While women and men of all ages will claim to have experienced food cravings at some point in their lives, over 90% of menstruating women report having premenstrual symptoms, with food cravings being one of the most common ones. Therefore, there is no argument that there is a hormonal component to cyclical food cravings.
Whether you are craving the creamy deliciousness of a pint of ice cream, the saltiness of a bag of chips or the richness of chocolate, PMS cravings don’t have to ruin your healthy eating plan or weight loss goals. The goal is to understand WHY this happens as your hormones fluctuate and learn how to work WITH your hormones and not AGAINST them.
There are several physiological reasons why food cravings are common in the 1-2 weeks leading up to your period. First of all, in the luteal phase of your cycle (typically days 16-28 – a few days after ovulation and right up to your menses), is marked by a jump in energy expenditure by as much as 8-16%. This means that during this time of your cycle, your body has higher metabolic activity and can burn an extra 89-279 calories per day.
This may sound like a dreamy state, but this typically also comes with an increase in appetite and hence cravings and the body’s desire for additional calories. This is also the body’s natural way to prepare for a potential pregnancy.
Another mechanism of action that can drive cravings is related to the estrogen drop in the few days leading up to your period. As estrogen begins to dip right before your bleeding days, this can cause a drop in your serotonin levels – that feel good happy hormone -which can lead to you craving more comfort food.
Some of the most commonly craved for foods/flavours include:
- Bread and pasta (carbs)
- Red meat
If you are one of many women that experience this, it’s your body’s normal rhythms speaking to you. However, giving into your cravings and claiming that your body must need these extra carbs and comfort foods can actually worsen your other PMS symptoms.
For example, grabbing those salty chips can actually make you retain more water and experience more bloating and breast tenderness during your period. Gobbling down that extra chocolate for a quick mood boost will tamper with your blood sugar balance and can actually make you more moody, irritable and nervous.
So what do you? Give your body what it actually needs! A few extra healthy, complex carbs and are also high on vitamins and minerals that your body has a higher demand for during this time of your cycle. We hope the following tips will help to set you up for a positive cycle free of guilt and full of satisfying snacks!
1. Balance Your Blood Sugar levels with complex carbohydrates and high-fiber foods
Maintaining a balanced blood sugar level is not only for those with diabetes. In people without diabetes or insulin resistance, blood sugar is carefully monitored and controlled by the body, but it is widely influenced by our food choices.
For example, having a big bowl of Lucky Charms for breakfast is probably going to leave you reaching for a snack within a couple of hours. Eating a handful of candy from the office candy jar during your afternoon break is probably going to leave you famished before you’re able to get home for dinner.
Choosing your meals wisely, especially during your cycle, is an important part of maintaining balanced blood sugar levels. As discussed, the luteal phase is marked by a higher metabolic state and your body needs more calories, therefore you need to proactively eat slow-burning carbohydrates that are high in fiber, such as brown rice, sweet potato, chickpeas, quinoa and opt for fruit such as apples and pears.
2. Increase consumption of healthy fats, especially sunflower or sesame seeds
If you are aiming to be lower on the carbs, you want to make sure you are consuming healthy plant-based fats that will help stabilize blood sugar levels, such as nuts, seeds and avocados. Specifically, try to get in 2 Tbs of sunflower or sesame seeds to support progesterone production. This is the premise of seed cycling to reduce PMS symptoms – you can read more about this concept HERE.
Aim for a healthy combination of fat, fibre and protein (FFP) to keep you full for longer and also help to stabilize blood sugar levels. This is important for avoiding the awful peaks and valleys that can occur with unbalanced meals and snacks.
Building meals and snacks that are full of FFP can help to curb the cravings you may be experiencing.
Some of our favourite snack combos include:
- Hummus and Veggies
- Crackers and cheese
- Almond butter with apples
- Cottage cheese with pears or berries
- Nuts and seeds
Meals that include FFP can be easy too! Building your plate on the idea of FFP is a good place to start. For example, choose one source of fat, one source of protein and one source of fibre and see how you feel following your meal. Some ideas include:
- Avocado + seedy toast + egg
- 3-5% fat Greek yogurt + fruit
- Protein and veggie salad + oil dressing
- Grass Fed beef burger + chopped salad
- Black bean burgers + guacamole + sweet potato
Balancing your blood sugar by including FFP in your meals and snacks is a great way to curb cravings that you may experience during your cycle. Maintaining balanced blood sugar is also key to keeping your hormones healthy and will help far more than just cravings!
3. Increase consumption of B-vitamins, Magnesium & Calcium:
During the luteal phase, your body has a higher demand for B vitamins to help support the production of progesterone as well as stabilize blood sugar levels. Not only that, but B vitamins can also help support your moods, which can commonly fluctuate around this time of the month.
You can consider B-vitamin supplementation (50-100mg) and also increase foods that are high on B-vitamins such as whole grains, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, eggs and salmon. To learn more about the B-vitamin group, why you need them and if you’re getting enough, read this blog HERE.
Calcium and magnesium are two minerals that can also greatly help all PMS symptoms. Women that report having PMS symptoms, so not only cravings but also mood fluctuations and heavy, painful bleeding, have also been shown to be more likely deficient in these minerals.
You can consider supplementing with these (speak to your healthcare provider about the right doses, brands and ways to supplements – or reach out to us!) but also be sure to get more through your diet by eating dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, and fish with little bones (such as sardines) can be a great source of calcium. High dairy is not necessarily the best option for getting your calcium as it can also be very inflammatory for your system.
Talk to us about how to best balance your diet and supplementation to support your intake of these vitamins and minerals!
4. Increase foods that will support serotonin levels
Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation and psychological well-being in our body and is commonly called the happy hormone. As mentioned, when estrogen levels drop in the days leading up to your period, this also causes a drop in serotonin levels, which will not only contribute to you feeling sad, low and emotional, but may also cause you to reach for those comfort foods.
Therefore, it may help to support serotonin levels during this time of the month (and possibly throughout the whole month if you are prone to low moods in general). Please note that serotonin supporting supplement (like 5-HTP or tryptophan) may have very negative interactions with antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication and should not be self-prescribed. They also have a wide gap for dosing and so to ensure you are taking the right dose for you, speak to a healthcare provider that understands the application of these interventions or reach out to us!
Also be sure to increase food consumption that is supportive of your serotonin levels, such as turkey, eggs, nuts and seeds.
A major mental block that can come with experiencing cyclical cravings is the guilt that is associated with them – especially if you are trying to maintain a particular way of eating. Therefore, it is important to first recognize that your body has different metabolic requirements at different times of your cycle and have more grace with yourself in times of cravings!
As well, many of the food options discussed here will address the several underlying factors that cause cravings to begin with, therefore a well balanced diet that is slightly adjusted to different times of your cycle, will go a long way to tackling many symptoms.
At Hormone Rebalance Centre our team of Naturopathic Doctors offer many services that can help with PMS, period-related symptoms, weight management and mood balancing. Hormone testing and personalized medicine is the backbone of what we do and how we get our patients results. If you would like to learn more about whether our programs may be a good fit for you, please book a Free Discovery Call with our team!