Updated: Jan 23, 2022
Do you find yourself on a roll with your diet, feeling so good and then the dreaded PMS hits!
Food cravings are insane, the hot water bottle comes out, the mood is 😭 and you just want to curl up into a ball for a day or two.
If this is you, then read on…
As many as 85% of women experience at least one PMS symptom and 70% of these women suffer from PMS related food cravings! *
Chocolate here we come!
And then perhaps your bad mood makes you want to lose all willpower to exercise any control over what you’re eating!
So here’s the science…
The hormonal ebbs and spikes that occur throughout a woman's cycle are the major culprits.
As levels of oestrogen go up and down, so do the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And when cortisol is high, a woman becomes more metabolically charged and their appetite is stimulated.
Most women with PMS also experience a drop in serotonin which results in trigger cravings for carbs because the body uses carbs to make serotonin.
If cortisol is high and serotonin is low, that’s not a happy combination.
So how can we combat PMS cravings and help us not gain weight?
1. Eat complex carbs
Stabilise your blood sugars when you feel the grumpies coming on by eating foods such as wholegrains which will increase your serotonin levels within an hour.
Peanut butter on wholemeal toast is great.
2. Avoid Processed sugar
Simple sugars increase insulin secretion which lowers blood sugar. When insulin levels spike, so does your appetite for carbs and fats. Eat a diet rich in colourful vegetables, proteins, fats and complex carbs.
3. Eat foods high in essential fatty acids
Salmon, milled flax seeds, avocados, nuts…slow absorption of carbs and help stabilise blood sugars and reduce sugar cravings.
Greek yoghurt with a sprinkling of milled flax seeds is a great snack with the combination of protein and healthy fats.
4. Drink plenty of water
Drinking water will help to flush the body out and reduce bloating.
5. Reduce your salt intake
A low salt diet will reduce bloating, fluid retention and help you reduce your risk of high blood pressure.
6. Limit Caffeine
Caffeine has been shown to increase breast soreness and irritability. Switch to organic de-caff or herbal teas to feel less tense.
7. Cut meals in half
Have smaller meals instead of 3 large ones as it can help stabilise your blood sugars throughout the day and curb cravings.
Exercise on the first few days can actually alleviate and help many of the symptoms. You will experience a raise in serotonin, lower cortisol therefore helping you feel less stressed; better gut health and less bloating.
Do what works best for you. You may wish to lighten the load on your strength workouts, or switch to pilates or yoga but there is no need to stop all together.
Even a 10 minute walk has shown to reduce cravings and make you feel happier. Something is always better than nothing.
There is a common misconception that you need to stop training around your cycle. Listen to your body and do what flows.
9. Get plenty of SLEEP
Sleep is so underrated. Lack of sleep makes you more irritable and therefore less likely to exercise control over your diet and in making better food choices.
When you’re already tired and grumpy, a workout is going to be at the bottom of the list of wants!
10. Avoid stress!
Easier said than done but anything that exacerbates stress fuels yearnings for high calorie comfort foods.
Prayer, meditation, walking, reading… the list is endless in helping alleviate stress.
To help combat PMS, I always advise clients to track their own cycle and collect data to inform how they might adapt their strength training across their cycle. Eg When it’s good to push themselves and when they should take a step back.
Knowing when your period is due is really useful in being prepared for any cravings that may occur. This is empowering and can massively help you make better decisions rather than not knowing what is going on with your body.
It’s amazing how intuitive women can be. Proper nutrition and lifestyle habits will achieve massive wins and long lasting results.
*Judith Wurtman, PhD, director of Women’s health at MIT Cambridge.