Food cravings are one of the very normal symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS.
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What is premenstrual syndrome?
Premenstrual syndrome refers to a wide range of symptoms that some women experience on the days before their period. It is not universal and the intensity of the symptoms varies depending on the person, but it is quite widespread. Milder symptoms are observed in up to 90% of women who have ovulatory cycles, although most cases are not sufficient cause for a visit to the gynaecologist.
Premenstrual syndrome can present itself in lots of ways. For example, women may feel their sex drive increase during their period, or during ovulation (roughly 14 days before their next period), while some may feel their emotions are heightened as though they are more prone to mood swings. However, today, we are going to talk about one of them specifically: food cravings.
Why do we get food cravings?
Maybe it’s happened to you. After a few weeks of healthy eating, you have a crazy desire to get through all the carbs you can find, especially in the case of sugary foods like chocolate, sweets and biscuits.
This craving for carbohydrates is often timed very precisely, and sometimes, it’s only after the storm has subsided that you realise your period is due. Trust us, this is a very common situation.
What’s the cause of cravings?
It’s no accident that these attacks on the fridge always occur on the same dates, and it’s your hormones who are responsible.
During the late luteal phase of your period (after ovulation, a few days before bleeding begins), there is a decrease in your reproductive hormones, oestrogen and progesterone. This hormonal swing triggers a decrease in serotonin, one of the brain’s neurotransmitters, also known as the ‘happy hormone’.
Serotonin regulates your mood (as well as sleep, digestion, learning ability, appetite and memory!) and it has a huge impact on how good you feel. As its production decreases each month during the late luteal phase of your cycle, it is very normal to feel prone to mood swings, emotional distress and irritability.
In response, your brain sends messages to the body to try to stimulate the release of serotonin.
Carbohydrate consumption can increase the production of serotonin, meaning that this chemical imbalance often results in a real biologically-programmed weakness for sweet carb-heavy foods.
As serotonin levels decrease, your quality of sleep can also suffer, making you tired and looking for a pick-me-up. This can also make you prone to food cravings that give you a quick fix (like chocolate).
Is there anything we can do to curb these cravings?
The most important thing is to be aware of what’s happening by tracking your cycle, and when the time comes, try not get carried away by the urge.
1. Avoid junk food, pastries and sugary drinks
And by ‘avoid’, we mean get it out of reach. Many people find it helps to get rid of anything they should not be eating from their kitchen or cupboards. This way, when the cravings hit, they won’t be within reach to tempt you.
2. Choose healthier alternatives, like fruit
When you have food cravings for something sweet, try eating a piece of fruit. We know it’s not as easy as it sounds, but fruit provides vitamins and fibre, as well as natural sugars in the form of fructose, which will satisfy your sugar craving and leave you feeling more full. Likewise, increase your portions of vegetables and salads at mealtimes. These fibre-rich foods help increase feelings of fullness and can help you eat less of what you should avoid. Here, you can read about 7 healthy foods that will change your life.
3. Do not avoid eating or wait until you’re too hungry.
When you’re hungry, it is much harder to control your sugar intake and can give way to overrating.
4. Eat a full breakfast.
You’ve probably heard it before, but breakfast is the most important meal of the day. By adding more protein to your breakfast, such as eggs or nuts, it can help to stabilise blood sugar levels and keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer.
Exercise releases endorphins which boost serotonin levels, and can enhance your mood if you’re feeling irritable. It will also help you stop attacking the biscuit cupboard.
6. Above all, don’t get too worried about it!
Your monthly bout of sugar cravings are natural and aren’t the end of the world, so don’t beat yourself up about it! If you do really want to avoid food cravings, try and opt for a healthier version of your favourite sweet recipes. There are thousands of sweet dishes that have tasty low-cal alternatives, which you can have ready for real emergencies!
If you need advice, our London clinic has a team of women’s health experts who can help.