Dieting Special #4: Dieting and PMS Cravings


SONG: Duran Duran – Hungry Like the Wolf

Just like that time Alan Davies bit a tramp’s ear, we all have off days.

You can lead a healthy lifestyle, consciously trying to make good food choices (even to the point that you start saying twattish things like “I can’t eat any more carbs today”) and then without any warning at all: BAM. It’s all over. Because your stupid bloody period is about to happen. (Edit, pun not intended at all. In fact it’s gross. Sorry.)

It’s not just PMS – various factors can lead to moodswings – but they all tend to give you hellish days when you’re so desperate for fudge-cake, chips, or Ben and Jerry’s that you’d happily inject yourself with it like some sort of gooey heroine.

How do you fight something like that? You spend all month being rational and committing to conscious choices, and then you have a few days where you’d happily sacrifice your own mother to the Gods in exchange for a packet of chocolate digestives. Nothing in your mind can convince you otherwise: you NEED a mountain of fatty, greasy food.

It’s all you can think about. Trying to appease the beast with healthy snacks is like trying to distract an angry guard dog with celery. So what do you do when your body rebels against you in this way?

A company in America reckons they’ve come up with a herbal pill that alleviates PMS cravings, but I don’t buy it. And a lot of magazines give advice like “Try and eat balanced meals”, “drink herbal tea” and “get plenty of exercise.” Okay, good luck telling a hungry pre-menstrual woman that to her face – she’ll rip yours off.

If that worked, we’d all just do it. It doesn’t. So how do you make the best of things? Well, here’s a little bit of advice – some from my own experience, and some from research I did just for you. And, well, me.

1. The Science Bit: Apparently, if we boost serotonin levels then the cravings are eased – it helps lift grumpy, self-destructive moods. Some people claim fruit does this, but WHO THE EFF WANTS TO EAT FRUIT WHEN YOU’RE PMSing?! Expert Judith J Wurtman PhD has written in the Huffington Post and Psychology Today about a study saying we need to eat a non-fruit, low-protein carbohydrate to produce serotonin. Stuff like popcorn, pasta, low-fat ice cream, cereal, English muffins, porridge with brown sugar, and fat-free fudge sauce. The cravings should ease in minutes. I think I love you, Judith.

2. Be Prepared: Now you know what foods ease cravings, you can make sure you have them around when you’re due on. They’re not exactly health-foods, but they are damage limitation, especially if you try and be realistic with portions.

3. Have less caffeine. It suppresses serotonin. It also makes me want biscuits, but I don’t think that’s exactly scientifically proven.

4. Don’t freak out. Some days, you’ll just eat crap, despite any advice. Let yourself enjoy it, that way A. You’ll realise when you’re full quicker and B. You won’t get into the vicious cycle of bingeing when you eat more because “oh well I’ve fucked it all up now anyway.”
Allow yourself some of your poison, even if it means you relax your diet for more than one day. If you avoid the guilt-binge, you’ll limit the damage, and will probably only have put on a couple of extra pounds at the end of it all.

5. Don’t weigh yourself until after your period. FFS, woman, are you batshit mad? As well as eating extra calories because your body is telling you to, you’ll probably be retaining water so you’ll weigh more anyway. If you weigh yourself, you’ll end up back on the guilt-binge train, destination: Sitting on Your Kitchen Floor Eating Cake Mix And Crying.

6. Remember your tricks. They might not work, but it’s still worth trying things like:
* Drinking a glass of water to check you’re not just thirsty.
* Having a little snack and waiting fifteen minutes to see if you’re actually full.
* Brushing your teeth (I do this shortly after lunch to put off my snack urges because it’ll taste all Colgatey)
Obviously, if none of these work then don’t be miserable, grab what you fancy.

7. I hate to break it to you, but exercise does increase serotonin. It’s the last thing I want to do when I’m pre-menstrual, so don’t feel you have to go to the gym or do that Davina DVD. I try little things, like walking to the shops for the paper every morning, or running around playing hide and seek with my niece. Or you could always wander up and down a jetty wearing a loose pink dress like the Bodyform ad.

9. Wildcard: Why Kenneth Tong Has Got The Skinny All Wrong

I was going to blog about careers today, because I intend to make this week’s blogs follow a ‘Careers’ theme. I was going to write about not being sure where your career will take you, and debate whether it’s important to know what you want to do at such an early age.

That was, until I read about the Twitter storm that was pathetically cultivated by Kenneth Tong this week, as he openly and repeatedly advocates ‘managed anorexia’ and tells women that size zero is the only size to be.

Apparently, if you don’t hold this view, you’re just jealous. Jealous and fat. So let me be honest:

I’m not a size zero. I’m probably what you would call skinny though – borderline underweight, in fact – after losing forty-four pounds in 2010. I’ll admit I was a curvy girl, technically overweight when I started (but only just), and that I was much more confident in myself once I’d lost weight. There are definite bonuses to not being overweight any more: not getting angry at your jeans when you try and put the on after they’ve been washed and not knocking yourself out when you go for a jog being two major ones.

Let me tell you: I was never happier once I’d got down to a perfect ten. But I was never more miserable once I continued to lose weight and became skinny.

Being skinny is a challenge. Here’s a few reasons why:

1. When you lose weight, you get used to feeling in control when you manage your eating. But when you reach a healthy weight, your brain doesn’t suddenly go ‘Bing! Now have a cake.’ Instead, it continues to nag at you every time you so much as glance at the biscuit tin. So now, when I go for a meal after ‘being good’ all week, even though I could currently probably do with gaining a little weight, my brain continues to aggressively bellow ‘WHOOO ATE, WHO ATE ALL THE PIIIIES?’ around my skull. Which sort of puts me off my risotto, if I’m honest.

2. No matter how skinny you get, you will always have skinnier friends. I know I do. So you turn up to the party showing off in that tight dress, and find yourself mentally counting how many ribs are visible on everyone else and feeling sort of put out that you look like one of the healthiest ones there. ‘Why can’t I look like I’ve been through a famine. It’s not faaair!’

3. There is no such thing as a Eureka moment when standing on scales. Find me a woman who has ever stepped on the scales and said ‘Oh, well look at that. I’m the perfect weight.’ and I will gladly spray chilli sauce in my own eyes. Trust me – it doesn’t happen. You will always think ‘Well, I can do this, then I can surely lose half a stone more.’

And do you know why you think this? Because you’re not a size zero yet. And do you know why you’re not a size zero yet? BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE THE BODY OF AN IMPOVERISHED TWELVE YEAR OLD BOY.

You have hips, and breasts, and a curve to your behind that drives any man with an active penis out of his mind. You have a typical woman‘s figure – not one that’s been drained of all signs of vivacity.

Being thin/slim is great. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t say that – I love being the size I am now. I’m an 8-10, fighting to keep above the underweight border despite this guilt-tripping brain I’ve engineered for myself. But bearing in mind I already have ribs on display, bearing in mind my colleagues already think I look ‘gaunt’, and bearing in mind I’ve already gone down a cup size – can you imagine what I’d look like if I went down a further TWO DRESS SIZES to become the British equivalent of a size zero?

I think I’d look like two nipples painted onto a pale plastic bag that’s been stretched over a hat stand.

Now, men – would you rather wake up next to that, or next to one of these:

1. Marilyn Monroe

Wow – look at the healthy meat on those thighs.

2. Beyonce

Be honest: even the girls watching that started breathing a bit funny, didn’t you?

3. Christina Aguilera

People were shocked by how curvy she’d become when she appeared on the X Factor last year. They were shocked because – despite the magazines telling you that size zero is the only way to be attractive – she still managed to pull off this sensual performance. What do you mean girls with a BMI of more than 12 can look sexy? NO WAY.

4. Rihanna

Just you wait until she takes off that dress. Those powerful legs and curves, and the way she moves with ease, being that special kind of sexy we all try and be in the mirror, and yet retaining such amazing self-respect. You don’t get that with diet pills.

What all these women have – as well as curvy frames – is an inner confidence that means they know they’re attractive. ‘What you want? Baby I got it!’ as Aretha would say.

And that, everyone, is not only what will get the positive attention of those around you, but it is also the way you will retain your self respect and feel happy in your own skin. And believe me, when you’re so busy trying to be skinny you find yourself counting how many Weightwatchers points are in a single fucking Quality Street at the Christmas party, it’s quite hard to cultivate that inner confidence thing.

Let me finish with a quotation from Belle De Jour’s The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl:

“Holding your stomach in when your clothes are off is not fuckable. Slapping your ample behind and inviting him to ride the wobble is.”

Slap those ample behinds, ladies.

/// End of blog post. Turns out I don’t need to blog about not being sure what I want to do for my career: I want to fight for what I believe in. I want to do this.

The ‘Winning’ Monster

Today was a lovely day – I went shopping with my Mama for the first time in years and we had a wonderful time trying on clothes and shoes and helping each other choose lipstick colours and face creams. In other words, we took the girly stereotype to a whole new level (we even came home and ate sushi afterwards. Truefax.) It was particularly special for me because I bought some size 10 jeans – the first time I’ve managed to fit into that size in 3 years.

The thing is, since Christmas I’ve lost 35lbs. That’s 2 and a half stone – in other words, I’ve shed around 25% of my total body-weight. Now, before you either throw doughnuts at the screen in horror or start a Mexican Wave – please understand this is not a self-congratulatory blog about weight loss. Nor is it an episode of Oprah, so it’s alright – I do not expect to start crying uncontrollably, nor am I about to wheel out a wheelbarrow full of bags of sugar representing all the little pounds of flesh I’ve kissed goodbye to in the past six months and roll around in it.

Thankfully, I also haven’t brought any photos of me bulging out of a leopardskin bikini for you to gasp at in a kind of ‘I’m being horribly offensive by showing my disgust at your former appearance, but it’s okay cos you’re skinny now!’ way (WHY do people do that?!) The thing is, I don’t have any such wobbly-bikini photos (and I’m also not exactly ‘skinny’ now either, thankfully). The truth is I wasn’t that enormous to start with – I was just a bit on the chubby side. By Christmas last year, I’d let myself creep up to a BMI of 25 – shock horror, I was 0.1 over the ‘overweight’ end of the scale. Suddenly, losing 35lbs might seem a tad over the top. So why did I do it?

At Christmas I got stressed – I had a lot of ‘stuff’ happening, (oh, you know how ‘stuff‘ is), not least of which was trying to squeeze my 12,000 words of essays and dissertation planning into my hectic schedule of more important Christmas duties, such as getting smashed on Advocaat, wearing as many ridiculous cracker hats as possible and guarding my Christmas tree from the vengeful wrath of my cat. Somehow amidst all the shenanigans, I forgot to have an appetite and I lost half a stone. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased, although I hadn’t tried to achieve this at all. I just got a taste for what it felt like to be a bit slimmer.

After Christmas, life really picked up for me. Lots of good things fell into place, and I started to remember what it felt like to care about my appearance and about achieving my goals. My ambition was in full swing. As the months went by, my appetite stayed low, and the weight kept falling off. I got the confidence to go out clothes shopping for the first time in about 2 years (I’d become one of those awful people for whom clothes shopping had become wrestling with the Dorothy Perkins website at 2am). Out with the size 14 jeans, in with the size 12s. Huzzah.

I suppose I started to feel that my success was becoming synonymous with my weightloss – the more I lost, the happier I’d be. This is, of course, nonsense. Because, suddenly, you start allowing yourself to believe that the ‘half stone’ mark below where you currently are will be the one that makes you happy – that will be your perfect weight. And then the one under that. And so on. And then you end up with a BMI of 19.4, as I am now. Well, the ‘half stone’ mark below where I am now is the point where – according to the Body Mass Index scale – I’d be underweight (18.5 or less). If It got there, would I be any happier? I certainly wouldn’t be any healthier. So I’ve decided enough is enough.

My problem is that I let my ambition take over the goals I’m trying to achieve, and this is a perfect example. I want something (in this case the ‘perfect’ bodyweight), and even if I can’t have it (could you find me a woman that steps on a pair of scales and doesn’t think she could lose a couple of pounds? Exactly.), I will try and get it anyway. And at some point along the line, I realise deep down that what I’m fighting for is unattainable (or didn’t exist to start with), but by that point it’s gone way beyond what I was originally trying to achieve and has become about winning – the goal isn’t important, it’s trying to reach it. Once I get there, it’s very hard to admit to defeat, and that’s when things start to get a bit counterproductive and… well, messy. Quite frankly, I need to learn to let go and stop stressing about the things I don’t have or I won’t be able to start being happy with the things I do have.

And yet I think we all do this sometimes. Whether it’s deciding you have to lose those ‘extra’ pounds even when you’re fine as you are, putting people you care about on a pedestal because you can’t bear to admit they’re not who you thought they were, or trying to be something when you can see it isn’t right for you… we’ve all clung onto something because we can’t bear to admit it didn’t work out like we planned.

Being ambitious is fine, but being so blinkered that you lose all sight of what it was you were first fighting for is about as healthy as sticking your head in a blender. Sometimes, the biggest achievement of all is actually accepting that you can’t always win – you won’t always get to the grass on the other side – and you need to stop – give up – before you end up in a very bad place indeed. I think it’s time to start living for now, and not always craning my neck around the next corner, trying to see if it might be better there. If anything, I can’t afford to buy any smaller jeans.

Image from chriswsn‘s photostream. Preeeetty.