Most women who experience PMS & PMDD symptoms are familiar with PMS food cravings—the kind that ruin many a well-intentioned diet and exercise plan. There is another type of PMS weight gain that results from PMS bloating, but since that is water weight it generally comes off soon after the cycle completes. That’s a very small consolation, though, if you need to fit into a certain outfit on a certain day on which you happen to feel swollen and bloated, not to mention if you are simply tired of getting a bloated, blah feeling for days or weeks every month.
The real culprit in PMS weight gain is those uncontrollable food cravings. PMS cravings can feel downright overwhelming and impossible to control. Never mind that nearly every woman intuitively realizes that the foods she craves before her period: salt, sweet, fat, and starch, usually, are the very foods that can make premenstrual mood, cramps, and bloating worse, while they’re also packing on the inches and the pounds.
We have a couple of suggestions for this PMS weight gain problem. First, focus on what you eat the rest of the month, when you don’t have to battle cravings. By the time the chips are calling to you from the grocery aisle, it may be too hard to resist. If you start eating right from day one, it will actually help reduce premenstrual cravings and overeating. Second, take a good multivitamin with adequate calcium and magnesium (meaning, not a one a day vitamin—those never have enough calcium and magnesium.) You’d be surprised how boosting your nutrition level over the course of a few months can help control cravings: it could be that the vitamins and minerals are what your body and your brain is actually hungering for. Third, drink plenty of water and steer clear of addictive sweet and salty foods. This will help control bloating, and help prevent the cycle of food craving. Finally, try not to beat yourself up about food and weight.
Having PMS or PMDD is bad enough without berating yourself for cravings that are beyond your control. We’re not suggesting you plow through a pint of premium ice cream every day for a week before your period, but you can try to take it easy on yourself; remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can; and remember that you didn’t choose for your hormones to be topsy-turvy. Then, the next chance you get, start over, and get back on your plan. This is the best way to succeed at weight loss and beating those PMS food cravings.
Did you see that the New York Times had a magazine cover article on weight loss and how difficult it is to lose weight (Sun Jan 1 2012)? It turns out there is a growing body of research showing that our bodies become more hungry and hold on tighter to every calorie after we’ve lost weight; and that some people simply have a harder time than others losing weight (spoiler alert, but no surprise: genetics is a big culprit.)
So, you probably didn’t need me, or an article in the New York Times to tell you that weight loss is difficult, and that maintaining weight loss is as or more difficult. I found it interesting, though, that the article didn’t back away from this difficulty: it didn’t try to supply any trite easy answers.
One very helpful point that they did make was how we are surrounded by—indeed, barraged by—food, images of food, talk of food, and that this forces us to think about food, even subconsciously, or to make an effort not to think about food. This, in turn, probably contributes to the difficulty of eating reasonably.
We think that PMS food cravings and PMS-induced binges and overeating are a major culprit in undermining women’s healthy diet plans. We also know that PMS symptoms can make you draw into your own shell, withdrawing from social interactions, feeling depressed or anxious or achy, and even a few days of feeling this way can interrupt a healthy diet and exercise routine, making it that much harder to get it going and to stay with it.
Still, we don’t dispute the Times’ conclusion that losing weight, especially in this culture, is one of the most difficult things anyone can undertake, especially because so many of the people who struggle with weight are dealing with sluggish metabolism or a genetic tendency to gain weight. PMS symptoms like food cravings and binges just compound the problem.
But we’d suggest that just because something is difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, in spite of the obstacles: after all, the reward and feeling of accomplishment is much greater when you overcome significant obstacles.
We would like to propose our PMS Balance Diet, including all its permutations: What not to eat for PMS; Hypoglycemia Diet for PMS; and our Food Allergy Diet for PMS as a logical place to start, no matter your situation. This is not a fad diet or a weight-loss diet—those don’t work, and you’ll just put the weight back on. This is a healthy way of eating that you can maintain for life, and you’ll do more than just lose weight. You’ll reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and all kinds of problems at the same time. Plus, you’ll feel better, usually within a couple of weeks. We have a seven-day healthy eating plan you can use to make it easier, and we give you exact and specific instructions on how to find out if you have food allergies.
We want to make it easier for you to be healthy, even when we’re talking about weight loss, which is anything but easy.
What symptoms really mean you have PMS? Many reliable sources suggest there are over 150 PMS symptoms. Academic studies typically rely on a mere 17 symptoms that are often considered to be the true PMS symptoms. Most women have some idea of what most of those 17 are, including cramping, bloating, irritability, anger, headaches, crying easily, and the like.
A 2011 paper published in the Journal of Women's Health followed 1,081 women who were seeking conventional medical treatment for PMS and attempted to determine which of their symptoms were the most accurate predictors of PMS. That is, which symptoms really distinguished PMS from "not-PMS"? Keep reading and you'll find out what they discovered!
This might seem like a waste of time. After all, if you get crabby and crampy every month a week before your period, you have PMS, right? The problem is two-fold: it turns out that when people have to remember and record symptoms, their memory and accuracy are less than perfect. Apparently, we all have trouble comparing how we feel now to how we felt before; and our criteria for what a symptom is, or what its severity is or was, shifts continuously. So, it's important for researchers to be able to distinguish true PMS from "not-PMS."
An illustration might be in order: let's say our patient "Chantal" has actual clinical depression. It makes her lose interest in her usual activities and she has a tendency to withdraw from others when she's feeling down. And, like almost everyone with some depression, some days are better than others. Let's also say that, for cultural reasons, it's difficult for Chantal to admit depression (many cultures have a social taboo against psychological illness) but easier to admit to a condition that tends to be considered physical, like PMS. Since Chantal's symptoms are worse on some days than others, it's fairly easy to pay closer attention before the period and conclude that that is when the symptoms are occurring the most. Chantal probably isn't aware of her own cultural bias either, so she does not have an objective view of her own symptoms.
A doctor or researcher, who wants to help other doctors and researchers treat and investigate PMS, needs to have a way to distinguish PMS from clinical depression that could be mistaken for PMS. In conventional medicine, most treatments are drugs that have side effects and have the potential to cause bigger problems than they solve, so it's important to get the right fit between the diagnosis and the treatment. And, suggesting therapy or counseling to someone who has PMS—a biochemical disorder—rather than depression might end up being pretty frustrating for everyone!
So, back to the study. These researchers found that just six symptoms worked as well as the full 17 symptoms to distinguish PMS from "not PMS."
Those six symptoms: food cravings; cramps; anxiety/tension; mood swings; decreased interest in usual activities; and aches. These symptoms probably sound very familiar to anyone who has, or has had, PMS. Interestingly, this study found that food cravings were the most reliable indicator of PMS.
Does this mean that if your symptoms aren't on this list, you don't have PMS? Not at all. If you have (to pick a few symptoms that were not part of the six) premenstrual headaches, fatigue, irritability, and sadness most months, and these symptoms interfere with your life, you almost certainly do have PMS. What this research tells us is that those six symptoms, when they occur before the period, are very accurate predictors of PMS.
You might have read all this, and still think: "This is silly. What does it matter which six or nine or 18 symptoms I have? They happen every month before my period, so it must be PMS. Duh!" To that, we can only say, this is how medical research works. It's not perfect. It never correctly predicts anything with 100% accuracy. Over time, though, if enough studies can look at a similar set of circumstances from several different angles, we end up with a very accurate sense of what is going on.