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.

WILDCARD: Makeup Masks

SONG: The Long Blondes – Weekend Without Makeup

When I was in sixth-form, my drama teacher asked me to do the unthinkable: come into school without wearing makeup. It was for a play I was rehearsing: Five Kinds of Silence by Shelagh Stephenson, and I played Mary, a sixty year old woman who had spent forty years in an abusive marriage after a childhood of neglect, her only company being two daughters who had also spent their lives being physically, sexually and emotionally abused by their father. It wasn’t a laugh-a-minute kind of play.

He asked me to get used to not caring what I looked like – when you rarely get to leave the house and are habitually raped and bullied for four decades, I can’t imagine you would care about slapping on your Maybelline. I also had to stop washing my hair at regular intervals or using contact lenses.
I should probably be ashamed to admit this, but: forget the harrowing monologues I had to rehearse where I screamed out for my neglectful father and twisted myself around memories of nightly self-harm – it was much harder for me to go to school every day without my face on.

You can judge me all you like for that (I did get 90/90 for my performance though, so maybe don’t condemn me too harshly) but I don’t think that makes me especially vain: I think it makes me pretty much like most females.

Where would we be without our slap? Pretty hideous and unloved, if you go by the multi-billion pound beauty industry that dominates the pages of every Women’s magazine and almost every ad-break on the telly. And if you are ever unfortunate enough to buy one of the many gossip mags (or read those that are disguised as newspapers – you know which ones I mean), then you will know that any unsuspecting celebrity female that leaves the house without having shovelled at least a dozen bizarrely-named products onto her face is branded as being a “wreck”: clearly, she’s so harrowed with some crisis or other that she’s forgotten the common knowledge that the sight of a naked ladyface is highly offensive and can only signal some kind of apocalyptic catastrophe in their lives. Next they’ll become a size twelve or something. I know: the horror.

The scariest thing is it is women themselves propagating this point of view. Basically, we’re all fucked.

This isn’t going to be one of those “but hahaha, for I am superior to all of you!” blogs though, because I have to admit I am thoroughly subscribed to the common view. It feels as though it is in my very genes, embedded in my brain activity like Catholic Guilt or a gag reflex:

  • If I go out of the house with makeup on – BING! I am asked out on more dates. I am respected more by staff in shops. I even generally have more fun.
  • If I go out of house without so much as a blemish stick applied: BOOM. I am a walking monster. People recoil at my presence. Shop staff deliberately send me in the wrong direction. I spend all day wishing I’d got up twenty minutes earlier so I could rub stuff into my pores in the name of attractiveness.

Of course, this is all nonsense, and I must know that really. I get asked out more because I feel more confident. I have fun because I feel good about myself. And I don’t think people really recoil at my presence when I’m not wearing makeup, but if they did it would be because I’m carrying around great big binbags full of self-doubt and defensive guilt, not because they can see what my real skin colour actually is.

The question is: how on earth do I (or maybe that should say ‘we’) shake off this feeling that our makeup wipes are full not only of orange gunk and black smears, but all our redeeming features that could possibly make us worth people’s time and attention? (No, I am NOT going to add ‘love’ to that list – this is not a frickin’ Bridget Jones movie just yet.)

If we can de-program Catholic Guilt and gag reflexes (or so I’ve heard, ahem!) from our brains, then surely we can de-program the feeling that we can’t leave the house without a face painted on? The problem is we aren’t bombarded daily with messages telling us that even saying the word ‘sex’ is evil out of wedlock, or that not gagging is the newest must-have skill, like we are with cosmetics campaigns. Until we aren’t, I just don’t think I’ll ever feel safe without that delightful feeling of my newly-styled hair sticking to the lipgloss I’ve just applied the second the wind blows: okay, so now I have sticky hair, but at least I’m reminded I’ve also got dreadfully sexy sticky lips as well, ergo I must be worth at least some of your time.

Maybe one day I’ll even look like this. Blimey. I’m almost cured. But not quite.