Ah, the dreaded PMS. Considering it affects half of the world’s adult population, it’s upsetting that there is so little written about it – at least in a not-conforming-to-our-patriarchal-society way (but that’s a topic for a different post…)
Today I am breaking down the walls of shame and I am writing about PMS as a trigger for eating disorder behaviour. (in case you didn’t catch it, men, this is your queue to leave. Unless you want to hang out for some “girl stuff talk”, in which case, by all means – stay! But you’ve been warned…)
The reason I want to write this post is because given my experiences, I consider PMS a very real trigger for eating disorder behaviour.
PMS comes with a variety of symptoms, all of which can impact your recovery. I am going to try and walk through the symptoms I experience and how I learned to prevent them from triggering me.
1. Mood swings
Yes, this is where all the screaming women memes come from. In all seriousness, though, the mood changes that come with PMS can be a huge trigger, especially if you are like me and are prone to emotional eating (or emotional restricting). As we all know, eating disorders are not about the food or even the weight: they are about coping. And one of the most difficult things to cope with is our emotions. For me, sadness is a huge trigger, along with anger.
When I get sad, I plummet pretty fast and I become incredibly vulnerable – usually resulting in a desire to either eat compulsively or restrict. In the same way, when I get angry my first response is to attack the cupboards.
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Learning to handle the mood swings that often accompany PMS is really part of learning how to handle your emotions in general.
If you are sad or lonely or angry and these feelings are triggers for you, the best way to handle them is to learn how to express these emotions in a healthy way. For example, if you are feeling lonely, food (or lack of food) won’t solve your problem, but calling a friend will! If you are angry, cramming two shelves of food in your mouth won’t eliminate your anger, you need to find an outlet e.g. scream into or punch a pillow, put on some screamo music, or if you are at a place in recovery where you can exercise in healthy way, run it off!
In short, learning to cope with your emotions in a healthy way will help you conquer the mood swings that come along with “that time of the month.”
2. Bloating and discomfort
Ah the wonderful physical affects of PMS. Yes, hot water bottles, muscle relaxers, and hot baths can all help, but they don’t protect us from the effects these feelings can have on our recovery. For whatever reason, feeling bloated tends to make me want to binge. I can’t even explain it. When I was struggling with Bulimia, the more discomfort I felt after a day of bingeing, the more likely I was to continue to eat compulsively. I think perhaps it’s because it messes with your mind. You already feel like crap, so you don’t really care if you shove a bit more into your stomach.
In addition, I tend to get frustrated when my body is bloated and uncomfortable and, like anger, frustration also tends to trigger me to binge.
When I was struggling with anorexia, it was the opposite. When I felt bloated and uncomfortable, I had even worse body image issues than I normally had, and this obviously would make me want to restrict even more.
The key here is to be aware of your triggers and remind yourself these feelings, though uncomfortable, are simply a result of your PMS.
Try to ease the discomfort the best you can and remember bingeing or restricting will not make you feel better; it will only make you feel worse.
4. Low energy
Especially for the first day or two, I find my energy plummets. At this point, not only am I more vulnerable to being emotional (as I tend to get really sad when I am tired), but I also lack the will to but effort into healthy living. This is a big no no! When your energy is low, your guards are down and you are more vulnerable; rather than ignoring it, this is when you need to be the most in-tune with what’s going on in your mind and your body.
Go easy on yourself. Relax. Take naps. Sleep-in if you can.
And even skip exercising (unless you find exercising actually increases your energy levels). The key here is to address the problem: you are tired and bingeing will not solve this, neither will restricting (in fact, these things just make it worse); however, what will solve the problem is taking it easy and knowing in a day or two your energy will be back to normal.
Low energy makes us vulnerable; whatever you do, don’t get lazy with your self-care and recovery!
Bring on the candy and the nachos and of course, bring on the chocolate!! Chocolate seems to be a common craving. Though I find when I am PMSing I pretty much crave everything, and I crave it all at once.
One of the ways I am reminded my “Aunt Flow” (ugh, hate that term!) is just around the corner is I find myself craving one thing after the other all night long, even though I’m in no way hungry. I am on Birth Control pills, so I know exactly when my PMS is hitting, and every time this happens, I check my pill chart and sure enough – my PMS has arrived!
Ignoring your cravings does no good and can lead to binging later.
Instead, be aware your cravings are PMS-driven and keep that in mind. Honour your craving – eat the brownie – but know after that you are not going to continue to feed the cravings, because they really can be a bottomless pit. And if you are like me and are prone to compulsive eating when you are PMSing, I encourage you to keep track of when your PMS starts, and have heightened awareness during those days. If I know I have switched to the green pills, I know the PMS is about to start and so if I find myself experiencing cravings beyond what is normal, I remind myself it’s PMS and manage them without submitting to bingeing or eating compulsively.
In closing, awareness is key when it comes to handling PMS triggers.
A long as you keep track of your body’s schedule and are extra mindful during your PMS days, it will be far easier to resist the temptation to engage in eating disorder behaviours.
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