Food cravings - why they happen and how to help curb them
I find my cravings for certain foods are really closely linked to my menstrual cycle. I'm normally a 'savoury' person, but the week before my period I'm hunting down the chocolate! Sometimes I just go with all of this, but if you want to lose weight or not eat too much high sugar / overly processed food, then it's a good idea to have some tips to help you stay on track.
But first, why do we crave certain things at certain points in our cycle? Cravings are usually during the latter part of the monthly cycle - after ovulation, when oestrogen and progesterone are high, and also then right before your period when both of these hormone levels decline. Scientists think the cause of cravings is related to changes in insulin sensitivity, energy requirements of the body, and appetite - closely linked to the fluctuation in hormones.
High levels of oestrogen and progesterone after ovulation can affect glucose metabolism and transportation. This can cause a decrease in insulin sensitivity and an increase in insulin resistance. Which basically means, your blood sugar levels can be all over the place, causing energy dips and associated cravings.
High levels of progesterone towards the end of your cycle can cause a slight increase in basal metabolic rate (BMR) - the amount of energy your body needs to function at rest. This causes your appetite to increase, and can cause cravings.
Naturally serotonin drops off after ovulation, and can cause cravings, particularly for carbohydrates. Basically because carbohydrates increase serotonin levels - so your body craves them to help raise levels in the brain.
So what can you do to avoid eating the whole box of Quality Street?
During the time when your cravings are most likely to hit...
1. Include a mix of protein and carbohydrate at each meal to help balance blood sugars and keep energy levels up
2. Opt for lower GI carbohydrates to release energy more slowly. Examples include beans, pulses, wholegrain pasta, apples and pears.
3. Snack, but be prepared and be smart! Yoghurt with muesli/granola and berries, veggies, nuts or wholegrain toast with nut butters.