As women, we are conditioned to believe that we are helpless and hapless victims of our hormone cycle. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have lived with this lie and it never made any sense. I have studied anatomy and physiology and countless other sciences and there is a truth that remains. All systems seek balance, not only at specific times of the month or when it’s convenient but all the time, forever seeking balance. Balance is necessary for life or even non-living systems to function properly. Balanced is that state where chemical reactions and physical science just naturally move to the next thing. Without it, chaos reigns and chaos is not the natural order. Life seeks to sustain itself. Physical elements in the earth seek synchronization and ease of function. Without balance, life is so hard that we sometimes don’t want to live it. Sound familiar? It’s just like PMS and the cravings and wild emotions that sometimes accompany that dreaded space of time.
I had such horrible cravings in my 20’s and 30’s that I would eat whatever amount of chocolate, or pound cake or banana pudding or ice cream or barbecue flavored potato chips or… (well, I think you get the idea…) that I could find. I hid my binges, something that I learned to do growing up with an anorexic mother who seemed to base my value on the number on the scale. At the age of four she put me on the scale and told me that I was fat. I wasn’t. I weighed forty pounds. Google the average weight of a four year old, it’s forty pounds. I cried when I discovered that truth.
My weight bounced all over the scale, ranging from 221# to 118#. I tried every diet on the market but always came back to Weight Watchers. It worked but the cravings always caused me to quit. I became borderline anorexic. I’m 5’6″ and believe me, that 118# was no healthier for me than that 221#. I looked like a skeleton. My personal life was a living hell. I was so self-destructive that it’s amazing that I’m even alive. I peaked out in a size 22 dress and I quit wearing pants at size 18 so who knows what size they would have been. If you look at my pictures and think that I don’t understand what you’re going through, guess again.
One thing that I had learned growing up, even with an unhealthy state of mind being impressed upon me, was that we have the power to change ourselves. My mother and I would get the World Books and look up calisthenics, body weight exercises, and get in the floor and do them. I also learned, due to the endless diets that I was on, that what we put in our mouths make a difference in everything, not just the scale. I noticed that while I was eating healthy, I just felt better.
I wasn’t happy being a victim. Believe me, that’s not my default. I began to study everything that I could find concerning PMS, cravings and related mood swings. One of the first bits of information that I uncovered was the sugar connection. When our estrogen and progesterone levels begin to shift during this time, it can cause a change in the level of serotonin in the brain. (https://www.webmd.com/women/pms/features/diet-and-pms#1) Serotonin is one of our feel good neurotransmitters and our brain needs to keep it available in just the right amount, too little and we become horribly depressed and too much and we become whacked out of our minds, maniacal, hysterical with an artificial, scary energy. Again, balance is everything. Dopamine is our strength and excitement neurotransmitter, too little and we are lethargic and too much and we are a fearful thing, all but terrorizing our environment. Sugar lights up the dopamine reward pathway (https://huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/06/sugar-brain-mental-health_n_6904778.html) and causes us to want to “hit it again”. It feels good and at this time of month, nothing else does. The problem with this is compounded by the fact that as we “hit it again”, multiple times, our serotonin is being released also. When this serotonin system is repeatedly stimulated we can become depleted and fall into a deep depression. Many anti-depressant drugs are serotonin boosters and if we burn this system out with too much sugar, we are in a world of hurt until balance is restored. Salt also affects our serotonin balance and when that one chemical is not balanced in our brains, all hell breaks loose. We will constantly try to self medicate with food, alcohol and prescription medications and sometimes illegal drugs. Balance is so crucial to sustaining life that we will self destruct trying to regain even a shred of “normal”.
I continued my studies and discovered that along with a good, wholesome balanced diet our bodies desperately need activity. Endorphins are produced by hard exercise. Getting outside increases GABA levels in the brain (The Edge Effect, Eric R. Braverman, M.D., Sterling Publishing Company., Inc. New York, 2004) and GABA is our calming neurotransmitter.
I also discovered that during the luteal phase of our menstrual cycle, the last 7-10 days or so, we burn 2.5-11% more calories! (https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/4-ways-your-mentrual-cycle-affects-your-workouts.html) (Yes, “menstrual is misspelled in that url, but it won’t work if you spell it correctly. It was posted this way.) Yep, MORE calories! Ladies, we just got a break. The golden key had just been handed to me and I rushed to unlock the secret. The Dirty Little Secret was that we were being told that we had no control and it was a lie. The Dirty Little Secret was that we were being told that we couldn’t do anything about weight gain during this tumultuous time and it was a lie. The Dirty Little Secret was that an overall disdain for women’s issues in the mainstream media had never considered this a problem to be dealt with because it was a “Woman’s Issue” and, you know, “It’s All In Their Heads.” The Dirty Little Secret has caused the death of many and countless others to live an entire lifetime trapped inside a body alien to them, a stranger in a strange land.
I began to put this knowledge together into a workable program for myself. Everybody thought that I was crazy when I joined the YMCA and began swimming 5-7 days/week for 2+ hours/day. Everybody thought that I was crazy when I began to lift weights. I “Didn’t Know What I Didn’t Know” (David Yochim) and I just gave those weights a whirl, yes I did. 😉 I was only lifting about 40-60# but no other women that I knew was even considering doing that. They thought that I was really weird but now I am working a very difficult job full time and they are retiring. Some of them didn’t even make it that far. Some developed serious health problems and had to retire early and some died. I quit eating any and everything that seemed appealing. I had also learned that the fluid retention from salt would increase my overall level of misery, just turning up the fire on everything that bothered me so I laid off of that. I began to run, which is an on and off activity for me and Lord, Lo and Behold! I began to LOSE WEIGHT during the time of the month that I usually gained and never lost it! Every month, pound after pound was creeping on and I thought that I was helpless to avoid it.
I want to make this very clear. You do NOT have to become a fitness freak like me to experience the benefits of this increased calorie burn during the last 7-10 days of your menstrual cycle. At times I have quit doing everything. Life has it’s phases. But Ladies, hear this if you forget everything else that I’ve said, small tweaks in your daily routine during this time will turn this time that has been your nemesis into your favorite time for weight control. When I wasn’t working out hard, I would go for a walk most days. You know, walk the dog or the kid or the husband stuff. When my diet wasn’t spot on I was just very careful to be moderate and to avoid as much sugar and salt as I possibly could and over time avoiding sugar got easier. When I began fully experiencing the benefit of these changes in my life, I never went back. I lost weight EVERY MONTH, then all the way to Goal working this Golden Key to my advantage.
I’m nobody’s victim. Not even my own. You don’t have to be either. You have the Golden Key, now unlock that secret. ;-*