Time of the Month: Sugar Cravings, Uncomfortable Bloating, and the Dreaded Weight Gain!
While you might associate your period with these unpleasant symptoms, the menstrual cycle is actually a very important female hormonal process.
A woman’s period occurs on average once per month, and its purpose is to prepare the body for possible pregnancy— or to prevent her from wearing white for a week.
Let’s take a closer look at the four phases in the menstrual cycle:
This is what most women would call their ‘period’ as it is when the initial bleeding takes place.
The body rids itself of the thickened lining which has built up in the uterus, producing blood from the lining cells.
Sanitary pads and tampons are used during this stage to absorb blood flow, and if you’re out of those, a nappy will do the trick.
During this phase, a hormone is released which signals to the ovary to produce follicles, the growth of these follicles causes an increase in the hormone estrogen.
Although up to 20 follicles are produced, each with the potential to develop into an egg, only one will.
The lining of the uterus thickens in preparation in case the egg is fertilized to prepare the body for pregnancy (this a whole other story, best to ask your parents).
As mentioned previously, only one egg develops from the follicles and during ovulation, the ovary releases this mature egg.
The rise in estrogen from the follicular phase causes a knock on hormonal effect whereby other hormones are released in response to one another, and in a conversation-like manner (think Twitter), they work together to eventually trigger the ovulation process.
The egg is pushed down the fallopian tube and stays alive for approximately 24 hours before it is fertilized by a sperm, or dies (sob)!
Although the egg is released during ovulation, the follicle remains on the ovary and morphs into a hormone-releasing structure that produces progesterone and estrogen, which help the thickened lining of the uterus stay intact.
If an egg is fertilized, then this structure continues to produce the necessary hormones for pregnancy, but if fertilization does not occur then progesterone levels fall and the uterus lining falls with it to repeat the cycle of menstruation (oh joy)!
Pre Menstrual Syndrome
While the period plays an important role in the women’s health, it can also be the cause of several unpleasant symptoms which many women experience in the week or so leading up to menstruation.
These symptoms collectively are known as PMS, pre-menstrual syndrome, or “don’t talk to me, I’m on my period”.
A study, published by Ulrike Schmidt in 2013 found that up to 75 percent of women experience symptoms of premenstrual syndrome including fatigue, low energy and anxiety.
The study also concluded that approximately 10 percent of women experienced a very severe form of PMS known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
Other PMS Symptoms include:
- Sugar cravings (must have chocolate)
- Mood swings and depression (no really, I’m FINE)
- Period pains (touch me and you die)
- Weight gain (I feel like a whale)
The hormone progesterone, which is elevated during the luteal phase right before your period begins, can be known to contribute to PMS weight gain in the form of gas, constipation, diarrhea, and the slowing of digestion— all of which can cause bloating and water retention.
These symptoms can cause food to sit in the digestive tract for longer than usual and thus increase scale weight temporarily.
Hormonal changes can also affect the balance of water in the body and many women experience edema in the week before their period starts, which can add up to 5lbs of scale weight— yikes!
It is often thought that fluid retention is at its highest in the week leading up to the period and that scale weight begins to drop as soon as bleeding occurs.
A study published in 2011 by Colin P. White discovered that after testing the fluid retention levels of 62 women during the stages of the menstrual cycle over the span of one year, edema was actually at its highest on day one of menstruation.
This is something to keep I mind if you step on the scales regularly, as weighing yourself both before and during your period can be disheartening and highly inaccurate.
Use calipers to measure your body fat for a more consistent and concise way to track body composition.
Top Tips To Minimize Weight Gain
The body is made of up to 60% water.
Water nourishes your cells and keeps you hydrated.
Slight dehydration can cause a retention of water, so by ensuring that you are consuming enough H2O, you’ll look and feel your best.
Water helps to improve digestion which will further avoid added edema during the week before your period— and water fills you up so it can prevent you from overeating.
Salt attracts water, and by consuming high sodium foods you are actively encouraging fluid retention.
Opt for pink Himalayan salt, which is unprocessed, full of minerals and in addition to sodium, it contains other electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium (unlike white table salt) which will help to balance the water in your body.
Wear Loose Clothing
Feel comfortable during this uncomfortable time by wearing loose-fitting clothing if you are experiencing any bloating or fluid retention.
Avoid restricting waistbands too as they can affect the efficiency of your digestive system, forget fashion for a week and your body will thank you for it!
Choose Carbohydrates Wisely
High sugar carbohydrates and white starches can not only bloat, but they can also encourage your body to hold more water— which is the last thing you need during time of the month!
High fiber whole grain carbs such as brown rice can assist in good digestion, keep you feeling fuller for longer and reduce cravings for high sugar foods.
A study published in 2016 found that a woman’s appetite typically increases during the luteal phase, which is the period right before your period (see what I did there)?
Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing, but by moving and stretching you are releasing the tension in your body, allowing your digestive system to work more efficiently, promoting healthy blood flow (which can reduce cramps) and minimizing weight and fluid gain— winning!
In a 12 week study, it was found that regular exercise significantly reduced PMS associated symptoms and that aerobic exercise in particular, dramatically improved depression linked to premenstrual syndrome.
If you enjoy cardio, then yoga, cycling, and swimming are great pre-period exercise options.
Performing circuit style bodyweight exercises can also be a great way to incorporate both cardio and resistance workouts into your training regime before your period begins— and both forms of exercise can effectively help to alleviate many of the PMS symptoms you might experience before menstruation.
Editor's Choice: Over 44 different simple physical workouts for ladies
Water Busting Workout
Designed to increase your heart rate, boost circulation, improve flexibility, burn calories and create a mean sweat.
Perform 10 reps of each exercise before moving onto the next, and repeat the entire circuit three times.
Press Ups/ Half Press Ups-
Start by lying on your front, then lift your weight up onto your tip toes, and hands (arms vertical with hands fairly wide and placed at chest level), while keeping your spine straight.
Bend your elbows outward to lower your chest and body closer to the floor and ensure that your spine does not change shape as you do so.
Keep your abs tense to avoid movement in your lower back and puff out your chest to encourage good posture throughout.
Push back up and repeat. Perform this exercise on your knees instead of on your toes to reduce the difficulty.
Stand in a wide stance with your toes pointed outward.
Tilt and sit back through your hips while bending at the knees as if sitting back onto a chair, and lower your body until your legs are at an approximate 90-degree angle— ensure your knees remain wide enough to track in line with your toes throughout the movement.
Stand up, squeezing your glutes at the top, and repeat.
With your feet in a wide stance (and planted), walk out on your hands until your body is parallel to the floor with your spine lengthened and your arms completely straight.
Return by walking back up to standing using your hands, and repeat.
Start by standing up straight with your feet together. Take a large step back with one foot landing on your toes while ensuring that your weight remains predominantly over the front leg.
As you step, push the front knee forward up to the toes, but keep the whole foot plated on the floor as you do so.
Lower your body by bending through both knees, while keeping your spine straight, and hinging your hips back to allow for the maintenance of good posture throughout the exercise.
Return the foot by stepping back up and repeat on the same side for the total number of repetitions, before moving on to the other leg.
Editor's Choice: Read why you may need these cloths to enjoy better outdoor workout
While it can be both frustrating and uncomfortable, unless you are massively overeating, weight gain associated with your period will be fluid and will be temporary.
Follow our Top Tips and Water Busting Workout and you should find some relief from inconvenient menstrual related weight gain.
Avoid weighing yourself both the weeks before and during your period, and remember that exercise can massively help in alleviating many of the unpleasant symptoms that you will experience during time of the month.
Eat well, stay hydrated, keep moving and embrace this beautiful and natural process— or, get yourself a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and comfort eat your way through your period, knowing that in just four weeks’ time you’ll have to go through it all again!
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