Carbs, carbs, carbs. They're the best—and the worst—am I right? Like many wellness-minded people, I've had a long history of cutting carbs and bringing them back to see how my body reacts. I've come to the conclusion that my body needs a few complex carbohydrates (I'm talking quinoa and sweet potato) to get through the day without feeling lethargic and generally sad about life.
That said, I've noticed that at certain points in my monthly hormone cycle, I'm more tolerant to carbohydrates than others. (In other words: I'm less likely to get sleepy or bloated after eating a croissant or some oatmeal.) I also crave them more during certain times of the month, which I think most women can relate to.
So is there a time in your cycle when you are more carbohydrate tolerant? According to mbg's leading women's health and hormone experts, yes.
The best time in your cycle to eat carbs.
According to Amy Shah, M.D., integrative medicine doctor and mindbodygreen Collective member, "You have much more carbohydrate tolerance—AKA, insulin sensitivity—in the first half of your cycle, which is called the follicular phase, or days 0 through 14. It seems that the estrogen helps keep away insulin resistance. Healthy or even unhealthy carbs are just better tolerated then."
Sounds pretty simple right? Actually, not so much. According to Stephanie Gray, DNP, MS, ARNP., a functional medicine expert and women's health specialist, even though you might be less insulin resistant during the first half of your cycle, you probably need more calories in the second half of your cycle, known as the luteal phase. "Think of it this way: Your body is under higher demands with ovulation, and your ovaries are working to spit out more hormones, specifically progesterone. Some may argue you need more calories in general during these weeks, including more amino acids, more healthy fats, and yes, even more carbs."
The luteal phase is when estrogens are lower and progesterone is higher, so you are also likely to be hungry. And studies report that we tend to eat more calories (anywhere from 90 to 500 more per day) during this phase.
Carb cravings could be a sign that something else is going on.
All that said, we can still crave carbs at all points in our cycle, and if you're having really intense sugar cravings, it might be a sign that something is a little wonky with your hormones. And identifying the specific hormone imbalance could explain when and why you're craving carbs. "Women can crave carbs at any point in their cycle, depending on the imbalance," explained Taz Bhatia, M.D., functional medicine expert and mindbodygreen Collective member. "For example, some women crave carbs the first week of their cycle—where they are estrogen dominant while other women may crave them the week prior when they are low progesterone. There are usually more sugar cravings with thyroid imbalances."
If this sounds like it might apply to you, it's a good idea to talk to an integrative or functional medicine doctor to figure out what else might be going on or to get a personalized dietary and lifestyle plan to combat these cravings and get your hormones back in balance.
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Gretchen Lidicker has a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University. She's the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. A Kripalu Center for Yoga and Ayurveda-trained yoga instructor, expert bread baker, and farmers market fanatic, she believes that no day is complete without a good dance party.