QUESTION: I have been overweight all my life. I’ve tried to do something about it, but I have never been able to follow a healthy eating/exercise regimen past my period. Whenever that time comes, I overeat and skip exercise—and then I blame myself so much I give up completely. Help! — Shelly
DEAR SHELLY: I know what you’re saying. The cravings I used to get during “that time of the month” were often more intense than the ones I had when I was pregnant! And not only that: I would get so lethargic, I just wanted to lie on the couch with a pillow clutched to my midsection until it was all over. As natural as it is to feel fatigue and hunger around your period, it’s particularly hard for women trying to lose weight because it interrupts your momentum. Just when you’re trying to wrestle control over your appetite and start having some success, Mother Nature has other ideas.
But you don’t have to be a victim of your hormones. The great thing about Mom Nature is that she’s pretty predictable. You pretty much know when you’re going to get your period, when the cravings and fatigue are most intense and what you tend to want to eat when you’re at that part of your cycle. That information allows you to create a plan to cope with the challenge and get you back on track when your period’s over. I may sound like a bad pop song here, full of repetition, but you gotta have a plan if you’re going to lose the weight—and you can lose the weight. Here’s how to devise a Plan P (“p” for period, get it?):
- Create a timeline. Most women start feeling tired, bloaty and crampy a few days before their period actually starts. Mark on your calendar when you first begin experiencing symptoms, what they are, and their intensity on a scale of 1-5. Take it through the 3 to 5 (hopefully not more) days of your normal cycle.
- Scale back your expectations. Make it your goal to simply maintain your weight—not lose—during this time of the month. For instance, if you’ve been gradually losing say, 1 pound a week, don’t expect yourself to keep that momentum up. If you do, you may just be disappointed. Your body often (as you know) retains water during this time; that may cause you to weigh heavier than you actually when you step on the scale. I would counsel to even avoid getting on the scale until a few days after your cycle ends, to avoid that crushing disappointment that could sabotage your attempt to stay on a healthy regimen.
- Plan a “cheat day.” Analyze your timeline to see when your cravings are most intense. Plan a cheat day for that particular day, when you can treat yourself without guilt. I plan mine for the day before my period starts, when my appetite for chocolate and carbs of all kinds is at its peak. I allow myself to eat what I want from the time I get up until midnight (and I have played it up to the minute, believe me)—and then I go back to my old weight-watching ways until the next time. That cheat day is an escape valve for me—it takes the pressure off my willpower knowing that I can let loose on that one day.
- Just do something. You may not feel up to exercise, but even when your fatigue meter is topping out, keep moving. If you have an intense workout planned (a boot camp class or kickboxing, for instance), you may want to dial it down a notch — get on the elliptical or walk on the treadmill instead. Moving, even at a less intense pace, can ease cramps and lift moods, and will help you maintain your weight and keep your routine consistent.
- Forgive and move on. Having such a plan and sticking with it will make it easier on your psyche—since you’re not falling off the proverbial wagon, really, you don’t have to do all that mental work to get yourself back on. But if you slip up and don’t stick to your plan, have a “buck up” speech at the ready. Think about what you’d say to someone else in your situation to reassure them and get them motivated, and write it down so you can apply it to yourself when you need it. And include these little words from this Former Fat Girl: You can. I know you can.
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl. Send your questions to [email protected].