Perimenopause and sugar cravings
Perimenopause is the period of time before you enter menopause where levels oestrogen and progesterone start to fluctuate and naturally decline. This can start in your 40s but for some of you it may start earlier. You might notice a variety of different symptoms and you may notice changes to your period. For example, your cycle may get shorter, your periods are heavier, or they may get lighter or irregular. It can vary each month and vary for everyone.
The sex hormone oestrogen has a role in various body systems and therefore you may experience a variety of symptoms which include:
Changes to menstrual cycle
Decreased sex drive
Changes to Weight
There are many other symptoms that can be added to this list and they will vary from person to person as we are all genetically unique.
Another symptom that you may not associate with the perimenopause is sugar cravings. During the perimenopause you may find that your sugar cravings are off the scale and tricky to manage. There are a few different reasons for this.
Fluctuating levels of oestrogen and progesterone
Oestrogen and progesterone fluctuate during the perimenopause. These hormonal changes can impact the brain’s reward system and neurotransmitters involved in regulating your appetite and cravings which lead my lead to an increase in your sugar cravings. Neurotransmitters are hormone like chemicals that carry messages to tell certain part of your body to carry out an essential action. For example, dopamine is a neurotransmitter and it is involved in pleasure/reward, satisfaction and motivation. When you eat sugar, the reward system in your brain is activated and dopamine is released. You start to associate eating sugar with satisfaction and as the dopamine levels drop off it may lead to more sugar cravings.
Serotonin is another neurotransmitter and it is known as the ‘feel good hormone’ and therefore helps to regulate your mood. During the perimenopause your sex hormones can affect serotonin levels and you may experience changes to your mood and your emotional well-being. Consuming sugar or refined carbs can temporarily boost levels of serotonin but when they being to level off you may experience more sugar cravings.
The perimenopause may be a particularly stressful time for some of us. Many women are having children later in life and are parents to young children which can be a tricky parenting phase or you may also be supporting elderly parents with ailing health on top of juggling work. When you have all of these spinning plates combined with perimenopause symptoms it can be a really tough time and you can feel stressed. When you experience on-going stress your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Increase levels of cortisol can also contribute to increased cravings for sugary foods.
Studies have shown that cortisol can increase your cravings for sugary, salty or fatty foods. It is your body’s way of getting fuel so that it can fight the perceived stress. Another thing to note about cortisol is that when this hormone is elevated it also releases glucose into your blood stream which can have an impact on your blood sugar balance and potentially send you on a rollercoaster of energy highs and lows that can increase your sugar cravings. So, if you are constantly stressed your cortisol levels may stay elevated, leading to cravings for unhealthy foods which may be worsened by unbalanced blood sugar levels.
How to deal with sugar cravings during the perimenopause
The key to controlling your sugar cravings is to balance your blood sugar levels. and eat foods that help you feel fuller for longer and sustain your energy levels. This includes protein, healthy fats and plant-based foods such as fruit and vegetables, herbs, spices, and pulses (beans, lentils, and peas).
Protein and fat are crucial for helping you to control your sugar cravings. Protein is your best friend as it is going to help control your food cravings and reduce the urge to snack by keeping you full and satisfied. Therefore, protein helps to sustain your energy levels over the course of the day. Including a small amount of healthy fats in your everyday diet, helps to improve your energy levels by keeping you feeling full, satisfied, mentally alert, focused, and motivated. Fat also has a balancing effect on your hormones, as your hormones are made from fat.
The fibre found in fruits and vegetables also have a blood sugar stabilising effects by slowing down digestion. Some of the vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables have a direct role in producing energy and blood sugar control.
Start the day with a good breakfast
I genuinely believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for those who struggle with sugar cravings, fluctuating energy levels and find themselves snacking throughout the day to keep themselves going.
The best way to set yourself up for the day and to help you avoid energy slumps, and to reduce your cravings and the need for snacking is to eat a breakfast that contains protein, healthy fats and fibre.
A shout out for fat
Fat needs a special mention because you NEED fat in your diet. You need to consume essential fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6) as our bodies are not able to make them and they are necessary for the function of your nervous system, and they are crucial when it comes to making your hormones as they (your hormones) are made from fat. Therefore, fat can have a balancing effect on your hormones. Fat also helps you absorb the vitamins A, D, E and K. Both vitamin A and vitamin E help regulate your sex hormones. Vitamin A regulates the female sex hormones and supports regular reproductive cycles. Vitamin E regulates your hormones and helps your libido so you feel sexy and energetic!
By including protein, fat and fibre from fruit and vegetables with every meal and snack you are going to feel satisfied, fuller for longer with increased energy levels and reduced sugar cravings.
Excessive sugar consumption can have a negative impact on your overall health. For example, it can contribute to fluctuations in weight, it can send you on a roller coaster ride of energy highs and lows that is going to leave you feeling more exhausted in the long term, sugar can have a negative impact on your mood, and it can exacerbate your perimenopausal symptoms.
If you would like to get your sugar cravings under control click here to download my free eBook, Control your sugar habit: a 7-day meal plan. Click here to download.