New female clients often ask “how much weight should I expect to lose?” My conservative estimate is one to two pounds a week or three to six pounds a month. Huh (I can see them thinking), “shouldn’t that be four to eight pounds if you’re losing one to two a week”? Yes, but one week is PMS so we can’t count on that one. If you’re female, chances are to some degree you’re familiar with at least a few of the 150 (yes that’s right) possible PMS symptoms. And if you’re male, though not from first hand experience, you’re probably familiar with some of those symptoms as well. I’ve talked bloating before but today I’m more interested in the effect PMS can have on appetite and eating and what can be done about this.
First, a biology lesson. The last part of the menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase. It is in this phase that the ovaries decrease estrogen production and start pumping up progesterone production. These two hormones affect various brain chemicals called neurotransmitters and this is what likely leads to mood alternation and PMS symptoms. Appetite is lowest before ovulation (mid cycle) and highest in this luteal phase. Oftentimes, women reporting appetite changes also experience mood effects. Both symptoms seem tied to serotonin. We don’t all necessarily increase consumption of the same types of foods but low serotonin activity increases vulnerability to overconsumption as serotonin curbs appetite. One study found that caloric intake increased 20% and another showed a 1000-calorie increase in the four days leading up to menstruation. To add insult to overeating, the muscles in the bowels can relax and be less effective moving food through which explains why many women are constipated before menstruation. Lovely.
This can start to seem like a losing hormonal battle but I don’t think that’s the case. First, just knowing that the menstrual munchies aren’t all in your head should be somewhat comforting. Second, if you know hurricane PMS is headed your way you can start to take precautions such as having the right foods in the house and perhaps taking certain supplements.
A lot of the dietary advice for PMS has to do with fluid retention. While dandelion greens, asparagus, apple cider vinegar are all “delicious debloaters” they don’t address PMS cravings and appetite surges. A few foods that show promise are pineapple, full fat dairy products and sweet potatoes. My PMS eating tips are as follows:
- Consider Carbs (right ones at right time)– in one study a carbohydrate-based supplement worked as well as medication in reducing PMS symptoms. Protein actually hampers serotonin production. Meals should be veggie heavy and snacks mainly carbohydrates. Eat two small carbohydrate-based snacks per day such as popcorn, a small sweet potato, a cup of bean soup, oatmeal, Glow cookies or Purely Elizabeth granola or Food Should Taste Good Chips. For chocolate cravings try The Real Bar.
- Exercise, no excuses– I have clients who say “I was feeling so poorly I skipped my workout”. Bad idea. Exercise five out of seven days the week leading up to your period preferably outside. Exposure to sunlight increases serotonin production.
- Friendly Fats– chia seed, walnuts, hemp and small servings of fish have positive mood effects for PMS. They are also natural anti-inflammatories and important for good bowel function.
- Do Dairy– Siggis yogurt and cheddar cheese (naturally lactose free). Calcium and vitamin-D rich foods decrease PMS symptoms.
- Don’t Keep it Simple– simple carbohydrates in sugary snacks and white flour can actually increase water retention, irritability, appetite and other PMS symptoms.
- Ditch the Drinks- if there’s one time a month to skip the drinks it’s 3-4 days pre period.
When it comes to supplements there are many suggested but only a few that are well researched. If you experiment I would give supplements two full cycles to see a difference:
Vitex- also known as Chastetree Berry has some research behind it. It is known to balance hormone levels and improve menstrual irregularities.
Evening Primrose Oil- a source of GLA, an anti inflammatory omega-6 fatty acid. In several studies it was found to be helpful.
Rhodiola– helpful for mood, research behind it extremely safe.
B6 or B-complex with 50mg of B6.
Magnesium– a recent study showed those who took magnesium supplements had improvement in their PMS symptoms.
Probiotics– more for PMS-related bloat than appetite or weight gain.
PMS doesn’t have to weight you down. The next time hurricane PMS hits hopefully it will be downgraded and leave minimal damage.
Do you feel like a different person when you have PMS? What do you generally do to ameliorate symptoms? Are any males reading this post? So curious.
What a great post! Thankfully my PMS symptoms aren't too bad. At times, I will try to skip my workouts but remind myself that I'll feel better if I stick with it.
Great post! Thank you.
I have terrible PMS, well I should say 'had terrible PMS'. Vitamin C made a huge difference. It eliminated the strong headaches, cramps and also reduced my super heavy flow. I found out about it by accident – was taking vit C during winter and noticed the difference. I now take vit C everyday. But I have no explanation why it works for me. Any idea? Vitex did not help, neither magnesium and B6.
I also take vit D3 in the winter and probiotics everyday.
Kristin, interesting PMS isn't bad, for some it isn't and for others another story. Natalie, I'm wondering if the D was actually the "helper" versus the C. I can't understand the C but you know what works!
I don't have any PMS symptoms that I know of, aside from being a bit tired. When I'm actually menstruating is when I get out-of-control hunger! I seriously can't feed myself enough while I'm having my period. I'm eating one thing while rooting through the cupboards for the next.
Funny, so many of my clients complain about terrible PMS (I definitely have a couple of warning label required days). Interesting that a couple of you seem to steer clear, you're that other percentage of people (or maybe on the pill?).
I definitely feel like a different (and less likeable!) person when I have PMS.
I make sure I don't skip workouts. I really need my daily workouts to feel well, and not working out just makes everything worse. I like your carb suggestion! I have been doing that as I have noticed that I crave more carbs, and if I plan for them, I don't tend to go overboard…
I've been working on a project related to PMS and nutrition, so it was really interesting to read about how that can impact weight loss efforts, especially since that's something I hadn't even thought about.
It's so fascinating how some people have terrible symptoms while others feel practically nothing at all. I have to admit, I think the pill helps because it makes your cycle predictable, so there's less drama of the "oh my god why am I so angry/sad/irritable?!" variety. You know what's coming and when. At least that's been my experience…I also notice that I crave bacon during that time of the month, though I'm not normally a meat eater!
sound advice as always
Lauren, great post! Thank you.
Ah, PMS. I used to have very bad symptoms, but dietary changes help, exercise helps and all these tips you mention are so right on. I have been on Cymbalta for 2 years and it ameliorated the symptoms well (love the use of that word, btw) but I am tapering off of it and I fear that they will rear their ugly head again.
PMS used to make me miserable. Bloat, GI issues, acne, fatigue and mood swings. Thinking about it makes me feel bad for my husband who has actually been very supportive always! The Pill changed things for me. Now I don't get those symptoms anymore.
Can't stand being bloated or having mood swings… although not sure if it is PMS related or just hormone related 🙂 I haven't had a cycle in a LONG time due to breastfeeding so who knows what's up with me haha!!
Thanks for this post Lauren-lots of great tips! I'm intrigues by the pineapple/full fat dairy/sweet potato research! I've found my PMS to lessen as I've gotten older, but I do know that my most irritable days are my PMS days. I don't curse a lot, but certain swear words are more likely to pop out of my mouth on certain days of the month!
Some months I feel completely normal and others I'm a complete monster. I have noticed a little difference in bloating issues since beginning to take a probiotic a month ago. I've been recently thinking about how that week of pms effects my weight, so interesting you posted about it this week!
Great post. When I was younger (I'm 34 now), I definitely saw an uptick in caloric intake during the few days preceding menstruation. But over the last few years, it has been happening less often. A more-constant feature is the PMS crabbiness, but sticking to my workout schedule helps mitigate it.
Great comments. Interesting EA PMS is worst at puberty and menopause maybe there's a semi- lull in between. Jess, I agree there is a difference in symptoms from month to month maybe that's because of the set seratonin decrease or what other things we are doing with diet/alcohol/caffeine etc.
I am a complete nut when I pms and every month seem to be a bit surprised and will never admit I am pmsing! Exercise, magnesium, vit b and c definitely help. The reason Vit C helps is because it helps with estrogen absorption (a hormone that dips during pms). Vitamin C is also great for women taking the pill who have break through bleeding for the same reason. There are many theories for PMS (believe me I have done the research) but no one can really explain it. I try to focus on the positive aspects, I become a cleaning freak around that time so I try to schedule all my big spring cleaning days around it. Great post, I am always looking for ways to curb the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde in me!
Dr O, thank you I was going to consult you for this, interesting re PMS. If the C works to boost estrogen, then phytoestrogenic foods flax/soy/yam should work in the same manner. I'm just grateful it's only a few days.
I know a few people mentioned the pill, sort of anti BC pill.
I'm actually going through that time, and have to remind myself NOT to step on the scale during this time (even the day before my period begins) because the weight gain at one point, drove me bonkers. Now I just accept it, continue to eat sensibly (although a little extra 91% dark chocolate never hurt anyone) and yes, EXERCISE! I always feel so much better after exercising.
I've found that since I've started taking Holy Basil/Tulsi, my PMS moods have leveled out almost completely.
I will look into holy basil Lauren, scale avoidance not such a bad thing during "that time".
I have horrible pms for 2 wks every month. Sometimes ill have an ok month, then the next month its bad again. I tried the pill when I was younger, it made it worse. Anti depressants take a bit of the edge off, but I they cause so many side effects I just couldn't deal with them. Pms makes me feel like my brain is swimming in mush. I can't focus, I can't function. I plan meetings and work travel around my cycle. I've now developed a tremor in my rt hand….that is only an issue during pms. Does anyone else have a shaking problem?
PMS for a week would be LOVELY…I have it for 2 weeks and it's killing me! I've lost and gained the same 2 pounds for months now…UGH!
The pill helps, because it replaces your own hormones. You don't have a cycle on the pill, you're not ovulating, you don't have luteal place.