I have my period, so why does that mean I want to eat an entire cow?
I work in a store full of women and, as girls do, we like to talk about our periods. Whether it’s cramping, bloating, increased chocolate consumption or our lack of surprise at a customer asking if we’re pregnant, when it comes to that time of the month, nothing is off limits.
Our constant discussions got me thinking why is it that we are so famished the week before our period? And why is it so hard to resist the sweet sugar treats or the salty chips? Does our body actually require more calories? Is that why we are hungry every hour? Or, as a lot of men think, is it all in our heads?
I was sick of feeling hungry for seemingly no reason, giving into my cravings and then feeling depressed and left with a low body image I decided to get on the net and do some research.
Here is some interesting research I found. Firstly, there are a lot of changes in our bodies during our cycle due to hormonal fluctuations. This means that we require different nutrients. Our cravings at this time are our bodies’ way of telling us what it needs. We crave more nutrients because at the peak of our menstrual cycles we need more energy to maintain homeostasis, which is the body in a state of perfect balance. Many women will crave carbohydrates and chocolate and there is a very logical reason for this, chocolate and carbohydrates contain tryptophan. Tryptophan is responsible for the release of serotonin in the brain, which is a mood enhancer. This makes complete sense seeing that quite often women are moody at that time of the month. So ladies, if your man is having a go at you for shoving truck loads of chocolate in your face just ask him, would he rather a mood swing?
While serotonin can help enhance our mood, it is the aftermath that can depress us, the guilt of giving into our cravings. The guilt of giving into that weakness often leads to poor body image. There is a strong correlation between women with eating disorders and binge eating the week before their period more than any other time of the month. This in turn creates increased feelings of guilt associated with over eating. Binge eating is due to the higher level of progesterone during the premenstrual phase in the body.
Have you ever wondered why your dinner choice changes from a salad to a chicken parmagiana or from a small veggie soup to a great juicy steak plus dessert? This sudden onset of a monstrous appetite days before your period is due to your metabolism speeding up with the increase in hormonal changes. Women burn about 4-15% more calories one to two weeks before their period due to the body increasing the production of progesterone. Progesterone helps prepare the body for pregnancy. If the egg is fertilized it is progesterone that stimulates the growth of blood vessels. During menstruation you don’t need extra calories but you do need adequate iron to make up for the mineral loss due to your period. Some foods that are a high source of iron include sunflower seeds, nuts, beef, lamb, beans, whole grains and dark leafy greens.
Another interesting factor to take into consideration is that while you have your period, despite an often urge to get in your pj’s, plonk on the couch, binge with a hot water bottle on your stomach and feel sorry for yourself as soon as you get home, it is actually the best time to hit the gym.
During the week of your period and the week afterwards you have lower levels of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. This means your body will recover faster and have a higher pain tolerance, like a man, so get them gains at the gym and hit the heavy weights! On the other hand, the two weeks prior to your period your progesterone and oestrogen levels are at their highest. During this time your body uses fat as its primary source of energy, instead of carbohydrate, which is released slowly and can leave you feeling more sluggish. So don’t kick yourself if you don’t get your Personal Bests (PBs) or feel like having a rest day.
Although it’s still not a good idea to clear out the chocolate aisle of your local Coles it is important to understand your body’s needs and why it feels the way it does. In no way am I saying that every time you get your period you should give in to the chocolate craving just because your body wants it, that would be like giving into a child every time they want red cordial. I’m simply saying understand your body. If you need a sweet and feel like you’re about to give in try and go for a healthy option or try and fill up at dinner on steak and vegies. And if you do surrender, don’t hate yourself for it, forgive yourself. But don’t forget how crap you felt eating it, remember how disgusting you felt and how you were rolling around in bed with stomach pain. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll remember this feeling next month when you go for the chocolate again and next time you’ll have a plan in place to go for a healthier option. This may include pana-chocolate, a Paleo chocolate made from only natural ingredients, or perhaps making a fruit salad, which can be sweetened up further with a bit of cream and organic honey or maple syrup (just don’t over do it). Next time you go to sleep at night you will feel light, healthy and happy.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about what your body goes through once a month, I know I did.
Written by Gillian Russom CrossFit Level 1 Coach – 0421467344 Edited by Maddie Rice and Tristan Enright