Jul
31

Why do I crave junk food when I am PMSing?

Posted by in The science of food cravings

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You’re about to sit down for your weekly network TV episode and while you might not even be hungry, your brain starts in with “I want nachos or ice cream or a cupcake.”  That is your brain “craving” a carbohydrate fix!   Junk food cravings are usually a response to a stress hormone in your body called cortisol, but mostly, they’re all in your head! The carbohydrates in the sweet and salty foods we crave promote the production of serotonin, a stress-relieving neurotransmitter. Essentially, our head tells us to satisfy the craving as a way to deal with the stress.

Food cravings are also linked to our memories. The brain attaches feelings of happiness and satisfaction to certain foods depending on the memories we associate with eating them.   But that still doesn’t justify sitting down to eat half of Mom’s good ole’ apple pie just because your hormones are fluctuating!

PMS-related cravings are relatively predictable. If you know that your hormones are in flux around a certain week of the month, then you can predict when your food cravings are going to happen.  There are lots of apps out there to track all of the elements of your cycle.   If this is the case, try to reason with yourself on these cravings.  You really won’t feel better if you get to the bottom of a potato chip bag or eat an entire sleeve of packaged chocolate chip cookies.

But, don’t expend all of this energy fighting yourself either.   Think about stocking the pantry with healthier snacks- hummus and pita instead of chips and dip, fruit instead of candy, Greek yogurt instead of ice cream, or a dark chocolate bar instead of M&M’s.  There are substitutions that will satisfy that sweet or salty tooth without completely destroying a healthy diet.