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PMS Cravings - Oh My!

Women often experience extra hunger and cravings during their cycle, and often will slip up, and then feel defeated. Today we talk about what is going on in the body, and explore some tools to help overcome these issues and keep you moving forward on your weight loss journey.

Some of this weeks episode highlights are:

12:28 Your brain needs the raw materials to make neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and others. If you're not eating your vegetables, you're not getting the raw materials in their natural form that your brain needs to make these neurotransmitters.

15:54 Avoid processed foods and sugary beverages. When I say processed foods, I mean, junk foods, foods that come in wrappers and bags and boxes or food that comes in a bag from a drive-thru or some other fast food restaurant. Be suspicious of anything that doesn't require dishes and silverware.

22:47 The only people who fail at weight loss are the people who quit. All you have to do is pick yourself up and start over.

--- Full Raw Transcription Below ---

Dr. Angela Zechmann (00:00):

You are listening to the Keep The Weight Off podcast with Dr. Angela, episode number 29.

Introduction (00:07):

Welcome to The Keep The Weight Off podcast, where we bust all the dieting myths and discover not just how to lose weight, but more importantly, how to keep it off. We go way beyond the food and we use science and psychology to give you strategies that work. And now your host, Dr. Angela Zechmann.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (00:28):

So, Hey friends, welcome back! Real quick before we get started today, I want to remind everyone that we will soon be starting the next iteration or the next class of Journey Beyond Weight Loss. We're going to have our kickoff call in mid September. If you have never heard of Journey Beyond Weight Loss before, welcome to our podcast because we've been talking about it all through. So that means you haven't heard any of the podcasts before, but this is a 12 week online course and membership where I teach you all the skills that you need to lose weight and keep it off. And so keep your eyes and ears to the ground and watch your email for the announcement that registration is going to be open, cause that's going to happen in mid September. And our kickoff call is September 21st. And in the meantime, if you haven't already done it, make sure that you join us in Sugar (and Flour!) Buster's Society on Facebook. You can get a lot of support there.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (01:30):

So I just really we're trying to do everything we can think of to help you on your weight loss journey, because this is not the easiest thing in the world. And I want you to have all the support that you need. So with that being said we thought that we would talk about PMs cravings today. And the reason is because Marchelle said I've been hearing a lot of people talking about having all of these crazy cravings right around the time of their periods. So what's been going on, what are you hearing Marchelle?

Marchelle (02:07):

So hi everybody. So the reason why I want to do this podcast is this is like a reoccurring struggle with our patients. That a lot of times when they'll come in for their monthly review or check in, we'll walk in with their heads down.

Marchelle (02:27):

They're upset and they didn't want to come. And it's because the, you know, right around the time of like before they're going to have their period, they feel uncomfortable about talking about this, but there, you know, when they do talk about it, they feel bloated and they're probably retain water. Plus they have like these cravings mostly for, you know, sugar, chocolate actually. And so it's just been coming up over and over again. And it also like happens to me and it, and it just happened to me like recently, probably worse than I can remember, or maybe it was just kind of at the forefront of my mind. So I paid more attention to it, but like all of a sudden, you know, I'm doing really well. And all of a sudden I start craving chocolate really bad. And then I started correlate, you know, these, these time periods when this happens.

Marchelle (03:15):

And and it's probably PMs, but I feel like it's an, it's a real thing. You know, I know people post memes like, OH PMS - craving chocolate. Yeah. So that's why I asked you when we were in, you know, in the office the other day, I'm like, you know, I'd really like to do a podcast about this because it just keeps coming up and coming up. And I just want, you know, people that are listening to know more information about it, because it is, it is a struggle during your journey with weight loss, where this is a point where you can like spike up a little bit. You know? I mean, I know like some of the females that come in to the clinic, they can like shoot up like six pounds or more. And that's when that's just what it shows on the scale.

Marchelle (03:58):

When we do the body composition at the clinic, then it breaks that down and you can clearly see that that's what's going on, but when, you know, a girl gets on the scale and she sees that, you know, all of a sudden the negative self-talk happens, especially if they've had cravings and they've given into them during that time. And so then it, then this whole like thing happens where they feel defeated. And so I just think it's important for us to address this part of yeah.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (04:28):

And how many times does it happen that somebody will, you know, they're like, oh gosh, I'm on my period, this, you know, for this visit. And so they want to make sure that when they're coming in next month, that they're not scheduled while they're going to be on their periods so that we put them in, you know, at either at three weeks or at five weeks instead of at the standard four weeks. Like that happens a lot.

Marchelle (04:50):

This is true. I do it all the time.

Marchelle (04:54):

It's just, it's just something that we it's uncomfortable to talk about, I guess, because it's sorta like the stigma of, oh, she's on her period. You know what I mean? It's a real, like when you're really being conscious and you're trying really hard, you know, like a lot of us are, I mean, we're all trying really hard. And then when you have like something that you consider a setback, I think it's important to have like some, some tools to use to get through that, to keep on going, because I just, it makes me sad to see people struggling with this and then feeling defeated and then a lot of negative self-talk happens and yeah. Yeah. Let's hear it.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (05:31):

Yeah. Okay. Well, the first thing is I want to let everybody know that I'm I'm into the menopause now, so we could do a whole nother podcast on that piece of it!

Dr. Angela Zechmann (05:42):

But I do remember having these intense cravings and hunger right around that time of the month and it would drive me insane. And you know, the other thing is maybe you've had a hysterectomy and so you're not actually having periods anymore, but you still have your ovaries, and so you still have that monthly cycle. So, you know, even if I just want to make sure that that women realize that even if they don't have uteruses, unless there's a contraindication, usually you do still have your ovaries. And so you do still have the hormone fluctuations that occur every month. So just be aware of that. And, but I just remember, you know, I would just, I would gain weight. I would feel bloated. I'd have these terrible cramps. I'd feel like crap. It would just be Ugh. And it happened every month and it's just like, oh, you know, here we go again.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (06:35):

So I just want you to know I get it. So we're going to talk about what causes these cravings, what causes all of this extra hunger what's actually happening in the body around this time. And what I want you to know is that, you know, the menstrual cycle is typically 28 days - is the standard menstrual cycle. I will say that while you're in the weight loss process that can change. And I've had people tell me they've had two periods in one month, or they haven't had any periods for awhile. And I always have to make sure that women in childbearing age are on good birth control, when they're going through the weight loss process, because things will change on you. And you don't really know when you're ovulating and when you're having your period. But if let's say you have a standard 28 day cycle you ovulate around day 14.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (07:32):

And remember the cycle starts with the first day of the period. That's when you start day one. And then day 28 is the last day before the period. So day 14 is typically right around ovulation. After that time you start having increases in the hormones, estrogen and progesterone, and then they're going to drop really quickly, right before you have your period. Now, when estrogen increases, there's a corresponding increase in cortisol. So do you remember what cortisol is? Do you remember what that is?

Marchelle (08:10):

It's a stress hormone.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (08:12):

Yeah. And that can cause an increase in appetite. So we have this tendency to eat more and feel hungrier in the days before our periods. And I remember that really clearly! I was just very hungry and it wasn't necessarily cravings at that point in time, it was just extra hunger. And then once my period came, I just was like, eh, I couldn't care less about food, but as it turns out, there's actually more going on than just cortisol increases and estrogen and progesterone - right before the period starts, serotonin levels drop.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (08:51):

Now, do you remember what serotonin does Marchelle?

Marchelle (08:55):

It's the, your pleasure hormone?

Dr. Angela Zechmann (08:58):

Actually, dopamine is more of a pleasure transmitter. It's a neurotransmitter. Yeah, but it's more like a, it just helps you feel steady and stable and good. And it's not really pleasure in the way dopamine is pleasure.

Marchelle (09:13):


Dr. Angela Zechmann (09:15):

It's a happy hormone Yeah. Happy and low stress hormone. So that drops and you get irritable and something just doesn't feel quite right.

Marchelle (09:25):

A hormone or transmitter?

Dr. Angela Zechmann (09:27):

It's a neurotransmitter, I'm calling them, I'm calling it. It's a neurotransmitter. Yeah. Okay. Sorry. Thank you for correcting me. But but yeah, I kind of, I kind of use those terms interchangeably and I shouldn't you're right. So so serotonin is a feel-good neurotransmitter. And so we end up getting sort of irritable when when our serotonin levels drop. And they've discovered that when you eat carbs that your brain will actually make more serotonin.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (09:57):

So this is felt to be the reason why we have these carb cravings. You mentioned, and I experienced it as well, chocolate cravings. So what's up with that? They, they think that chocolate has the precursors to serotonin in it, so it could help the brain to produce more serotonin. So that's going to help improve mood and sleep, and it's going to help reduce anxiety. So it's really felt that these, these crazy cravings that we endure are biologically driven. They really are. Like, you're not crazy. You feel crazy, but you're not. Now unfortunately, giving into these cravings can make the problem worse because now you not only have a brain that's been triggered sort of like we talked about with what happened to me last week, but now you also have to deal with blood sugar swings that can make your cravings worse. And then you have extra insulin being produced.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (11:03):

If it's high sugar, high carb cravings that you've been giving into and that's going to drive fat gain, and that's going to counteract leptin in the brain. Now leptin is a hormone that tells you that you're satisfied. And what they found is that when insulin levels are high the brain doesn't see the leptin. So you don't know how much you've had to eat and that's makes your brain thinks you're starving. So it just sort of becomes this self perpetuating cycle. So does that making sense, Marchelle?

Marchelle (11:37):

Well ya - I mean, when you say it like that, yeah.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (11:41):

It's like, okay, so here I have these carb cravings. I feel like crap already. I just want to have something to make me feel better. And then you have some…

Marchelle (11:50):

It's hard being a woman.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (11:51):

It is. And then you have something that, that makes you feel better than, you know, you end up with blood sugar swings and more insulin and more leptin.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (12:00):

And it's, it's tough. It's just tough. So I don't want anybody to feel badly about any of this. I want you to just recognize what's going on. There are things that you can do to kind of minimize the effect of all of this. So I'm going to give you some tips to help minimize the effect. So you ready?

Marchelle (12:23):


Dr. Angela Zechmann (12:23):

Okay. First thing I want you to do is I want you to make sure that your brain has everything it needs to make serotonin all the time. So I cannot begin to explain the importance of a good nourishing diet with lots of vegetables and healthy fats, because the brain needs, omega-3 fatty acids. These are found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna various nuts and seeds for particularly flax seeds has omega-3 fatty acids in it. You could also take an omega-3 supplement.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (13:03):

Your brain needs the raw materials to make these neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine and others. And if you're not eating your vegetables, you're not getting the raw materials in their natural form that your brain needs to make these neurotransmitters. So most of us don't eat many vegetables. I mean, we just, it's interesting for me when I'm looking at food journals of people, I'm pretty much a very, very common recommendation is even when everything looks great on the food journal, I'm always saying, wait a minute, where's your vegetables for lunch? Where's your vegetables for dinner, eat your vegetables, you know? And and so that's the first thing is to make sure that you get the raw materials that you need, because otherwise your moods are gonna be all over the place all the time, and you're not going to feel stable. And then when PMS hits, it just gets 10 times worse and you just get easily depressed.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (14:02):

You get overwhelmed, you get stressed out. And then everything gets magnified during that, during that monthly cycle. So I try to eat 20 ounces of vegetables every day. So at least two out of my three meals have vegetables in them. And sometimes all three do, because sometimes I will make an egg scramble with a bunch of vegetables in it. And it's delicious. And this is one of those secrets to a healthy life that all those diets out there don't really tell you about. They're so busy trying to get you to eat less by eating all of these artificial shakes and bars and hardly anyone eats enough vegetables, so vegetables. Okay. So that's the first thing.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (14:45):

Second thing is to get regular exercise. Now, remember we don't exercise to burn calories. We exercise because our bodies need to move. And so exercising is going to help stabilize your cortisol levels. So that stress hormone, you're going to feel less anxious and less stressed out when you're a regular exercise and you just feel good and you can manage those PMS cravings better.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (15:14):

Third thing is to make sleep a priority. So we talked about sleep a couple of weeks ago on the podcast. If you didn't hear that really important podcast on sleep goal, listen to that next, because in my opinion, sleep is one of the most important things you can do to lose weight and keep it off and to help you manage your moods and your cravings. Most of us are walking around just plain tired all the time, because we just don't sleep very well. And so your cravings are going to be way worse if you're tired and fatigued and run down and dragged out because you're not sleeping well. Okay. So that's, so those are three things.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (15:54):

So I talked about making sure you're getting your vegetables, making sure you're exercising regularly, making sure you're getting good sleep. Here's another one. Avoid processed foods and sugary beverages. Now, you know, this is kind of what we talk about all the time, but I just want to make sure everybody understands what I mean. When I say processed foods, I mean, junk foods, foods that come in wrappers and bags and boxes or food that comes in a bag from a drive-thru or some other fast food restaurant. Be suspicious of anything that doesn't require dishes and silverware. Okay.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (16:36):

If you're not eating it off a dish with some silverware, check it and make sure that it's not full of crap. Okay. So when we eat processed foods, our insulin levels have to run high in order to metabolize all the carbs and sugar. And this wreaks havoc with our hormones and PMS becomes 10 times worse than it needs to be. So really work at training yourself to think about processed foods in the same way you think about cigarettes, like they're toxic for the body. They just are.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (17:10):

Next tip is to minimize caffeine and alcohol intake, particularly during that pre-menstrual time, because caffeine can make you more irritable and make it difficult to get the rest that you need. And alcohol can cause you to give into cravings more easily. Okay.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (17:32):

So some women will actually benefit from an over-the-counter supplement called 5-HTP. It's also called 5-Hydroxytryptophan, and that can help increase serotonin levels and help you feel better and sleep better and help reduce anxiety. Remember that we don't give any individual medical advice on this podcast. I would not take any 5-HTP unless you check with your doctor first to make sure that it's safe for you because taking 5-HTP in combination with some of the, some types of antidepressants might send your serotonin levels too high. That doesn't happen very often, but it is a risk. So I'm just letting you know what the options are here. Some women do benefit from 5-HTP and they've, I've had a lot of women in our practice who've had a great response to that. So it can really help boost serotonin levels.

New Speaker (18:29):

I would say, if you want to go ahead and have some chocolate, get the absolute, darkest chocolate you can stand. Because remember, it's not the sugar in the chocolate that's helping. It's the actual it's actual precursors in the chocolate itself and have a little piece of it. So I found at trader Joe's that they've got a pretty good selection of really dark, low sugar, chocolate. That's very satisfying and small amounts. You have to kind of get used to your chocolate, being a little bit more bitter than sweet. But when I have a chocolate craving that's what I do is I just have a little bit my boyfriend likes to say…

Marchelle (19:12):

I was going to interject here because I hear that a lot when people are told, you know, if you're going to have chocolate, you know, get the darkest chocolate. Yeah. So, but then I'll see a lot of people say, I do not like dark chocolate. It is not satisfying for me. I can't eat the dark chocolate because I don't do caffeine. I'm super sensitive to it now. And the reason that dark chocolate makes me jittery and not, I mean, I don't know, call me a weirdo, but I can't like, I can't relax. I mean, I get judged just like I over drank coffee. That's been an issue for me. So I know that it sounds great. You know, just eat some dark chocolate, but we're not all built like that. Yeah, no, I mean, I w what do you say to that? I mean, if you just…

Dr. Angela Zechmann (19:59):

Well, If that doesn't work, that doesn't work. It's just an idea. It's funny because dark chocolate sort of like coffee is a, it's a it's something to your palette has to kind of get used to. And what I have discovered is that the more processed food I eat, the more I don't like dark chocolate, the less processed food I eat, the more I do like dark chocolate. So I think that your taste buds change when you get off processed food for some people, not everybody. I mean, for some people it's just too, it's just too bitter. But for many people, once you get off processed food, there are some of these other types of foods that you used to, you know, not be able to stand suddenly, you're like, oh, that's actually pretty good. You know? So your taste buds change when you get off, when you get off processed food.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (20:57):

So, but you're off processed foods. So it's just, it just must be your taste buds just, don't like.

Marchelle (21:02):

No, it's, it's not, it's not me. So these, this is just the feedback that I've heard at the clinic, because, you know, we've told patients that like, do you know the dark chocolate, if you're going to do chocolate. And I have had a lot of patients say I don't like dark because I don't like the taste of it. And it's, so it's not, it's not an option for them, but for me, it, it it's the caffeine, the caffeine in it. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I don't know. And it doesn't taste that great. I mean, runner and whatever. Yeah. It's not, you know, it's not like they're Hershey's company is where I'm headed.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (21:36):

The milk chocolate. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, yeah, you want to avoid that because that that will have sugar in it that will make the cravings worse. So…

Marchelle (21:45):

I thought it was the sugar that I, that, like, I didn't .. until you explained this, I thought that that's what it was that when your PMS'ing was the sugar and the chocolate - just so happened that you're going to have chocolate. I don't know why I ever crave chocolate, but it is - it's specifically chocolate. And I just thought it, maybe it was the sugar, but I mean, this explains a lot more now.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (22:05):

Well, some people, some people are craving more of the salty, crunchy stuff during that, during that time too. So not everybody has chocolate cravings, but it's common enough, you know, and you've seen the memes, there's a lot of memes out there, stay away from my chocolate, you know, so, yeah.

Marchelle (22:25):

Yeah. I just also, you know, want to, you know, continue to the other side too, if you do, you know, splurge and you give into these cravings and, you know, and you have a slip or whatever, you know, and you're feeling bloated because, you know, you're, you're retaining water.

Marchelle (22:44):

You really just have to give yourself a break.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (22:47):


Marchelle (22:47):

Now, you know, and knowledge is power. You know, now that Dr. Zechmann has done this podcast, you know, it made me feel a lot better about what happens to me during this time before, you know, I just, I didn't understand. And I would give in and felt like, you know, oh God, I can't believe I did this. And you just have to be like, really, really kind to yourself and pick yourself back up and keep on going.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (23:11):

Well, here's the deal. The only people who fail at weight loss are the people who quit. Right. All you gotta do is pick yourself up and start over. It's not a big deal. It's just like a baby learning how to walk. You just get up and you're stronger because of it. So it's nothing to feel bad about if you did slip while you were having that time, it's no big deal at all.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (23:36):

Don't make it a big deal. It's just a little, a little blip in the road, so right. And it's not a big deal at all, but there are biochemical reasons that I think it helps understand that, that you're not crazy. This was great. I mean, I've just never heard this, this information about PMS because we all got uncomfortable to talk about people kind of look at it. Like, I mean, not, not, I would say people who don't understand like mostly men, right. They, you know, oh, you're just having PMS, you know, or if like, if you're, you know, upset or something, or you're just PMSing and the memes about, you know, the craving, you know, kind of like, it's kind of a joke. And, but then when I see patients come in and they are really, really struggling and it's because, you know, they're going through these cravings and, you know, and they, they can't control.

Marchelle (24:29):

It just comes out of nowhere. Like you're doing everything you're supposed to do. And then out of the blue, you know, you're… And we even, you know, for some patients, we even prescribe, you know, a medication during that time period, because people are craving stuff so bad during the evenings that they need extra help. Yeah. Yeah. So I just, I think it's really helpful to talk about this and break it down and explain the science so that we can all give ourselves a break and, you know, not feel so ashamed.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (25:02):

Exactly. Yeah. Sometimes the medications can be very, very helpful too, just a little extra boost during that premenstrual time to help calm the brain down can be very, very helpful for people. So, yeah. Yup. So ask your doctor about that. Ask your obesity medicine specialist about that too. All right. So I hope this helps everybody.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (25:26):

Again, something that many people are sort of embarrassed to talk about, but it's perfectly normal and perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed about. And don't worry about it. Just make sure that you're getting, you know, again, make sure you're getting your rest, make sure you're getting your vegetables, make sure you're getting your exercise. Consider taking some 5-HTP stay away from the processed foods on a regular basis. Minimize caffeine and alcohol intake. And you'll find that you are able to sail through it much, much easier. I'm not going to say it's going to be easy, but I will say it'll be easier if you are generally good at taking care of yourself.

Marchelle (26:06):

So that no matter what happens, don't give up and just keep on going.

Dr. Angela Zechmann (26:09):

Exactly. Never give up. All right. Awesome. Well, thanks Marshall. Thanks to all of you for listening and we'll see you back next week. Take care. Bye Bye!

Closing (26:21):

Hey, if you really want to lose weight and keep it off for good, your next step is to sign up for Dr. Angela's free weight loss course, where you're going to learn everything you need to get started on your weight loss journey, the right way. Just head over to to sign up. Also, it would be awesome if you could take a few moments and write a review on iTunes. Thanks!

And we'll see you in Journey Beyond Weight Loss.



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