While there are phases of the menstrual cycle when our hormones can leave us feel energized, confident, and cheerful, there are also phases of our cycles that may cause us to feel depleted, irritable, and self conscious. The premenstrual phase (the one and a half to two week period prior to bleeding) is most notorious for these feelings, the dreaded PMS.
Premenstrual Syndrome can look very different for different women, but the most common symptoms are emotional changes, mood swings, general irritability, anxiety, or sensitivity, breast tenderness, digestive upset, food cravings, headaches, or acne. While one woman may complain of one or two of these symptoms, some women can attest to nearly every annoying symptom on that list.
But PMS isn't something we're sentenced to as women, in fact there are a number of things you can do to balance your hormones naturally and start feeling better!
Help your body flush out excess hormones
Staying hydrated and avoiding constipation are two of the most important things you can do to support your body's natural processes that get rid of excess hormones. If you're not going regularly your liver actually recycles hormones and keeps them circulating in your system when they've already worn out their welcome. If you struggle with constipation, I usually recommend a magnesium supplement taken at night, at least 30 minutes or more after dinner.
It's also helpful to keep excess hormones out of your system in the first place. Avoid all animal products that use added hormones, and limit animal products in general, as even healthy animals have hormones that add to your system. Avoid soy as well, it has an estrogenic effect and many PMS symptoms are caused by excess estrogen in the system.
Be gentle on your digestion
Because of shifts in hormones, if women are prone to digestive upset they are most likely to experience it during their periods and/or premenstrual phases. Be gentle on your digestive track by avoiding overeating, processed food, fried food, sweets or refined carbohydrates, and spicy foods. Enjoy a variety of veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fermented foods, and a small amount of quality animal products.
Furthermore, in Chinese medicine warm, cooked foods are the easiest on our digestive tracts. Dishes such as soup, broth, porridge, congee, cooked sweet potatoes/root vegetables, steamed or sautéed green vegetables, and slow cooked meats.
Dealing with food cravings
Food cravings and increased appetite are both totally normal in the premenstrual phase as your body is gearing up for loss of blood during your next period. Avoid depriving yourself when you're hungry, skipping meals, or going long periods without eating, that will only crash your blood sugar and make hormonal imbalances even worse.
The problem comes when food cravings tell us we want all of the junk food and that's not what the body really needs. What your body really wants and needs is nutrients, so feel free to eat more frequently and/or more nutrient dense foods. Some women do best to eat several small meals throughout the day, while others are fine with bigger servings at mealtime.
Personally, I find myself craving more bone broth, nutritional yeast, avocado, and ghee premenstrually. I also tend to make bigger and protein-rich breakfasts to help set myself up for a day of even blood sugar.
If you do indulge in simple carbs and/or sweets, salty snacks, or greasy foods, it may actually make your PMS worse. Big fluctuations in blood sugar caused by eating high glycemic foods can exacerbate hormonal imbalance, high salt foods often make bloating worse, and processed foods may be hard on digestion. I'm not one to say "never ever" when it comes to food, that just makes it all the more crave-worthy, all I suggest is you pay attention to the feedback your body gives you in response to the foods you eat.
If you really can't get the idea of chips or ice cream out of your head, try making a healthier homemade version that will satisfy without a bunch of additives and preservatives.
Slow down, don't overcommit
We're naturally less energetic and even less confident during the premenstrual phase, and many women also feel irritable and sensitive, so it's not the best time to cram your schedule or have to interact with a ton of people.
It's likely you'll want to sleep more in the premenstrual phase of your cycle, so plan accordingly. Make room for getting in to bed early or even taking naps if you need. Even if you aren't actually sleeping more hours, at least make some room for rest and downtime.
Be gentle with yourself, give yourself space if that's what you need. If you honor what your body is asking for during this phase of your cycle, then you'll have much more energy during the other phases of your cycle.
Dive deep on balancing hormones
There are a slew of factors that cause hormonal imbalances, including diet and exposure to common toxins. If you'd like to learn more and get serious about balancing hormones, check out my free e-course: Happier Hormones in 30 days.
Consider Chinese medicine
If you've tried everything else and can't find relief from your PMS symptoms, acupuncture and herbal medicine are incredibly effective at balancing hormones, reducing anxiety and irritability, improving sleep, treating pain, and regulating digestion.
If you're located in Los Angeles, book an appointment with me to get to the bottom of what's going on and start feeling better right away.