increase urine output.
“Both parsley and celery have been shown in human trials to increase urine output, and both parsley and celery seed capsules are easily found in health food stores and online,” says Dr. Gundry. “Using parsley in cooking, and having celery seed sprinkled on salads, is a great way to get out the water retention.”
Working out can feel like the absolute last thing you’d like to do, but it can get your blood circulation flowing, and will help reduce that bloating. Try jumping—literally.
“Jump on a mini trampoline,” says Vitti. “Exercise is a great way to beat stress, and decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” And mini trampoline workouts are seriously no joke (although they are pretty much guaranteed to make you laugh during them). There are classes (in various cities) that involve mini trampolines, or you can find tons of videos online that take you through a quick class.
Track (and Talk to) It
While it might feel like your PMS and bloating are out to get you, they really aren’t. “In my experience working with thousands of women all over the world with these issues, your body is never trying to cramp your fashion style,” says Vitti. “Instead, your hormones are trying to have a dynamic, interactive conversation with you.”
She suggests you track your symptoms (date, time, and how you feel) and “ask” your PMS and bloating what it wants. Now that might sound odd, but Vitti is trying to get to the root of your troubles. She wants to translate your hormonal language to understand its flow, instead of having you think your troubles are irrational and random (which they usually never are).
“Instead of “Premenstrual Syndrome,” maybe look at it as “Prioritizing My Self”.
She even wants us to look at the PMS acronym itself: Instead of “Premenstrual Syndrome,” maybe look at it as “Prioritizing My Self.” “When you think of it this way, it becomes very interesting to notice if your PMS symptoms get worse when you chronically put other people’s needs first, without scheduling in some time for your own self-care,” says Vitti. “If you can’t do those things that allow you to take care of yourself first, you’re going to feel cranky—fast. And PMS, including bloating, could be a sign that your body is trying to get your attention to put yourself first for a week.”
There are some really incredible apps on the market that make this tracking much easier. Vitti has one called MyFLO app, which figures out what’s causing your symptoms and walks you through each phase. Planned Parenthood’s Spot On app is also great: You can track your period and symptoms through handy, emoji-like images, and get predictions on when your period and symptoms will occur next.
Keep putting yourself first:
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