Bloating is such a common struggle. So common that around one in five women report that they experience it. Of course, hormonal fluctuations could be to blame (thanks, Mother Nature!), but sometimes there are other lifestyle or dietary issues behind it. That’s why understanding your body, your cycle, and your triggers are so important.
To help you out, we have investigated and dug into the main causes of bloating to find out how your cycle and hormones or your lifestyle habits can add to that tight belly feeling.
Table of Contents
Feeling puffy or a bit more gassy than usual
How it manifests: It’s pretty obvious! But in case you hadn’t noticed, it can make your belly feel (and look) like it’s about to burst, especially when you try to suck it in.
The sex hormones estrogen and progesterone drop during the late part of the luteal phase (just before your period), and then they drop again when your period starts. This can cause that “bloated feeling” – although it isn’t clear whether it’s gas, fluid retention, or something else that’s to blame.
Foods that cause gas. Known culprits include some veggies, such as beans, broccoli, onions, cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower, artificial sweeteners (think bubble gum), and soda.
How to tell one from the other: Track your cycle and symptoms using Pregnancy Calculator — it’ll help you identify when you have hormonal fluctuations that lead to feeling puffy or a bit more gassy than usual.
Help yourself: Tracking your food can help you identify possible triggers. If you decide to cut down on food triggers for bloating, remember: a healthy diet still requires fiber so make sure you get at least five servings of fruit/vegetables daily.
How it manifests: It’s not just being unable to poo or poop less often than is normal for you. It can also mean hard, dry, or lumpy stools or stools that are difficult or painful to pass or just a feeling that you haven’t quite emptied out. And when your stools stay in your body longer than normal, you’re likely to feel gassy and bloated.
Cycle triggers: It could be a temporary constipation rut due to changes in hormones just before menstruation. Things should loosen up when your period begins.
Gut triggers: There’s a lot: not enough fiber, dehydration, not being active enough, ignoring the urge to go, stress, medications … the list goes on.
How to tell one from the other: If you track your cycle, you might notice there’s a specific time you’re prone to being a bit more backed up than usual. And if it is hormones causing constipation, you know it’ll only be temporary.
Help yourself: If your constipation lasts longer, you should see a doctor. Also, try some of these:
Increase your fiber. Choose whole grain options whenever you can, add legumes like beans, chickpeas, and lentils to stews and salads, and eat more fruit, veggies, nuts, and seeds. But go slowly — adding too much fiber when you are not used to it can actually make bloating and gas worse.
Drink enough. The healthy recommendation is 6-8 glasses of fluid daily for an adult.
Move more. The American Heart Association advises 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of intense exercise a week.
Don’t hold it in. When you need to go, go. If you don’t, things could get backed up.
Check your meds. Constipation is a side effect for some. If it’s becoming an issue for you, chat with your health care provider about other options.
Mind your mental health. It’s not common knowledge, but mental health can affect bowel habits. If you’re struggling with any kind of mental health issue, talk with your health care provider as soon as you can.
How it manifests: You’ll experience much looser and more frequent stools than is normal for you. Sometimes it almost feels like you’re passing liquid. And, of course, the gas and discomfort associated with diarrhea can make you feel seriously bloated.
Cycle triggers: Studies have found that hormonal fluctuations can cause diarrhea for some people just before their period, while others get it during menstruation.
There’s a theory that prostaglandins could be to blame. They’re a substance produced during periods that cause the muscles and blood vessels of the uterus to contract. But they might have the same effect on your intestines.
Gut triggers: Some common causes of short-term diarrhea include: viruses, food poisoning, anxiety, food allergies, and too much alcohol. In these cases, diarrhea will usually clear up without treatment after a few days, particularly if it’s caused by an infection (although some infections can last a week or more).
Longer-term causes of diarrhea can include IBS, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and celiac disease.
How to tell one from the other: Diarrhea that’s provoked by hormonal fluctuations would be cyclical. In other words, it happens around the same time each cycle.
Help yourself: While there’s not much you can do to stop cycle-related diarrhea, if you’ve been tracking your cycle and you spot the connection, you’ll know when it’s likely to strike so you can try to reduce it.
For example, you can try adding more fiber -whole-grain bread, fruits, and vegetables – to your diet a few days before you expect diarrhea to show up. Fiber makes the stool more solid.
Remember that if you’re going through a bout of diarrhea, you’re losing a lot of fluids. So it’s really important to drink small, frequent sips of water to stay hydrated.
If diarrhea persists or if you have blood in your stool, you should see a doctor.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
How it manifests: When it comes to gut discomfort and how the menstrual cycle plays a part, IBS is different from all of the above.
The thing is, IBS is a collection of symptoms like distended belly, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and constipation that come and go and can last from days to months. Most people who have it will have it for life.
Frustratingly, the cause of IBS is yet unknown, but it has been linked to food passing through the body too quickly or slowly; an oversensitive gut; stress; genetics, and lifestyle factors.
If you have IBS, your menstrual cycle – the plummeting sex hormones during the late-luteal phase and your period – can trigger a flare-up.
To add insult to injury, our hormones also increase the time it takes food to move through our bodies, increase our stress, and increase sensitivity to pain.
Help yourself: There’s no proven cure for IBS. The best way to deal with it is to get to know your body and what it responds to – or doesn’t. In short, it’s all about tracking your cycle, your stress levels, and your food. That might sound like a lot of work, but you can do it all in Flo, and it will definitely be worth it.
And a few more tips on top of that:
Keep things fresh. Cook homemade food with fresh ingredients
Lower stress. Try regular mindfulness meditation, or simply go for a walk – it can do wonders! Research has found a 50-minute stroll in your local green space can ease anxiety and negativity.
Exercise regularly. It helps things get moving if you’re constipated, and it can ease bloating and psychological IBS triggers (like stress).
Try probiotics. Take about a month to see if they help regulate your gut microbiome.
Adopt healthy eating habits. Avoid eating too quickly; delaying or skipping meals; and stay away from or limiting fatty, spicy, or processed foods, fizzy drinks, and alcohol. Keeping coffee or tea intake to a minimum may help too.