Do you stay on track with nutrition and exercise for about 20 days, but then the PMS Craving Fairy casts her evil spell and you completely undo all your hard work?
It seems like everything is smooth sailing until the premenstrual phase of the month. You feel empowered; you make good food decisions, workout and even lose weight. Then, in just a few days, you do a 180-degree turn. It’s this terrible 28-day fitness Ferris Wheel you can’t escape from!
Today I want to talk about what you can do to manage premenstrual cravings when you are trying to lose weight and live a PCOS-friendly lifestyle.
PMS and Cravings
The first thing you must know is that you are not crazy!
I hate the way we talk about premenstrual symptoms! The fluctuation of your hormones every month is a perfectly natural thing, and it only makes sense that you will experience some changes as your body processes through this cycle every 28-35 days.
These fluctuations are a good thing. They are a sign that you are a healthy, vital, living organism that is changing and evolving! That said, premenstrual cravings and increased appetite can make pursuing fitness goals or weight loss particularly challenging.
The first thing you need to do is let go of the shame, guilt, and feeling of temporary craziness. Increased hunger and cravings are well-documented features of the premenstrual stage in the female cycle. There is a web of complex physiological factors that contribute to this common phenomenon. Here is a short list:
- Energy expenditure (the number of calories your body burns) has been shown to increase in the days following ovulation and leading up to menstruation.
- Estrogen peaks during ovulation and then significantly drops just before menstruation. Estrogen helps regulate your appetite. When estrogen is low, you can experience increased hunger.
- Premenstrual drops in serotonin (a neurotransmitter) are associated with increased cravings for carbohydrates.
- Women seem to experience reduced insulin sensitivity in the days leading up to menstruation.
Do you feel relieved to know you’re not weak-willed madwomen on the hunt for cookies? I do! I feel so much better just knowing I am not dreaming up these premenstrual cravings!!
Now the question becomes what I can do about it? Am I doomed to sabotage my fitness goals every 28 days?
No, you are not. Let’s talk about some practical ways you can embrace your fluctuating hormones and manage these pesky symptoms.
Premenstrual Planning Is Everything.
Planning for PMS should include more than swinging by Target to buy a box of tampons. Below is a list of steps you can take to ensure PMS fitness success. All of the suggestions below take a little extra planning and follow-through. Make the effort!
Do not let the PMS Craving Fairy catch you unprepared! Take some time now to prep for PMS.
Focus on maintaining your weight instead of losing weight.
Eating at a caloric deficit while experiencing a week of increased cravings and appetite is just a bad idea, plain and simple. You are setting yourself up for a guilt-drenched binge at worst or a miserable week at best.
Instead, focus on not gaining any weight. I have found this is the time that most women will regain the weight they lost the three weeks before. Your PMS will last 7-10 days tops. I would much rather see you take it easy on yourself and not gain weight. Weight management, especially when you have PCOS, is a marathon, not a sprint. So consider changing your approach during the few days you have increased appetite.
I like to just eat just one extra balanced meal on days when I have a bit of PMS hunger.
Get to bed.
Sleep deprivation aggravates hormonal imbalances and is correlated with increased cravings for junk food. Get the rest you need so that you are in a position to deal with your PMS symptoms. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Make sure you schedule some time in the evening to prepare for sleep by winding down with a positive and relaxing activity like meditation, gratitude journaling, or a hot bath with Epsom salt (this will give you a magnesium boost.)
Eat blood sugar balancing meals and consider taking inositol.
One of the contributing factors to PMS cravings is reduced insulin sensitivity. This could be particularly problematic for women living with PCOS since many of us already have issues with insulin resistance. That is why it’s critical that you take steps to manage your blood sugar during PMS.
- Eat balanced meals every 3-5 hours so that you do not become hypoglycemic.
- Eat carbs along with protein and fat.
- Avoid foods that are high in added sugar.
- Consider supplementing with inositol.
Studies indicate that inositol is as effective as metformin in improving PCOS insulin resistance. I use the supplement Ovasitol (a proprietary blend of inositol for PCOS), and I have personally experienced a huge drop in sugar craving since I started using it.
Don’t know what a blood sugar balancing meal looks like? My PCOS Plate infographic will teach you how to put together a blood sugar balancing meal in just a few minutes – Check it out here.
Plan to eat a treat.
If cravings are part of your PMS experience, plan to eat a treat. You can fulfill your desire without getting off track. I have found that when women eat just a treat on its own, they are much more likely to go back for seconds or thirds. To prevent overindulging, satisfy your hunger with a balanced low-carb meal and treat yourself to a dessert afterward.
For example, eat a chicken breast and veggies grilled with olive oil and rosemary for dinner and follow it up with a single serving of your favorite dessert. This way you are getting valuable nutrients that will increase your satiety (protein, fiber, vitamins and healthy fat) plus the treat that will help you feel less deprived.
Harness the power of exercise.
There has not been much research done on exercise as a treatment for PMS, but we know that physical activity has some benefits that will help with symptoms. Even if you do not feel up to doing your regular workout, physical activity is important during the premenstrual part of your cycle.
- Exercise boosts serotonin levels. That increase of serotonin could banish a PMS craving.
- Physical activity suppresses appetite. If PMS hunger is an issue, do not stop exercising! Research has shown that in the hours following a bout of exercise people produce less hunger-stimulating hormones.
Things you can do all month long to make PMS less pesky.
Try using supplements.
Some natural health experts think that PMS is made worse or even caused by a magnesium deficiency. Naturopath Lara Briden recommends taking 300mg of magnesium glycinate every day. I like to take mine at night because magnesium has a calming effect.
As I mentioned before, inositol is a great supplement for PCOS in general. It promotes insulin sensitivity, ovarian function, and hormonal health. Plus, some women (like me) have fewer sugar cravings after taking inositol.
Talk to a health care provider about Chasteberry. In some cases, Chasteberry can help with PMS. Dosage recommendations can vary case by case, so I would consult with your healthcare provider first.
- Lara Briden, ND, recommends 200mg of standardized extract before breakfast and to stop use five days before menstruation. But she cautions it may not be the right supplement for some types of PCOS.
- Dr. Sara Gottfried recommends 500mg-1,000mg for the treatment of PMS that’s associated with low progesterone.
- Dr. Axe recommends 400mg daily before breakfast to treat PMS.
Chronic stress will interfere with your hormonal health at EVERY stage of your cycle. If you have chronic stress, please take it seriously and try some proactive strategies to manage it. Here are some daily practices that can help you deal with stress.
- Meditation. I like to use the app Headspace to do a daily meditation.
- Journaling. Keeping a gratitude journal can help you refocus on the positive and stop fretting over the negative.
- Outdoor exercise. The combination of physical activity and being outdoors is a powerful stress fighting tool.
Fix digestive issues.
Poor gut health can make it difficult for your body to expel excess hormones. Down the road, this could lead to an imbalance. If you suffer from IBS, constipation, diarrhea or just poor digestion, here are some steps that can help:
- Take a high-quality probiotic. I love Dr. Mercola Complete Probiotics.
- Rule out food sensitivities to things like dairy, wheat, eggs, soy or FODMAP’s.
- Make sure you are getting enough fiber from whole foods.
- Minimize your use of antibiotics. And take probiotics when you use them.
- Stay hydrated.
Learn more about your period.
Understanding your cycle will make you feel much more comfortable with the fluctuations and changes that you experience every month. I can tell you from personal experience that a little period knowledge will empower you.
I highly recommend the book Period Repair Manual by Laura Briden, ND. It is an easy to read and informative book about your dear Aunt Flo.
Erika, thanks, but my PMS is so bad. None of this stuff helped.
Most of us use PMS to describe some annoying but manageable premenstrual symptoms. However, there are two medical conditions associated with this time of the month: clinical PMS and PMDD (Premenstrual Dysmorphic Disorder).
If your symptoms are so intense that they disrupt your life, seek the help of a healthcare provider. Find a professional that is willing to listen and takes your problems seriously. I’d encourage you to visit an MD to rule out medical issues, plus consult with an alternative medicine professional like a Naturopath.
Planning for PMS instead of ignoring it and trying to white-knuckle my way through every month has improved my life 🙂 Take some time to build a set of PMS strategies that work for you.