Menstrual Cycles and Weight Loss

Patient Expert

Girls gain weight during their menstrual cycles, right?   That is something which I had heard sometime growing up and which I just took to be fact.   So with over three months of weight loss under my belt (haha, pun intended) covering the time of four menstrual cycles, I thought it would be good to see if this theory held true.

For years, I've had the "empty pit" phenomenon of being ravenous in the day or two just before my period begins.   When I can't seem to get enough carbohydrates or chocolate, then I know it's time to be prepared with the extra Ibuprofen and feminine hygiene products.   A girl can't be caught off-guard.

What I've personally seen, according to the chart on which I'm keeping track of weekly weigh-ins, is that my weight actually stays steady or drops just a bit the week before each period.   As I wondered why that might be, I conducted a google search to try to find the answer.   At the top of the search results was an article at Weight Watchers called "Menstrual Cycle and Weight."

"While there may be minor changes in metabolism, food intake and cravings throughout the menstrual cycle in addition to possible water retention, these will not impact weight-loss success."

So there may be minor changes in metabolism, but those changes do not impact overall success.   Good.

"Food cravings, overeating and weight gain are commonly reported during the one to two weeks before menstruation occurs. But what is the science to support these symptoms, and what is their impact on weight-loss success?"

Yep, I get the food cravings and it sometimes feels as though I overeat without ever achieving fullness or feeling satisfied.   If I indulge in something extra salty, I KNOW that I'll be retaining excess water as a result.   So I don't, especially because I hardly ever eat salty things anyways.   Sweet stuff is my Achilles Heel.

"While overeating is the popular perception, research has shown that there are only minor changes in actual food intake throughout the menstrual cycle. Most studies suggest an increase in eating of around 100 to 200 calories in the days before bleeding occurs, but this appears to be offset by the small rise in metabolism (around 5 to 10 percent) that occurs during the same time period. In other words, the body tends to adjust the calories in/calories out on its own. Therefore, in a weight-stable state, no changes in weight will occur."

Continue reading....

"However, if actively losing weight by following a restricted-calorie food plan, the likely result would be a slight (but hardly noticeable) increase in weight loss due to the increased metabolism without the usual increase in calories. Alternatively, the result instead could be a slightly greater difficulty in following the food plan because of increased hunger during that period."

Aha!   So a slight drop in weight just before a period in a person who is actively trying to lose weight could be explained by a minor increase in overall metabolism.   That may be what I've witnessed in my own chart so far this year.

In fact, what I really notice is that there is a very slight increase in weight exactly midway between menstrual cycles.   Perhaps this could be water retention which is resolved around the beginning of the next period.

The article continues...

"The most likely reason for a weight gain is water retention. While this is a common symptom that can be particularly discouraging when following a structured food plan, the weight gain is usually minor and temporary (that is, any weight that is gained is lost around the time of menstruation). Furthermore, water retention can be lessened during this time period by making small dietary changes, like reducing sodium and increasing fluids."

As I said above, I don't really eat much salty food.   But what I haven't thought about is making sure to increase fluids on a cyclical basis.   Of course we should be getting enough water every day, but this would be a good reason to increase water intake during specific weeks of the month to combat potential water retention.

I am approaching that midway point between cycles, so this would be a good time to experiment.   If I remember to do the same thing next week, I might be able to establish another pattern (or lack thereof) to measure.   Reminder to self - must drink more water.

It's almost like playing the Roulette Wheel, though, will the numbers fall higher (land on red) or lower (land on black).   Place your bets, folks.   The wheel goes round and round, where it stops nobody knows...

Well, it's not quite so dramatic or such a gamble.   At the rate I've been slowly and safely going, I know that I will continue to land lower and lower along this long journey overall.   And that's exactly the way I want this game to continue.


"Menstrual Cycle and Weight" by the Weight Watchers Research Department

Please read full article for references and footnotes.