Female Cycles, Menopause and Hunger

Steph Wagner

March 24, 2022

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Female Cycles, Menopause and Hunger

Emotional Eating Series on Bariatric Food Coach

Scroll to the bottom of todays post for links to the other emotions covered in this series.

Click here for the audio version of this blog:

 

The female menstrual cycle and hunger

I have worked in bariatric surgery for over a decade and many a female patient has come in for a visit during that time of their cycle and cursed the scale because it was higher than it had been!

The female cycle can cause bloating, cravings, hunger and even nausea so it is certainly worthwhile to talk about these monthly symptoms when we talk about weight management.

The menstrual cycle timeline can range greatly, but is commonly between 24 and 38 days. We use the phrase “that time of the month” because the cycle can often fall into a 30 day pattern. For a whole host of reasons a cycle may be more or less than a month.

The four phases of the female cycle

There are four main phases in a female cycle. Menstruation (menses), the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase.

All of these parts of the cycle impact our emotions as well as physical symptoms. For example, the follicular phase is a time when hormones and energy are rising as the body nears ovulation.

After someone has ovulated, they enter the luteal phase which is a time when the hormone levels rise and then begin to fall. This is “PMS” the pre-menstrual syndrome. Menstruation is coming around the bend again. The drops in hormones also mean big drops in energy which can means eating for fatigue plays a part too.

Changes in hormones = changes in symptoms

When hormones like progesterone fall, we experience anything from bloating to cramping to strong emotions including anxiety, forgetfulness and exhaustion.

We’ve talked about anxious eating and fatigue eating so knowing we experience these emotions even more so during the second half of the female cycle can be very insightful.

We also experience a drop in serotonin levels during PMS which can trigger cravings for carbohydrate foods PLUS the ups and downs of estrogen cause more cortisol which can further amplify those cravings for high fat and sugar foods.

Healthy habits help manage menstrual symptoms

While there is most certainly a host of reasons why our cycle drives us towards food, we do have to be cautious to not use it as a time of excuses to really let loose either.

If we do indulge in all the things we crave, it only strengthens the cravings as carbohydrate foods will drive hunger for more. Focusing on what your body needs at the most basic level, that homeostatic system, will help set you up for when things get a little nutty.

Staying hydrated, having consistent meals with high quality nutrition, exercising, sleeping well…all of these strengthen your ability to think more clearly when hormones start sending mixed signals.

I still think it helps empower us to know that it’s not because we are weak that we have strong cravings for foods. There is so much biology at play and especially if we are going through this same cycle every single month!

A word about PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome)

Many of my female patients through the years have had PCOS so I know it’s something to bring up here. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormonal disorder that is increased with weight gain.

Infrequent, irregular and prolonged menstrual cycles are the most common sign of PCOS. There are several reasons why someone may battle with it and several reasons why it could get more serious. If you haven’t already, talk to your doctor about irregularities in your cycle.

The good news for bariatric surgery patients is that PCOS is often much improved after surgery and with weight loss. In fact, I have had several patients have a surprise pregnancy less than a year out of surgery because they started having a cycle quicker than expected!

A word about menopause

Oh menopause. This normal aging process starts with a  transition phase and usually begins when a women is between 45 and 55. Menopause is after there has been no period for one full year.

The years leading up to that point is called the menopause transition or perimenopause. It usually lasts 7 years but can take up to 14 years. (Yes, you read that right!)

It is different for everyone but the production of estrogen and progesterone change and vary quite a bit which can cause hot flashes, trouble sleeping, mood swings, depression and…oh great..causes the body to use energy differently.

Fat calls change and you may gain weight more easily. You may notice changes in your body shape and even your heart and bones change. And if a woman needed to have a surgery to remove her uterus for any reason, unless she takes hormones she will experience the symptoms of menopause immediately.

So if you are going through menopause or already have and you feel like our body is not familiar to you, this makes sense. This natural aging process means you are physically very different and that can take getting used to.

Continue to focus on healthy habits to stay hydrated and active. Weight bearing exercise (strength training) is really important to keep strong and healthy bones through the life phases. Ask your doctor for help getting quality sleep. Manage symptoms the best you can even if you need to carry a portable fan with you. I also like to think of the women I’ve witness “roll through the punches” of aging and use them as an encouragement!

 

Check out the other blogs on emotional eating below! Members will soon have access to the full video course!

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image link to blog on stress eating emotional eating blog series on bariatric food coach image link to blog on sadness, loneliness and depression eating emotional eating blog series on bariatric food coach image link to blog on fatigue eating emotional eating blog series on bariatric food coach image link to blog on boredom eating emotional eating blog series on bariatric food coach image link to blog on anxious eating emotional eating blog series on bariatric food coach image link to blog on anger eating emotional eating blog series on bariatric food coach

 

Sources:

https://periodaisle.com/blogs/all/menstrual-cycle-101https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/10132-normal-menstruation#:~:text=A%20menstrual%20cycle%20is%20considered,days%20to%20about%2035%20days

https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/is-pms-sabotaging-your-diet#:~:text=Most%20women%20with%20PMS%20experience,chocolate%20bars%2C%22%20Peeke%20says.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439

 

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