Photo by Diana Davis
We all know that around the start of our cycles cravings go through the roof. Unfortunately, those junk foods we crave can actually make cycle-related symptoms worse (hello, bloating!). Here’s how to keep your sweet tooth in check without having to give up your favorite foods.
Our hunger and thirst signals feel very similar. Try drinking 12 - 16 oz. of water and wait 15 minutes. This will help control your craving for a snack. Also, drinking 16 oz. of water before a meal has been shown to reduce the amount of calories consumed at that meal. There is simply less room in your stomach for food.
FILL UP ON FIBER
Fiber helps keep you fuller for longer by slowing the rate at which the stomach empties. Women, aim for 25 g/day. Men, aim for 38g/day. Berries, beans, nuts, seeds and oatmeal are all great sources. Opt for fruits and vegetables with a skin (apple, berries) vs. a peel (banana, orange) for an extra fiber boost. Add flax seeds to your stir-fry or top toast with fresh berries instead of jam.
PACK IN PROTEIN
Protein takes more energy for us to breakdown than refined carbohydrates, helping us to keep us full and our hunger at bay. Depending on activity level and body composition, we need ~0.8 grams/kg of protein/day, meaning a 150lb person needs 54 grams per day. Add plant-based proteins such as edamame, hemp seeds and tofu to boost your intake of anti-inflammatory foods.
SET DOWN THE SALT
While giving food flavor, sodium stimulates our appetite and masks thirst, encouraging us to consume more and drink less water. Top sources include bread, packaged foods, cured meats and canned goods. The current recommendation is 2,300 mg/day of sodium, equivalent to 1 tsp. of salt.* Look for “low sodium” or “no sodium added” products, dilute salty spreads by blending in tofu or plain dairy-free yogurt and include potassium-rich foods such as bananas and lentils to offset sodium in the body.
AVOID SKIPPING SNACKS
When we go for a period of time without eating, ghrelin, our hunger-stimulating hormone, starts to kick in. Secreted mainly from the stomach lining, it signals our brain that it's time to eat. Ghrelin works on a cycle; levels build before we eat and drop after a meal. This happens naturally about every four hours. So eating every 3 - 4 hours will help to stabilize our hunger levels.
HAVE HEALTHY ON HAND
Celery stalks or bag of chips? One of the reasons why we give into cravings is that these foods are convenient, easy to grab and tasty. Start stocking your fridge with handy, tasty snacks like whole fruit, raw nuts, hummus and veggie sticks. Precut produce and place in the center of the fridge to and at eye level to make it easy to grab.
MODIFY YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Out of sight, out of mind. Keep tempting treats out of the house; make it an extra effort to obtain these treats by walking or driving to the store. Stash healthier options, like fresh fruit, on the countertop in attractive containers and keep less healthy items, like leftover pizza, wrapped in foil toward the back of the fridge.
In addition to protecting our cells from damage caused by free radicals, antioxidants play a role in hunger management by keeping our leptin levels normal. Released by fat cells, leptin is a hormone that signals our brain to stop eating. Adding antioxidant-rich foods such as olive oil will help ensure our brain is receiving the “stop eating” signal from the body.
HAVE HEALTHY FATS
In addition to helping our bodies absorb essential fat-soluble nutrients like Vitamin A, D, E and K, fat helps to regulate our appetite. Fat takes longer to digest; staying in our stomach for longer means these foods will help us feel fuller for longer. Choose foods high in the unsaturated fat oleic acid. Found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados, research shows that this specific type of fat helps to suppress appetite.
SPICE IT UP
Some studies suggest that adding a bit of spice to our meals may help curb cravings for salty, savory foods. While spices give food flavor, they may also increase our sensitivity to salty foods, thereby lowering our total intake of high-sodium foods.
Give yourself a break. Restricting food choices and telling yourself “I can’t have this” day in, day out is exhausting. As a result of this mental exhaustion, we are likely to overindulge when our stress levels are maxed out. Plan ahead and enjoy a treat on a regular basis.
LET IT GO
Underlying stress is a primary our trigger for giving in to our cravings. When faced with a stressor, our adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol; cortisol may increase our appetite and motivation to consume calories in the form of sugary, high-fat foods. Studies have shown that practicing meditation plays a role in lowering cortisol levels in our body, thereby helping us control our impulse to grab a cookie (or three) the next time we are faced with a stressful situation.
Maya Bach is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in helping people adopt behaviors that lead to healthier, and happier, lives and businesses infuse well-being to the workplace so they can build a better culture. Born in Tel Aviv and raised in California, Maya now lives in Chicago with her husband and Dexter, a mini Aussie mix. Offering in-person and virtual services, you can learn more by visiting mayabach.com or send her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org