From chocolatey treats to salty snacks, many women experience intense cravings and ravenous appetites a week or two before their periods. Experts have their theories on what causes these monthly hankerings.
For one, scientists believe low progesterone and high estrogen levels generate a drop in blood sugar levels, which leads to sugar cravings. Eating sugary treats will raise blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, the quick fix is followed by sharp blood sugar declines, creating a roller coaster of irritability, anxiety, and more sugar cravings.
Another cause of cravings may be due to serotonin levels, which are generally lower during PMS. Serotonin is the feel-good chemical in your brain. When levels are low we crave sugars and especially other carbohydrates like potato chips. That's because the body uses carbs to make serotonin.
One thing's for sure, cravings can occur like clockwork and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Because they're practically predictable, women can take several positive measures to prevent monthly pig-outs. Here are the top ways to curb those inevitable cravings.
Eat six mini meals. Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day helps regulate blood sugar levels and keeps cravings from becoming binges. Try eating six smaller meals instead of the usual three bigger ones. Space them out about every three hours to give your body constant fuel.
Choose complex carbs. Fiber-rich foods are complex carbs that take longer for your body to break down and absorb, further curbing your cravings. Eat more whole-grain breads and cereals, and produce like legumes, fruit, and starchy veggies, which are on the complex-carb list.
Go for protein. By including protein at every meal or snack you help moderate blood sugar imbalances and slow the digestive process to keep from feeling hungry. Choose better-for-you protein options like eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, even peanut butter.
Maintain magnesium intake. Research indicates women can experience low levels of magnesium during PMS. Peanut butter, almonds, cashews, brown rice, sunflower seeds, and most beans are great sources of magnesium. It should be noted that chocolate is also rich in magnesium (which may further explain the cravings), but it's also high in fat. If you simply must have chocolate, try to make it a small piece of high-quality, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate rather than milk chocolate, which typically has more calories and fat.
Relax and take a deep breath. Cravings can worsen in times of stress. By learning relaxation techniques and practicing them whenever you feel anxious or stressed, you can curtail the snack attacks.
Bring on the sunshine. The lack of sun can reduce serotonin levels, which leads to increased appetite and cravings. Get outdoors or let the sunshine in to raise serotonin levels and reduce sugar and carb cravings.
Get moving. Exercise boosts endorphins and decreases the appetite, but it's not just scheduled exercise that can help. Being more physically active throughout your daily routine can also make a difference. Walk the dog, vacuum the floor, take the stairs, and simply keep moving.
Take heart. Cravings aren't the only thing on the premenstrual rise. The female metabolism also increases a week before menstruation. So if you cave in to a craving you'll be happy to know our bodies may burn an additional 100 calories a day during this time. It's a small way of counteracting extra eating!