How many of you stay on track with your eating habits until the week before your period, then everything unravels?
I noticed this pattern in myself. I seem to have good self-control and eat healthy foods…until my cycle unleashes this monster inside me, and I want to throw all my good habits out the window. I describe the feeling as “wanting to eat my arm off.”
Anyone else been there?
The good news is, this struggle is perfectly normal and explained by science. (This article talks about our extra calorie burn during the week of our periods, and this article explains the hormonal effect on our appetites.)
During this week of our cycles, it’s extra crucial to be aware of our bodies and take intentional steps to keep our goals from derailing.
I’m going to share practical tips to do just that, but first I need to mention something important. In order to be armed with tools for surviving your ravenous week, you first need to track your cycle to understand what’s really going on. I know this may sound silly, but many of us don’t pay attention to the link between our emotions and hormones until that friendly “visitor” shows up every four weeks.
If this describes you, mark on your calendar the days you’re on your period. Then for the month following, make a general note about your emotions and/or hunger levels each day. You could summarize it in a few words or simply put a plus or minus sign based on how the day went overall. As patterns begin to emerge, you can be more prepared before that awful week arrives.
All right, now that you know what’s coming, here are some tips to help you survive with your health intact.
1. Understand your cravings and find healthier alternatives.
It’s normal for our bodies to need a few extra calories the week before our periods, but those few extra calories can quickly turn into 500 if we’re not careful. Focus on getting good calories from lean proteins and fruits & vegetables rather than indulging in high-calorie foods that will only leave you craving more.
If you’re craving salty foods, here are a few healthier alternatives:
- Air-popped popcorn, lightly sprinkled with sea salt (and nothing else!)
- Veggies and hummus
- Small pita wrap with tuna salad
- A handful of nuts (lightly salted or unsalted)
If you’re craving sweets, try one of these:
- Fresh fruit
- Bowl of Kashi® Heart to Heart cereal with unsweetened almond milk (vanilla flavor is my favorite)
- Yogurt parfait with fruit and dark chocolate (recipe found HERE)
2. Find stress-relieving activities to avoid food binges.
When your ravenous week comes, carve extra time into your schedule for exercise. This might mean going to the gym, but more often it means adding movement into small snippets of your day.
When a craving hits or your emotions are a wreck, step away from the kitchen and go for a short walk or do a few stretches. The Yoga Studio app is my personal favorite stress reliever. A quick 10-minute Yoga Fix is usually all it takes for the craving to pass.
Outside of exercise, think of other ways to keep your hands and mind busy. This might include starting a new craft project, working on a crossword puzzle, or getting out of the house to volunteer. Whatever it takes, don’t just sit around and wait for the craving to pass. Be proactive and do something about it!
3. Drink lots of water.
As you probably know, thirst can often masquerade as hunger pangs. Drinking water may not completely eliminate your cravings, but it can take the edge off. (Lemon water is shown to be extra helpful in knocking out cravings.)
Make sure you’re getting 8 cups of water each day. If this is a huge leap for you, start by adding 1-2 cups over your normal intake, then add another cup the next week, and so on. If you normally drink soda, replace a can of soda with a cup of water, then layer more swaps in the following weeks.
By doing these three things, you’ll find the week before your period much more manageable. Simply understanding what’s going on can empower you to take action and be intentional with your choices.
Hang in there… You’ve got this!
ONE SIMPLE STEP: If you haven’t tracked your cycle before, start this month. Take note of your emotions and cravings on a calendar, as well as the days of your period. If you’ve already done this, begin stocking your kitchen with healthy options so they’re easy to grab when your snack attacks hit.
ONE STEP FURTHER: Write a list of all the activities you can do when you’re fighting a craving. Brainstorm exercise and non-exercise activities that will relieve your stress and get your mind off of food. Now tape your list to your refrigerator or pantry door as a reminder the next time you’re tempted to binge.