Hormones, Hunger Cues & Diet Mentality

By Alison Dowling

" The problem is that the body knows what’s best for it! We’ve just become so muddied up with fear, restrictive thinking and contradictory fads that it’s hard to tune in to those cravings and the nutrients for which they’re calling."

Long ignored elements of women’s health are finally cracking the surface. “Biohacking” and working with our hormonal cycle are hot topics! But what about cyclical hunger cues?

Diet culture has plagued us for generations. The need to be a particular way to be “beautiful” and “virtuous” is hugely capitalized. This conditioning and subsequent taking advantage of our insecurities and feelings of inadequacy cost us thousands of dollars every year. Not to mention, diet mentality ignores innate hunger cues and makes denial second nature.

“I’ll just have a salad for lunch; we’re having pizza tonight.”

“I’ve been eating so much junk; I’m not hungry this morning.”

“I crave chocolate so much before my period, but I’m not eating sugar right now.”

“Today’s a cheat day.”

The problem is that the body knows what’s best for it! We’ve just become so muddied up with fear, restrictive thinking and contradictory fads that it’s hard to tune in to those cravings and the nutrients for which they’re calling. What if when we indulged, we also supported our bodies with a nutrient-dense meal to assist in responding to these less functional foods while enjoying them more?

We try to simplify it to “calories in, calories out” and punish ourselves for eating delicious things. While it can be helpful to use “calories in, calories out” when there is a need to address overconsumption, not all calories are created equal. The idea that we should restrict our eating out of fear is detrimental. It ignores all the baseline nutrition our body needs to function throughout the day! Let alone the additional resources it requires to respond to stress, illness or hormonal fluctuations.

Menstrual

Consider warming foods like soups and stews, as well as foods that support blood-building like red meat, beans, dark leafy greens and dark chocolate for its magnesium content. Replenish nutrient stores with healthy fats, protein and complex carbohydrates.

Luteal

Grounding foods (root vegetables and complex carbohydrates) help prepare the body before menstruation. Stabilizing blood sugar with regular meal times, increased fibre intake and avoiding lots of sweets and caffeine can help keep us stable as PMS trickles in.

Ovulation

Cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower, broccoli, and kale, are your friends! These help by upregulating detoxification pathways and clearing out excess hormones. More pronounced hormonal fluctuations contribute to symptoms like anxiety and irritability, gastrointestinal disruptions, acne, fatigue and more! This is also a time for lots of raw foods rich in natural enzymes.

Nutrition Throughout Your Cycle

The body has different nutritional needs depending on the phase of the hormonal cycle. The luteal phase (pre-menstrual), for example, is a time for stocking up in preparation for the work the body does during menstruation. Think about eating more iron and B vitamin-rich foods. Our hormones rise and fall twice, creating two waves in one monthly cycle. It is common for the length of the cycle to vary from the “norm” of 28-34 days. Charting your cycle is helpful while loosely following these guidelines and developing a nutrient-dense diet full of variety. Caring for our bodies in this way can help reduce extreme fluctuations and irregularities.

Follicular

Protein and various fresh, vibrantly coloured vegetables should fill your plate. Foods high in vitamin E will nourish ovaries and support the healthy production of estrogen. Estrogen is vital for reproductive health and plays an integral part in cognitive, bone and cardiovascular health. In addition, estrogen cooperates with progesterone for a healthy menstrual cycle and shapes our overall mental, emotional and physical wellbeing!

Food As Fuel

The body requires macronutrients to function —protein, fat and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are our quickest source of energy production, while protein and fat are slower burning energy sources. All macronutrients are necessary to sustain us, and by eating them in combination, we can support consistent energy throughout the day. “Junk” foods have negligible amounts or ratios that are insufficient for sustained functioning. Eating a well-rounded, nutrient-dense meal, regardless of treats and indulgences, is helpful, not harmful.

Then back to menstruation!

While filling your plate and eating to fuel your body, start paying attention to the differences between hunger, boredom and the desire for comfort. All of these are normal and serve a purpose, but beginning with a nutrient-dense and satiating meal sets us up for consistent and overall better functioning.

Support your body for everything it has to do and the great things you want to do! By reversing our thinking about food, we start to work in harmony with our bodies and treat ourselves with more compassion!

Alison Dowling

Alison is a Toronto actor and nutritionist. Through movement training and a love of food, she found holistic nutrition. When she's not writing or working with clients at the Clara Clinic in east Toronto, you'll find her catching up on auditions!