Why does my period make me… CRAVE CHOCOLATE?

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This week On My Blob, I’ve been thinking about what questions I have about my periods that I’ve never actually asked. Given that I am currently craving all kinds of chocolate and sugary treats because of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), now seems like the perfect time to explore what’s actually going on in my body.

Why does PMS induce these major cravings?

The science

Lots of research has been done into women’s menstrual cycles trying to identify the cause of monthly food cravings, which is the most commonly reported PMS symptom. Craving chocolate, cakes and any number of sweet treats before your period is a perfectly normal part of your menstrual cycle.

There are a number of theories for this. Firstly, during the luteal phase (the second half of your menstrual cycle that starts after ovulation) hormone changes affect your appetite. Your progesterone, oestrogen and serotonin levels drop, while cortisol rises, causing an increase in stress. This hormone fluctuation may cause your cravings.

However, scientists also point to behavioural factors in our choices. Comfort eating is a common result of stress or discomfort, yet what and when we crave is a learned behaviour. A 2004 study into chocolate craving and the menstrual cycle showed that while American women craved chocolate due to PMS, Spanish women did not. This shows that craving chocolate before your period is a learned behaviour stemming from cultural habits.

Why chocolate?

For me, PMS means chocolate. I don’t care in what form, I crave the sweet, creamy, deliciousness of my favourite chocolatey treats. This is apparently down to the perfect combination of carbohydrates and fat found in our chocolate friends.

The high fat and sugar treat is a go to for many and when we are feeling tired and stressed in the lead up to our periods. It doesn’t seem to be down to anything special about chocolate though. The craving is likely a mix of physiology, psychology and cultural conditioning. Changing hormones and learned behaviours tell us to grab the sweet stuff!

Is this ever a problem?

Sometimes I do worry that eating too much sugar during this time is bad for me. My PMS can last longer than the standard few days, so I try my hardest not to eat ALL the chocolate straight away…

But given the changes happening in your body and the fact that indulging in your favourite treats may make you feel better, if not less bad, then there I wouldn’t worry about what you consume too much.

The key is to learn about your body. Keeping a diary of when your cravings start, what you like and how you feel, can help you to predict your monthly rhythms.

Every person is different, learning what makes you feel better during your menstrual cycle is important for your wellbeing and if that’s chocolate, welcome to the club!

Guest Post: What’s the best way to manage your period while travelling?

Advice from Clémentine at Voyage de Miel

Anyone travelling with a womb may have to face dealing with their period on the road. Sadly, period protection is yet another concern a male traveller wouldn’t have to worry about.

My husband and I just came back from our honeymoon: a 14-month world tour, here is how I handled my period while travelling.

Contraception on a world tour

This conversation can’t start without mentioning contraception, which often dictates period flow and regularity. Unfortunately, I didn’t find any of the contraception options offered to me good or really convenient while travelling. Also, it is sad to note that when going to the doctor and asking what to do for contraception while travelling as a couple it was never mentioned my husband could be the one dealing with it…

So, here is my rundown of the options available: Patches and rings might not be available everywhere and are tricky to safely store in the long run. You could stock up on a lot of pills but you might end up getting it wrong with the jetlag, the time difference or lose it’s effectiveness if you get sick from food or drink poisoning. Implants and IUD’s can be rejected, are a significant medical procedure to put in place and not suitable for everyone. Condoms quality, safety and availability might vary greatly depending on where you are in the world so might not be 100% reliable.

But I do have a great answer on the best period protection: reusable period underwear! 

Accessibility to disposable period protection worldwide

First a word about using disposable period protection. I always found sanitary pads for sale in pharmacies. However, it was mostly external pads, not tampons. Also, the quality and effectiveness were extremely variable from one country to another meaning that some were unpleasant to wear.

It is also essential to note the very negative impact the use of disposable protections has on the environment. We would like to encourage anyone travelling to consider the best options for the planet and to work on reducing their waste on the road. The health risks due to the use of toxic agents in manufacturing also need to be considered.

Taking a menstrual cup on a world tour

I have tried and used the menstrual cup while travelling. The advantages of the menstrual cup are obvious: a low purchase cost for long use, the possibility of using it for several hours without needed to change, and, of course, it hardly takes up any luggage space.

During a backpacking-style world tour, however, it is not so easy to use. We sometimes spent several days with limited access to water, making cleaning the cup and changing it very complicated.

After hearing about the period underwear among the travel community, I finally decided in Australia (midway through the world tour) to invest in period panties. It was a revelation for me!

Reusable period underwear 

Menstrual panties or period underwear, are external hygienic protections, which are washable and reusable throughout the life of the product. 

The price, however, is a dissuasive factor as the technologies used makes it an expensive purchase, but it is a real long-term investment. Period underwear is easy to use and convenient on the road. They just need to be rinsed after use and can be washed with the rest of your laundry. A good brand will have the underwear coming out clean in any type of laundry, a conventional machine cycle or a cold by-hand one (which is the most common laundry style on a world tour). The fabrics used for the absorption capacity means the underwear will dry quickly. In reality, you only need to invest in a few pairs depending on how efficiently you can clean them (3 was enough for me). 

For me now, period underwear is the easiest and best period protection for travelling. They don’t take up extra space in your luggage as you can wear them on regular days. In fact, they are also great on sweaty or humid days as they are fast drying. With more and more competition on the market, the technologies are getting better and prices lower. But there is definitely room for improvement on contraception and period management for travellers overall.

Find period underwear brands tested and tried on our blog: https://voyagedemiel.com/en/period-products-while-travelling-period-underwear/

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How much plastic is in our period products?

In 2020, many of us want to live more sustainably and a major concern is the consumption of single-use plastics. In fact, around 45% of shoppers are actively seeking products that are better for the environment. For many this means ditching plastic bags, water bottles and coffee cups, but what about our period products?

Unfortunately, single-use plastic is an unbearably common feature in many disposable period products. From plastic tampon applicators to layers of plastic in pads, it can be hard to be eco-conscious while menstruating.

Particularly as much of the plastic in these products is as a result of major companies innovating to make our periods quieter, more discreet and much more convenient. From individual plastic wrappers to scented bags for disposal, these products can contain up to 90% plastic that takes over 500 years to break down.

In a lifetime, the average menstruator will use in excess of 10,000 products, many of which will be thrown away or flushed. These items, such as tampon applicators, will end up littering our beaches after making the journey through the sewers and out to sea after improper disposal. Period products are the fifth most common type of plastic waste found on Europe’s beaches.

Part of the problem is that disposable products have been advertised to us for so long, and from an early age, as the de facto way to manage your menstruation. They offer us an ease and convenience that means they quickly become part of our routines without us stopping to properly question the impact of these products on our environment and if there is a better way. 

While there are many reusable products on the market and an increasing number of low or no-plastic disposable options available, these products often come with a heftier price tag or require more pre-planning to use them effectively.

How can we tackle the excess plastic in our period products?

As a consumer you can make a choice to buy and try reusable options such as cups and period underwear, sending your vote to the industry that you want change. There are also increasing numbers of options in many major retailers for low or no plastic pads and tampons. If you can afford to make these changes you can support the growing eco-period industry and reduce your individual impact too. 

But this is not all! Making the world a better place is not just down to the choices of individual consumers. Major retailers need to address the use of single-use plastic in their products and through the amazing work of campaigners such as Ella Daish, companies are beginning to wake up to the devastating effect of single-use plastic on the environment, moving to change the design and packaging of their products making it easier and more affordable for consumers to make eco-friendly choices. 

So, are the tides finally changing on single-use plastic in period products, or are they still full of used tampon applicators?

Why not join me today and pledge to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in your period products, or better yet sign Ella Daish’s petition to make all menstrual products plastic-free!

I May Destroy You: Period Sex and Blood Clots on the BBC

**This blog contains spoilers for episode three: Don’t Forget the Sea**

Like the rest of the internet, I’ve been totally blown away by Michaela Coel’s ground-breaking new BBC drama, I May Destroy You. The show deals with sex and consent in a nuanced and multifaceted way. In particular, episode three explores period sex and brings this often-taboo subject front and centre.

I May Destroy You is centred around writer Arabella (played by Coel) as she deals with a drug-facilitated sexual assault. Masterfully written, the show explores consent from so many different angles, bringing the grey areas to the fore with honesty, humour, and an unflinching look at sex and rape. Coel’s script and performance takes us to places that I never thought I’d see on TV, let alone the BBC.

Which brings me to episode three: Don’t Forget the Sea.

This half hour episode provides the most honest depiction of period sex I have ever seen on TV. In a world in which period product adverts only started using red blood to indicate a period in 2017, and many depictions of periods are used to shame or horrify audiences (I’m looking at you Carrie), it’s amazing to see a period treated so normally on TV.

Without spoiling too much, the episode takes us back to Italy, where Arabella is writing and her friend Terry is visiting. In an upturned classic *girls getting ready in the bathroom before going out scene* we see Arabella putting in a clean pad on the toilet: with no fanfare, no “can I wear this short dress while menstruating” – she just does it. Puts the pad in and goes.

Later, following a drug and alcohol filled night out, Arabella ends up towel down on the duvet, preparing to have period sex with a guy she had met that day. This in itself was perfect. To see a woman enjoy herself, be escorted home by a guy that is respectful and non-judgmental, and to have period sex presented without horror, feels amazing.

But, again, this is not the peak! Coel keeps pushing boundaries and brings us a scene that was cut from the 50 Shades of Gray films for being too taboo, seeing her tampon removed by the guy who subsequently picks up a rogue blood clot that’s now on the towel.

This kind of period representation is so important as it normalises the actions of literally millions of people all around the world. We menstruate, we go out, we exercise, we have sex, we eat and we continue to live our lives while bleeding.

It is also the first time that I have seen period sex presented as something other than a moment of horror, or fetish, or shame. And let’s be real, have you ever seen a blood clot on the BBC? Let alone one in the hands of a man who does not recoil but asks questions and shows genuine fascination about this aspect of the human body that few people get to talk about?

Often conversations around periods focus on the people having them. Coel throws this on its head, bringing a man into the centre and shedding light on the lack of education and exposure to the realities of having a period that many men face.

The reality is we need all people to feel more comfortable talking about periods in order to de-stigmatise menstruation fully. If more men knew about period products, blood clots and all the other things we deal with each month, this would go a long way to foster understanding and tackle shame.

So, I want to join the chorus of people praising Michaela Coel right now and for bringing us essential period visibility and for bringing blood clots onto the BBC.

Men and Menstruation: Periods 101

This is a series of posts for men out there that have questions about menstruation and aren’t sure where to turn. You could say, we’re putting the MEN in Menstruation

After some frank conversations with the men in my life about periods and my ambitions for this blog, it’s become clear that many men are in the dark when it comes to menstruation.

From gender separated education in which girls learn about their cycles (if at all!) and boys, well, don’t, to persistent myths surrounding menstruation in our culture, many men are missing out on the fundamental facts about periods and our bodies.

As we know, periods are a vital part of human reproduction and for many people form a central part of our (roughly) monthly rhythms and flows. Through better period education, men/ people that don’t bleed could foster a greater level of empathy for menstruators and understand how to become better allies in these conversations.

So, let’s start with the basics! This first post will talk you through what happens to the body during a menstrual cycle. Later in the series I will be explaining key terms, answering questions and providing more fact-based learning on periods for those that want to know.

Thanks to The Vagina Museum Twitter feed for introducing me to this 1946 Walt Disney produced ‘The Story of Menstruation’. I’ve chosen this as the first video as it’s not only good, it has interesting cultural and historical value. Made in partnership with period product maker Kotex, this video is believed to be the first film to explicitly say the word vagina in it and offers an interesting resource for learning the basics.

Whilst the second half of the video that encourages women to smile and wear make-up on their periods is pretty dated, the main section does a really good job of explaining the monthly cycle in a clear and non-judgemental way.

For the time period I was totally impressed with this video. Aiming to give factual information about menstruation in a time when periods were taboo, it’s a wonder that Disney made such a video!

If you want something a little more modern there’s a few options. This video from Always, a period product company, is quite good. Although it advertises products at regular intervals, which is distracting, it’s only three minutes and explains the basics clearly without the 40’s gender stereotyping of the Disney version above!

There is also this next video from Ted-Ex that provides a more scientific approach. It explains more around how menstruation has evolved and why we menstruate as we do. If you are a more scientifically minded person this could be for you!

Many of these resources tend to down-play period pains and Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), I share them as an introduction to the basics of our cycles and will be covering more around the variations and problems that menstruation can throw at you later on in the series.

For now, here is your first Periods 101! For further information try checking out the NHS website. I chose videos today as a quick introduction on this post but of course there are plenty of other resources out there!

Tell me, what questions do you have around periods? What resources have you found helpful? Comment below to join the conversation.