How I Cured My PMS

Warning: Gentlemen, you are probably not going to be that engaged by this particular Vegimental. You could just forward it to the women in your life who might be interested.

i fixed my pmsLadies, how much of your life do you write off because you know you’re going to be in the throes of PMS, lying on the couch, curled up in to a ball, eating chocolate and clutching your swollen abdomen? I was right there with you. I used to have the worst PMS. Painful, swollen breasts. Cramps. Cravings. Energy levels in the toilet. But I have made some dietary and lifestyle changes lately that have completely transformed my experience. Now, I have no premenstrual symptoms. None. If I didn’t keep track of when it was due, my period would be a complete surprise every month. (I also had a baby, which changes pretty much everything about your body, so that is likely a factor too, but the transformation is so complete that I know that no one thing can be wholly responsible.) If you’re losing days every month, I hope some of these tactics will help you find a kind of period peace.

Buh-bye soy
I had a real love affair going on with soy milk for a while. Had it in my cereal, my tea, for an afternoon snack. My husband and I went through about a gallon a week. Then I read Nina Plank’s Real Food, where I learned that soy is estrogenic, and it can disrupt the delicate hormonal balance in the body. All my PMS symptoms are generally associated with excess estrogen, so even a mild estrogenic effect from soy could have been tipping my balance toward too much.

So long, sugar
This was harder to do, I will admit. I have always loved my chocolate – a couple squares of dark chocolate after dinner made the meal complete. When I was pregnant, it was more like half a bar of chocolate. But then two things happened. 1) My daughter started eating solids, and I didn’t want to automatically get her accustomed to the taste of sugar so I only served her plain yogurt, and I didn’t sweeten her oatmeal or her applesauce. And because it seemed unfair for me to eat the sugared-up versions, I also started cutting out added sugar wherever I could. I still loved and craved my chocolate, however. Until I made myself sick – twice – by eating too many Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered almonds. Now I only have dessert once a week. I had always read that indulging in your craving for sweet and/or salty foods during PMS only made it worse, but I refused to believe the connection. Now I do.

Hello Omega 3s
I’ve gotten very diligent about taking 1000 mg of Omega 3s (from fish oil, from the company Nordic Naturals, and no, they’re not paying me anything although I did interview the founder, Lisa Petty, for an article once and she is charming and knowledgeable and passionate). Omega 3s help regulate your hormonal balance, which in turn can ease PMS symptoms such as breast tenderness.

Welcome to the red tent
Finally, I have been making it a point to do as little as possible on the first day of my period. In their fabulous book, Yoga for Healthy Menstrual Cycle, Linda Sparrowe and Patricia Walden suggest that the more rest you get during your period, the better you’ll feel all month long. In ancient times, women used to menstruate at the new moon, and they’d gather inside a red tent and take a break from their daily chores to relax in each other’s company. I know we’ve come a long way, baby, and our tampon commercials show women riding bikes, flying kites, and climbing mountains, but perhaps there’s some wisdom we’ve lost over the millennia about how to care for ourselves during our periods. I’m not suggesting you stay home from work, necessarily (although if you want to and can, why not?). But perhaps you can find ways to accommodate your monthly cycle by forgoing anything that’s not absolutely mandatory and/or nurturing for the first day or two of your period. Just try it, and see how if you notice any differences in your subsequent cycles.

Share your tips
How do you handle the ups and downs of your monthly cycle? Have you made a change—dietary or otherwise—that has had a big impact on your PMS–or any aspect of your health, for that matter? Leave a comment and if I publish yours in the next Vegimental, I’ll send you your very own copy of the excellent Yoga for a Healthy Menstrual Cycle.

Congrats to Gloria Flora!
She wrote in with a great story about how she popped her own stress bubble, and won a copy of The Kindness Handbook, the most recent book by Sharon Salzberg, one of my most favorite meditation teachers and writers:

“These past two weeks I was completing a major project-from-hell, while trying to plan a complex two-week business/pleasure trip right on its heels: multiple towns thousands of miles apart, multiple visits with friends and relatives in each location, 3 presentations, a training session and more! For the first time in years I found myself waking up in the middle of the night, stressing over how to get the tightly scheduled logistics to come together with absolutely no time to devote to working it all out because of the project deadlines. Finally, I gave up trying to meet everyone else’s schedules and dithering over all the cost-cutting measures and other stressors and constraints I was piling on. I took three deep breaths and said ‘Universe, we’re going to work this out NOW and it’s going to be perfect. Here’s what I really want.’ And in 36 hours, everything fell exactly into place!”

Take care and keep breathing,


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8 thoughts on “How I Cured My PMS

  1. I love the suggestion to take it easy on that first day or two. It’s so true that something has been lost to us, some female wisdom of ages past. My body always wants me to slow down when my period comes. And given that I’m due in the next few days, I’m going to try it!

  2. Go, Mia, go! Or perhaps I should say, Rest, Mia, rest! 🙂 I recently discovered that in traditional Chinese medicine, menstrual blood is referred to as “heavenly water” — quite different from the monthly curse we consider it to be. But if your period serves as a good excuse to take it easy and do nice things for yourself — well, that sounds pretty heavenly!

  3. The most infuriating symptoms of my PMS were (yes, they belong to the past) psychological, not the physical ones. I would cry myself to sleep, scream, become passive/agressive, tend to fight with others. Even though I knew it could be attributed to the mere hormonal changes and absolutely natural cycle, I used to be very disappointed with myself.
    And then I discovered how a) drinking lots of clear water and b) gentle automassage of my belly helps. Water makes one go to the toilet oftener, of course, which in turn is an opportunity to check whether the period has already arrived. Surprise is a stressing factor here, I think. Also, many women suffer from constipation or problems with passing gases during PMS or their period. Visiting the privacy of the loo reduces nervousness and raises self-confidence in this matter ;).
    Massages are divine, not only because of the soothing effect soft kneading, light pulling or simple stroking have on muscles that hurt. For me, it is mainly the time that I devote to myself and my feminine body which brings relief. After half an hour of calm music, rhythmical breathing, some massage and a conversation with myself about how good it is to be a woman – I forget about the urge to shout or cry. A little red tent of my own. All in all, it’s always about communication with one’s body. I think.
    Last but not least, it is good to have your beloved ones around too, and make sure they understand. Being ok with oneself is essential, but a helping hand or voice tend to make things a lot easier.

  4. I am tremendously lucky to have never suffered from cramps during PMS. Instead, the Universe evened the playing field by installing bowling balls on my nearly-D-cups once per month for a week. It hurts! And it keeps me from exercising which is so critical to staying balanced. They only relief I’ve found from the bowling-ball-boob-situation is to go off caffeine. I’ve done this experiment many times over the years and each time I notice a pronounced improvement in the first month of my cycle. Less breast pain, less irritability, less bloating. All that. So try going off the juice!

    Separately, I completely agree with Mia’s comment about welcoming the menstrual cycle. I’ve heard that cramps are due to “resisting the female process”. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know. But the positive outlook can’t hurt. I’ve also noticed that there is a huge kundalini rush on the first few days of the cycle. It’s easier to meditate at that time and that’s a beautiful thing.

  5. I made an interesting and wonderful discovery while eating raw foods only for several months — all PMS symptoms COMPLETELY DISAPPEARED. My periods were so easy. I think it was a combination of several things – dropping out sugar and wheat from my diet, as well as caffeine. (After a couple weeks on a raw diet, cravings for caffeine naturally go away.) It could also be connected with soy, as Kate mentioned in her blog. I think also it helps to view your period as a time that the body cleanses itself – so that you view your period as a time of clearing and renewal. It’s heartening to know that making a few adjustments can have a profound effect on your wellness!

  6. Hey Kate,
    Your most faithful reader here….you know, I had this vocal trouble this summer and had to cut out ibuprofen for good, only Tylenol…which meant bye-bye period-saver. So here are some things i found too:
    raspberry leaf tea–i think it helps the cramping. Yogi teas makes a “Women’s moon cycle tea” which has some other things in it too, and Traditional Medicinals has the rasp leaf one.

    Wet heat–a heating pad on the belly, in supta baddha konasana–the kind where you can wet a little pad inside–the moisture makes it even better than dry heat.

    And exercise, I think that is a really big one.

    I take the same omega 3’s–such a good brand!

    As for chocolate and sugar and all that, you have inspired me to stop the madness. I am a sugar freak, love my dessert, so I will place a photo of you as my guru on the fridge (kidding) and hope for the best. Tough!!!
    XO Lizzie
    ps it was so great to see you, and let’s not wait too long before doing it again! hope you have had an amazing summer!

  7. The first day of my period has always been very painful. I tried so many different things…Warm iron, warm towels,water bottles full of warm water and finally I realized I need a big hug, and some cuddling with my beau. It really eased my pain.

  8. I have found much relief from cramps by eating fresh fruits and and salads the week before and the week of my period. I used to have terrible terrible cramps since age 9 when I got my period. If I eat what I want I feel terrible. I would always miss a day of school each month and as an adult a day of work. If I eat raw foods even with just a little cheat meals I either get no cramps (the better I eat) or I only have to take 1-2 pain med for the entire period. Before this I would have to start pain meds every 6 hrs the day before my period and sometimes take up to 4 YES 4 pills to stop the cramping. It’s amazing what food can do. I wish I could commit to the raw lifestyle but for my period it’s a must. I imagine it would be even better if I ate this way for more than 2 weeks out of the month.

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