Is PMS Sabotaging Your Diet?
How to cope with food cravings and keep losing weight
Do you find yourself successfully dieting for three weeks at a time, only to
succumb to an uncontrollable urge to scarf down a few calorie-laden hot fudge
sundaes as that time of the month rolls around? You're not alone.
As many as 85% of women experience at least one symptom of PMS, the
disruptive physical and emotional changes that can strike anytime in the last 2
weeks of the menstrual cycle, according to the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists. And as many as 70% of these women suffer from
PMS-related food cravings, bloating, fatigue, sleep disturbances, mood swings,
and irritability -- any of which have the potential to sabotage your diet, says
Judith Wurtman, PhD, director of the women's health program at Massachusetts
Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Fortunately, a better understanding of PMS in general and food cravings
specifically can keep women from getting caught in a diet-destroying cycle.
Diet Double Whammy
PMS packs a double whammy against a diet, Wurtman says. "First, you have
food cravings, usually for sweet, starchy foods with an underlay of fat, like
chocolate ice cream. And then, your bad mood makes you say, 'To hell with it!'
You lose your willpower to exercise any control over what you are
The bloating that often goes with PMS also sabotages a diet, says Stephen
Goldstein, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at New York University. "A
woman steps on the scale and freaks out. And some people's response to being
bloated and having to loosen their belt is to drown themselves in an ice cream
And what do we break down and eat when those cravings hit? Chocolate is No.
1 on the hit parade, followed generally by other sweets, Goldstein says. Salty
foods, particularly chips, are a distant third.
"You never find anything nutritious on the A-list," agrees Wurtman,
noting that women rarely come in complaining of cravings for fish, fruits, and
vegetables. "If it's a dieting no-no, you can bet the PMS mind is saying,
'Yes, yes,'" she says.
Hormones to Blame
The hormonal ebbs and spikes that occur throughout a woman's cycle are the
major culprits in PMS. As levels of estrogen go up and down, so do levels of
the stress hormone cortisol, explains Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, author of Fight
Fat After 40 and assistant professor of medicine at the University of
Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. "It's a very potent little
partnership. The body wants to keep them aligned."
And when cortisol levels are high enough, the body turns on its
fight-or-flight response, a woman becomes more metabolically charged, and her
appetite is stimulated. This, in turn, causes a woman to seek out carbs and
fat, "the actual fuels of the fight-and-flight response," Peeke