Trying to lose weight, only to have that time of the month throw a serious wrench in your best laid plans? We hear ya, sister.
While it may feel as though the deck is stacked against you, understanding why and how your body is reacting during menstruation can help alleviate some of your feelings of frustration (or downright anger).
Menstruation is characterized by alterations in the hormones called progesterone and estrogen.
Progesterone is the hormone most strongly associated with increased hunger and cravings as well as premenstrual water retention.
Prior to menstruation, leptin (an important satiety hormone) is also low; when progesterone is high and leptin is low, hunger is typically higher.
Alterations in neuropeptides in the brain (protein-like signaling molecules) also diminish your capacity to emotionally cope or compartmentalize thoughts, cravings, and emotions.
Cravings are driven by a combination of hormones and social/emotional history.
When serotonin (often called the “feel good hormone”) is low (as is the case surrounding the menstrual cycle), we tend to crave comfort in its various forms.
For many women, this means food, which is pleasurable and relatively easy to obtain (at least in the United States). Nutrition and menstruation symptoms share a close relationship.
Ultimately, what foods are available to you, what you find comforting, and what you have historically used to soothe or cope, will all factor into what you crave and how strongly you crave it.
Women in Tanzania, for example, are unlikely to crave the same foods as women in the United States, as the social construct and availability of food is different.
This is not to say that you don’t have free will, of course, just that alterations in hormones and neural signaling can provide an additional barrier in the week or so surrounding menstruation.
Nutrition and Menstruation Coping Strategies
- Fluid Retention: Consuming sufficient fluid will help reduce water retention to a degree but will not effectively eliminate the total volume of water retention associated with menstruation.
It’s helpful to imagine standing on the scale holding a bowl of water around this time, as that is analogous to what is taking place.
- Environmental/Schedule Changes: If you have specific trigger foods/situations, do your best to avoid these during your period. Pay attention to your nutrition and menstruation link.
Keep trigger foods out of the house, stay out of tempting areas like office break rooms, and consider creating a specific food plan that you stick to during your period.
Use saltier meals to curb cravings for salty junk food, sate sweet cravings with fruit for flex cals, etc, which you may be less likely to overindulge in than say- chocolate- which you might normally use for your flex calories.
- Hit the Gym: Low levels of serotonin in the brain can cause you to crave comfort. Increasing endorphins through exercise is a good way to help rebalance brain chemistry.
While cramps or other menstrual discomfort may prime you to skip a workout, working out can actually help relieve these symptoms as well as the emotional manifestations of menstruation.