PART 2: MENSTRUATION AND SUGAR “ADDICTION”… WHAT’S GOING ON?
I just like to first put it out there…
As a guy I will never experience what it’s actually like to go through menstruation.
Therefore, the following article is based on what I’ve read, studied and years of experience working with women.
So, although I can’t relate directly, I can give you what I know.
Physiologically, what happens through the menstrual cycle? Well here’s a cool little visual you can check out and I’ll explain more after.
When estrogen is dominant (follicular phase) you’ll use carbs more efficiently as insulin sensitivity will be higher. This means the carbs you eat will be more easily metabolised and used up.
This will be pretty much the time where things seem normal and you won’t experience abnormal cravings.
When progesterone is dominant (luteal phase) you won’t use carbs as efficiently. Your insulin sensitivity will be lower which means they won’t be metabolised as easily. It could be beneficial lowering your carbs and increasing your fats around this time.
The good news though is your metabolism will increase around the time of your period.
But before you get all excited, it’s at this time when you’ll experience cravings. This is when you’ll most likely reach for the high calorie snacks/foods.
Changes in metabolism:
During the second phase (luteal) and more so around the week of your period there will be a spike in metabolic rate. This can be anywhere from 300-500 cals per day over a seven to ten day period. That’s anywhere from 2100-5000 extra calories burned at rest.
Due to this increase the chances are you’ll be unusually hungrier than normal. And if you’re trying to “diet” you’ll be essentially putting yourself into a deeper deficit.
Let’s assume your body requires 2000 calories per day to maintain its current state but you’re consuming 1600 calories per day, taking you to a 400 calorie deficit.
Week 1: 1600 (2,800 weekly deficit)
Week 2: 1600 (2,800 weekly deficit)
Week 3: 1600 (2,800 weekly deficit)
But on week 4 there will be an adjustment of 300-500 calories per day, due to the increase in metabolic rate.
Week 4: 1600 (4,900-6,300 weekly deficit) – That’s a difference of 2,100-3,500 calories per week.
You could be thinking: “awesome! I’ll burn more fat”
But there’s consequences of providing your body too little energy, especially during a time when there’s an automatic rise in expenditure without you even needing to do anything physically and at which time your body probably needs the energy.
You become hungrier. Your body needs more energy to compensate. And with hunger comes cravings. This could be one of the reasons cravings are so dominant around this time.
Changes in mood:
Another thing to consider is the switch is hormone dominance. The second half of the cycle (increased progesterone) is generally when women experience changes in mood, heightened stress levels and are more easily triggered in to emotions such as anger, anxiety and sadness.
Emotions can play a huge part with our food choices (see below) and this could be a contributor to monthly cravings.
In summary, cravings could be down to:
- A heightened metabolism
- Changes in emotions
For three weeks of the month stay within your calorie deficit. On week four, or more precisely the week of your period, bump calories back up to maintenance, or there abouts.
This should help control cravings and prevent binge eating around this time.
So, it could look like this, assuming your maintenance is 2000 calories.
Week 1: 1600 (400 deficit) – fat loss
Week 2: 1600 (400 deficit) – fat loss
Week 3: 1600 (400 deficit) – fat loss
Week 4: 2000-2300 (no deficit but certainly a lot happier and probably less cravings) – maintenance.
But what about carbs, aren’t these addictive?
Many people believe they become addicted to carbs or more specifically sugar but it’s simply not true. If this were true, then why don’t we hear about people’s addiction to potatoes and brown rice?
So, what happens, why do people believe they have an addiction?
Lighting up the pleasure and reward system:
Dopamine is the central chemical in your brain that regulates how you perceive and experience pleasure. During pleasurable moments and experiences such as sexual intercourse and eating foods that are high in sugar, dopamine is released, lighting up the pleasure part of your brain. And because this makes you feel good you’ll look to seek out these experiences over and over again to achieve the same “hit”.
Certain drugs like cocaine have the same effect, which is why many people believe sugar to be as addictive as cocaine. The difference being that cocaine inhibits dopamine’s re-uptake transporter. When this happens, dopamine remains elevated. Basically, it’s hijacked the “natural” system.
It’s not an accident that food scientists “design” foods to dial up the taste buds and create a powerful hit to the brains reward system i.e. foods with flavours, taste and texture combinations such a sweet and salty or sweet and fatty or creamy.
These foods are designed so you want them even at sight.
Think of it this way:
You go to the supermarket and you’re a little hungry. You head down one of the aisles and on the left-hand side you have bags of sugar and on the right-hand side you have crisps, chocolates and sweets. Which side is going to be most appealing? The bags of sugar or the sweets and chocolate?
If you were in fact addicted to sugar would you not want it in its purest form?
These foods are generally highly processed and are stripped of their nutritional content, fibre and water. Because of this, their level of creating satiety (a sense of fullness) is little to non-existent, so the trigger that tells your body “we’re done” is absent.
How easy is it to eat a chocolate bar compared to its calorie equivalent of protein and veggies, and when was the last time you were “full” from eating a bag of sweets or crisps?
Feeling sick is not the same as feeling full!
Behaviour and association:
We associate certain foods with events. You’re going to the cinema, it’s popcorn time. It’s Saturday night, it’s takeaway night. You’re having a cup of tea, it’s just a biscuit. What about when you’re at the beach. You can’t hit the beach without having an ice cream, right?
The habits you create over time become so deeply rooted they are almost carried out subconsciously. It’s not that going to the cinema and having popcorn is a bad thing, it’s not.
The bad thing is being completely oblivious to the choices you make or not being able to break the association with foods and events.
I’ve heard it many times before that sugar is addictive. It’s food, it’s not addictive. Yes, it possesses similar effects to that of an addictive substance, but sugar is not cocaine.
When do you really crave sugar?
It’s either, when you’re hungry or when a diet has been heavily restricted i.e. it’s become a forbidden fruit (or chocolate) . Generally, if we are told we can’t have something, it tends to make us want it more!
- I’ll never experience a period.
- Your body prefers carbs (follicular phase) and fats (luteal phase).
- Manipulating your calories on the week of your period could help with cravings.
- Cocaine is addictive. Sugar is not addictive.
- Scientists are really crafty.
- GGS. Coaching & Training Women Academy Certification (online course)
- Lyle McDonald. The Women’s Book. Vol 1 . A Guide to Nutrition, Fat Loss & Muscle Gain.