How does your cycle affect emotional eating? Study offers new–and useful–insight

How does your cycle affect emotional eating? Study offers new–and useful–insight


I feel like before I get into today’s Hormonology Tip, I have to lay my cards on the table here: I don’t enjoy writing about dieting and weight loss and food issues.

That’s because it’s a reeeaalllllyyyy touchy subject. Like religion. Or politics. Or if you like singing karaoke.

On top of that, talking about weight makes some women feel instantly bad about themselves unnecessarily. And it can be a trigger in women who are sensitive to weight-related topics, exacerbating pre-existing food issues. And, that’s a total drag any way you look at it.

On the other hand, it’s my job here to report on studies that show all the ways your hormones impact you–including your food consumption and weight.

Plus, I want to share my own life according to my hormone cycle with you, which is why in October, I posted how I used my own Hormonology Guide to Slimming Down to drop over 25 pounds.

So, in the spirit of sharing important and interesting hormone information with you, I want to report on new research about food and your cycle today. However, if you’ve got food issues, either skip today’s Hormonology Tip or take a deep breath and dive in with me:

Okay, so there’s a new study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders that shows you’re more at risk of “weight preoccupation”–having more frequent and intense thoughts about your weight–during your menstrual week (Week 1) and premenstrual week (Week 4).

How the researchers pegged this down: They asked 176 sets of identical and fraternal female twins ages 15 to 25 years to keep daily ratings of how frequently they thought about their weight or dieting, their mood and if they did any emotional eating (eating food in response to stress, sadness, anxiety, a disappointment or another emotional reason) for 45 days.

The women were also given daily saliva tests to confirm where they were in their menstrual cycles.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that when the women were in their menstrual and premenstrual weeks, they were far more likely to experience weight preoccupation.

However, the researchers were surprised to find that this increase in body weight anxiety was not directly due to hormones. Which means they don’t think this is a symptom of low estrogen that happens cycle after cycle.

Instead, they found that how much emotional eating is done during your Week 3 (the week right after ovulation) is really the big culprit behind a rise in weight preoccupation in your menstrual and premenstrual weeks. That’s because it can trigger guilt about eating excess calories that leads to a negative body image in the two weeks that follow–two weeks when low estrogen is sapping your confidence and water retention is making you feel heavier than usual.

So, what’s all this mean for you?

The good news is that, according to this study, anxiety about your weight is not a given. This isn’t a direct side effect of hormone fluctuations you have to put up with cycle after cycle like the grouchies and sleep problems.

If you experience weight preoccupation during your menstrual and premenstrual weeks, you have the power to prevent it by curbing your emotional eating in your Week 3.

The bad news is that, as most everyone knows, emotional eating is tough to curb. Food is an easy source of comfort, congratulations and cure for boredom.

Joining a weight-loss program that offers tips for reducing emotional eating or seeing a cognitive behavior therapist can help you change eating patterns–even in the face of Week 3 rising progesterone’s push to get you to pile in excess calories.

And here are three few proven techniques that can help you resist the urge to eat your emotions right now. Try one–or all three–to find out which works best for you:

1. Think about thisNext time you’re tempted to munch on doughnuts, chips, ice cream and other high-calorie comfort foods when you’re down or stressed, focus on the reasons those feelings will pass. And if you’re tempted to eat to congratulate yourself or celebrate, think about reasons those good feelings will last. In a 2009 study, a research team out of the University of Chicago and University of Michigan found that emotional eating is often a result of people trying to improve their mood–whether it’s to chase away negativity or prolong positivity. But, if you realize you don’t need food to manage your mood, you’ll be reminded of your long-term goals–for instance, lowering your blood pressure or fitting into your favorite jeans–which makes you more likely to skip excess eating.

2. Imagine a positive future: When the urge to reach for a high-calorie food pops up in your Week 3, block out all thoughts about your past and instead focus on positive plans and outcomes about your future–for instance, how happy and proud you’ll be when you pass a class, finish a project or write a new song. A 2011 study in the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that thoughts about past events–even happy ones–can trigger emotional eating that drives you straight toward fatty and sugary foods. On the other hand, combining positive thoughts with thoughts about your future packs a double-whammy to cravings by strengthening your self-control and decreasing your desire for unhealthy foods.

3. Prepare non-food substitutes: Before your Week 3 arrives, prepare to use your favorite non-food mood-lifting substitutes as alternatives, for instance, going for a walk, chatting with a best bud or heading to a yoga class. This way, you get the emotional boost you crave without all the extra fat and calories that can trigger guilt.

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