A (Period-ing) Dietitian's Guide to Surviving Your Cycle

By Alexandra Reed 

If periods were just about bleeding, I’d simply slap on my THINX and go on about my life. But fatigue, bloating, and cramps are the accompanying unjust evils we deal with as people with periods. Every month, the symptoms come, and yet every time it feels freaking personal! (Seriously, I ask my uterus every month if it’s actually trying to kill me.)

As a dietitian I can’t stop your cramps or bloating, but I can walk you through what nutrients and foods can be helpful with easing the symptoms — or at least making them more tolerable. That said, if your symptoms are *so* severe that they affect your daily life or quality of life, discuss this with your OBGYN right away.

Fighting Back Against Fatigue

No matter what you do, you just feel like napping all day. Why does this happen, even if you are well rested?

Each month your period arrives after your body has sorted out your not having a baby — your hormones were prepping to make a baby and on high alert waiting for sperm to meet your eggs. Then, those guys don’t show up and your hormones crash, making you feel like you could swap places with Sleeping Beauty.

So, what to do? Try taking a vitamin B complex with B-6 (pyridoxine) and B-3 (niacin). Supplementing with these vitamins could possibly prevent your body from using extra fuel to do it’s normal thing, like moving blood and sleeping. NBD.

Vitamin B-6

Vitamin B-3

  • Helps with blood circulation, which can support the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and organs (so you feel ready to do everything, or nothing)

Combatting Cramps

Do you mean the wringing out of my uterus? If we x-rayed my pelvis I’m convinced we’d find a medieval torture device tucked into my organs.

Although a hormone-like compound triggers cramping, several studies have found supplementing with a few nutrients can relieve some of the pain during menstruation. This is especially true if you are deficient in any of the nutrients I mention below.

And it should go without saying that before adding *any* supplements to your daily regimen, I advise you to consult a doctor or pharmacist. Yes, these are all vitamins, but they can interact with a handful of medications.

Magnesium to Help Reeeelaaaax Those Muscles:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Lower Inflammation:

  • Munchies with Omega-3s:
    • Flaxseeds (oil, ground, or whole), chia seeds, salmon, herring, oysters, walnuts, sardines, and edamame
  • Disclaimer!

Vitamin E for Reducing Pain and Bleeding:

Beating the Bloat

Raise your hand if you have a pair of stretchy pants or set of loose clothes dedicated to your period (I have two hands up).

Whyyyy does this happen? Well it isn’t super-clear, but many blame water retention. Although, the research is a little hazy, it’s the best guess right now. (People with periods are mysterious unicorns apparently.) 

My first suggestion is, obviously, have a go-to pair of comfy clothes. But really, nutrition has the most impact on bloating. Here are some food-related things that have an affect on bloat: 

Hold the Salt

  • Salt has a huuuuge impact on bloating. More salt often = more bloating, especially if you’re not staying hydrated
  • Thing you can do

Pass the Gas

  • Changes in hormones can slow down digestion and cause gas retention (there’s really no sexy/fun way to say that)
  • Things you can do
    • Take a walk to get that gas ~moving~
    • Bump up your fiber intake by eating more whole grains or veggies
    • Introduce some good bacteria to your gut with a probiotic, or sip on some kombucha

Finally, as far as mood, this is largely affected by the severity of your other symptoms. So, theoretically, if you have energy and cramps aren't too bad and and you don’t feel like you’re holding in the fart of the century, there’s less to be annoyed about when you’re on your period, right? Maybe?

Let me know your tips and tricks for handling symptoms! Any cramp-relieving fairy dust out there? Spill!

Alexandra Reed, RD, LDN is a super-chill registered dietitian nutrition on a mission to redefine health. Follow Alexandra (and her foodie fantasies) on her blog, Not a Food Cop.