When you’re trying to diet, your period can be a bitch. Am I right?
You start the diet, you do really well for a couple of weeks and lose a pound or two, then that time of the month comes… and, all of a sudden, you find yourself half-way through your cookie jar in ten minutes.
Maybe you’ve even read my tips on how to control your food cravings, but the allure of that chocolate box is simply irresistible during your period.
Are you doomed to never get into shape?
In fact, you can literally have your cake and eat it: By understanding more about your menstrual cycle, you can lose fat and have chocolate, too.
Want to learn how? Keep reading.
First of all, why do you get “period cravings”?
The average menstrual cycle lasts around 28 days and can be divided into phases.
The least “fat loss friendly” phase tends to be the luteal phase, which spans the last two weeks before you start bleeding.
In particular, the final week before the period (usually the third week after your previous period) can be a real challenge due to some physiological and emotional changes in your body.
As a result of these changes, hunger can skyrocket, and cravings may become your shadow. And not only do you want all the food; you also specifically crave high-carb and high-fat choices, like chocolate.
Why does this happen?
During the luteal phase, your metabolism is faster than usual, so you’re burning energy at a faster rate. As a result, the body demands more food to keep up with the increase in energy expenditure.
What’s more, during the final week before the next period, some people experience pre-menstrual symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, and tiredness, and turn to food for comfort.
The problem is that, between more frequent cravings and comfort eating, the calories you consume tend to exceed the extra calories you may be burning. So you could slow down or halt your fat loss progress, and even give up altogether because you feel like you’ve messed up.
Sounds familiar? Let’s find out how you can change this seemingly hopeless fate.
How can you prevent hunger and cravings from holding you back from fat loss success?
1. Track your period and your symptoms.
Every person experiences their menstrual cycle in a different way. So, first of all, you want to learn how your own period works.
You can do this with either an old-fashioned diary or a period-tracking app, such as Clue.
Here’s what you want to record:
Tracking for several months will help you learn your own patterns and allow you to plan your fat loss accordingly.
2. Try “intermittent dieting”.
“Intermittent dieting” is a fancy term for alternating weeks in a calorie deficit to days or weeks spent eating at maintenance calories, which I call diet breaks.
An intermittent dieting phase can look like this:
Intermittent dieting is a great way to break up your long-term fat loss goal into shorter-term goals. Achieving each of these milestones can give you momentum to continue the diet, and the diet breaks will feel like welcome rewards for each success.
I plan intermittent dieting phases for all my clients, regardless of whether they menstruate or not. If they do, it makes sense to align their luteal phase with a diet break, doesn’t it?
By increasing your calories when you’re at your hungriest, you can manage your increased hunger and satisfy your cravings without feeling like you’re going completely off-plan and failing the diet.
So, for instance, if you have a regular four-week cycle and experience really bad PMS, you could spend three weeks in a deficit and one week at maintenance each month.
Will this make your diet take longer?
Yes, but here’s why it doesn’t matter:
If you needed to meet a deadline, such as the day of a bodybuilding competition, you might not have the luxury of taking too many diet breaks or any at all. Then you could consider a more aggressive calorie reduction during one week in order to balance out the week you’ll be at maintenance.
For instance, if your calories are set to 1500 per day, and you decide to increase them by 300 for seven days, you could then reduce them by 300 for another seven days, and the average across the two weeks would still be 1500 per day.
However, this is an extreme measure that can make the diet overall harder to stick to, so skip this suggestion if you just want to get more in shape in a sustainable way.
3. Listen to your cravings.
When you’re on a diet, it’s normal to feel like you want to be “good” and only eat food you perceive as “healthy”.
So, even if you increased your calories to maintenance during a diet break, you might not want to have chocolate or other sweets for fear of “messing up” the healthy habits you’re trying to build.
Here’s why having that chocolate could actually improve your healthy habits:
What’s more, restriction will make you feel deprived – even if you’re technically eating more because you’re at maintenance! – and set you up for a potential off-plan overeating episode in the future.
To create a snack that strikes a good balance between a “psychological pick-me-up” and a more nutritious choice, and indulges your sweet tooth at the same time, you can add a square of chocolate or two to a bowl of Greek yogurt and fresh berries.
If you’ve been struggling to juggle period-related hunger, cravings, and fat loss, here’s a recap of what you can try to boost your results:
Try these tips, and nothing can hold you back from fat loss success.
What are your strategies to manage a diet throughout the month? Let me know in a comment!
A personal trainer who likes bodybuilding, superheroes, and bread.
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