Photo credit: Flickr / @derekgavey
Honestly, even typing the b-word makes my smile turn into a scowl.
If you’re like me, you bloat like crazy during the (clutch your pearls, ladies) days juuuuust before your period starts over, or just about any time after you eat way more chips than the “one” you were dared to eat by the commercial.
Bloating is a reality, and it happens to all of us. In some cases—like your menstrual cycle—it has to happen. In other cases, it doesn’t.
Bloating is the non-technical term for what we actually call “water retention,” and your body has a lot of reasons to want to retain water.
For instance, during the female menstrual cycle, your body wants to retain water because the water will serve as the base for the blood your body creates to replace what is lost (blood is half-plasma, water is an important part of plasma), you’ll eventually rid yourself of whatever is unneeded during menstruation.
As a secondary example, your body naturally prefers an internal salt-to-water ration that’s akin to sea water. When you eat an excessive amount of salt—like, say, that bag of chips or that giant pastry all in one sitting—your body detects the salt and tries to rush to retain water to help maintain that balance. Even as little as an extra quarter-teaspoon of salt can result in a water weight gain of almost two pounds.
(Tell me you knew that most baked goods are loaded with salt… you knew that, right?)
Between those two situations, not to mention the impact that prescription medicines can have on hormones that trigger water retention, and you’ve basically covered just about everybody with regard to experiencing water retention.
Water retention is almost always triggered by a hormonal response. Because of this, the usual suspects—diuretics, sauna suits and saunas—are not only bad ideas, they could land you in the hospital. Trying to use a sauna suit to deal with period bloat, and you could wind up anemic. Use a diuretic to get rid of sodium-related water weight, and you could wind up with kidney damage, ulcers, and I can’t even.
Honestly, as frustrating as bloating might be, you have to realize that it’s happening for a necessary reason. Your body is trying to help you through something, or protect you from something… often, something that you’re inadvertently causing through your own habits.
Because of this, it’s easy to see how to handle water retention when it happens in different cases.
When it comes to your cycle, the best thing you can do to reduce the amount of period bloat is… to drink more water. Drink more, drink it regularly, and drink it consistently. Constantly having a supply of water coming in helps your body release what it’s holding onto, and in a natural and healthy way tells your body that it doesn’t need to fearfully cling onto every drop you drink to ensure that you’ll have enough to help replace what’s been lost. I know that people are often encouraged to take Midol or other period-specific over-the-counter meds because they contain diuretics (which are substances, both natural and lab-created, that help reduce water retention), but frequent use of those can have consequences that far outweigh the benefit.
Speaking of diuretics, because most water retention serves an important purpose in your body, it doesn’t make sense to try to simply get rid of the bloat without addressing the reason why it’s there. If the water is supposed to serve as a shield, your question shouldn’t be “how do I get rid of the water,” it should be “what am I being shielded from?” Diuretics get a lot of attention on this front because lots of fitness professionals and bikini/figure competitors make use of them, but stage competitors use diuretics because thousands of dollars are on the line for one night where they are required to appear their absolute most muscular. Their willingness to put their bodies at risk for the stage is very different from the everyday person’s desire to look cute in a body-con dress, feel me? Diuretics aren’t worth it, regardless of whether it’s celery or Water-B-Gon.
For that matter, if you’re taking a prescription that causes an obscene amount of water retention, your doctor will frequently prescribe a mild diuretic alongside it—it won’t cause the level of trouble that you’d experience with the traditional kinds of diuretics, and it’ll most likely cater to your specific needs like blood pressure, diet, and weight in order to make sure that it doesn’t cause any damage. If it’s a prescription that’s causing your bloat, do not try to manage this yourself. A diuretic can, in many cases, only make things worse. I cannot stress this enough—talk to your doctor.
With regard to saunas and sauna suits, both of which are supposed to force you to sweat so much that you can lose a couple of cups of water in a session, I cannot stress how unsafe this is. If you are already someone who has a hard time staying hydrated—meaning your urine, when you look in the potty* after you pee, is a pretty recognizable golden tone instead of a faint yellow—then frequent use of saunas and sauna suits is going to cause unbelievable headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, potential reflux, and more. Worse, because you tried to get rid of the water without getting rid of the excess salt, you’re only going to gain the water weight right back.
Let me say that again: without addressing the root cause of the water weight gain, you will only gain the water weight back.
Do I need to type it again? No? You feel me, right?
Saunas are great. I use the one in my gym as an excuse to stall from meeting up with the hubby and kids. It’s quiet, peaceful, I can breathe deeply and meditate, and there’s no one knocking on the door every three minutes while I’m in there. But I’m not in there to lose water weight. I’m in there to relax, let my skin flourish, moisturize my situation, let my hair get a little love, and envision myself finally finishing my book. Because of that, I hydrate fully before I enter, and I hydrate again on my way out. And my skin looks like it, too.
What can you do in your diet? Reduce the salt. Stay on top of your sodium consumption. Too little salt, and you will feel lightheaded. Too much salt, and your body will respond by retaining all the water. This is something I’m very familiar with—I used to have water retention so bad, that I could press my thumb into my calf and it would leave an imprint in my leg. It’s not safe, it causes high blood pressure, and frankly it feels awful. Your limbs even feel heavier.
Be active—get your sweat on. One of the healthiest ways to discourage water retention is to increase your body’s internal temperature naturally through intense and rigorous exercise. You’ll sweat everywhere, sure, but that water retention will be out of there.
Stay hydrated. Trying to get rid of the water you’re holding onto without replacing it is a dangerous situation, and your body knows it… so you’ll only put that water right back on, anyway. Staying consistently hydrated teaches your body it can count on water always being there without having to retain it, and you’ll slowly feel like there’s less water being held in each limb.
Our bodies give us signals for how to care for it. Be diligent in listening to yours. If you’re retaining a bunch of water and are unsure why, get a quick blood pressure reading from your local pharmacy—most have blood pressure taking machines, anyway—and check to make sure your menstrual cycle isn’t beginning again soon. Be gentle with yourself, and you’ll find that the water will be gone before you know it!