You feel bloated and puffy. Your jeans refuse to zip up. And even though you’re not pregnant, you look it. This is a feeling every woman with PCOS knows all too well — the dreaded PCOS bloating.
Bloating and PCOS go hand in hand. Some women have a lot of PCOS bloating around their period, while others may have it all the time. And a bloated belly (along with swollen painful breasts that make it rather hard to wear a bra) makes you all the more uncomfortable, frustrated and dejected. It’s also one of the key reasons for weight-loss frustrations in women with PCOS.
So, what causes PCOS bloating, and can you beat it?
PCOS Bloating: What’s Going On?
The reasons could be several, but the more common ones are:
- Hormonal Fluctuations: PCOS results in hormonal imbalances. Research shows that while estrogen and progesterone primarily control reproduction, they also play a big role in the regulation of fluids. When your hormones are out of whack, your body retains water and causes bloating. Estrogen is directly associated with fluid retention. And a lot of women with PCOS have an excess of estrogen.
- Imbalanced Gut Bacteria: In the absence of healthy gut bacteria, your digestion is under-powered. As a result, food sits in the stomach and ferments, causing bloating.
- Food Intolerances: Many women with PCOS are intolerant to gluten and dairy, which is why it’s best to eliminate these from your PCOS diet. Even if you don’t have a full blown gluten or dairy allergy, your bloating could be a symptom of intolerance.
- Ovarian Hyper Stimulation Syndrome: Or OHSS is caused when the ovaries are stimulated to produce eggs, like in the case of fertility treatments. Bloating, abdominal pain and nausea are common symptoms of OHSS.
10 Tips To Beat PCOS Bloating
Now that you know the connection between PCOS and bloating, let’s discuss how to get rid of it. Here are 10 simple tips to banish PCOS bloating.
Eliminate Grains From Your Diet
There is a reason why most PCOS diets concentrate on eliminating refined and processed carbs from your diet. Carbs tend to hold on to water. In fact, 1 gm of carb stores 3-4 grams of water. If you are eating a carbohydrate-dense diet, your body will simply hold on to excess water, making you feel more bloated. On the other hand, carbs that come from starchy and non-starchy vegetables are loaded with fiber while being naturally rich in water, so these help ease water retention.
Cut Back On Salt
When you cut back on sugar to improve insulin resistance that comes with PCOS, your salt intake may go up unknowingly. After all, you need to add flavour to your food somehow! However, excess sodium causes your body to hold on to more water to maintain blood sodium concentrations at a healthy level. It’s a good idea to cut back on salt if you’re experiencing uncomfortable PCOS bloating. Instead, try to flavour your food with herbs and spices like parsley, basil, rosemary, mint, thyme, cinnamon, and ginger. In fact, ginger, garlic, celery seed, and dandelion are natural herbs and spices that can help you get rid of water weight.
Give Up On Dairy
Most experts agree that dairy should not be a part of a healthy PCOS diet. Not only does it worsen hormonal imbalances, it can cause gas and bloating. You may have dairy sensitivity without showing the obvious signs of lactose intolerance. If lactose (the sugar is milk) passes through the gut intact, it pulls a lot of water into your digestive tract, causing gas and bloating.
It may be a good idea to eliminate dairy from your diet for a couple of weeks to see if it helps in reducing PCOS bloating. If it does, you know you should give it up for good. Too fond of dairy? You can reintroduce some dairy (like cheese and yogurt) back into your diet slowly, one at a time, and see how your body responds.
Amp Up Your Intake Of Fresh Foods
Many fruits and vegetables act like natural diuretics. Since most bloating is caused by water retention, eating such fresh fruits and vegetables can help. Good examples of such foods are celery, cucumbers, strawberries, berries, grapefruit, lemon, watermelon, asparagus, leafy greens, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, artichokes, and asparagus. However, be aware that some natural foods like beans, lentils, and cruciferous vegetables can make you feel more gassy and/or bloated. Since you are cutting back on carbs to relieve water retention, it’s a good idea to eat 5-6 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Get Those Hormones Under Control
Since hormonal imbalances and PCOS are closely linked, it’s imperative to manage your hormones in order to banish PCOS bloating. Get your insulin, testosterone and estrogen levels under control through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes. The more normal your hormones get, the lesser your discomfort. Some common medication used for PCOS like birth control pills and metformin can also cause bloating.
Try Gentle Exercise
When you’re bloated up like a balloon, a rigorous gym session sounds even more uncomfortable. This is why we recommend some form of gentle exercise on the days your PCOS bloating is at its worse. The good news is that any form of exercise helps relieve bloat. When you sweat, your body loses some of that excess water, relieving the bloat. Exercise also encourages trapped abdominal gases to move through your digestive tract, relieving gas and bloating. Walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and yoga are good ways to get your body moving, while still being gentle on your body.
Take Some Probiotics
When imbalanced gut microbiome is to blame for bloating, dietary probiotics can greatly help. These are live microbes that can positively affect the PH of the intestine to heal the gut. They help in creating a healthy microbiome where the ‘good’ bacteria overpower the ‘bad’ bloating-causing bacteria. Kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, yogurt, buttermilk, and tempeh are excellent natural probiotics. Even though we recommend you give up dairy, yogurt can still be a part of your PCOS diet as the fermentation process damages IGF-1 (Insulin Growth Factor-1), which is one of the causes of PCOS.
Bloating is caused by water retention, when your body selfishly holds into water, fearing there isn’t enough for its bodily functions. It may sound counterintuitive, but drinking more water helps flush excess water (and salt) out of the body. Drink more water, and your kidneys and liver will start to work optimally. Aim for around 2-3 litres of water in a day to stay hydrated. You may need lesser or more water based on your activity levels.
Try Herbal Teas
Herbal teas ensure your fluid intake is optimal throughout the day. Some herbal teas are natural diuretics with excellent bloating-fighting capabilities! Fennel tea, hibiscus tea, chamomile tea, ginger tea, lemon tea and caraway tea are all great choices. However, spearmint tea comes with some extra benefits. It helps in managing testosterone levels naturally. It also does wonders for digestive disturbances causing gas and bloating. Dandelion tea is another great diuretic.
Up Your Potassium Intake
Potassium helps regulate the fluid balance in the body. It evens out sodium levels and increases production of urine to remove excess water from the body. Some of the best potassium-rich foods to add to your diet are bananas, cantaloupes, tomatoes, avocados, and potatoes.
Trying these 10 tips will help you manage your PCOS bloating considerably. However, you have to make peace with the fact that sometimes bloating is inevitable. As a woman, changes in your hormones during a menstrual cycle are unavoidable. Most of us will experience some water retention in the week before our period starts. But this water-weight will drop off once bleeding starts. It’s natural; that’s how the human body works.