It’s that time of the month, and you can’t stop thinking about eating a bag of chips. No, make that a burger and fries. Or, maybe a bowl of ice cream or chocolate-covered anything. You try to abstain, but to no avail. You’re dealing with PMS, and there is nothing that is going to stop you from demolishing the bag of cookies you were originally saving for when your friends are coming over.
Despite your best efforts to eat healthy during the month, it seems that food cravings before your period make you powerless to say no to salty, fatty, starchy and sugary foods. Why can’t you resist? Are these cravings all in your head?
First, know that you are not alone. According to Judith Wurtman, PhD, director of the women’s health program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, as many as 70 percent of women experience food cravings and other PMS symptoms, such as bloating, mood swings and fatigue. This can mess with your ability to eat right and stay on track.
Second, you are not crazy. Food cravings during PMS are very real, and your fluctuating hormones are likely to blame. During the days leading up to your period, cortisol levels spike and serotonin (the happy hormone) dips. Your body, in turn, craves fatty, sugary and salty foods, which will increase serotonin, making you feel better and less stressed. Unfortunately, indulging in these cravings is only a temporary fix, and you will be back at the vending machine in no time.
So, should you just resign yourself to a few weeks of overindulgence on unhealthy foods, weight gain and guilt because of these PMS food cravings? Absolutely not! Here are some tips to help boost your serotonin levels and kick those cravings to the curb:
- Eat a healthy breakfast. Many women skip breakfast, or grab a donut or bagel on the way to work. Choosing a protein-rich breakfast can help stabilize blood sugar and make you feel less hungry. Consider eating eggs, yogurt, nuts, fruit or a bowl of oatmeal.
- Cut down on coffee and alcohol. Although it’s OK to enjoy a cup of coffee during the early part of the day, too much can increase your anxiety and disrupt your sleep. When you are feeling out of sorts, you may be more inclined to comfort yourself with a bag of chips. Alcohol can also affect your mood and make you less resistant to temptation, so you make a grab for your favorite comfort food. Instead, have some more water throughout the day.
- Don’t skip meals. Eat three meals a day or opt for six mini-meals to prevent yourself from binging on the wrong foods when you become hungry.
- Exercise. Getting off the couch and exercising is always good for you, but it is especially helpful when you are experiencing food cravings. Not only does exercise boost serotonin levels, but it keeps you active and away from your junk food stash.
- Consider herbal supplements. Your cravings may also be a sign that you are lacking certain minerals in your diet. For example, cravings for chocolate may indicate a magnesium deficiency. Taking supplements may help, but you should check with your doctor first.
- Cut yourself some slack. Just like with most things, moderation is best. Of course, you can eat a piece of chocolate when you feel a craving coming on. Just don’t eat the 32 oz. mega bar! It will leave you feeling worse instead of better.
- Seek support. If you have tried to stop your cravings but have not been able to, you may need some extra help. Speak to your doctor about different options.
PMS Food cravings may be a regularly occurring PMS symptom, but it does not mean that you have to succumb to them. Rather, consider the proactive steps you can take to control your cravings and improve your wellbeing.