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.
Have you noticed that news comes in waves? Within the past few weeks, both chocolate and caffeine have been in the news for their apparent health benefits: regular chocolate consumption seems to have a remarkable ability to protect against heart disease, and caffeinated coffee appears to help fend off depression in women.
What’s especially interesting to us is the relationship of chocolate and caffeine to PMS and PMDD, though they are related in somewhat different ways. Premenstrual chocolate cravings are familiar to many women, and no one knows exactly why they occur. However, if just a little hits the spot, you’re healthier for having it. On the other hand, overindulging in a sugary, fatty confection can hit the waistline, and the complexion, hard. We don’t think that eating a moderate amount of chocolate has a direct effect on premenstrual symptoms one way or another.
Caffeine, on the other hand, is widely recognized to be a PMS trigger, and caffeine avoidance is usually one of the first self-help steps recommended in popular press articles on finding relief from premenstrual syndrome. This caffeine can come from coffee, decaf coffee (yes, there’s still some caffeine left in decaf), tea, and—oh no—chocolate.
Why should caffeine make PMS and PMDD symptoms worse? For one thing, there is no doubt that caffeine, especially when taken to excess, causes anxiety; anxiety causes stress; and stress and anxiety are two of the signature symptoms of PMS and PMDD. Also, stress actually causes PMS. Caffeine isn’t great for blood sugar, either: it makes your glucose spike higher, and fall further, and that is a recipe for stress, and stress…see where we’re going?
These findings about coffee, women, and depression are fascinating, though we can’t figure out why something that makes anxiety and PMS worse would make depression better. Maybe future research will shed light on those questions, but for the moment we have more faith in the chocolate study. It’s a type of research called a meta-analysis, which is an extensive study of very high-quality studies, making it highly credible. It is pretty clear that, for whatever reason, chocolate is good for your heart.
The coffee study is also a good study, but suggests that the more coffee a woman drinks, the less depressed she’ll be. This just doesn’t sound right, not least because anxiety and depression go together. Drinking over two cups of coffee per day is associated with other problems, and any stimulant needs to be treated with a healthy dose of respect. If you’re concerned about PMS and PMDD symptoms, steer clear of coffee altogether. And enjoy your chocolate.