Craving Sugar?

Life is not fair.

Just when I think I've got things under control, something inevitably changes.

Over the summer, I managed to get a pretty good handle on my weight. This was great, but at the same time, I had some other annoying things go wrong. One of them was a four-day-long migraine that made me feel so sick I could barely move. I'm sure this was related to (if not completely caused by) peri-menopausal hormonal shifts.

These days I have no clue what is happening with my lady parts. My ovaries and uterus were once extremely predictable. In fact, you could set your watch by the precise timing of my cycle. Now I am at a complete loss.

What is my point? Oh yes. Sugar cravings!

Lately, between the migraine headaches, the night sweats, the hot flashes, and the insomnia, I have begun to crave sugar like a honey badger banned from the bee hive.

I've resorted to my usual trickery: making "healthy" treats out of unsweetened chocolate, cocoa powder, veggies, nuts, and seeds. Although my "desserts" are edible (some might disagree!) they do not closely resemble anything one might purchase in a bakery. I eat these healthy "treats" and feel ripped off instead of satisfied. Then I go in search of something sugary.

At the present, there is nothing sugary left in my home. This is because I have consumed every last morsel of refined crap. I refuse to buy any sweet junk at Trader Joe's during our weekly shopping trip, no matter how loudly the cookies call to me. My cravings and I are at an impasse.

The question is: WHY? Why am I craving sugar?

The answer is multi-faceted.

1) Lack of light. As the days grow shorter, darkness has an effect on the pineal gland. This gland produces melatonin, and helps to control hunger, thirst, sleep cycles, and many other basic bodily functions. When we get less light, we tend to feel more tired. The result can be an increase in hunger, especially for quick energy, like caffeine and sugar. Unfortunately, extra caffeine and sugar will not solve the problem, and will only make things worse. The more sugar we eat, the more we will crave sugar!

2) Estrogen dominance. During peri-menopause, the balance between progesterone and estrogen gets thrown out of whack. Progesterone is normally released at the time of ovulation, but women approaching menopause often stop ovulating while continuing to menstruate. When an egg is no longer released during the menstrual cycle, no progesterone is available to balance the estrogen still being produced. The result: estrogen dominance. Excess estrogen can cause many symptoms, one of which is sugar cravings. Others include bloating, breast tenderness and swelling, depression, mood swings, weight gain, tiredness, diminished sex drive. Sound familiar?

3) Lack of sleep. Peri-menopause also brings night sweats and general insomnia. Although I sleep, sometimes I feel like I don't get very deep, restful sleep. I often compensate by taking a nap during the day, but this can also lead to wakefulness at night. Yes, it's a catch-22. Lack of sleep wreaks havoc with hormones, especially those related to hunger, and creates cravings for sugar and refined carbs.

What is a poor, exhausted, bloated, middle-aged woman to do?

Here are a few suggestions:

* Make an effort NOT to give in to the sugar cravings. As I already mentioned, the more sugar we consume, the more we crave it. Sugar is absolutely addictive, so cutting back is the best defense against cravings. Beware of hidden sugar! Read labels whenever possible. Remember all alcoholic drinks contain sugar.

* Eat more high quality protein. Sugar cravings can be a signal that we are not getting enough protein. Try to eat at least 20 grams of protein per meal if you are a woman and about 30 grams if you are a man. The highest quality protein comes from animal foods like grassfed beef, wild game, wild caught fish, pastured poultry and eggs, and grassfed dairy products.

* Get more sleep. I realize this is often easier said than done, but make an effort to get to bed as early as possible. The hours of sleep you get BEFORE midnight are worth much more than the hours after.

* Get outdoors in the sunshine. Or get more light during the day, in any way possible. Bright indoor light is better than nothing. Use a full spectrum light if you suffer from depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

* Try adding a multivitamin to your daily regime. Nutritional deficiencies can cause cravings.

If you have mastered your sugar cravings with some other special tricks or techniques, please share! Leave a comment below with your suggestions.