Dr. Anjali Dsouza is the Medical Director at the District Center for Integrative Medicine in Washington DC, and founder of the women’s online network and coaching forum, Your Goddess Health Unleashed.
We met Dr. Dsouza through the women behind Beeya. Beeya is changing the way women approach nutrition and their cycles through one simple routine, seed cycling. Read on as Dr. Dsouza unpacks this key women’s nutrition topic fully…
There are two tenets I live by. One, consider your menstrual cycle as a “vital sign.” If it’s talking to you, pay attention! Two, food is medicine…or poison. Nutrient density and food quality impacts health, and it’s a double edged sword.
These two tenets define the impact of processed foods on PMS. To illustrate, let me provide you with a real-life case study.
The link between ultra processed foods and PMS: A Case Study
Meet Casey. Casey, a 32 y/o female came to my clinic complaining of “wicked periods” consisting of intense pain, unpredictable mood changes, and bloating that made her appear pregnant. She was, in fact, trying to get pregnant, so although she used oral contraceptives to handle severe PMS in her 20’s she stopped a few months prior. Since birth control was no longer an option, she needed another, holistic way, to rein in her symptoms.
Reviewing her lifestyle, I learned that she traveled significantly for work, rated her daily stress as an 8/10 on most days, and her nutrition log presented some space for improvement. Her food diary included 5 cups of coffee daily, a muffin or croissant for breakfast, and a “healthy fast food” option for lunch. Dinner was the time she could nourish herself with veggies and protein, but it was always followed by a couple glasses of wine to help her sleep.
Not So Far From Average. Casey’s story is far from uncommon. With the fast pace of modern life, it feels impossible to put our health first. When work and travel take over, grabbing quick (and often processed) meals becomes an unconscious habit. High caffeine intake feels like a necessity to keep going throughout the day, and it’s all the easier to overdo, thanks to huge “cups” and over-sweetened options. Understandably, the body needs a way to wind down. Enter the well-earned glass or two of wine… Yikes.
These habits become self-reinforcing because they have activated your cravings. Reaching for them no longer requires conscious effort. If you try to fight the urge to eat a pastry or grab that next cup of coffee, your brain goes haywire. In the moment, it feels easier to cave to the cravings, but as many of us have seen, these behaviors add up, leading to major health issues.
PMS: Your Blinking Red Light
PMS is one of the first areas most women notice when their diet and lifestyle are less than optimal. Cramps, bloating, low-energy, fatigue, and mood swings are some of the most common complaints. Much more often than not, these complaints are directly linked to lifestyle factors like diet. Ultra processed foods, excess sugar, caffeine, and alcohol are massive hormone disruptors. They can lead to intense symptoms that make life miserable. Refined carbs and sugar are linked to increased inflammation in the body, which feed into hormonal imbalances. Symptoms of hormonal imbalance run the gamut —- bloating, fatigue, hair loss, acne, weight gain, hot flashes, debilitating PMS, mood swings, and everything in between.
You Have What It Takes: Just Crowd Out! The good news here is that diet and lifestyle are well within your personal control. Yes, your life will continue to be busy, but with a few simple diet and lifestyle swaps you can be well on your way to better hormonal health. That means better energy, better sex, improved mood, fewer PMS symptoms, increased fertility, and cycle regularity. Who wouldn’t want that?
The key to making better lifestyle and diet choices is to crowd out the bad by adding in more good. That way, you’re not simply restricting your behavior and food intake, but creating an intentional replacement plan for a more balanced life. Here are some simple swaps that can make a huge difference in your hormonal health.
+ Swap eating out with simple meals. Cooking at home, when possible, can significantly impact your overall health. When you cook at home you swap out bad oils and questionable ingredients with real food. It doesn’t have to be a five-course gourmet meal. Food prep with greens, bulk prepared grains, and even a rotisserie chicken can be used for a few days in different ways. Read: How To Serve Store-Bought Chicken Without Embarrassing Yourself
+ Swap morning pastries with nutrient dense shakes. This will save your time in the morning and keep your body energized. Throw greens, nut milk, berries, avocado, nut butter, and clean protein powder into a blender and you’re good to go. I also love to add Beeya Seed Cycling seeds to my morning smoothie for extra hormonal support. Seed cycling involves rotating between different nutrient dense seed blends throughout your menstrual cycle. Read: Are You Seed Cycling? These Two Women Just Made The Protocol Effortless For Us
+ Swap rice and pasta with veggies. Cauliflower rice is one of my favorite ways to jazz up a meal. You can pair it with curries or make “fried” or Mexican cauliflower rice. Read: How To Make Cauliflower Rice Four Ways
+ Swap starchy white potatoes for sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are rich in critical nutrients like potassium and vitamin A. You can make loaded potatoes or baked fries with sweet potatoes. Read: The Happy Cook: Baked Sweet Potatoes With Honeyed Tahini
+ Swap out evening wine with calming tea. The simple truth is that alcohol, especially when used daily, is poisonous to our bodies. Enjoying a drink every now and then can be ok, but making it part of your daily routine is problematic. If you need to wind down at night, try chamomile or other calming teas. Read: Why You Should Be Making Pitchers Of Herbal Iced Tea Right Now (Pour It In A Wine Glass)
+ Swap a “do it all” mentality with support. Getting healthy is a team sport. As a doctor, I still seek the guidance of experts when it comes to my own health because we all have blind spots. Working with a coach or practitioner can be a great way to take your health to the next level My online platform, Your Goddess Unleashed is a great way to get practical tips and take actionable steps daily.
Some of these simple swaps made a huge difference in Casey’s symptoms. We started with dialing down coffee, cutting out alcohol, implementing a morning smoothie or a protein-rich breakfast, and cutting down on starchy foods. After a few months, her symptom tracker improved by 70%, and that’s just with nutritional changes and no pharmaceutical interventions or intense workout routines! Food is powerful!
Listen to Your Vital Sign. Remember, your menstrual cycle is a vital sign, and the quality of your food affects the quality of your health! Listen into your body, and carve out a little time to help you push more real and nutrient dense foods into your day.