It’s not all in the mind! Food cravings before, during and after a woman’s menstrual cycle are very real. Powerful hormones wreak havoc with the body, not to mention the mind; attacks from food cravings and mood changes can throw any woman into a vicious vortex of weight gain, bloating, and food cravings. However, it is not a lost cause ladies. Learning your body and hormonal fluctuations can soften the blow from the triple whammy of mood changes and sleep disturbances piggybacking on food cravings.
Let’s blame those hormones, shall we? Indeed, hormones riding on a roller coaster send women on a mission to seek out the most decadent and sinfully rich carbohydrates ever created. Cortisol, the stress hormone and prime offender, with its finger always on the body’s ‘fight or flight’ switch stimulates the appetite for high calorie, fuel-generating carbohydrates and fat. Cortisol levels typically peak a week before your period. But wait, do you want to sink your teeth into a chewy bagel or would you rather have an ice-cold, regular soda? Enter the other player, Serotonin, which acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and a hormone in the blood. With both offenders present the games begin, Cortisol and Serotonin see-saw back and forth competing for the domination. When Cortisol is up and Serotonin low, cravings steer you towards simple sugars. Sweet fixes like candy and sugary carbonated drinks dominate your cravings. These sugar sources give you a speedy Serotonin fix. When Cortisol is still way up and your Serotonin level is normal, most women will daydream constantly about a chewy bagel with cream cheese, a luscious pasta bowl, or a loaded baked potato. Let’s not forget Dopamine, another neurotransmitter, which controls mood and along with ‘feel good’ Serotonin. Dopamine can sharpen and increase the urgency of food cravings. So what is a lady to do? Give in to the cravings and stand to gain at least 5 pounds each month from the rich foods and water retention or fight the constant cravings tooth and nail?
Here’s how to combat food cravings. First, pay close attention to what your body is telling you and recognize the exact time when food cravings start. For some women it can be as soon as two weeks prior to their menstrual cycle. Listen to your body signals, realization will help you take care of the cravings before they take on monstrous proportions. Second, make sure you choose from these delicious food options and make them part of your pre/current/post menstrual cycle. These food choices hold the promise of helping you through this rough period (pun intended)!
Beans, Lentils, and Legumes (dried yellow and green peas)
Not only rich sources of lean protein and minerals: Magnesium and Manganese, but they are chock full of B complex vitamins. These nutrients are critical ingredients in the recipe your body uses to make Serotonin and Dopamine. Beans are a delicious addition to salads, soups, wraps, and pita sandwiches. One half cup of beans is the appropriate portion size. Beans are also a tasty, nutritious alternative to meat and poultry for vegetarians and vegans.
***Canned beans should be drained and rinsed with water to remove excess sodium***
Yogurt adds bone-strengthening Calcium to your meal. Calcium is known to help reduce the bloating induced by PMS. Choose dairy or Greek yogurt with fruit or plain. Add a tablespoon of granola to six ounces of your favorite light yogurt to make it a healthy snack or meal portion. Yogurt is loaded with probiotics, good bacteria that ensures a healthy gut and helps keep bowels regular. Some women experience bowel changes and bloating from gas during their period. The probiotics in yogurt are great to reduce or eliminate these symptoms.
Particularly deep sea, cold water fish loaded with lean protein and Vitamin D. Calcium in conjunction with Vitamin D helps bone health and is known to reduce the severity of the PMS symptoms.
Chicken and turkey contain tryptophan, an amino acid (protein building block), another important ingredient in creating Serotonin. Enjoy chicken or turkey entrees steamed, baked, and stir-fried. The correct serving size is six ounces, approximately the palm of your hand.
Whole Grain/Multi-Grain Carbohydrates
The darker the starch, the healthier it is for you. Multi-grain bread, brown rice, and whole grain pastas add vital ingredients like Vitamin B6 to the hormone recipe. Enjoy whole grain pita chips (about a handful) and hummus (¼ cup) as a delicious snack. You can eat that white baked potato along with the skin (the skin makes it a complex carb) or a sweet potato sprinkled with a teaspoon of brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon. The proper portion size for a potato is about the size of a computer mouse.
A few more things to note:
Reduce Your Salt Intake
Don’t use the salt shaker at the table in addition to salting food during cooking. Excessive salt promotes water retention and bloating. Make sure you drink lots of water, 48 ounces is the recommended daily amount. My advice, drink as much as you can: one eight ounce glass when you wake up, one again with each meal (that’s four already) and 1-2 glasses between meals should get you six glasses a day. -
Exercise at least 30 minutes, most days of the week. Be sure you alternate between cardio and strength training. Keep your weights light, 2-5 pounds, if you are new to weight training. Experts suggest 10 to 12 repetitions for 8 minutes working your biceps, triceps, hamstring curls, and abs. Exercise helps promote ‘feel good’ hormones Serotonin and Dopamine at healthy levels in the body.
Consider keeping a ‘Food and Mood Diary’ throughout your menstrual cycle. Mind your journal for a couple months. A journal will help you to get to know your body better through observation and careful note taking. This allows you to do the best you can to combat food cravings and lessen PMS symptoms so you don’t have to be miserable each month.