You may be someone who can go the majority of the month maintaining a healthy diet and regularly exercising. Yet, when your period arrives, you want nothing more than sweatpants and sweets.
“During PMS, our hormones are all over the place, which can lead to cravings,” explains Ilyse Schapiro, a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist. “Serotonin levels can drop, causing us to crave sugar and carbs.”
Science helps explain the biological reasoning behind our less-than-healthy PMS habits. However, it can be frustrating combating these urges when you’re trying to stick to an eating routine. When you work hard at putting whole, nutritious foods into your body, the urge to fill our bellies with salt and sugar can feel, well, counterproductive.
But, the good news is that there are some effective ways to deal with PMS. Here are some tips to manage cravings in a healthy, realistic way.
By now you know a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein is the cornerstone to good health. Eating well not only benefits your physical health and how your body functions, but it also impacts your mental and emotional well-being.
It should come as no surprise then that healthy eating habits come in handy when PMS cravings hit. “It’s great to have a healthy diet the rest of the month, which leaves some wiggle room when PMS hits,” Schapiro says.
Leading up to your period, Schapiro says that it’s important to avoid processed sugar. Consuming sweets leads to increased cravings for sugar (it’s a vicious cycle!). “Make sure you are eating foods high in Omega 3s. These can slow absorption of carbs and help to stabilize blood sugar,” she says. “Also, a diet high in salt, sugar, and caffeine can make [cravings] worse.”
Schapiro explains that you should also watch your salt consumption, which can cause bloating and actually make you want to indulge more. Lastly, don’t forget about water as it can help fill you up, reduce bloating, and keep you hydrated so that you’re less likely to reach for those candies.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian and nutritionist, says that calcium can also play a role in PMS symptoms. “Clinical trials have shown that women who meet their daily calcium needs, which is a 1000 milligrams a day for premenopausal women … significantly improved not only good cravings, but also fluid retention, mood swings, and cramps,” she says.
Beck says that women can increase their calcium intake by including calcium-rich foods in their diet, like collard greens, broccoli, and kale. If that’s not a viable option, taking a calcium supplement can do the trick.
When you’re on your period, it’s normal to feel more hungry than usual. Schapiro says that this has to do with hormones, as estrogen and progesterone increase and then drop right before your period starts. “[This] can lead to an increase in hunger,” she explains. “Also, women may experience fluctuations in their blood sugar due to the shift in hormones, which can [also] lead to hunger.”
Using this uptick in hunger as an excuse to down everything in sight is not advisable. But it is important to listen to your body and make sure it’s properly nourished. Making sure you are eating enough during the day and turning to healthy, filling foods can prevent giving into cravings and binging once you’re home.
“Make sure you have a fuel mix of carbs, protein, and healthy fat for breakfast within 60 to 90 minutes of waking up,” Schapiro advises. “After that, make sure [that] you are eating every three to four hours, to keep your energy up, blood sugars stable, and prevent overeating.”
While we know that having our period can affect our workout, staying active can also help keep cravings at bay. Certain movement, like yoga, for example, can even help alleviate killer cramps (win-win!).
When it comes to reducing PMS cravings, exercising can help. “Exercise can decrease levels of cortisol and increase levels of serotonin—hormones that play a role in cravings,” Schapiro says. “If it is already part of your lifestyle, then you will be more likely to exercise during PMS and your period, which can help you feel better.”
Portion Control Your Treats
If you really can’t ignore a craving, it’s OK to have a portion-controlled amount of what you desire, Schapiro says. Allowing yourself a treat can even help prevent overindulging, she adds. “Aim to keep the treat to 200 calories or less. If you need more than that, that means you did not eat enough during the day.”
Beck suggests making lower-calorie swaps when it comes to your cravings. If you’re wanting ice cream, for example, try a scoop of sorbet instead. If you’re dying for something salty like chips, a few handfuls of light popcorn may do the trick. “You can satisfy your craving with less,” she says.
It’s also important to keep in mind that cravings usually subside with time, Beck says. This means that waiting 20 minutes before you reach for another serving of ice cream may give your body enough time to register that you are actually full, and don’t want it as badly as you thought.
There’s going to be times when you overdo it with a treat and eat a full box of cookies instead of one—that’s OK. In fact, indulging from time to time is normal, and it’s important to not punish yourself if you “stray” from your health goals.
“It’s all about balance and moderation,” Schapiro says. “It’s definitely OK to treat yourself occasionally. Just try to keep it portion controlled, and get back on track after.”
The important thing, she adds, is not letting PMS cravings become a day-to-day thing for the rest of the month. Because, if you completely abandon your lifestyle habits, like following a exercise routine and balanced diet, it can make it “harder to get back to healthy eating.”