True story: We’re heading home from a relaxing ten day beach vacation on an island paradise. The kids are resting in the backseat, the trunk is full of shopping bags, and as we roll into a gas station to fill up the tank and grab some snacks for the long road home, I ask my husband to grab me a bar of dark chocolate because suddenly, I’m crazily craving it. He returns after ten minutes and guess what – he has forgotten to get my dark chocolate. FORGOTTEN! Instead, he waves a bag of mini Twix in my face and tries to lure me to eat that.
I’m furious. Nay, I’m a freaking fire-breathing dragon!
I roar. And I burn while I roar. Yes, it’s crazy behavior. But then, it’s also that time of the month…and if you’re a woman reading this, you know how I’m feeling.
And if you’re a man reading this, I have a tip for you: When your woman asks you to get her some chocolate and you forget, expect war!
I’m not kidding.
She’s not being a child. She isn’t making a request. It’s an order. And if you fail to comply, you might not like the consequences.
So let me analyze this statement, “Get me some chocolate, please,” for you: “Get Me” – it’s for her. Not for a guest, or to be shared with the kids or with you, her chocolate procurer. For HER! She needs it. Right now. Go, buy!
“Chocolate” – know her preferred brand and type, and if you don’t know, ask at your own risk because seriously? YOU DON’T KNOW?! Now, if she likes milk chocolate, don’t go looking for how much percentage of cocoa is in it. Just get her the bar with the words “MILK CHOCOLATE” splashed across it. If she favors dark chocolate, don’t get her a Twix. Because if you do, she might end you.
“Please” – she may or may not say this. Even if she does, disregard it. Instead, in your head, sprinkle the statement with a great number of expletives of your choice and say it to yourself:
“*Bleep* Get me some chocolate!”
“Get me some *bleep* chocolate!”
“*Bleep* Get me some *bleep* chocolate!”
“*Bleep* Get *bleep* me *bleep* some *bleep* chocolate!”
The Science Behind It
I’m hoping you’re smart and already on your way to buy that chocolate she so nicely asked for. And I’m sure you’re wondering why your better half is acting this way over a trivial confectionery. Why all the fuss over a bit of a craving to appease her sweet tooth? To be honest, not many women truly know the cause for this behavior themselves.
The most commonly believed theory is that there are mainly four indicators…whose physiological imbalances, psychological effects, and ratios to one another could be blamed for pre and peri-menstrual mood swings and cravings.
Trust me, it’s not the sweet tooth or a bad temper. It’s our hormones that are triggered and tossed all over the place just before our cycle hits. There are reservations to this belief, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
The most commonly believed theory is that there are mainly four indicators — estrogen, progesterone, serotonin and cortisol — hiding in women’s own bodies whose physiological imbalances, psychological effects, and ratios to one another could be blamed for pre and peri-menstrual mood swings and cravings.
This is the female hormone dwelling in your ovaries and responsible for making an egg. Around the middle of your monthly cycle, estrogen peaks, causing the ovaries to release the egg. This process is called “ovulation”. After the egg is released, estrogen’s job is done and it’s time for it to take a dip and lay low until next month. But sometimes, estrogen refuses to sit down and it’s continual high levels — even after ovulation—result in YOU being cranky. Oh, yeah! All those angry irritable mood swings? Blame it on high estrogen.
Now that the egg is released and hopefully estrogen is getting back to a level it should be at for the sake of sanity, someone else comes alive in the ovaries.
Say Hi to Progesterone
This is the female hormone that is responsible for preparing the uterus for a pregnancy by thickening its lining after ovulation. To do so, it needs to be strong to make a strong uterus, which means its levels need to be high. Ideally, in case of no pregnancy, progesterone is expected to abandon its mission of fortifying the uterus and take a dive.
Low levels of progesterone cause the uterus to shrink and shed its excessive lining, and that is what we call a period. However, this may not always be the case. Sometimes, progesterone may forget to dive as expected, or not dive fast enough to join estrogen, and that’s when your nightmare begins. Or that of the people around you, really. Because high levels of progesterone will make you feel weepy, sharply under-confident, and in utterly low spirits.
PS: It’s not just the high levels that cause trouble as these hormones influence the body in their specific ways. Low levels of progesterone may cause anxiety while low estrogen may be a cause of depression, as it affects serotonin.
Serotonin – The Happy Chemical
Some experts consider serotonin to be a hormone. It is a neurotransmitter that resides in your brain and is responsible for your happiness and emotional well-being. Its level fluctuation is directly proportional to that of estrogen. Serotonin rises when estrogen goes up, and it crashes when estrogen goes down. And when your happy chemical goes down, up goes your sadness index and cravings for sweet and starchy foods. (Enter, chocolate!)
Last but not the least is cortisol – the stress hormone, or your body’s built-in alarm system that goes off as it senses stress and gets your body ready to deal with it. High levels of stress trigger high levels of cortisol. High levels of cortisol call for more energy and that induces craving for sweet and starchy foods. In the context of periods, craving chocolate might perhaps be “a response to the stress of the oncoming bleeding,” according to researcher Julia Hormes.
It would be unfair to not cite, however, the two studies that did rule out any physiological reasoning behind comfort food cravings around the menstrual cycle.
STUDY 1 – tested two groups of women for varying progesterone levels and found no correlation between doses of progesterone and cravings; one group was given a dose of progesterone while the other was given a placebo.
STUDY 2 – tested groups of American and Mexican women and found no correlation between periods and cravings as American women cited periods when they craved the most, while Spanish women cited times of day or activities.
There is also no evidence that it is only chocolate cravings that surface during or before a period. This part could purely be cultural. It could be hot sauce, or almonds, or roadside burgers, or grapes, or cheese for women in another country on another continent.
To quote Melanie McGrice, an accredited Australian dietician, “It’s thought to work like this: our period makes us sad and stressed. We eat chocolate. Chocolate tastes good and makes us feel a little better.”
For the “sad and stressed” part of the equation, researchers agree that a physio-psychological combination of all four hormones – estrogen, progesterone, serotonin and cortisol – might be the answer.
For now, at least.
So…where’s that chocolate?!