In a world fixated on weight and words like “bloating” and “inflammation” being used so often, it can be hard to know when you are experiencing abnormal symptoms. Women often struggle with the impact of changing hormones in the body. Whether on birth control, closing in on menopause, in active menopause, and post menopause, the effects of hormones can still greatly impact day-to-day life. While our hormones continue to fluctuate through the month normally, for some, the impact is more drastic and may require some lifestyle changes. One of the common recommendations for those experiencing the impact of extreme hormonal swings, is to go on a low inflammatory diet.
What are the symptoms to be on the lookout for?
While bloating is a common symptom that something is wrong, it is actually fairly normal and can be caused by eating too quickly, gas, water retention, constipation, or actual medical/hormonal issues. It’s important to speak with your doctor about if your bloating is within a normal range. If bloating is persistent, painful, or impacting your day-to-day life that can be a sign you need to consult a doctor.
The timing of bloating is also important to note. The week leading up to your period is a time when hormone levels drop which leads to the uterus shedding its lining, aka your period. In that time frame and as you begin your period, the body will typically retain more water and salt contributing to bloating of the body. This is normal but the extent of it should be monitored, and there are a lot of ways to reduce the amount of bloating you experience.
2) Hormonal acne
The sudden appearance or continual appearance of hormonal acne can be a clear sign something is off. Hormonal acne often presents as larger acne bumps on the chin line and often do not have a white head so they may last for longer periods of time and are generally difficult to get rid of and sometimes painful. They present more like cystic acne.
3) Mood swings
If you find yourself having a lot of extreme mood swings or feelings of being out of control with your emotions, that can often be due to hormones. While we have a normal range, mood swings can also be quite impactful to our life and our ability to function in personal and professional environments. Some people may find they all of a sudden will quickly have breakdowns over small things or are easily brought to rage. While you will need to consult a doctor on what may be causing these changes, it’s important to know that hormones can play a role. It is often the first step of many doctors to prescribe a form of neurological medication, so checking in with your doctor to have blood work done to check your hormone levels can make sure you take the right step for long term success.
4) Unexplained weight gain
Maybe you haven’t made any changes to your diet, but are still experiencing weight gain. This could be a sign of hormonal imbalance or a change in your metabolic rate. This is something important to discuss with your doctor, but it’s also helpful to keep a list of foods you are eating and the proportions. There’s always a chance you may not notice you have started eating more than usual and that is what’s causing that weight gain.
5) Difficulty losing weight
Those with hormonal issues typically have a hard time losing weight or feeling like they are losing weight from the intense inflammation they are experiencing. You may also be reducing calories but noticing the scale still going up or a lot of bloating and water retention. These are all things that should be noted so you can discuss them with your doctor.
6) Facial or other noticeable inflammation
Dietary or hormonal issues can also lead to issues with lymphatic drainage in the face, causing the face to look and feel inflamed or generally puffy. In some causes the cheek area can really retain a lot of lymphatic fluid and your face shape may look quite different.
While headaches can be caused by a lot of things, it’s worth noting if you are experiencing headaches at the same time each day or related to the same activities, like right after a meal.
Why might a doctor recommend a Low Inflammatory Diet?
It’s important to note that if you think you may have some dietary or hormonal concerns, that you should address that with the doctor. They have tests they can run, and self-diagnosis is never the answer when it comes to creating life-long change. Make sure your thoughts are backed by the doctor before changing your diet.
When the body is inflamed due to diet and lifestyle, this can actually lead to body aches and pain, increased risk of heart disease, Alzheimers, and diabetes, among other things. Inflammation is the body's way of saying that something is wrong. A low inflammation diet may be recommended to combat that, and allow the body to function better. For those with Rheumatoid Arthritis, cancer, GI issues and general body pain, a low inflammation diet can lessen the risk and impact on the body. Overall a high inflammatory diet can increase the risk of mortality by 23%.
What is a Low Inflammation Diet?
When a doctor is referring to a low inflammatory diet, that is not a specific diet, but a general one. While on this diet, you are removing high inflammatory foods while adding in more low inflammation food, or foods that are more easily digested. High inflammation foods refer to foods like:
Refined carbs like white bread
These high inflammatory foods are unfortunately the staple diet for many in the US and will require some planning and patience to swap this diet out for one that is more beneficial to the body. While it doesn’t mean that you have to give up these foods completely, the goal is to work to find a healthier balance for yourself. This balance includes adding in more low inflammatory foods to replace the ones having a more negative impact. These low inflammatory foods include:
Complex carbs (Whole grains, brown rice, oatmeal, cornmeal)
Foods high in Omega-3s (fish)
Plant-based proteins: chickpeas and lentils
Seeds: Chia and flaxseed
Is this diet forever??
This is a complicated answer! Those with hormonal, health or other dietary issues, may be prescribed this diet long-term, but most of the time it is used as a marker for food triggers. Once you know exactly what triggers your symptoms, some foods can be reintroduced. For those with true food triggers, your doctor will advise you to avoid those foods all together.
My doctor tells me I don’t need a low inflammatory diet but I still want to reduce the impact of hormones on my day-to-day life. What can I do?
Increase fiber: Women need 21-25 grams and men 30-38 grams
More water: Make sure to get the recommended 2.7L for women and 3.5L for men.
Sleep! Get those vital 7-9 hours of sleep your body needs to reduce stress on the body
Exercise: Prioritize movement whenever you can!
These 4 easy steps can reduce the fluctuations that occur in the body when our bodies are stressed from not enough sleep, water, exercise and a balanced diet.
Let’s not forget about general PMS
General PMS impacts 75% of menstruating women. It is also due to changing levels of hormones and can present as headaches, depression, anxiety, difficulty with focus, fatigue, weight gain, acne, and changes in bowel movements. While a doctor may prescribe over the counter PMS medication or birth control to manage symptoms, diet can also help.
How to combat PMS symptoms with your diet and lifestyle
Eating more fruits, vegetables, grains and other whole foods
Prioritize 7-9 hours of sleep
Drink 2.5-3 liters of water a day
High calcium foods like kale
Reduce intake of salty and sugary foods and keep caffeine and alcohol levels low
It can be a complicated time when trying to find the best diet for your specific needs. While it may take time and patience, it is truly worth the work when you experience the benefits of your diet fulfilling your nutritional needs. So do the tests, trial the foods, work with your doctor, and most importantly pay attention to how your body feels each day. Our bodies show us when we need to make changes, and once you start feeling better, these changes become habits and the habits become your new lifestyle. You’ll wake up one day and no longer remember what it felt like to feel symptomatic.
Until next time… and remember nutritional health is for all!