In my last post we discussed how to overcome bloating during your cycle. This week we’ll take a look at cravings.
You find yourself by the chocolate counter, unable to resist the temptations on offer, rip open the bar and devour it without thinking. Sound familiar? There are times when chocolate is the only answer, but why is it that before your period cravings for chocolate and sweets seem almost impossible to resist. You feel almost helpless. Your willpower, that is usually so strong during the rest of the month, fails you at the merest whiff of a sugary delight. We’ve all been there but there is a lot you can do to reduce the severity of your cravings.
Why do I want to eat everything in sight?
PMS cravings are very real and food cravings before a period are one of the most common symptoms of PMS. Cravings can be for something sweet, something salty or simply just for more food than usual.
Again, as with all PMS symptoms, the cause of your cravings comes down to a hormonal change. As oestrogen levels fluctuate, so do the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The body’s fight or flight response is switched on, stimulating the appetitive and causing you to crave carbohydrates and fat.
The other culprit is the brain chemical serotonin which increases feelings of contentment. Certain foods as well as exercise and lifestyle factors can trigger its release. If cortisol is high and serotonin low you will mainly crave sugary carbohydrates such as cakes and chocolate, as these provide a quick serotonin release. However when cortisol is high and serotonin normal, carbohydrates and fats are mainly craved (think bagels with cream cheese).
The blood – sugar connection.
Research has shown a connection between PMS and low blood sugars during the second half of the cycle. Low blood sugar is associated with cravings for sweet foods, and feeling of being faint, irritable and tired.
What’s the solution?
Whether it’s cortisol, serotonin or blood sugar levels that are to blame, diet is the answer. The more stable your blood sugar levels are, the less likely you are to have cravings and the more your mood remains balanced.
When tackling PMS cravings, the main tool is preventative care. What you eat this month can drastically affect your cravings next month.
Now that those cravings make sense, here is how to adjust your eating habits to curb the craving without completely destroying your healthy diet plan.
Foods to avoid
- Avoid processed sugars – cakes, biscuits, chocolates, pastries, as well as sugary breakfast cereals which cause imbalanced blood sugar levels. This is where your blood sugar levels increase rapidly, giving you a temporary high/surge in energy, followed by a crash, leaving your feeling hungry, tired and irritable, inevitably craving more sugary foods.
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which are dehydrating and create a stress response on the body. They deplete the body of vitamin B, which is needed for metabolism, and alcohol can act as a depressant, making you crave fatty, sugary comforting foods.
Foods to consume
- Start your day with protein (eggs are ideal). This helps to keep blood sugar levels balanced, and keeps you fuller for longer which will help to stave off hunger pangs.
- Eat little and often. Eat three meals a day and two snacks, each with a balance of protein (lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, pulses) complex carbohydrates (brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa, pulses) and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocados).
- Snacks are key to keeping blood sugar levels stable and reducing cravings. Good options are a piece of fruit with ten almonds, cottage cheese and salsa (with an oatcake if desired), almond butter spread on a banana/apple, peanut butter on celery stick, crudités and hummus/guacamole, Greek yoghurt with seeds and berries, tuna on a brown rice cake.
- Stock up on hormone balancing healthy fats found in oily fish, nuts, seeds and avocados. These also help to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates, stabilizing blood sugar levels.
- Water! As always, water is key. It keeps you hydrated and full.
- Dark chocolate – if a sweet craving is really unbearable a few squares of dark chocolate can really help to take the edge off it. Aim for at least 85% cocoa content.
- Exercise! Exercise helps to boost your mood (it stimulates the same feel good endorphins as chocolate) and reduces cravings.
- Identify your feelings – sometimes it’s easy to shut out our feelings with chocolate. Take a step back and find out what is really bothering you. Always remember – if chocolate isn’t part of the problem, it’s not part of the solution.
- Chromium picolinate is well known to help with sugar cravings.
- Low levels of calcium and magnesium are thought to play a role in the severity of cravings, so supplementation can help.