June 3, 2019

Dear Melissa: Help Me With My PMS Cravings

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Dear Melissa, It’s Day 15 of my Whole 30. My cravings for something sweet and my snacking habit have been under control until this week. It’s the week leading up to my period. What usually happens during this “pre-period” time is that I experience PMS cravings for a lot of sweet and sugary things during non-meal times (such as chocolate, cake, baked goods, etc…). But this month, I’m experiencing something different. I find myself feeling hungry quite often (especially after lunch), but not craving specific foods. I have tried to wait until dinner to avoid going back to my previous snacking habit in the afternoon and to avoid feed my snacking dragon, but it has been quite hard. In this case, should I snack or not snack? Or is there any other way to deal with increased hunger during my period while I am doing a Whole30, without encouraging  old habits? Thank you, Varis Varis, It’s common to crave sugar, feel extra-hungry, and experience depleted willpower during this point in your cycle, called the luteal phase (between ovulation and when you get your period).

Understanding the Luteal Phase

That’s not my opinion; there’s science behind it. This recent article from mindbodygreen summarizes why you might need more calories/energy during this time period, while this one explores the heavy energetic needs of ovulation, and posits that during the luteal phase, energy is diverted away from self-regulatory areas of the brain to support reproductive functions. (That’s just a fancy way of saying, “If your reproductive system is demanding a lot of energy, your brain might not have enough to keep your willpower center strong.”) So the first thing I want to say is it’s not just you. It’s very normal to experience these feelings of hunger, cravings, and feeling less “in control” around food (even for menstruating people NOT on the Whole30!), so don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong here, okay?

Whole30 Strategy: Nutrient-Dense Mini Meals

Now, to your question! I’d recommend adding a snack or mini-meal if you are truly hungry, as it’s possible your body needs more calories during this metabolically-demanding time. You can figure that out by asking yourself, “Would I eat hard-boiled eggs, carrots, and guacamole right now, or do I just want fruit/dried fruit/an RXBAR?” If you’d happily eat the eggs and veggies, then go ahead and have a mini-meal, because you’re legitimately hungry! (Remember, the best snacks contain at least two of the three macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fat.) If all you want is something sweet, then you’re just having a craving, so distract yourself until it passes. Based on another published hypothesis I’ve read (from Roy F. Baumeister, a willpower researcher), you can also specifically up your carbohydrate intake from starchy veggies and some fruit during this period, as a way to preemptively provide your body with extra energy. Some (including myself) have found that adding more sweet potatoes or white potatoes, winter squashes, and/or fruit to your regular meals in the five-ish days before your period can help calm cravings. Again, just incorporate them right into your meals, not as stand-alone snacks … fruit by itself is not very satiating!

Remember, You Don’t Have to do the Perfect Whole30

Finally, remember that your ONLY JOB right now is to stick to Whole30 foods 100%. If you find during your program that you’ve eaten more fruit than you meant to, or felt a little out of control with the unsweetened almond butter, it’s okay. You don’t have to do the PERFECT Whole30. Just do the best you can (with this level of awareness, you’re doing fantastic!) and stick to the program. That IS success! Hope that helps, Melissa

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Remember, we aren’t answering questions about the Whole30 rules via this column (use the forum!), nor are we able to offer you specific advice about your medical issue, health condition, or body composition. 3-15a small Melissa Urban is a Certified Sports Nutritionist, and a 5-time New York Times bestselling author (It Starts With Food; The Whole30; Food Freedom Forever; The Whole30 Cookbook; The Whole30 Day by Day; and The Whole30 Fast and Easy Cookbook). She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, CNBC, Details, Outside, SELF, and Shape as the co-founder of the Whole30 program. Melissa lives in Salt Lake City, UT. Photo credit: Marie Carmel Photography

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