How A Healthy Lifestyle Helped Alleviate My PMS

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I'm a sane, rational human being three weeks out of every month. But that one week--and boy, do those around me know when that one week is--each month, I morph into a beast. Incessant cravings, mood swings, fatigue and mild depression--it's no fun at all.

Though people think it's funny to blame emotional outbursts from a female* on PMS, it's no fun for any woman who deals with it each month.

According to Harvard Medical School, 75% of all menstruating women experience premenstrual discomfort in some form, though only about 3% to 8% of those women have symptoms that are severe enough to disrupt their lives. If you're in that symptom-free 25%, consider yourself lucky. I'm in that smaller subset.

Since adolescence, I've been plagued by mood swings, depression and cravings just before "that time of the month." My symptoms were worse in my early 20s, and I've found that the older I get, the more I am able to control my body. (I actually was diagnosed with PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, a few years ago but seem to have outgrown the more severe symptoms.)

I eat vegetables like they're going out of style, won't touch white bread and limit my intake of sweets. However, I start raging for anything processed, sugary and salty at the same time each month. I'm strong and healthy enough now that I can usually resist them or make smart substitutes (a homemade vegetable pizza, portion-controlled squares of really dark chocolate and baked kettle chips). Still I do have my moments of weakness.

Just before I started my healthy living journey back in 2005, my symptoms were at their worst. I felt like a giant raw ball of emotions, cried for one week every month and snapped at even the smallest comments. I was miserable, and I wasn't a pleasure to be around.

I didn't know it at the time, but exercising regularly, eating right and practicing yoga--all steps I was taking to lose the 40 pounds I put on during and after college--were all helping alleviate my PMS symptoms as well.

Researchers say that lifestyle can heavily influence a woman's premenstrual symptoms. If you're healthier and happier in general, you'll likely feel better the week before your cycle begins, too.

According to Harvard researchers:

"Several theories have been proposed to explain why PMS occurs. The most popular explanation for PMS is that these symptoms are related to cyclic changes in female sex hormones, pituitary hormones, prostaglandins and certain brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Some researchers have suggested that PMS may be related to abnormally low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), abnormally low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) or a diet low in B vitamins, calcium or magnesium. However, recent studies do not support these theories. Preliminary studies indicate that magnesium deficiency could play a role."

I'm not a doctor of course, just a health writer and a yoga teacher, so please consult with your health-care provider if you have concerns about PMS. These are just anecdotal observations of what has worked for me.

I stick with my "normal" diet all month long. I give myself one "cheat" night to give in to cravings. For me, that's usually a dinner that involves something cheesy and delicious (the aforementioned homemade pizza, lasagna or creamy pasta are frequent cravings), but I try to include an extra serving of vegetables to balance it out. I allow myself some dark chocolate coconut milk ice cream (I can't eat the real stuff) or a couple of squares of good dark chocolate. And if I want seconds on something, I let myself, even if I know I'm not actually hungry. I don't excessively overeat, but I definitely let myself eat more than I usually would.

The next day, it's back to life as usual.

In addition, I take a calcium and magnesium supplement daily, avoid caffeine (it induces panic attacks in me, even in small doses) and limit my alcohol intake. Though it's tempting to pour myself a second (or third) glass of red wine at dinner, I fight the urge. I know it will only make me feel worse and won't really help me get over my slump.

I try to get in a really good workout, even if I'm feeling blue. Though my mind tells me that I want to mope around the house and lie on the couch with my hand in a bag of potato chips, my mind knows better. A Spinning class, yoga session or even a quick run helps my body to snap out of my funk.

It hasn't been easy to keep myself one step ahead of the mood swings and crankiness, but I've done it. It's just one of my many motivations to eat right and stay in shape.

Here are some of SparkPeople Dietitian Becky Hand's tips for eating to beat PMS:

  1. Enjoy 4-6 smaller meals throughout the day to reduce bloating and feelings of fullness.

  2. Limit your consumption of salty foods and sodium to reduce fluid retention and bloating. Use your Nutrition Tracker to monitor sodium intake, aiming for 2,400 milligrams or less each day.

  3. Select foods high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, such as whole grains, brown rice, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and lentils. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, these foods may improve mood and reduce cravings.

  4. Limit your intake of highly refined and processed carbohydrates such as chips, crackers, and snack foods. These foods can trigger overeating and upset your digestive system.

  5. Limit the amount of sweets (candy, cake, cookies, breakfast pastries, pie, jams, jellies, and soda) in your diet. These can cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar that contribute to moodiness and irritability.

  6. Choose calcium rich foods and get at least 1,000-1,200 milligrams daily. Calcium is a key nutrient for women anyway, but it has also been shown to ease depression, moodiness, water retention and PMS pain. For more ways to boost calcium intake check out these dairy-free sources.

  7. Avoid or limit caffeine consumption to decrease feelings of tension, anxiety, and irritability prevent breast tenderness.

  8. Avoid alcohol to help with feelings of depression and moodiness. One study published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology also found that regular alcohol consumption increased length of and severity of cramps in women who experience cramps during PMS.

  9. Discuss with your doctor the benefits of taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement.

* Did you know? "Hysterical" and "hysteria" stem from the Greek and Latin words for "womb"? Though we now use the words to refer to unmanageable fear and emotional excess, the word was coined because the Greeks believed hysteria was unique to women and caused by the uterus.

Do you suffer from PMS? How do you cope with the symptoms? Do you have cravings during a certain time of the month? Do you fight them or give in with healthier options? (I just learned that there's a SparkTeam called PMS--Premenstrual Munchy Survivors. Maybe I should join that Team!

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I'm in that smaller percentile also, it's nice to know that I'm not the only one out there who has what I like to call my "eating week". where I can't get my hands on food fast enough! But like you the cravings have decreased with the healthy habits that I am creating Report
This is a great blog! Ever since I started eating healthier and exercising pms has decreased! Report
I suffer from PMS and I've also self-diagnosed myself with PMDD during that one week out of the month! LOL (And my fiance would agree! He thinks I'm only "normal" one week out of each month - unfortunately for him, he was getting the brunt of my PMS each month b/c he is the closest one to me during that time of the month!)
Lately, since joining SP and exercising more, I feel like some of those mood swings and cravins have gone down - not gone away completely, but down for sure! I may have to start looking into my calcium intake during this time of the month, as well! :o) Report
Boy oh boy do I have bad PMS!! I actually was talking about this with my sister. I was wondering what other woman do when they feel bloated and have cravings, but don't give in to them, but just aren't satified when they eat something healthy, I actually will skip that weeks weigh in. Don't want to get more depressed then I do during that week. I will take midol and Ibruphen for the cramps and back aches. But I sure have mood swings. Which my boyfriend doesn't like me at all during that week. He even sleeps with his back to me. So thanks for some of those tips! I will be trying them out. Report
I used to suffer horribly. I started taking YAZ, and took it for about a year. I noticed the symptons were getting better. It didn't bother me as much. I stopped taking it about 2 years ago, I have a hard time remembering to take things on a daily basis. And the symptons of PMS haven't really bothered me again until the last few months. I noticed the symptons started bothering me when I'm lazy. I usually give in to my chocolate and soda cravings and I feel a million times worse. I am now trying to exercise on a regular basis and eating better. I have noticed that it helps, but I've always been lazy. But for my comforts-sake, I'm trying to stick with my new habits. Report
I totally agree. When I was heavier, my PMS symptoms were off the charts. I'd have the worst cramps and lower back pains. Motrin and Advil were my best friends. However, once I decided I needed to lose weight and become healthier, that changed. My symptoms did decrease substantially once I lost the weight.

Now, I know losing weight definitely made a difference. but, I also eat better and do some strength training. I believe that the weight training had an impact too.

Now, I still do get some minor symptoms on day 1, but that's it. Once I get past day 1, I'm fine. I feel some discomfort, but that's about it. no, substantial suffering anymore and I know it's because I live a healthier life.

Do I ever suffer from PMS... I've actually considered contacting my doctor after my last bout with it... Lately I've been having mood swings and depression so bad that I think my whole world is crashing down around me. Sometimes I'll have the food cravings, but that's not too common. Lately I've been noticing a lot of bloating AFTER my period, but not so much before or during (and when I say bloating, I don't mean my pants are snug... more like my lower back hurts and I'm in bed for 2 days because I think I'm going to explode). At times I wondered if it was from going off of BC, but I did that over a year ago & think I would have seen side effects sooner than within the last couple of months.

I continue with my normal workout routine through it all... my eating may be a little worse (I'll have to keep an eye on my sodium the next time around). I have limited my caffeine to one cup of coffee a morning, but I may need to start cutting that out entirely the week leading up. But, from what I gather, I really need to get myself on a daily multi-vitamin. Report
I also used to have really bad PMS and I have found that if I make sure to take my 1200 mg of calcium everyday, my symptoms are greatly reduced. I'll have to try the magnesium to see if that helps further! Report
I've never been in an awful way from PMS but there are definitely three or four days when I feel quite sub-par and fragile. For the first day I don't make an effort to do anything I don't have to: as soon as I get home it's straight into bed with a good book, a hot water bottle and a snack. After that one day I'll take a walk instead of a run and just go easy on myself until it's all over for another month. As the article said, more, smaller meals are really helpful especially as I find myself quite nauseous at times. Good advice! Report
Unfortunately, this hasn't been true for me. I've dealt with pms since way before I started my healthy lifestyle, and I've noticed no difference whatsoever. The only thing that's helped is hormonal birth control (which also helped with my overall depression) but even that starts to lose effectiveness after about a year on any given method (pill, patch ring). It seems like unless I'm constantly changing medications, my body gets used to the level of hormones, and the cramps, chills/hot flashes, bloating, gastrointestinal problems and crippling mood swings come back. Report
I have found that just exercising helps deter the mood swings which are not as bad as many people have...compared to others mine is mild. Also I had a lot less mood swings when I was working and didn't worry about money. Though healthy eating does help motivate me to exercise more. I think what is worse for me is the physical part of cramps, plus the way the changes in my body messes with my digestive system and this is also where eating healthy foods help regulate that which leads to less physical discomfort. Report
I agree wholeheartedly. I also have found a healthy lifestyle controls endometriosis. I know this doesn't make medical sense but it works for me! Report
I was only commenting yesterday to my husband about my improved pre-menstrual character... unfortunately, my flow is incredibly heavy now, but i think that's not diet related...

maybe i was telling my husband, rather than commenting... it is that magical week! lol Report
Thankfully, this is all behind me. There are some benefits to growing older! (Notice I didn't say growing up......I refuse to do that!) Report
I used to have PMS and took progesterone for it. After taking it for 3 years it not only cleared up my PMS but also my chronic fatigue syndrome. I was able to get the energy back that I had lost for 5 years of my life. My mom saw a good change in me right away and she was a R.N. She could testify to it. Before I could barely manage to exercise and was worn out easily. Report
I concur, once I changed my eating habits I no longer had PMS problems and that is really the truth. The cramps left, the headaches, mood swings, etc. I am a living testimony and is so glad about it. PMS is something I can definitely live without. Report
I have found the same thing! Actually it has come to the forfront right now. I have let my eating habits go back to what they were before losing 15 pounds and the PMS has come back with a vengence! I didn't put two and two together until I read this! I just thought it was me going through a rough time in my personal life lately! I will def start doing better to alieve the PMS if NOTHING else! Report
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