Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Q & A: Every month before my period I put on around 5lbs. How can I avoid this?

However hard I try to lose my stone, every month before my period I put on around 5lbs. How can I avoid this?

Much of this weight gain is fluid, not fat, which accumulates as a result of changes in the levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone at this time. You will notice that in the few days before your period you don't 'go to the loo' as often as usual. Some of the weight gain may also be due to constipation - a common problem at the same time of the month, and again because the hormones tend to relax the muscles of the colon and so elimination isn't so efficient. You may also suffer from bloating through extra production of gas in the intestines, again because of the hormonal influence.

Once the period gets under way, the fluid is exreted in the urine, the constipation and bloating disappear and hopefully, everything is back to normal - along with your weight. A diet high in fruit and vegetables and low in starchy carbohydrates such as bread and pasta, and salty foods can help minimise fluid retention.

However if you eat more than your body needs for fuel in the few days before your period as well, over time, you may put on weight. If you think you are eating a lot more than normal at this time, see the next few questions. You do burn up extra calories in the pre-menstrual period so a little extra food won't put bodyfat on you, however.

Women trying to slim should not weigh themselves in the week before a period as this weight gain can make you depressed, even if you know it's not fat. An ideal solution is to weigh yourself no more than once a month, say, on the last day of your period. Then you get a real idea of how the slimming campaign is going.

Before my period, and now and then at other times of the month, I crave sweet foods, particularly chocolate. Why is this and what can I do about it?

The reason that so many women do have cravings for sweet foods before a period is, it seems, usually because of the lack of circulating hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen is a 'stimulating' hormone for women, increasing production of serotonin (nature's Prozac), norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and endorphins (natural painkillers and pleasure-stimulators). Oestrogen is at its peak in your body at ovulation (mid-cycle) and at this time women often describe feeling particularly well and happy.

After ovulation, levels of oestrogen decline quite rapidly and by the time the period is due they are at their lowest and PMS is in full onslaught in many women. This may trigger the cravings for sweet foods - it could be the body's way of replacing the chemicals like serotonin which will make you feel better.

This is one explanation but there could be others, and causes may vary from woman to woman. Insulin production - the hormone which regulates the blood sugar levels - may also be affected by the female hormonal fluctuations, adding to the 'chaos'.

One thing does seem to be certain - that once you start giving in to the sweet food cravings, they are very difficult to control or stop and your blood sugar levels may fluctuate wildly. Experts in PMS and diet advise eating 'little and often', using foods low on the Glycaemic Index and high in fibre, such as pulses, dried apricots, vegetables and most fruits, in the week or so before a period, as a good way to control sweet cravings at this time. Some examples of such snacks are: An apple and a dark rye crispbread; a pot of natural bio yogurt and a few dried apricots; a pear and a few spoonfuls of baked beans.

These snacks also have the benefit of offering a little natural sugar - fructose. Main meals should also be healthy and low in added sugar.

Some experts recommend chromium supplements which some women find help ease the cravings, but there is no hard scientific evidence that these work, only anecdotal evidence. Never allow yourself to get too hungry at this time - and see next question for an explanation of increased hunger pre-period

I definitely feel hungrier and eat more in the few days before my period is due. Do you have a cause and cure?

A read of the previous two questions may help you understand why you may get cravings for carbohydrate foods. However, many women, whether or not they get cravings, simply feel hungrier and eat bigger portions of normal meals before their periods, and worry that this will either cause weight gain, or will prevent weight loss if they are trying to slim.

There is a physiological reason for this - aided by the increase in progesterone, women's metabolic rate speeds up after ovulation and before the period. This means that you burn more calories and your body 'tells' you that you need more calories to cover this extra energy burst. You can tell your metabolic rate is increased because after ovulation you will tend to feel hotter (You wear fewer layers or want the heat turned down lower). Average increased energy expenditure is thought to be around 250 calories a day, but it could be more for many women.

So don't feel too bad about yourself when you eat more before your period; unless you go completely overboard, it shouldn't hinder your diet or make you fat and therefore there is no need for a 'cure' as such. Follow the tips in the previous few questions on what and when to eat.

I tend to suffer from depression before my period is due and this makes me 'comfort' eat. What can I do about it?

A healthy diet (all the time, not just in the days before your period) can help to alleviate PMS symptoms, including depression. Such a diet will include plenty of complex carbohydrates, vitamin B-complex rich foods such as wholegrains, lean meat, fish, nuts, seeds, lentils and vegetables. Vitamin B6 is particularly linked with easing of PMS symptoms and is found in good amounts in fish, poultry, fortified breakfast cereals, and nuts. There is also some evidence that a diet rich in essential fatty acids (plant oils, oily fish), calcium (low-fat dairy produce, dark leafy greens, white fish) and magnesium (found in many of the foods listed already) can help minimise PMS symptoms including depression.

This diet will also help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the physical need to comfort eat. For more information on comfort eating and food cravings. It may also be an idea to see your doctor who may be able to help in other ways - for example, going on the contraceptive pill can minimise PMS and depression by altering hormone balance.

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