By Kate Richlin-Zack
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of physical and emotional symptoms including bloating, cramps, headache, and mood swings that occurs consistently during the ten days prior to the start of menstrual flow and vanishes either shortly before or shortly thereafter. In other words, it’s what I like to call Hell Week, and that’s a drastic understatement.
In addition to the aforementioned typical symptoms, I also experience extreme fatigue, intense food cravings, insatiable hunger, unpredictable bouts of crying, and sporadic emotional meltdowns that often result in reevaluation of every major and minor life decision I’ve ever made. As I sit on the couch drowning Oreos in gallons of milk and contemplating joining the Peace Corps, it’s hard to remember these symptoms are just temporary. One Hell Week left me with a visceral hatred for my husband after he flushed my Oreos down the toilet. In retrospect, I can’t blame him. He watched in absolute horror and disgust as I shoved whole cookies, two at a time, into my mouth leaving crumbs all over my face and chest in a futile attempt to eat my fabricated pain away. He likened me to a crack fiend, so flushing the cookies down the toilet was probably a necessary intervention.
Hell Week is also the week that I know, without a doubt, my diet and exercise efforts will disappear faster than the three pepperoni pizzas I just inhaled. But even though it’s hard to stick with healthy diet and exercise habits when all I want to do is sleep and eat in alternating 12-hour shifts, avoiding junk foods, exercising consistently and following a few other simple tips may actually help me survive Hell Week relatively unscathed in the future.
The salt and sugar cravings are relentless. You’d think that if you just give in to the cravings, they’ll go away. Oh, if only! Consuming all those salty sugary foods can actually intensify your cravings. The salt can cause water retention which only makes that bloated feeling you already have even worse. The sugar will cause spikes in your blood glucose levels which will only trigger more cravings. And to add insult to injury, caffeine and alcohol can further exacerbate the situation.
No salt, sugar, caffeine, or alcohol? You just eliminated my four basic food groups. So what the heck am I supposed to eat?
As unappealing as it sounds forgo the cheese doodles and root beer, try opting for foods like pumpkin seeds, broccoli, black beans, and halibut. They can help reduce menstrual cramps because they are very high in magnesium, which helps relax your muscles.
So I have to eat broccoli and pumpkin seeds and now you want me to exercise too? STFU.
I know. I want to stay in bed in my sweatpants too, but a brisk 10-minute walk or some gentle stretching is much better than no exercise at all. Exercise causes a release of mood boosting endorphins and serotonin—”happy” chemicals that relieve pain and stress so you won’t feel quite so miserable and sluggish. Endorphins can be significantly more powerful than analgesic drugs. Basically, a bike ride can make you feel better than a couple of ibuprofen, if you can believe it. The more desirable alternative—lounging around like a sloth—can actually worsen depression and contribute to weight gain.
Even though you feel bloated, it’s important to stay hydrated. You will not bloat more if you drink more water and there are a number of herbal teas than can help prevent water retention during your period. Your local grocery store or health food store probably carries PMS or diuretic teas. Look for products that contain ingredients like black cohosh and dandelion flower.
Or go for vitamins, supplements and/or prescription drugs
Some studies have shown that vitamins and supplements like calcium, vitamin E, vitamin B6, manganese, and tryptophan can help alleviate PMS symptoms. Chasteberry, St Johns wort, and evening primrose oil may also help. Prescription drugs such as oral hormonal birth control pills and anti-depressants are commonly used to treat severe PMS. Whether you opt for vitamins, herbal supplements, or Rx drug therapy, be sure to talk to your doctor about which combinations are right for you. Some products can have detrimental interactions if taken in combination.
If all else fails—screw it and just give in
You tried eating kale and taking a walk around the block. Not helpful. You tried drinking herbal tea and taking a few supplements. Still miserable. That’s ok. Give yourself a few days off. Order a pizza. Stock up on raw cookie dough. Watch a few tear jerkers—The Notebook and 13 Going on 30 are my premenstrual go-tos because they’re both a guaranteed good cry. Put on your unflattering elastic waistband fat pants and give in to your cravings for salt, sugar, sleep, and emotional meltdowns. And most importantly, don’t feel guilty about it. You have the next 28 days to get back on track.
Just don’t be surprised if someone flushes your cookies down the toilet out of pure concern.
“The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Health and Fitness” is written by the irrepressible Kate Richlin-Zack and runs every other Tues on Kate-book.com. She is a former plus-sized model turned fitness enthusiast who lost about 50 lbs in the process. She loves food and views exercise as a necessary evil in her quest for looking good and feeling confident in hot pants. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.