I started noticing it in college — the first and second day of my period I would barely recognize myself when I looked in the mirror. My eyes were swollen, the color of my skin was different, and my mouth was always turned down. I didn’t have any flush in my cheeks and I swear my hair was frizzier and veins that would peek through my light, Irish skin (on a good day) were the darkest shade of purple I’d ever seen.
As I got older, I noticed other changes right before my period, too. Not only would my eyes swell, but it seemed like my whole face would swell and make my eyes look farther apart and my nose spread out across my face. When my daughter started talking about how bad the “sacks” under my eyes were once a month, I knew it wasn’t just me: I actually looked different when I was riding the crimson wave.
I was having lunch with my aunt about ten years ago, trying to sabotage my PMS cravings over a turkey club with extra bacon and fries, when she told me that my uncle (who she’d been with since high school) had told her she always looked different during her period.
Now that I am in my 40s and my visitor doesn’t come crashing through my uterus on the regular, I can attest that every time she does make an appearance, my wrinkles are deeper, my bags are bigger, and I’m telling you, I get more gray hair each time.
This isn’t something they tell you in health class, and I know my gynecologist never discussed this happening, but it seems to be a thing among some of us who menstruate — the hormones that are doing a dance in our body not only make us feel different, they make us look different too. And I’m not just talking about bloating and acne.
Scary Mommy talked with Dr. Ashley Margeson, ND Founder of Superwoman Code, via email and we got into the whys of how this happens, as well as how we can help prevent the morphing that takes place during this special time when we feel like we want to hurt people.
Hint: we can blame most of this on bloating. Margeson says, “Most of the changes in our appearance before our period have to do with swelling and fluid retention caused by hormonal shifts, specifically as estrogen and progesterone drop before the period begins.”
This drop in estrogen makes a difference in how fluid moves through our body, so no, it’s never your imagination when your fingers look like sausages, you can’t zip your pants, and your face looks like someone took a blow pump to it.
This is what’s going on in our bodies, and it has nothing to do with weight gain. “The decrease in activation of estrogen receptors in a specific part of your kidneys via an additional hormone known as vasopressin reduces fluid clearance from your body. So, you literally retain more fluid. As soon as your period starts, estrogen starts to increase and the fluid movement is reset,” says Margeson.
Now that we’ve confirmed that bloating is the root of all evil, what can we do about it? Scary Mommy also talked with Clara Lawson, a medical doctor who has been diagnosing, treating and preventing a number of diseases in adults and children for 8 years, via email who gave us some great tips. However, it’s important to note that bloating is a very common and normal period symptom that around 85% of women, and those with a vagina, experience.
Lawson recommends eating foods rich in potassium the few days leading up to your period. This can reduce bloating and discomfort by quite as potassium has the ability to decrease sodium levels and increase urine production, which helps with water retention. “These foods include dark green leafy veggies, bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados and tomatoes,” says Lawson.
Another thing we can do is to stay hydrated so drink your water and don’t forget to keep moving, even if you don’t feel like it. Lawson says staying physically active keeps the digestive system active which can also help to relieve the effects of bloating.
Some of the change in our looks during our period is due to irritability that makes our 11s stronger and our Resting Bitch Face more prominent, but, once again, we can blame it on the hormones. And while staying away from the salty and sweet snacks just before our uterus erupts and sheds for a week may help, the way I see it, there aren’t a lot of things in this life that soothe PMS like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and French Fries. So if I have to put up with a bloated body (including my head) for a few days each month, so be it. To me, giving up my fast food and chocolate isn’t something I’m willing to do to reduce the bloat, because it sounds like it’s going to happen regardless.
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