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.

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A Weight Off My Mind

Bon Iver – Skinny Love

It’s taken me a very long time to decide whether or not it’s right for me to post this. In fact, if I do ever manage to press the ‘submit’ button, I know I’ll be being braver than I anticipated.

I don’t really do ‘personal’ on this blog (haaate it), but I now think that this is an important step for me, and after discussing this with so many people and seeing how I’m definitely not alone on this, I’ve decided this is for the best, even if its more revealing than I’m usually comfortable with. I just don’t want it to be preachy real life magazine story in a kind of ‘I Shot My Absent Father and Now He’s Haunting My Gender-Confused Kids’ way. This isn’t sensationalism or whining, it’s supposed to help. And hopefully not just me.

So here goes: I guess, if you want to put a label on it, I’m anorexic.

I don’t call myself this, but I have most of the symptoms, so whatever makes you feel better. I’m certainly not an extreme example by any measures. I still have my hair for a start.

Basically, when I’m stressed (and this happens about once a month or two on average, and lasts for a week or so at a time), I severely control my eating. I did it when I was 15-16, and it has crept back into my life with a vengeance in the last couple of years.

I go for days on end eating very little food at all, sometimes nothing for 24 hours, and it makes me feel a little bit more in control with the rest of my life.
I’m a total perfectionist, and if I feel I’m as skinny as I can be, I feel like I’ve achieved something. I know that’s utterly bonkers, you don’t need to tell me. But it can be a small consolation during the times where I feel like I’m struggling to achieve other, more solid things in my life.

I obsess over my calorie intake (yeah, what woman doesn’t from time to time?) weigh myself every day, get paranoid that other people are trying to give me high-calorie foods in disguise, feel I’ve put on weight after every meal, and cook for others without eating what I prepare myself.

And even though I’m actually underweight now, I always feel I can lose more. ‘Well, I’ve come this far…’ Sound familiar? Then you need to pull yourself together, you total bell-end. You’ll end up all ribs and no attitude. And guess what? It doesn’t make it all better.

It all starts with a stress-related reduction in my appetite. Something will change in my life, or something will shake me or my confidence, and I feel sick to my stomach with nerves or pressure, so I genuinely can’t eat.

Then I lose weight, (usually a significant amount, like half a stone in a week) and – as seems to be the default setting for us womenfolk – I immediately feel better. Then I continue forcing myself not to eat, even when I do feel a bit hungry again, because I associate those positive feelings about weightloss with regaining some kind of control on my situation.  ‘Cos everyone knows cake kills your career, and if you eat a kitkat then your boyfriend won’t love you anymore. Right?

If I’m skinny, I’ll feel better.

If I’m skinny, they’ll like me more.

If I don’t eat, I’ll have more time to do things that will make my life better.

The problem is, it doesn’t work like that. Being skinny has nothing to do with my success, my friends, my relationships or my happiness. Being comfortable in your own skin does, and it’s the hardest lesson to learn.

Here’s me in October and December 2009. I’m 11st, and my BMI is exactly 25. Despite that meaning I was technically just overweight, I was pretty happy here, chubby cheeks and curvy bum and flabby arms ‘n all.

On 22nd December, 2009, someone said something to me that reminded me of how I’d been when I was sixteen: starving myself to be happy. It stuck fast in my mind. It was a relatively stressful Christmas, and I found myself back in that mind-frame of self-starving with frustrating ease to combat the issues I was having in other areas of my life. I lost 7lbs in a week, and realised I had the bug back.

A relatively stressful January – April followed: a big work event, my Uni finals, various personal issues, and my thirst for perfection (i.e a First, and general world domination) ensued. By April, I’d lost 35lbs, and two dress sizes. It was nearly entirely achieved by starving, drinking black coffee to curb hunger, and obsessively counting every calorie I dared to consume.

In the summer, I felt like I healed. I got my First, and I loved my job and the people in my life. I bought a new wardrobe of clothes. I got back my old eating habits. I didn’t put on weight, but I felt happier than I had for a long time. Of course, I put this down to the fact I was now skinny, at 8 1/2 stone. And I continued to count every calorie I ate, right down to the single Quality Street offered to me by a colleague. Yeah, basically because I was a bit of a twat.

In December 2010, some of the old stress returned. I had issues, and a dress I knew I would have to fit into for a party in January became my way of distracting from these issues. It was a small size eight, and I was scared I’d put on weight over Christmas (like every other human being in the country, but who cares about common sense?) and it wouldn’t fit. So I returned to my old habits, and lost another 11lbs in two weeks. I was under 8st, and underweight, and the dress hung off me.

These aren’t ‘shock’ photos. Yeah, I’m skinny (my arms and jawline quite frankly look ridiculous in comparison to the ones in December 2009), but I’m only just underweight. I don’t look like I’m starving. What I’m trying to convey is the mindset: that skinny = happy. That losing weight = solving issues that have nothing to do with my size. The photos at my skinniest are always shortly after the most stressful periods of my life.

I actually put on 10lbs between January and June, but in the last two weeks I’ve lost it all again because I’ve been struggling with a few more issues. And the other symptoms of anorexia have made a return with a total vengeance: no energy, insomnia, mood swings, headaches and dizziness, digestive issues, bruising easier than a fucking peach (you should see my calves), weighing yourself every day, fear of eating in front of others, sore throats, etc. There’s a list here: I have nearly every one of those symptoms.

It’s worse than ever before, but that’s finally made me realise that I can’t keep doing this to my body. I’m not happier being skinny – I never was. I’m happier being confident about being me, and that comes from having the self-respect to give your body the food it needs (and a few chocolate eclairs along the way) and the realisation that your weight has nothing to do with how much you are worth as a person.

The trouble is once you get into the habit of doing this to yourself, it’s really hard to stop. When I get nervy about something, I pinch my pointy hip bones and collar bones to remind myself they’re there, or run my fingers up and down my ribs to prove how pronounced they are. And I know that when I next get stressed about something, I’ll want to stop eating again. I don’t know how long it will take me to stop this, but I’m determined to do it. As I said at the beginning of this post, I’ve been discussing this with close friends recently, and some of them have eerily similar issues. I know they’ll give me a poke when I start to lapse back into my old habits.

Life is too short to count calories. Life is too short to think that no one will love you if you can’t shop at Topshop without feeling self-conscious. Life is too short to say things like ‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’ while staring longingly at Raspberry Brulee Cheesecake.

So if you think doing this is going to help you, think again and have a bloody muffin. I promise you’ll feel better in the long run. We both will.

Now you’ve read this post, you can either ostracise me as a crazy person, or realise that no one judges me more than myself. I just want to stop this total silliness, so please feel free to leave your own weight/body-image stories in the comments. I promise every one of them will help.

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.