For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with PMS and cramps. I did a pretty good job of masking the acne, PMS and cramps for the 10 years I was on the contraceptive pill (band-aid approach, anyone?!). But ever since I went off the pill a few years ago, I’ve been doing a whole lotta work on myself to balance my hormones with real food nutrition and lifestyle changes.
But despite all the health improvements I’ve made (my energy levels and digestion are awesome these days), I still spend a day in a world of pain nearly every cycle - plus my digestion is thrown completely out of whack and I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck. And this is why I’ve hesitated to share this on the blog - I mean, a nutritionist who gets period pain?! What would that say about me?! I must be total failure! (I mean, it sounds a little silly as I’m writing this. I should be perfect, of course. Instead, I’m #humanAF.)
So while I’m not there yet, I thought I’d share what I’m doing to address the root cause of my PMS and cramps. And since I’ve gotten pretty good at managing PMS and cramps naturally, I have a bunch of nifty tricks to share with you to make that time of the month a whole lot easier.
For starters, PMS and menstrual cramps are really just symptoms of dysfunction in the body. Instead of masking these symptoms with the contraceptive pill* or painkillers, we can actually get to the root cause of that dysfunction and bring the body back into balance for life.
While I’ll be the first to tell you it’s bloody annoying dealing with these symptoms (#periodpuns), I’m stoked to have a regular cycle - it’s a nice little sign every month that I’m in pretty good nick!
Before I move onto the quick fixes you can use right now to alleviate the PMS and cramps, I’ll start with how to resolve these symptoms for good.
Start by addressing the root cause. This is the opposite of the band-aid approach, and it’s the only way to beat PMS and period pain for good.
We need to dig deep to figure out what’s causing the hormone imbalance in the first place. This is going to be different for everyone. Perhaps your digestion is no good, you have a whole bunch of food sensitivities or your blood sugar is all over the place.
These are the foundations of our health which need to be addressed to get our body into balance and ditch the frustrating symptoms for good:
- Boost your digestion. Without proper digestion, your body won’t be able to make use of all the awesome nutrients in your food! Plus, having good liver and gallbladder function is important for eliminating toxins (including old hormones like oestrogen). Think mindful eating and digestive support supplements to help with your digestion.
- Balance your blood sugar. This is a key step in balancing your hormones! Refined sugar and carbohydrates spike insulin. Constantly consuming these foods stresses out the body, which can wear out our adrenals and exacerbate oestrogen dominance. Instead, eat plenty of healthy fats and proteins at each meal for that slow-burning energy.
- Make sure you’re getting plenty of minerals and they’re in balance. The minerals in our soil are depleted, which means we’re often not getting enough minerals from our food! Good quality salt and meat stocks and broths are a great source of health minerals. I’ll talk about magnesium below.
- Get a variety of high quality healthy fats. Having a variety of healthy fats helps regulate our body’s inflammatory processes. Plus, cholesterol found in pastured eggs, grass-fed butter and ghee is a key building block of our sex hormones.
- Eliminate inflammatory foods. Inflammatory foods include foods that you are personally sensitive to, along with foods that are generally inflammatory, such as hydrogenated fats and processed foods.
Work WITH your cycle.
Erm, what?! Aren’t we meant to just toughen up and push through the pain, emotions and fatigue that we experience at this time of the month?
Nope, there’s another way. This is pretty new to me too. I’ve always considered myself pretty tough and driven, and I really dislike laziness. So it always really annoyed me when I had to “deal with” cramps and fatigue. But over the past few months, I’ve been playing with this idea of working with my cycle.
I first discovered the idea of working with my cycle from Claire Baker of thisislifeblood.com, and it has been a real gamechanger. The idea is that you really listen to your body, and use the times in your cycle when you feel extra energised to be productive, social and generally get shit done. And when we’re pre-menstrual or have our period, we actually take the time to rest and allow ourselves to be introverted and watch Downton Abbey or nap instead of pushing through and working 12 hour days.
I’m still playing around with this but it has been so incredibly helpful for me! And while I understand not everyone can take a day off and rest, we can at least start to plan for more rest during this time by keeping after-work commitments to a minimum and cancelling the early morning gym class for a bit of extra sleep.
De-stress and alleviate cramps with magnesium.
Do you have chocolate cravings along with PMS? Your body is probably calling out for magnesium! Here’s how to get it:
- Epsom salt baths: Epsom salt baths are seriously magic for cramps, plus they really help us de-stress and relax. I like to take epsom salt baths 1-2 times a week, and daily when I’m experiencing cramps. Dissolve 300 grams of epsom salts (you can find this at your local supermarket or health food shop) in a warm bath. This way, the magnesium sulfate is absorbed through the skin.
- Magnesium oil: Magnesium oil (magnesium chloride) can be used to directly target muscle pain and to reduce magnesium deficiency. To target cramps or lower back pain, apply directly on the site of pain and massage the oil in.
Meditation and deep breathing. Sometimes when I’m in a lot of pain the idea of meditating or deep breathing just makes me kinda angry. But it really works. I like to take deep, slow belly breaths in and out through my nose. If you want to learn how to meditate, head over here.
The trusty hot water bottle. I don’t believe this needs any further explanation.
Laying off the coffee. I’ve been steering clear of coffee for the few days leading up to Day 1 of my cycle, and I’ve found it has really helped reduce fatigue and cramping. Try matcha or dandy chai instead!
Do you struggle with PMS and period pain? What have you found helpful in managing your symptoms? Hop on over to the comments and share!
* If you want to go off the pill and you’re using it for contraception, you’ll need to consider non-hormonal contraception.