Does anyone else experience those fun PMS symptoms like bloating, breast tenderness, serious cramping, and intense mood swings? I know I used to (insert hand-raising emoji)! We’ve been told all of our lives that these symptoms that accompany our monthly period are just “part of being a woman” and that “we shouldn’t have eaten the apple” because somehow our girl Eve has “cursed” us for all eternity. What if I told you, sis, that these engrained thoughts are flat out WRONG!? What if I told you that your period is sacred and does not have to be associated with impending doom every month? What if I told you, that you are not meant to suffer every month and that you do NOT have to accept these symptoms as “normal,” even though we are told they are “common.” It’s time to rewrite our narrative ladies and discover how absolu-FREAKIN-lutely incredible our bodies are!
Body Practice 101
Let’s start at the beginning, our body practices the art of a delicate dance between all of its hormones. For this discussion, we focus primarily on estrogen and progesterone when it comes to hormone health. The PMS symptoms described above indicate there is some sort of imbalance occurring in these hormones themselves and can be solved through nurturing your body through holistic measures. In order to level them out, it’s important to consider working with your body in a cyclical pattern instead of against it. Our current model for society is based on a 24-hour hustle and grind cycle, which mimics the male hormone cycle, and consequently leads to us ladies riding on the struggle bus until we fizzle out. It’s imperative that we take a look at the fabulous female hormonal cycle to end the story of total burnout and empower a generation of young women to step into their intuitive, empathetic, and intelligent nature.
Ladies, we operate on much more sophisticated clocks. Yes, you read that correctly we have more than one clock that determines our hormonal cycle. We have our 24-hour circadian rhythm that regulates metabolism, sleep, elimination, and production of specific hormones; but also what’s called the infradian clock! The infradian clock is linked to your menstrual cycle and starts at puberty and then ends at about fifty years old; it encompasses the four phases of a woman’s cycle: menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal. The two clocks work closely together to optimize your overall health, when one is out of balance the other will soon tip the scales one way or the other. If there is an imbalance in your 24-hour clock you might experience mood disorders, gut dysregulation, and reduced ability to think! If your circadian rhythm is off you could experience issues with irregular periods and longer menstrual cycles (your infradian rhythm). Now on the contrary, if your infradian rhythm is out of whack (hormonal irregularities) it can cause issues with your circadian rhythm like sleep issues, inability to regulate body temperature, and an irregular heart rate. This is why it’s so important to be attuned to your body and understand your fifth vital sign, your period.
First, we are going to do a little quick and dirty version of biology to go over each phase of our powerful feminine cycle. It’s important to note that your cycle may vary, and a healthy cycle is having a period every 28 – 35 days.
Usually lasts 7 – 10 days and begins immediately after the end of your period. The beginning of this phase is where your hormones stay silent so they can get ready to ramp things up in the upcoming days. Your ovaries will prepare to receive a signal from your follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to begin the release of estrogen. The elevated levels of estrogen allow for the regeneration of your uterine lining. This is a time of fresh beginnings in a woman’s cycle.
Typically lasts 3 – 4 days and is when estrogen is at its peak levels accompanied by luteinizing hormone (LH). LH allows for the release of an egg from one follicle to mature and then travel down the fallopian tubes. Because estrogen is at its highest point, the uterine lining is prime for nurturing this egg for the potential to become fertilized. Testosterone is also at its highest level; the combination of these hormones working together allows you to become more social (can someone say baby-making time)!?
Averages around 10 – 14 days where there’s an increase in progesterone from the follicle where the egg was released. Estrogen levels will continue to rise to provide extra cushioning in the uterus while the elevated progesterone turns off FSH and LH. If the egg isn’t fertilized during this time, the corpus luteum is reabsorbed into the body! Once estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone begin to fall this is where PMS symptoms can arise. Typically this has to do with estrogen levels being too high (estrogen excess). This phase is when your body is telling you to wrap up those projects you started so that you can focus your attention on yourself for the next phase, menstruation.
Lasts anywhere from 3 – 7 days and the first few days are when your hormone levels are at their lowest point. This causes your uterine lining to be shed and your period to begin. During this time it’s natural to want to rest more often and begin looking inward for your intuitive guidance. Consistency, color, and how long your period lasts is a powerful tools to use when determining if your hormones are in balance.
Okay, so we’ve learned the basics of our cycle and hopefully, you are feeling more confident about how it all works! Now, how do we navigate the benefits of this newfound clock and what do we need to do to nurture it? Don’t worry, I’m here to be your guide! We are going to chat about my favorite topic to balance that beautiful body to get out of hormonal chaos and into hormonal harmony; that’s nutrition! Think about each phase of your cycle as a way to begin eating seasonally and cyclically. By doing so you are going to level up your hormonal advantage and begin to see a dramatic improvement in PMS symptoms. Check it out below:
Hormone levels should be on the rise, but still need some TLC! Add foods that will bring you energy (think light and bright foods); gluten-free rolled oats, fermented foods (kimchi and sauerkraut) barley, carrots, parsley, broccoli, avocado, lemon, orange, lentils, ground flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, cage-free chicken, organic free-range eggs, crab, almond butter, olives, apple cider vinegar.
Estrogen is in full swing, your energy should be high, and your moods should be balanced. Because your body is running full speed ahead, think about adding foods that cool you down internally. Raw foods are your best choice in this arena; quinoa, red bell peppers, tomatoes, leafy greens, scallions, coconut, raspberry, strawberry, lentils, ground flaxseeds, pistachios, wild-caught salmon, tuna, shrimp, dark chocolate, coffee, and turmeric.
Are you hungrier than usual a few days before your period? There’s a reason for that and that’s because during this phase you are gearing up for menstruation or pregnancy. Your body actually NEEDS more food to support this metabolic process. Sugar cravings actually come from a lack of stabilized blood sugar levels so eat those complex carbs throughout the day; sweet potatoes, jasmine rice, pumpkin, squash, cucumber, ginger, green apple, dates, chickpeas, sesame seeds, walnuts, grass-fed beef, cod, and peppermint.
Your hormones are at the lowest point during this phase, but there are ways to optimize this slump. Protein and healthy fats are essential to do so! Healthy fats maintain progesterone levels and aid in ovulation for your next cycle and protein contains amino acids that are required to create hormones entirely. Foods like wild rice, beets, kale, mushrooms, blueberry, watermelon, kidney beans, ground flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, duck, grass-fed beef, venison, sushi nori, crab, lobster, and miso.
A few other tips and tricks for navigating PMS symptoms:
- Acne + Blemishes: can be caused by estrogen excess as well and reduced by eating leafy green veggies, sweet potatoes, carrots, tree nuts, ground flaxseeds, and wild-caught salmon.
- Bloating: could be caused by an imbalance in your gut microbiome so eating foods that are anti-inflammatory is key (discussed above). Another reason for bloating could be due to magnesium deficiency; increase magnesium with foods like leafy greens, ground flaxseeds, unsweetened almond butter, and 72% or higher dark chocolate (in moderation).
- Cramps: focus on foods that alleviate inflammation like; wild-caught salmon, pumpkin seeds, and cage-free organic eggs. Eat these foods on a regular basis to help bring down inflammatory markers. For immediate relief try eating hazelnuts and leafy greens.
- Breast tenderness: could be a sign of estrogen excess and can be alleviated by consuming foods that calm the inflammation that’s going on in your body. Some examples are leafy greens, avocado, and peeled almonds.
Listening To Your Gut
Now, I can’t talk about all of these incredibly delicious and nutritious foods without having the conversation about the no-no foods! I would not be doing my due diligence if I left this integral part out of the hormonal balancing equation. Hands down the worst foods that you can eat for your hormonal health are sugar, hydrogenated oils, and process/pre-packaged foods. Sugar has been found to be more addicting than morphine (an opioid medication) and totally wrecks your gut health which then goes on to destroy estrogen balance and can lead to serious health issues down the line. Hydrogenated oils, are vegetable oil, canola oil, and sunflower oil; these puppies actually destroy the surface of your cell membranes and lead to gut health issues and so on and so forth. Lastly, processed/pre-packaged foods often contain hidden sugars, hydrogenated oils, and preservatives that your body cannot process. That being said, keep it simple and remember to eat whole and real foods to steer clear of these nasty “food” sources.
My advice is to start tracking your hormonal phase today and begin to implement these nutrient sources right away! An easy way to start is by eating for the health of your menstrual phase or your most troublesome phase (usually those with serious PMS symptoms start with luteal). Girlfriend, you’ve totally got this!