Looking at recent literature on the subject, Ellen Duggan explores how best to feed our bodies during PMS.
The moment we first encounter our menarche, the formal word for the first day of our cycle, at whatever age we may have been - we are usually alone.
The emotions that may follow this occurrence, as we are locked in a school bathroom cubicle, may leave our uninformed selves wondering if something is seriously wrong with us, or perhaps the glow of euphoric glee of burgeoning adulthood.
This initial encounter with our period, seems to be frozen in time as it repeats, cyclically, with every experience we have with it and our changing PMS symptoms, throughout our lives. We are usually alone, wondering how we can numb the cramps internally in order to appear as unencumbered as we may visually present ourselves as being on the outside.
It may come as no surprise that little to no studies have been done into the cycle of the PMS. However, as of late, several women specialising in the fields of sports science, have allowed us to take a previously shunned lens to what exactly occurs in our systems, before, after, and during our periods. Women such as Stacey Simms have begun outspokenly advocating listening to and caring for your body as it moves through cycles - in order to abate PMS symptoms and leave us feeling NOT like our womb has been trampled on by a crowd at a Walmart Black Friday sale.
The release and recent popularity of books such as ‘Woman Code’ by Alisa Vitti or ‘Eating for endometriosis’ by Dian Shepperdson Mills, have shed light on the importance of recognising your body's own expression of its experience of Premenstrual Symptoms, how they may shift and change from month to month and the importance of tracking them and easing yourself in to understanding what your body may be attempting to communicate through every cramp or craving. Granted that we now live in a world in which we may not have time to listen to the language of our bodies, a Panadol and hot water bottle will definitely cut it, but over time, we may find signals from our systems that become too loud to ignore.
PMS is not something to ‘fight’ or ‘overcome’ but something to work with in a way that will allow you to understand aspects of your body that may have dipped below the radar previously. Particularly strong or painful symptoms of PMS that may interfere with your life, given you have no underlying health issues, can be your body's way of communicating stress or nutritional deficiencies.
We are all too familiar with ‘diets’ and the pain they cause, particularly at the age during which women experience menarche, so it is important to stress that eating in a way that serves your body's natural cycles means the gentle introduction of vitamin rich foods, as opposed to the eradication of any specific food group.
Taking the same imperfect style as our bodies and our lives: our symptoms can develop slowly, with ease, or hot and fast, seemingly out of nowhere.
Our cycles can be divided into two 14-day phases: the low hormone phase, occurring in the two weeks directly after our period ends, and the high hormone phase, which occurs two weeks directly before. These two broad phases can be divided into a further four: Luteal, Follicular, ovulation and last but not least, menstruation herself.
Tracking your period on an app such as ‘My Flo’ can assist you in seeing where exactly in your cycle you are, track your symptoms and assist yourself in developing holistic ways to treat PMS. All of these phases require different forms of attention and care in terms of our nutrition.
PMS symptoms usually begin to occur 5 days before our menstrual cycle begins, during which our estrogen levels are at their highest. During this phase, you may find that your body requires more carbohydrates than usual, in order to maintain energy levels. Lean into this! Your system is speaking to you and I will be damned if you do not honour her.
Before I get down and dirty, I have a brief task for you, dear reader. Take a deep breath, put down the Huawei, navigate yourself to the closest mirror and stare at yourself.
Stare at yourself in that mirror and practice, with a straight face, exiting your colleagues recently-planned ‘virtual pub zoom call’ with your newfound, unbelievably fair excuse.
‘Apologies guys, I am in the depths of my luteal phase!’
- Luteal phase: The last two weeks of your cycle. When your ovaries release a golden egg and just before your period starts. Eating the recommended foods below, may prevent the feeling that someone is slowly turning a key in the beautifully ominous lock that is your womb.
Recommended: Vitamin E and vitamin B packed foods, such as: Nuts, seeds, Leafy greens. Probiotic rich foods: Sourdough, yoghurt. Side tip: Holland and Barrett do a mean strawberry flavoured chewable Probiotic Acidophilus, coming in at around 6 bucks for a jar of 60.
- Folicular phase: Just before Ovulation. Rev your engine.
Recommended: Lean proteins, for non-meat eaters: tofu and beans are right as rain. Fruits and vegetables. DUH.
- Ovulation: When your well matured egg is released from the warm nest of your ovaries and, given you have not been impregnated, patiently travels through the fallopian tubes, through the uterus and out into the blinding lights and big smoke that is the vagina.
Recommended: Fibre rich fruits and vegetables. Brussel Sprouts, Asparagus. All of the greats. Also, try and incorporate some antioxidant rich foods such as berries or coconut, if you are in anyway inclined.
- Menstruation: Our family favourite! That’s right kids, it’s when the blood hits the fan.
Recommended: Omega 3 fatty acids, fish, nuts and seeds and plant oils. Low glycemic fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, and aubergine.