—Charlene, 20-year-old active college student
Charlene, like many women, recognized that her eating patterns change with the stages of the menstrual cycle. In the week before her period, she has overwhelming sweet cravings; the week afterward, she tends to crave more protein foods or have very little appetite. Researchers have verified these eating patterns and report that a complex interplay of hormonal changes seems to influence women's food choices. High levels of estrogen may be linked with the premenstrual carbohydrate cravings.
Women may also crave carbohydrate because they are hungrier. Before menstruation, a woman's metabolic rate may increase by 100 to 500 calories (Barr, Janelle, and Prior 1995). That addition can be the equivalent of another meal. But when Charlene felt bloated and fat because of premenstrual water weight gain, she, like most women, would put herself on a reducing diet. The result was double deprivation. She had a physiological need for extra calories just when she put herself on the calorie-deficient reducing diet. No wonder she experienced overwhelming hunger and craved sweets.
I told Charlene not to diet but instead, when she felt hungry in the week before her period, to give herself permission to eat up to 500 additional wholesome calories. She started adding a slice of toast and jam to her standard breakfast, a hot cocoa at lunch, and an afternoon snack of some raisins. She successfully curbed the nagging hunger that had previously plagued her, and she was less irritable. Even her friends and family noticed a difference in her moods. She also lost interest in chocolate and was thrilled to survive a menstrual cycle without gaining weight from chocolate gluttony. Other clients have chosen to enjoy these extra premenstrual calories in the form of brownies or chocolate chip cookies—but within 500 calories.
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