I received an email from a Hormonology reader who’s bothered by premenstrual food cravings and an unending appetite. She writes:
“A few days before I get my period, I suffer from extreme food cravings. Nothing I do calms my hunger. Even after I eat a meal that would normally satisfy me, on those days I feel like I have not eaten a bite. I tried to drink more and eat meals with more fiber during this time. But, no, the cravings are still there. Do you have any suggestions that might help?”
I can readily explain all the reasons why women get premenstrual food cravings and increased hunger: A higher level of progesterone prompts the desire for calorie-dense foods (which include sweet and fatty foods) and triggers a larger appetite in case you got pregnant during ovulation and are now eating for two. And two dips in estrogen in the two weeks leading up to your period can drag down levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which results in cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods (such as candy, chips, bread and pasta) as a way to boost the level of this chemical back up since carbohydrates help the brain produce more of it.
However, when it comes to ways to rein in out-of-control cravings and hunger after having used tried-and-true methods, such as drinking more fluids and eating more fiber–I prefer to ask two experts I trust: The Nutrition Twins, who are comprised of registered dietitian nutritionists Lyssie Lakatos, R.D.N., and Tammy Lakatos Shames, R.D.N., authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure and founders of the 21-Day Body Reboot Program.
When I spoke to Lyssie and Tammy about curbing premenstrual cravings and appetite–even overwhelming ones–they assured me there were simple steps this reader and other women struggling with these issues can take. Here are their five tips:
1. Start by cutting back on salt
It’s a fact: We gravitate toward saltier foods and use more table salt in the two weeks leading up to our period. “However, salt increases hunger and triggers cravings for sweet foods,” Tammy warns. Worse yet, it makes you want something super-sweet, like fudge. “That’s because salt numbs the taste buds, so you need a more intense sweetness to feel satisfied.”
Her advice: Put the salt shaker away and steer clear of foods with added salt, such as chips, processed foods, even bread. “Look at the nutrition label since salt is in a lot of foods you wouldn’t expect.”
2. Load up with a veggie appetizer
Eating two cups of steamed vegetables before meals is a low-calorie way to fill your stomach so you feel more satisfied from meals, says Lyssie.
Bonus: “Eating more vegetables counters other premenstrual problems, for instance, their fiber helps ease constipation and their potassium and water help reduce bloat.”
3. Include protein at every meal
You may have heard that adding fat to meals keeps hunger at bay longer. “But, that’s outdated advice,” says Tammy. “We now know that you don’t need extra fat–there’s plenty of fat in foods you already eat. However, to keep your appetite in check, you do need protein in your meal.”
Your protein can come from meat sources (such as fish, poultry or beef), plant sources (such as beans and tofu) or dairy (such as Greek yogurt or cottage cheese). Whichever kind of protein prefer, it will be more filling and keep your blood sugar stable longer than a protein-free dish.
4. Boost the benefit with brown rice
Or sweet potatoes, oatmeal or another healthy carb. Pairing protein with wholesome carbohydrates fills you up even further by adding more satiating fiber to your dish, says Lyssie.
5. Fulfill cravings for sweets…by enjoying sweets
You probably know that if you get premenstrual cravings, it’s smart to keep snacks out of sight and dole out small portions when you want a treat rather than eat straight from the bag, box or carton so you don’t accidentally go overboard.
Tammy also suggests turning to whole fruit to satisfy sweet cravings. “If you’re cutting back on salt, you won’t need that intense hit of sugar to feel fulfilled. A piece of whole fruit will seem sweet.”
But, if you do need an extra dose of sweetness, try turning to cinnamon, such as baking an apple sprinkled with this spice. “Cinnamon adds a sweet flavor without adding any calories.”
Can’t live without indulging in sugar or chocolate? Then slow down how fast you consume it by indulging in a hot or cold sweet treat, such as hot chocolate or a popsicle. “You’ll feel more satisfied with less simply because it takes more time to consume.”
Ready to try the Nutrition Twins’ tips? Let me know if they work for you!
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Gabrielle Lichterman launched the growing movement to live in sync with your cycle and discover how your hormones impact your moods, health and behavior with her groundbreaking book, 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods and Potential. Learn more about Gabrielle and how you can join her mission to educate future generations of girls and women about their hormones.
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[Photo: Daniela Brown]