It’s estimated that close to 70 percent of women experience bloating during that time of the month, says Diana Bitner, M.D., a Michigan-based ob-gyn. It turns out that period bloat is the worst and not many of us are immune. You can thank fluctuations in estrogen levels and a sharp drop in progesterone right before Aunt Flo comes to town for your ballooning belly.
But here are the good news: Two to three days into your period, your ovaries start producing dependable levels of supporting hormones again. This causes the bloating to subside. But what can you do in the meantime? Here are the best solutions:
Keep up your workout routine
We get it: It’s probably the last thing you feel like doing. But experts say getting your heart rate up is one of the best ways to alleviate PMS symptoms—including bloat. “People who live a more sedentary lifestyle tend to have more sluggish digestive systems,” says Ross. Sweating it out can also help keep you regular and reduce constipation. Lighter workouts like swimming and yoga are your best bet. High intensity exercises like Crossfit can promote inflammation, which adds to the bloat.
Pop an otc anti-inflammatory
Ibuprofen and Naprosyn (found in brands like Aleve and Midol) block the chemicals that cause inflammation, and in turn, bloating, says Kelly Roy, M.D., an ob-gyn in Phoenix. “A couple days before your period, take 200 to 400 milligrams every six to eight hours,” she says.
Stay away for stuff that causes gas
Yep, we’re looking at you broccoli and Brussels sprouts. They may inspire your favorite healthy-eating Pinterest boards, but they also contain a complex sugar called raffinose. Humans lack the enzyme to help break it down properly, which leads to gas and bloat. “Other dietary culprits in this category include beans, cabbage, cauliflower, and lettuce,” says Ross.
Cut back on caffeine and alcohol
“Pre-menstrually, alcohol can enhance PMS symptoms like breast tenderness, mood swings, and bloating,” says Bitner. “And coffee can overstimulate the digestive tract and irritate the bowels, not to mention dehydrate you, which causes you to retain water.” Hey, you’ll save some serious dough by bypassing your morning latte.
Pick protein and potassium rich foods
Fill your plate with ingredients that won’t cause you to puff up. “High-potassium foods like bananas, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and asparagus help promote a good balance of fluids,” says Isabel Smith, R.D., a New York City-based celebrity dietitian and fitness expert. “The same goes for healthy fats like chia, nuts, and salmon. These help lower prostaglandins, the group of hormones that cause bloat and muscle contraction.
Protein is another safe bet—think chicken, fish, and tofu. “Foods that act as natural diuretics like celery, cucumbers, watermelon, lemon juice, garlic, and ginger will also make you feel lighter on your feet, even on your period,” says Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.
Take a pass on carbonated and sugary drinks
Chugging fizzy beverages might make you feel better temporarily, but they’ll leave you way more bloated than before, says Smith. The same goes for sugary drinks like Gatorade. “Don’t let brands that use artificial sweeteners fool you—they too cause you to puff up like a blowfish,” says Smith. Instead, rely on your good buddy water, and aim for eight glasses a day. “Mix in some green, peppermint, or fennel tea to help eliminate inflammatory mediators,” says Ross.
Score more shut-eye
“Sleep is often impacted by the pain of menstruation, bloating, and feeling out of sorts,” says Roy. It’s during these crucial hours, though, that the excess fluid in your belly is able to move back into the body and be eliminated, she explains. So aim to get eight hours a night—here are tips to help you drift off.