You just ate lunch, but 30 minutes later, you can't stop thinking about chocolate, so you eat it. Then 10 minutes after that, you want something salty and crunchy, so you down a few handfuls of pretzels. Then 10 minutes later, ice cream seems like the best idea you've ever had. What gives? Then you realize you're due for your period next week. Damn those PMS cravings!
You can thank your hormones, specifically cortisol and serotonin. Nutritionists Stephanie Clarke, RD, and Willow Jarosh, RD, of C&J Nutrition explain the "stress hormone cortisol tends to spike right before your period and the calm-inducing hormone serotonin tends to dip. This combo causes cravings for sweets and carbs as well as fatty foods." Here's how to make sure your PMS cravings don't sabotage your goals.
Willow and Stephanie recommend choosing the least-processed carbs you can to keep blood sugar levels steady. That means skipping crackers and chips and choosing cooked whole grains and starchy veggies such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, lentils, peas, and Winter squash. Bake up some sweet potato fries, satisfy your salty-sweet cravings with these honey-roasted cinnamon chickpeas, or snack on crunchy and salted roasted edamame.
Eat This For Breakfast
Eating at least 20 grams of protein at the first meal of the day can also help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep you feeling more satisfied. Plain Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit, eggs with half a cup of sautéed potatoes and eight ounces of soy milk, or a vanilla milkshake protein smoothie are great high-protein options.
Hunger Is Your Enemy
Since your willpower is already waning and strong carb cravings can get even stronger if you're overly hungry, avoid feeling anything close to famished so your crazy cravings don't cause you to mindlessly pig out. Aim to eat a snack or meal at least every three hours to keep hunger at bay.
Two Cents About Caffeine and Alcohol
Consuming too much caffeine can make you feel more irritable and stressed out, but cutting out your usual daily cup can leave you even more on edge. So while Willow and Stephanie don't recommend cutting out caffeine entirely, they do recommend having a smaller cup of joe. And definitely cut out the afternoon cup, since caffeine can disrupt your sleep, which adds to the grumpiness and low energy that make you want to reach for sugary pick-me-ups. Alcohol can have the same effects on sleep and can also make you feel down and decrease your inhibitions and your ability to say no to overindulging. Skipping those evening glasses of wine the week before Aunt Flo arrives might seem like the absolute worst idea ever, but try it this month to see if it helps curb cravings.
How to Beat Bloat
PMS bloat can make you feel less like exercising and can also be a culprit in "I've already gained weight so it doesn't matter what I eat" thinking. But exercise is just what you need to help boost your mood and reduce PMS symptoms, so try to keep up with your regular workouts. If cramps make that impossible, try gentler exercise such as long walks, swimming, or yoga. In addition, Stephanie and Willow suggest skipping the sugary, carby, and fatty foods that can cause bloating and to take a probiotic to help keep your body's natural good bacteria in balance, which can also help to reduce that puffy feeling.
WTH, Just Give In!
You can also say, "F*ck it, it's only one week," and give in to your cravings. But there are lower-calorie ways to satisfy your needs so you can keep your mood happy without gaining weight this time every month. For ice cream cravings, make this dairy-free cherry chocolate chip ice cream. If ooey-gooey pizza's on the brain, make this low-carb version with a cauliflower crust. In the mood for a candy bar? Skip the Snickers and make these chocolate-covered caramels containing dates and sunflower seeds. Then once the cravings subside, you can go back to eating clean and healthy.