Menstruation as weight loss?
December 28, 2005 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Do women lose weight when they menstuate?

Ok, go with me on this. I wrestled in high school and some in college, and during the interminable weight-cutting sessions on the stationary bike or in the steam room, the natural topic of conversation was, of course, losing weight. We discussed every possible means of doing it and what effect on your weight various actions had. Most of these discussions tended to be pretty tongue-in-cheek, but then again, after an hour in a sauna with 3 layers and a wool hat on, farting out that last few ounces starts to sound pretty attractive. For our purposes today, remember that this is only a discussion and no one actually did any of these things.

Eating or drinking anything, obviously, was a no-no, because food and water are heavy. Drinking hard liquor, however, was considered ok, becuase it dehydrates you, so the net urine/sweat out would be greater than the weight of the liquid in. If you HAD to drink something, the best thing was the rinse-and-spit method, but some think that's risky due to the possibility of "accidentally" swallowing some and absorbtion across the muccus membranes in the mouth.

Ejaculation, obviously, was considered a good way to shed a few ounces with the bonus of burning some calories all the while. (On the other hand, sexual activity of any kind, even masturbation, is traditionally considered a no-no in the lead-up to matches in any martial sport, as some think staying celibate keeps you hungry. Others think that's hocum. For me, as much as I love wrestling, I love some other things more, but then I was never really All-American-caliber, so YMMV.) Obviously hypothetically there's vommitting, but that was a touchy subject then as now. Urination and bowel moving were considered effective, though again the possibility of employing, uh, "medicinal encouragement" to that end remains contentious. Farting was something of a problematic subject: some said that the expulsion of gas would quite clearly imply a net loss in wieght, while others contend that the hot, expansive air the bowels ejected would merely be replaced by cooler, denser air -- or worse, solids. Spitting was obviously universally considered a good way to lose weight. Crying I guess would have worked similarly, but that's not a very attractive method to attempt in front of a bunch of wrestlers and was universally shunned as not worth the cost in shame the benefit of weight a few tears might buy you.

Anyway, though I wrestled a few girls in high school matches, we never had one on the team, so the question of menstruation never came up. I'd bet it'd be good for at least a few ounces, maybe even a quarter pound, right? How much liquid are we talking about here? Do you think really competitve female wrestlers try to time their period for right before a big match so as to optimize their weight? Is there a way to purposefully increase or decrease the duration or, um, "intensity" of menstruation for this purpose?

The burgening sport of women's wrestling (an olympic sport!) awaits your answers. And please no "weight cutting is bad, you'd be better off being well hydrated at the next weight class up, you encourage bulemia you terrible person, people have died doing what you advocate, etc. etc. etc." posts. First, I and every other wrestler (boxer, fighter, rower, sculler, sprint football player, etc.) have heard it all before a million times. Second, this is all purely hypothetical.
posted by ChasFile to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total)
A quarter of a pound!?
posted by delmoi at 2:05 PM on December 28, 2005

Well, you gain a little beforehand. So for me, yes, the lowest weight of the month is right after my period.
posted by dame at 2:10 PM on December 28, 2005

All I could find were volume estimate - about 50 ml per cycle. I have no idea what the weight of that would be. The counter to that, though, is that during your period a lot of women retain water - so any weight loss from the uterine lining would also likely be counterbalanced by that.
Also - weight cutting in women would likely have the same effects as any other severe weight loss methods like anorexia which very often causes women to stop getting their periods. Weight is critical in regulating hormones - menstruation issues come up often for both the under and over weight.
So in your hypothetical - top level woman athletes who are freakishly obsessed with their weight probably aren't menstruating anyway.
posted by Wolfie at 2:13 PM on December 28, 2005

Well, 1 ml of water weighs 1 gram, so we're talking about a very very small amount of weight actually being lost.
posted by bshort at 2:51 PM on December 28, 2005

we're talking about a very very small amount of weight actually being lost. - bshort

Yes, but this is someone who has contemplated if farting would reduce their weight.
posted by raedyn at 2:53 PM on December 28, 2005

Some women gain weight just before their period, some during, and some even after their period.
posted by rhapsodie at 3:14 PM on December 28, 2005

We retain water before.

So of course afterward we weigh less.
posted by konolia at 3:16 PM on December 28, 2005

All I could find were volume estimate - about 50 ml per cycle. I have no idea what the weight of that would be.

OMG, what do you mean you "have no idea" what that would weigh!? 50 grams! don't they teach people anything anymore!? (of course we were probably in school at around the same time, but whatever)
posted by delmoi at 3:40 PM on December 28, 2005

err, sorry. That post sounded meaner then I intended. I was planning on writing more, but hit post on accident.
posted by delmoi at 3:41 PM on December 28, 2005

Blood and tissue loss during a period is pretty minimal. Significant weight gain/loss around that time would be more due to water retention. As rhapsodie said, timing varies between women.

As far as increasing or decreasing the amount of blood loss: the whole period is about getting rid of the lining in her uterus that has built up throughout her cycle. Methinks hormones play a big part in how much gets built up, but beyond that, I'm out of my depth.

So, solutions would seem to be diuretics and/or liberal use of a lancet.
posted by moira at 3:41 PM on December 28, 2005

You may also want to consider what percentage of body fat these women would have - many with low percentages don't menstruate at all.
posted by blackkar at 4:39 PM on December 28, 2005

FYI 50ml=50g ~1.75oz which puts it shy of 1/8th lb.

As others have noted, swings in water retention are going to play a bigger role.
posted by Good Brain at 4:50 PM on December 28, 2005

"Also - weight cutting in women would likely have the same effects as any other severe weight loss methods like anorexia which very often causes women to stop getting their periods"

And this is very much a YMMV point - I'm no athlete/anorexic, but mine stop if i get down to 132 pounds. (Hey, I'm tall, OK!) I'd be interested to know if that was 'normal'!
posted by Catch at 4:51 PM on December 28, 2005

delmoi - you must be a boy because otherwise you would know that what comes out of a woman during menstruation isn't anything like water.
And last I checked volume and weight depended on what you were measuring - no?
I even googled - I couldn't find the average weight per ml of menstrual output - which is why I couldn't venture a guess as to weight only knowing volume.
Properly educated girl here- thanks, though, for implying otherwise.
posted by Wolfie at 4:54 PM on December 28, 2005

Wolfie: the specific gravity of blood is at most 1066 kg/m3. I realize that there is more then blood in menstrual fluid, but where're talking 54 grams at most in weight.
posted by delmoi at 5:08 PM on December 28, 2005

1. Menstrual fluid sinks in water, so it definitely has a greater density.

2. Tampon absorbancy is standardized across brands, and the measurement of absorbancy happens to be grams. I'm not sure whether that's grams of water or grams of menstrual fluid, though, because I've read that they do laboratory tests using water. (Perhaps they also do real-life testing and weigh the tampons before and after use to see how much menstrual fluid they absorb, but who knows.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:10 PM on December 28, 2005

Almost everything in the body has the density of water, even bones. (Although according to this page, there are a lot of different measures for bones the density of bones is between 1x and 1.9x the density of water)
posted by delmoi at 5:16 PM on December 28, 2005

Menstruating is different than urinating, defecating, or vomiting because it happens gradually over the course of a few days--for some women longer. It is similar in that you don't lose anything you wouldn't have lost anyway--anything that comes out is there solely in preparation for menstruation (or pregnancy). So it's probable that for many women, they are at their lowest weight at some point soon after their period. But it's not a moment that's possible to pin-point, and it's not instantaneous. (As opposed to defecating right before a weigh-in, when you're sure to be lighter by about the same amount that your bm weighs than you were right before defecating). What is sure is that all other things being equal, a woman is probably at her heaviest right before her period. Most women, anyway. As far as I know, anything that would increase the amount one menstruates would also increase her weight right before her period.

Someone has already pointed this out, but perhaps it bears repeating--I highly doubt that most seriously competetive female wrestlers or weight-lifters get their periods much at all.
posted by lampoil at 5:46 PM on December 28, 2005

Considering the tendency of pre-menstrual women (me included) to scarf down chocolate like there's no tomorrow, the answer is no.
posted by essexjan at 1:35 AM on December 29, 2005

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