Make My Pickles A La Mode, Please


By Lisa Schuetz

My name is Lisa, and I’m a chocoholic. We all have cravings, right? But get pregnant or start your period and your hankerings bust out like a running back heading downfield.

Local experts—from docs to moms—say that such cravings are wide ranging, from raw potatoes to sushi, and that they’re totally normal. (Unless of course, you crave dirt. Don’t eat dirt. That’s a serious condition called Pica and should be treated medically. Don’t eat dirt. Or Tide pods. Or iPod nanos. This list is not exhaustive.)

Yes, there are always the pickle lusters, but a Facebook survey of friends elicited an abundance of strange responses such as grapefruit juice, hot peppers, cake and Lucky Charms cereal.

Marja Barger, a sophisticated mom of two and a fairly crunchy health nut, surprised herself and horrified her husband when she developed a passion for Cheese Whiz on white bread while pregnant with her son.

“Not just any white bread. It had to be a baguette,” she laughs, because a baguette somehow fancied up that orangey blend of processed cheese, emulsifiers and stabilizing agents.

Theories as to why women crave food while pregnant or menstruating include nutritional deficiency as well as changes in a specific area of the brain. But most medical experts agree that it’s due to that omnipresent scoundrel when it comes to our emotional health: hormones.

Specifically, it’s the fluctuation or imbalance of hormone levels that make us crave these new foods, says Karen Hanson, a nurse practitioner and owner of Essential Health, LLC of Madison.

“Hormonal changes can also affect neurotransmitter levels such as serotonin,” says Hansen, who has specialized in women’s health for over 15 years. “A drop in serotonin, our ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter, could trigger cravings for comfort foods.”

That might explain why some of us go on a bender loaded up with brownies or carbs during hormonal emergencies.

“I’ve always had the feeling that cravings were partially an excuse to overindulge,” says Ann Sensenbrenner, business owner and mom of two in Madison. “You know, the baby wants pizza …”

Although, when Sensenbrenner was pregnant, a kindly neighbor who grew up on a farm dropped off raspberry tea because pregnant cows always munched on raspberry leaves. “The cow anecdote made me feel glamorous, like Natalie Portman accepting her Oscar for Black Swan,” she laughs. “But I drank the tea, and I’ve got to say, there’s some truth there.”

Succumbing to cravings won’t hurt you (again, unless it’s dirt), but Hanson says no matter what you’re hankering after, be it weird or wonderful, make sure you’re still eating a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruit, protein and healthy fat such as avocado or virgin olive oil.

“With pregnancy in general, just go with it, as long as it isn’t bad for you,” says Hanson (who admits to craving lollipops). “With PMS or a menstrual cycle, then you may want to work on improving your diet. Getting your hormones balanced will be important.”

The good news? Once your baby is delivered or your period ends, the cravings go away. Buh-bye. Until next time.

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