The REAL Reason You Crave Junk Food When You Have PMS (And How To Make It STOP)

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why pms symptoms make you crave junk food

It’s probably safe to say that we’ve all experienced (or continue to experience) the physical and emotional craziness that accompanies the week or two before a period.

We’re familiar with that three- to five-pound water retention, the short fuse, the cravings for all things sweet and salty (for me it was Kit Kats and Kung Pao Chicken), and the urge to sob watching Sarah McLachlan narrate ASPCA commercials featuring homeless and abandoned dogs.

For some, premenstrual symptoms are only slightly noticeable, but for others the symptoms are debilitating, affecting school, work, relationships and life in general—it may seem as if you’ve being cast in a role for two weeks, 24/7, that doesn’t feel at all like yourself

When symptoms are that severe, we are talking about Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), which typically encompasses emotional changes such as drastic mood swings, depression, crying spells, irritability, and anxiety. Physically, PMS symptoms include bloating, breast tenderness, weight gain, food cravings, and acne.

A perfect storm which can lead even the sanest woman to feel as though she’s become victim to an Invasion of the Body Snatchers. 

Image credit: "Hormonal V" from She-ology

The first thing to understand is why these changes happen in order to figure out a way to combat the symptoms of PMS. Fortunately, the majority of symptoms caused by PMS can be treated with diet, exercise, and the avoidance of certain key foods.

The irony being that most women suffering from PMS seek immediate comfort from their symptoms in all these wrong foods

Why are we so hungry before our periods? 

It’s thought that the production and cyclical nature of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone have a strong effect on appetite. Researchers have pointed to the increase of progesterone production the week or so before a period, which is responsible for binge eating.

See, it not your fault!

Estrogen, on the other hand, which acts as an appetite suppressant, peaks before ovulation and drops in the time before your period, adding a double whammy to your inability to fight those damn cravings. But don’t despair.

There is a way to eat in order to help your resolve as well as to resist those cravings. 
FOODS TO LIMIT OR AVOID: dairy, salt, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, Chinese food, and any other especially salty foods. 

  • Do drink as much water as possible, ideally two to three liters a day.
  • Do supplement your diet with vitamins such as calcium, vitamins E & D, thiamine, magnesium, and omega-3 fish oil. 
  • Do eat healthy foods such as fresh fruits and veggies, protein-rich fish and chicken, and complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and brown rice. 
  • Do eat foods that are natural diuretics such as celery, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, asparagus, lemon juice, garlic, melon, and lettuce. Doing this will greatly help reduce bloating and swelling any time of the month. 
  • Do reach for the green tea as a comforting beverage. It’s a great natural diuretic and easier on the system than coffee. 
  • Do consider the herbal supplements dandelion, ginger, parsley, hawthorn and juniper, all of which help alleviate water retention. 

Aside from adjusting your food, liquid, and supplement intake, there are other ways to treat the symptoms of PMS, no matter the severity. 

  • Exercise. I know it’s the last thing you want to consider when you’re overwhelmed by PMS symptoms, but it really does help. Regular exercise four to six times a week, for a minimum of thirty minutes a session is a must. 
  • Acupuncture, Yoga, and Mindfulness. These practices can help in controlling the mood changes and other emotional effects of PMS. 
  • Medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as Advil and Motrin can help with cramps. 
  • Oral contraception. “The Pill” can help control your hormones, cramps and acne. 

For those of you who have tried all or some combination of the aforementioned but are still finding that there’s no relief in sight, other methods may be needed to get you through the intense symptoms of PMS. 

If you’re wondering: When do I decide that my depression and/or mood swings are bad enough to try something else? The answer is that if your emotional state is preventing you from your regular daily activities and it’s causing you to lose sleep and/or feel helpless, then you may need an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.

Certainly the emotional symptoms of PMS are well documented, but extreme episodes of symptoms such as anxiety can cause panic attacks, manifesting in heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath. In this case, a diagnosis of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMD) may be made, and medication treating depression and anxiety can be prescribed.

Fortunately, I have been successful in treating PMD and its debilitating monthly symptoms with a low dose anti-depressant (Prozac 10mg daily) and an oral contraceptive.

I might add that it also doesn’t hurt to swear off Chinese Food during the second half of one’s menstrual cycle. Fight that salt craving if you can! 

If you find yourself Pretty Much Suffering the majority of each month, help is available. Discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider. Don’t let half your life be disrupted by your menstrual cycle. There are treatments, and there’s one that can be tailored specifically for your personal needs.

Sheryl A. Ross, M.D., “Dr. Sherry,” is an award-winning OBG/YN, entrepreneur, women’s health expert and author of the book, She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. She is also the founder of Cycl, the first of its kind wellness brand for women by women based on her ground-breaking 7 Cycls™approach that tracks the 7 distinct and individualized cycles women experience in their lives.

Excerpt taken from She-ology: The Definitive Guide To Women's Intimate Health. Period. (Savio Republic, copyright 2017) by Dr. Sheryl Ross.

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