05 Sep Cycle Scent Series 3/5: Quiet cravings and reduce appetite
All this week, I’m sharing tips about how to use aromatherapy to treat certain issues related to your monthly cycle. If you missed any of these tips, you can find them here.
Today, we’re going to talk about using scents to combat two common issues during the second half of your monthly cycle: food cravings and an increased appetite.
Your cycle and food
For many women, changes in eating behavior in the second half of their cycle (which spans the day after ovulation through the day before your next period) can end up thwarting their health or weight goals, prompting frustration and irritation with themselves.
If you’re one of them, don’t be so hard on yourself. During the cycle phase, you’re up against two hormonal changes that impact how you manage food: You have higher levels of progesterone, which is a hormone that increases appetite and prompts cravings for salty, sweet, fatty and other indulgent, high-calorie foods. And, you have two steep drops in estrogen, which can decrease your level of serotonin–a brain chemical that helps trigger fullness when eating and reduces cravings.
On top of that, your willpower can be weakened due to dropping estrogen, which makes resisting temptation that much harder.
Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on willpower alone to combat these food issues. Filling up on healthy low-calorie foods you love (such as whole fruit, vegetables and grains as well as low-fat dairy) can keep you from overindulging in unhealthy options.
And, when you need a bit of extra help keeping eating in check, you can turn to aromatherapy.
Quiet cravings with a peppermint scent
Here’s a funny thing about peppermint: This zesty plant is well-known for helping folks suffering from nausea get their appetite back when they consume it.
Yet, when you sniff peppermint, it defuses cravings, so you end up eating less.
That’s what happened when volunteers inhaled a peppermint odor throughout the day in this 2008 study from Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia. They took a whiff of peppermint every two hours over five days and ended up eating about 360 fewer calories per day than on days when they didn’t inhale it.(1)
Scientists haven’t yet pinpointed why peppermint aroma has the power to dial down cravings, but it may have something to do with the fact that this scent revs alertness. Research shows that fatigue from lousy sleep increases the pull high-calorie comfort foods have on you by impacting reward areas of the brain in a way that makes these foods irresistible.(2) And, it just so happens that you tend to be more tired during the second half of your cycle in part due to poorer sleep caused by those two estrogen drops. On top of that, progesterone has a sedating effect, making the impact of lower-quality sleep even more tiring.
By sniffing peppermint throughout the day, you keep fatigue at bay–which could be a key way to fend off food cravings.
Some easy ways to use this tip: Keep a spring of fresh peppermint nearby, brew peppermint tea or dab a few drops of peppermint essential oil on a cotton ball, then enjoy a deep whiff periodically throughout the day.
Rein in appetite with an olive oil aroma
No doubt you’ve heard that extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is full of healthy monounsaturated fat that’s good for your heart, it’s brimming with antioxidants and it reduces inflammation. Not only that, but including it in a meal can actually make you feel fuller thanks its healthy fat, which sends satiety signals to your brain.
Sadly, it isn’t a great idea to add EVOO to every meal. That’s because it contains about 120 calories per tablespoon and 13.5 grams of fat (the majority of which is good fat, but fat it still is), which can quickly work against your weight-maintaining or weight-loss goals.
The good news? Simply inhaling EVOO scent’s may be an effective way to rein in your appetite so you eat less without even trying.
That’s the news from a 2013 study out of Germany’s Technical University of Munich. Researchers there discovered that when they infused food with an EVOO scent extract, study participants felt fuller and ate less over the course of the day.(3)
Why would that work? The study authors found that folks who breathed in an EVOO aroma had higher serotonin levels. So, it may be that one of the aromatic compounds that gives EVOO its distinctive smell tells the brain to churn out more of this appetite-regulating brain chemical.
To try this tip, simply open a bottle of EVOO when you’re eating and breathe in its aroma a few times throughout your meal.
Never miss a Hormonology tip!
Subscribe to the free Hormonology newsletter and get helpful tips & the latest research in your inbox:
I love learning about my cycle? Sign me up!
(1) “Effects of peppermint scent on appetite control and caloric intake”, Appetite, September 1, 2008, deepdyve.com/lp/elsevier/effects-of-peppermint-scent-on-appetite-control-and-caloric-intake-blAtT8XzK8
(2) “Sleep deprivation linked to junk food cravings”, news release, August 6, 2013, news.berkeley.edu/2013/08/06/poor-sleep-junk-food
(3) “Olive oil makes you feel full”, March 14, 2013, news release, tum.de/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/detail/article/30517/