Techniques to Satisfy Cravings with Katie Lemons // Part 1

My introduction to hormonal cravings began after a dance recital when I was in elementary school. My mom was driving my sister, brother, and I home, and upon learning one of us had received a chocolate bar from an instructor, she began nicely inquiring whether she could have a bite. The three children, distracted by a video playing in the background, didn’t pay her much attention. What started as a whisper soon became a resounding and violent demand, “GIVE ME THE CHOCOLATE!!!!!!!” as we nearly swerved off the road.

Like a voracious velociraptor desperate for its prey; this is the image I now conjure when my own cravings strike. Perhaps this is why studies report the consumption of sweets, cake and chocolate are greater in the pre-menstrual stage and that there is a preference for chocolate foods during menstruation (no shocker there) ( 3 ).

It may comfort you to know there is a physiological reason behind cravings. Satiation, in general, has to do with the PYY hormone (Peptide tyrosine-tyrosine). This regulates the digestion process and is mediated in the intestine by something called the ileal brake, which controls the rate at which food moves through the gut, ultimately resulting in feeling like you’ve had enough.

In one study, there was a significant difference in your stomach’s emptying time (when you feel full) and the satiation response in the luteal phase (the phase right before menstruation begins). During this phase, gastric emptying was the quickest, and PYY response was smallest, showing a physiological reason for cravings. The hormone responsible for making us feel happy and full is not as loud ( 7 ). This could be due to increases in the production of progesterone and estradiol, both of which are elevated during the luteal phase ( 8 ).

So how can we collectively conquer the cravings? Lessen the noise by being able to decipher the difference between a physical and emotional craving, practice techniques to decrease stress, stabilize your blood sugar, and replenish nutrients that are depleted during the luteal and menstrual phase of your cycle.

The trick to it all? Not to deny yourself chocolate. Believe it or not, your body is asking for chocolate for a reason. Denying your body something it is screaming for is like denying a toddler Cheerios! Moon Cycle Bakery is all about taking the judgement out of eating chocolate and giving you the knowledge to work with it. Choosing dark chocolate that is over 80% cacao is a game changer. Adding in fruits and high fats and you’ve hit the game winning home run. (That Raspberry Black Bean Brownie is becoming a cycle staple over here. The Velociraptor inside is satiated...for now).

Techniques to satisfy cravings:

  • Step Back + Observe, Don't Judge: Cognitive delusion involves distancing and disconnecting from thoughts or feelings and allows you to stop, step back, and observe.  In one study, it was shown to lower intrusiveness of thoughts, the vividness of imagery and craving intensity in a group of young women who wanted to reduce their chocolate cravings. 

  • Rainbows Help...: Forming alternative images of objects (e.g., imagining the appearance of a rainbow) ( 1 )

  • Help Your Mom or Dad, Mow the Lawn: Imagining smells (e.g., imagining the smell of freshly mown grass) ( 1 )

  • Time to Day Dream: Imagining enjoyed activities (e.g., walking on the beach) ( 1 )

  • A Great Reason to Play That Game on Your Phone: Forming mental representations of shapes +  watching dynamic visual noise (a flickering, random pattern of black and white dots, and even playing the computer game ‘Tetris’( 1 )

  • Get Out There: When cognitive resources were loaded by playing Tetris (this is just a fancy way of saying when your mind is active / concentrated on a task), people with a high sensitivity to tempting food cues were no longer attracted to high-calorie foods. They then began behaving like those who had not experienced the cravings in the first place. Rather than being so hyper focused on maintaining self-control, instead try to weaken the tempting force by just getting your mind off of it. ( 5 ) (hey, self-care does include cat videos!)

  • SMILE!!!: One study showed that just by smiling, cravings can be lessened. This is called the facial feedback-hypothesis, in that expressions influence affective/emotional experiences. Experiences of happiness can be brought on simply by activating the zygomatic muscle, the ‘smiling muscle’. Negative emotional experiences would, in turn, be influenced by a contraction of the corrugator muscle, the ‘frowning muscle’. Exposure to tempting food cues generally increased food cravings, but a contraction of the “smiling muscle” was shown to prevent these food cravings from occurring, especially in individuals with high traits in emotional eating. So a positive facial expression can lead to a positive experience. Fake it till you make it!!! ( 4 )

  • Exercise: physical exercise affect impulses, metabolism, or self-control can increase or decrease the effect of the luteal phase on self-control ( 8

  • Breath Work: 4-7-8- breathing immediately activates the parasympathetic nervous system which can help you feel calm in an instant. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, then exhale for 8. Repeat for 2-3 minutes, or until your heart rate and stress levels start to fall. Click here for a more in depth video.

  • DO YOGA!: Being bombarded with cravings for a quarter of the month is downright stressful. yoga helps improve stress by restoring the HPA axis. In fact, just eight weeks of regular yoga practice resulted in improved not only stress levels (decreased cortisol) but also working memory performance ( 10 )

Stay Tuned for Part 2 coming Sunday, July 30th! (Hint: You'll receive some loaded information on what to eat + grab for during your Luteal phase and your menstrual cycle. Okay, that's more than a hint. But you deserve it.) 

Devon Loftus