Q: I always fall off my diet when PMS hits—all I want is chocolate. Help!
A: You are definitely not alone. It is estimated that 40 to 50 percent of women only crave sweets during that time of the month. It probably isn’t surprising to know that a majority of these cravings are centered on chocolate.
Some researchers believe women actually long for the physiological effects of the treat’s nutrients and antioxidants, such as anandamide, which has been shown to have a calming effect.
Other scientists have found that only eating chocolate satisfies a craving for a candy bar. University of Pennsylvania researchers reported that eating white chocolate only reduced chocolate cravings by about half, and a capsule of cocoa powder (containing all the bioactive compounds of chocolate without the experience of eating it) had no impact on chocolate cravings.
Carbs are also believed to be part of the equation. Carbohydrate cravings associated with PMS are thought to be primarily driven by decreases in the hormone progesterone, however a study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior reported no effect of supplemental progesterone on cravings of chocolate or other sweets.
So it seems that there is something about the experience of eating chocolate that is hardwired in most women to satisfy PMS-driven cravings. Should you just give in and tell yourself that the calories don’t count since your body clearly needs them?
You wish—but there’s still more to the story: While it seems that the chocolate cravings are innate, you can impact the intensity of these cravings. Yet more studies show that PMS-rooted chocolate and sweets cravings are impacted by how you feel about yourself. Women who specifically crave sweets leading up to their periods report greater dissatisfaction with their body weight, greater guilt associated with eating chocolate, and greater fluctuations in body weight.
If this describes you, what can you do? The first step is to drop the food guilt. It is the driving force of all the characteristics in the aforementioned sentence. Developing a healthy relationship with food is an extremely important, yet rarely talked about skill. If we are talking specifically about chocolate and PMS, you can see by the research I’ve shared that you are not alone, there is a biochemical force driving the phenomena, and feeling guilty about these cravings will seemingly make them worse.
The next step is to find some chocolate options that satisfy without sending your calorie intake through the roof. I recommend these tasty yet healthy treats:
Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls
Dairy-Free Chocolate Mousse