Wednesday, August 5, 2009

On PMDD and Cravings -- and All Chocolate is Not Equal

I have no guest author scheduled for today, so you're stuck with me and what's on my mind :). So sit back, have some cyber chocolate and enjoy!

Having come freshly off a week of spending up close and personal time with The Alien, who kicked my butt so badly the last day she was here I had to take a three-hour nap in the middle of the day, on top of getting a full night’s sleep, today I feel uber-qualified to write about how it feels to experience PMDD. The thing is, now that the episode (aka her latest visit) is over, it’s the last thing I want to think about.

I look around and see all that didn’t get done over the last week, the laundry piling up, the floors that need to be cleaned, the clutter of all I didn’t feel up to coping with and simply set aside, and would much rather regain some semblance of control over my life--if only its external appearance--than write about the dark place I inhabited for eight full days and change this time around.

Why such a long visit this time? I think I know. I think it had something to do with the stress of travel, the staying up later than usual, sleeping in strange environments, the change in diet, the miniscule amount of alcohol consumed, although in comparison to my usual alcohol intake, it was a big jump. Let’s see…over the course of two weeks I had three beers, one glass of wine and a glass of Bailey’s Irish cream. More than I’ve had in the last 6 months, since the cruise, and more than I had in the year or so before that.

Still, it was a toxic substance my system isn’t used to. Add that to the copious amounts of caffeine I consumed during the conference and while on the road, the pasta-heavy fare at the conference, and I think I’m getting the picture. At home, I’m usually caffeine free—or close to it. No coffee, maybe a cup of caffeinated tea in the morning, if I feel the need, and chocolate only when “the cravings” come. And I hadn’t had pasta or bread in weeks before the conference.

Why? All of these are bad for women with PMDD, or anyone with a neurotransmitter imbalance. Caffiene, alcohol, sugar, flour, hence the bread and pasta. But why am I so sensitive to their effects? I know women who practically live on caffeine and sugar, others who drink freely, others who love their bread and pasta. Is it possible they feel as miserable as I do, or more so, but deny their misery and continue to self-medicate with food and drink?

Because attempts to self-medicate is what these addictions (for lack of a better word) are. My research is showing there are very few true physical addictions in life. Most compulsions are emotionally or psychologically based. Only in rare cases is an addiction physiological.

That’s not to say we can’t get cravings. But cravings are cravings, temporary urges for some kind of substance to relieve our mental, emotional, or physical discomfort. Cravings are not addictions, although when you are in the throes of one, it can feel like an addiction. But as someone writing a book on dealing with addiction recently pointed out to me, “You’re not going to stick a gun in someone’s face for a piece of cake.”

Cravings are the body’s signals that some physiological need is not being met. You’re low on some vital nutrient, to be exact. Your body is saying, for instance, “I’m low on magnesium,” and you feel a sudden urge to eat a banana, or some almonds, maybe some oatmeal, or, yes, some chocolate.

Chocolate is one of the best known substances we crave. What confuses the issue with chocolate is not only its physical healing properties (of which there are many), but its emotional associations. We associate chocolate with feeling good. But not all chocolate is equal. Some are better for us than others. Much better. Others are almost useless, physiologically speaking. In the example above, a banana would provide as much magnesium as a 1.5 ounce chocolate candy bar, but a handful of almonds or cashews would provide almost three times as much magnesium as either the banana or candy bar.

So why do we reach for the chocolate? It’s as much for the emotional fix as the nutrient needed. More confusion arises when we don’t know the difference between types of chocolate, due to the marketing and advertising claims of their manufacturers. Manufacturers is the key word here. Quality chocolates from true chocolatiers abound with the beneficial properties of chocolate. True dark chocolate is a rich source of flavanoids and antioxidants, with the cacao bean containing more than twice as many antioxidants the so-called superfoods like blueberries, kale, spinach or broccoli.

It’s the cheap, mass-marketed brands that--while they may contain miniscule amounts of chocolate’s beneficial properties—have processed most of the antioxidants and flavanoids right out of the chocolate. To derive any benefit from eating these lower quality chocolates, you need to eat way more than is healthy for you. When this happens, the negatives outweigh the positives—and you could end up outweighing all your friends.

If that’s not enough, did you know that adding milk to your chocolate, or even drinking milk with your chocolate totally nullifies its good effects?

Meanwhile you’re bewildered, thinking chocolate is supposed to be good for me, right? Milk is healthy for me. Isn’t that what the ads say? By eating chocolate and drinking milk, I’m doing something good for my body, right? So why do I feel so miserable?

Because all the chocolate in the world isn’t going to solve your problems, honey, and while I may crave it like mad at times, neither is it going to make my PMDD, or Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder, go away. For all its mood-enhancing abilities, even the finest Belgian chocolate won’t “cure” dysphoria.

Dysphoric is the opposite of euphoric. Euphoric means happy, dysphoric means depressed. As in depression. But only pre-menstrually, which I suppose can be considered a blessing.

In some atypical cases, however, the dsyphoria can come AFTER a woman begins her period. Lucky me, I’m atypical. Mine usually starts on Day 3, if it’s going to come. It doesn’t always come. Which is what drives me batty, trying to keep on top of what I need to do--or to avoid--to keep it from returning. I lead too full and rich a life to keep being knocked flat by this unwelcome change in my body. It makes me feel like I’m constantly behind—on everything.

As women, we all know “it will never all get done,” but to have something come along and steal a full week or more out of your month, something that no matter what you do or don’t do seems to be totally beyond your control…it’s more than frustrating. It’s crazymaking.

I’m here to tell you you’re not crazy. I’m here to tell you there are scientifically proven physiological reasons for why you crave the things you do—like carbs--and what happens to your body as a result of that. I’m here to tell you there’s help, and hope, but it’s far from easy, living in a body that seems to have a will of its own at times, and a manufacturing and marketing culture that promotes unhealthy foods as healthy because of their base ingredients, while completely ignoring the toxic effects of their processing processes.

That said, the first step is to forgive yourself for falling short of your own expectations, and to understand that what is happening to you is as involuntary a response as an allergic reaction. You can not control it. You can try to mitigate it, to be sure, by living a universally healthy lifestyle, once you understand what that truly is, but you can not control it.

Nor can you deny it and simply plow through it, as most women do. We have commitments, responsibilities, schedules and deadlines. We have people counting on us to be there for them.

But first, we have to learn how to be there for ourselves.

More on this, when I get a chance.


Gay Marie said...

Although I do not suffer from PMDD, I have had similar responses as you from my serve allergies and endometriosis. In addition, I too lose days, weeks and at times months to disability due to my back. It is tough, no doubt about it. But all the more reason to do what you profess.....maintain as healthy a lifestyle as you can. I know I have a long way to go on that yet. Know you remain in my prayers, as always.

jodi said...

wow, I know what it's like to lose days. :( Hope you find more time to blog later.

Celia Yeary said...

Liana--I am so way past PMDD, and really didn't suffer much anyway, it's difficult to relate--it's a distant memory! But other things can throw our bodies out of whack just as much--just maybe not with such regularity. For me, it's meat--it makes my joints swell and ache and hurt more than normal, and my digestive system doesn't like it at all. And nothing smells or tastes better than mesquite-cooked brisket. I just don't eat any of it. Ahh, well, we can't have everything.But we can have chocolate--Celia

LK Hunsaker said...

Good info here, Liana. I found 85% dark chocolate the other day and although I've moved to mainly dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, that one is a bit too strong/bitter. But I do try to switch the chocolate lovers I know over to the dark side. ;-)

I lose days also if I don't keep up with my water intake and exercise. Those two things, plus extra iron a few days before, seem to be the best counter for me.

Sheryl said...

It's terriby hard, but I think we women have to let go our own targets sometimes. Surely, if we are feeling so poorly, we can say, hey, I work hard, does it matter if the house isn’t perfect today? Can’t I just put the feet up and lose myself in a book, until I feel better. We view ourselves as inadequate, when what we are is feeling not well. We would comfort others feeling that way. Why not ourselves?