Jumping off the hormone rollercoaster: Is there a cure for chocolate?

“You can tame estrogen with rather simple diet changes.” 

Does that sound too good to be true?  Well, according the Dr. Neal Barnard (whom I consider to be the nutrition rockstar!), by controlling you diet, you can mitigate the spikes and drops in you estrogen levels during a month and lessen your PMS, cramps and cravings.

I read Dr. Barnard’s simple explanation about how estrogen is linked to diet in his remarkable must-read Breaking the Food Seduction.  According to his research, estrogen levels peak right before ovulation and then drop to nearly nothing after ovulation.  Over the next few days, estrogen levels rise again until they hit a second peak immediately before menstruation and then drop off when you start your period.

Here’s a less scientific but infinitely more practical interpretation of his data for me.  At the beginning of my cycle, I’m a nice person with lofty health and fitness goals.  About two weeks later, I come to the realization that none of my goals will ever be reached because I’m just not good enough or lucky enough.  In fact, the only thing that will make me feel better is enjoying something sweet, like a pastry or really moist cookie or maybe just a few spoonfuls of cookie dough.  Why not?  What else do I have to live for?

This mid-cycle breakdown in will power and common sense will be followed by a tenderness in my lower abdomen.  At this point, I will realize that I’m ovulating.  (My husband, oddly enough, will have realized I was ovulating about 24 hours sooner than I do.)  Pleasantness and lofty health and fitness goals will return.

About 12 days after ovulation, I will get hungry, really hungry, for salty food.  (Did the kids finish off all the chips?) But, salty food will need to be followed with something sweet to achieve the perfect food balance.  (Is there any cookie dough left?)  No doubt, the sweets will hit part of the spot, but not quite all of it, because I will really need something crunchy—crunchy and sweet with a touch of salty.  (Do we have kettle corn? Or, better yet, Crunch ‘n Munch?)  It may take the better part of a day to find exactly what I need to satisfy the insatiable demon that has possessed me.  I worry that one of my kids will spill chocolate sauce on her fingers and I’ll bite off her hand before I can stop myself.

Once the demon has been fed, he expects more.  He’s like the talking plant in Little Shop of Horrors.  For about 3 days, I will be a slave to the voice inside my head that’s singing, “Feed me, Lynda” in impossibly low octaves.  The spell can only be broken by excruciating cramps and five straight days of anemia.

Naturally, when I read Dr. Barnard’s claim to control estrogen with diet, I perked up.  Using the research that links estrogen levels to certain types of cancer and certain types of food, his team identified two key ways that diet affects estrogen.  First, fatty foods encourage estrogen production.  In other words, if you eat a high fat diet, your estrogen highs will fly higher.  High highs make for more dramatic (and traumatic) lows.  Second, high fiber diets help to dispose of excess estrogen in your body.  Your liver filters the estrogen out of your blood and sends it packing into your intestinal tract.  If you have plenty of fiber in there, the fiber absorbs the estrogen along with other toxins and ushers it out of your body.  If you do not have enough fiber in your diet, the estrogen will pass right back through your intestines, back into your bloodstream.

Dr. Barnard’s prescription—eat plant-based, whole foods with no added fats for a month, starting on the first day of your period, and see if your PMS, cramps and cravings improve.

I did it.  Here’s how last month went.  I started the month with lofty health and fitness goals.  About 2 weeks into it, I got teary-eyed watching the preview for the Chimpanzee movie.  My husband said, “Are you about to cry?”  I laughed and said, “I must be ovulating.”  About 10 days later, I got hungry.  I really wanted a cookie, but I had a couple fruit smoothies over the course of a few days because I was a little hungrier than normal.  The smoothies hit the spot.  Five days ago, the eagle landed and things started doing what they do down there.  (I’m not very progressive when I talk about female stuff.  My husband will be shocked that I even used the word “period” in this blog.)  I had cramps the first day only, and everything was done by day 4.

Dr. Barnard rocks.  I know one month of “much better” does not constitute a life-changing discovery. So, I’m going to do it again and see if it helps.  If you need some help, you try it too, and let me know how it goes.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I don’t believe there is a cure for chocolate, but their is a better alternative. Dark chocolate has been as helpful as my diet when going through that wonderful monthly experience of highs, lows, cramps the remind me I’d rather be in labor, anemia and ravenous hunger. I don’t know what it is about it, but on my worst days when I am contemplating whether or not to eat a family member it really helps. It works better than that perfect salty, sweet, crunchy combination.

    Reply

    • Yeah, dark chocolate is my go-to for cravings since it is easier to find in vegan form. But, I really want to shake the addiction altogether. Someday, I’d like my food to be just for eating and my hormones/emotions/stress to be handled some other way entirely.

      Reply

  2. I tagged you in my blog on Wednesday. Come over and play!

    Reply

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