Today’s column is for all the ladies out there. Men, stay tuned for next month’s discussion on testosterone.
For now, we are going to discuss that “once a month” time when many of us experience those intense cravings. First though, a little bit of background on the situation at hand.
The status of our menstrual cycle tells us a lot about our health. Our body’s willingness to reproduce is a signal as to where our health status lies. Fortunately, adopting and implementing a healthy diet that incorporates whole foods, plenty of healthy fats and reduced sugar supports improved menstrual and reproductive hormone regularity, and/or ovulation rates. Insulin resistance, which commonly accompanies high insulin levels, being overweight and obesity, is frequently associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome. This is one of the leading causes of female infertility and a frequent cause of menstrual irregularity. One of the main premises behind becoming fat-adapted and creating a metabolic shift is reducing insulin production helping those struggling with PCOS to manage and oftentimes reverse these associated conditions.
Let’s say you have adopted a healthy lifestyle, are maintaining (or working to achieve) a healthy body composition, and as a result, are improving or supporting your reproductive health. How do we manage those “trustworthy” PMS side effects that accompany a healthy menstrual cycle for some of us? Those increased cravings and hunger pains that pop back up out of the blue? Why do we get these feelings? Are they real? What should we do about them?
Serotonin levels decrease during menstruation. Carbohydrates (through increasing insulin) increase the availability of tryptophan. Tryptophan works to help the body produce more serotonin. The cascade goes like this: Low serotonin during menstrual cycle leads to craving carbs. Carbs spike insulin, which assists in making tryptophan, which in turn helps to make serotonin. Low serotonin supply is fixed.
So yes, for those of us who experience increased cravings during this time, they can be physiologically real and normal.
Understanding that these cravings aren’t just a fragment of your imagination is helpful. They are real, normal, and if you’ve had these feelings commonly in the past, might be something that continues to be a monthly visitor.
Despite this, it isn’t time to give into how those cravings normally manifest (think pizza, chips, muffin, cookies), yet to be proactive from a hunger standpoint. If you’re not eating a mid-morning snack, consider adding it back in. If you’ve dropped your carbohydrate intake significantly, perhaps bring that back up slightly (while avoiding your known trigger foods) for a few days when your body physiologically needs it. Maybe a few more “starchier” veggies?
Don’t skimp on your dietary fat. Remember, fat makes us feel full and satiated. Bump your fats up into the higher side of recommended amounts.
Small snack after dinner? It’s okay once in a while if your body is truly hungry. Also consider natural ways to boost serotonin like moving 30 minutes every day, getting out in nature, meditating and practicing gratitude.
Lastly, this “time of the month” is a good time to practice awareness of sensations and feelings. If you have a craving, practice techniques to help you overcome those. If you don’t usually have cravings and they seem to present on a monthly schedule, it is a great sign that your nutrition is in a very good place. If cravings are like monthly clockwork and your body tells you that you are hungry, listen to it and eat.
If you have cravings all of the time, however, this is not normal and you shouldn’t have to suffer in this way. Daily cravings and hunger mean something is off with your metabolism and nutrition; you might want to consider seeking support to help get your body moving in a different, more comfortable direction.
Ashley Lucas holds a Ph.D. in sports nutrition and chronic disease and is a licensed, registered dietitian. She is the founder and owner of Ph.D. Weight Loss and Nutrition, offering in-office and at-home/virtual weight management and wellness services in the Four Corners. To contact her, visit www.myphdweightloss.com or call 764-4133.