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The Real Way to Stop Food Cravings on Your Period, According to a Cycle Dietitian

Posted by Courtney Mayszak, RDN, LDN

Jan 07, 2022

If you spend your period craving food like you just tasted it for the first time, those cravings might be trying to tell you something.

Your body’s needs change throughout the month when you have a menstrual cycle. How you manage food cravings on your period may look different from how you deal with them at other points in your cycle.

This article explains why it’s worth leaning into period cravings, and how to satisfy them in a healthy way.


Here are the most important things to know about period food cravings:
  • It’s normal to get food cravings on or before your period. You feel hungrier because the hormones produced at that point in the cycle stimulate appetite, and because you burn more calories on your period.
  • If you’re concerned about the effect PMS food cravings are having on your overall health, we recommend a 5-step action plan for how to stop a food craving that feels uncontrollable.
  • The best way to address the root cause of period cravings is to address the PMS itself. We formulated Steady Mood to nourish your hormonal cycle with all the most important menstrual health nutrients and herbs—ingredients research shows can dramatically improve a variety of PMS symptoms [1], including PMS cravings [2].

Why do I eat a lot before my period?

You crave food on your period because your hormonal cycle and your hunger levels are linked [3]. Hormone levels naturally fluctuate throughout the month; feeling hungrier sometimes is part of being cyclical.

The hormone progesterone is the main reason why you feel so hungry before your period. Progesterone’s main job is to prepare the body for a potential pregnancy. It’s made during the second half of the menstrual cycle, starting after ovulation (the release of an egg), and stopping before your period.

Because pregnancy demands extra calories and nutrients, progesterone has an appetite-stimulating effect [4]. Levels peak about a week before menstruation, so it’s especially common to crave food before your period starts—sometimes as early as 10 days before.

Bothersome food cravings are one sign of PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome—an umbrella term for the cluster of physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms that can arise in the weeks before and during your period. PMS is extremely common [5], often disruptive [6], and if it interferes with your daily life, it’s usually a signal that your hormones need more support [7].

So many different PMS symptoms are possible, food cravings probably aren’t all that ails you every cycle. We obsessively collected studies on how natural ingredients improved a variety of PMS symptoms, like cravings, mood swings, bloating, and fatigue. We put the ingredients with the best evidence of efficacy in Steady Mood. Because multifaceted problems require rigorous solutions.


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Should I eat more on my period?

Generally speaking, it’s okay to eat more than usual before or during your period (within reason, of course), and you aren’t likely to gain a significant amount of weight.

The menstrual cycle is elegantly designed with a built-in counterbalance to progesterone’s appetite-stimulating effects. Estrogen (the dominant hormone in the beginning of your cycle, before ovulation) reduces appetite, acting as the yin to progesterone’s yang.

You may notice a modest weight increase during your period, but most PMS weight gain is due to temporary water retention—not fat.

Supporting your menstrual health can mean adjusting how you care for yourself throughout your cycle. Listening to your body and letting portion sizes gently rise with the hormonal tides is one way to sync your habits to your cycle’s needs.

Note, however, that eating more isn’t the same as overeating. Research shows women do burn more calories during their period, but only 5-10% more [8]. That works out to an additional ~100-200 calories per day (e.g. an extra snack or side dish, not an extra meal).

Talk to a healthcare practitioner if you’re struggling with severe PMS cravings, if your period cravings are coupled with other severe mental health symptoms, or if you experience intense cravings throughout the whole month, not just before or during your period.


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Period craving foods

In addition to feeling hungrier overall, it’s also common to crave specific foods before or during your period. Of the most popular period craving foods, sweets tend to be the crowd favorite. And again, hormones are responsible.

Research suggests the neurotransmitter serotonin is heavily involved in PMS. Some scientists think PMS is essentially a temporary serotonin deficiency [9]. Serotonin levels drop along with estrogen and progesterone right before your period.

Because serotonin regulates happiness, anxiety, and appetite control, when levels dip, your mood falls with it, and self-restraint becomes harder. Carbohydrates momentarily boost serotonin, so the brain craves sugar as a quick way to make up for its serotonin deficit.

But not everyone gets a sweet tooth on their period. It’s also possible to crave spicy, savory, or crunchy foods, like meat or salty snacks.


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How to stop a food craving

Psychological strategies can be helpful for managing period food cravings, especially if they conflict with your healthy eating goals.

Drawing awareness to the ‘why’ behind your appetite can help you separate actual hunger from emotional eating, so you can then process those emotions in a healthy way. These five tactics can help you stay in control when period cravings strike:


1. MEASURE YOUR HUNGER

Ask yourself how hungry you are on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being completely famished), and answer honestly. Pay attention to how the sensation of the craving feels compared to the sensation of physical hunger. If your answer is on the high end of the scale, by all means, skip the steps below and eat! If it’s on the low end…


2. CALL OUT YOUR EMOTIONS

How are you feeling in that moment? Anxious? Tired? Angry? Bored? Cravings don’t exist in a vacuum, and PMS can make for a chaotic cocktail of emotions. Labeling your feelings puts food cravings into context, and can help you identify what’s driving them: genuine hunger, or something else. And if it’s something else…


3. REFLECT ON WHAT YOU REALLY NEED

We all already have tactics we use to meet our emotional needs when we’re feeling down, off, or stressed—and they don’t always involve food. Once you’re aware of which emotions are behind the craving, ask yourself how you could address those emotions from non-food sources.

If you establish that you’re bored, for example, do something that sparks joy outside the kitchen. Get some fresh air, soak in the tub, or find another fun distraction. Whatever your favorite thing to do while procrastinating is, you have our permission to fully engage.

You might find food isn’t what you needed after all. Say, for example, you want to eat because you’re tired. Water or a nap may satisfy the craving as much as food would.

Or say you want to eat out of sadness or loneliness. Acknowledge that food isn’t a long-term solution to either. Food can’t make you laugh or coach you through a bad day, but Facetiming your best friend can.


4. GUILTLESSLY SATISFY THE CRAVING

If you’ve given the first three strategies an honest try and you’re still ravenously eyeing the fridge, indulge the craving. But do so with full awareness of one critically important thing:

This doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

You successfully tuned in and made an informed, conscious decision to eat. And that, friend, is what mindful eating is all about. Self-awareness is always something to celebrate, even if it's awareness around the fact that you’re only human.

With recognition of your mindfulness win, let go of any guilt, regret, or shame you may have about “giving in” to the craving. Not only will you enjoy your food less with a guilty conscience, but harboring negative emotions can lead to a vicious cycle of self-doubt, which can make emotional eating even worse.


5. MAKE EMPOWERED CHOICES

Mindfulness doesn’t have to end with uncovering the why behind your cravings. How you eat matters, too—just as much (if not more) as what you eat.

Whatever your to-go PMS foods are, honor your choice to eat them by giving them your full attention. Try to limit outside distractions by switching off the TV and stepping away from your phone. Don’t rush through the eating experience; slow down and appreciate flavors, savor aromas, and notice textures.

If you struggle with overeating, avoid eating straight out of large containers, like ice cream tubs or chip bags. Instead, serve yourself a reasonable amount in a bowl, and put the rest away. Seconds don’t have to be off-limits, but they shouldn’t be too easy either.

If you happen to be craving something wholesome, great! But don’t force it. Focus on foods that will truly satisfy your craving, rather than stereotypically ‘healthy’ or ‘clean’ foods. (But note that, conveniently, dark chocolate is a good source of antioxidants and iron.)

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Natural remedies can help with PMS cravings

When it comes to dealing with food cravings on your period, mindful eating is a useful tool to have in your toolbox. But it doesn’t have to be your only tool.

Research shows herbal remedies like saffron can also help manage food cravings and lift low moods [10]. In one clinical trial, saffron helped women who were trying to control their appetite snack less often, feel fuller longer, and even lose weight [11].

One of the most effective ways to manage bothersome period cravings, however, is to address their root cause—the PMS itself. Easy, PMS-free periods are the product of happy hormones. Steady Mood’s formula brings you all the most important nutrients and herbs for healthy hormone balance (including saffron), so you can enjoy multi-symptom PMS relief.


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Courtney Mayszak, RDN, LDN, is the co-founder and Chief Product Officer at De Lune. She’s a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who completed her bachelor’s degree and dietetics training at Cornell University. When she’s not poring over menstrual health research, find her educating about cycle health on Instagram @delunecare.


This information is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any condition.


References

1. Masoumi, S. Z., Ataollahi, M., & Oshvandi, K. (2016). Effect of combined use of calcium and vitamin B6 on premenstrual syndrome symptoms: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of caring sciences, 5(1), 67.

2. Fathizadeh, N., Ebrahimi, E., Valiani, M., Tavakoli, N., & Yar, M. H. (2010). Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. Iranian journal of nursing and midwifery research, 15(Suppl1), 401.

3. Hirschberg, A. L. (2012). Sex hormones, appetite and eating behaviour in women. Maturitas, 71(3), 248-256.

4. Wade, G. N., & Schneider, J. E. (1992). Metabolic fuels and reproduction in female mammals. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 16(2), 235-272.

5. Winer, S. A., & Rapkin, A. J. (2006). Premenstrual disorders: prevalence, etiology and impact. The Journal of reproductive medicine, 51(4 Suppl), 339-347.

6. Dennerstein, L., Lehert, P., Bäckström, T. C., & Heinemann, K. (2010). The effect of premenstrual symptoms on activities of daily life. Fertility and sterility, 94(3), 1059-1064.

7. Ziomkiewicz, A., Pawlowski, B., Ellison, P. T., Lipson, S. F., Thune, I., & Jasienska, G. (2012). Higher Luteal Progesterone Is Associated With Low Levels of Premenstrual Aggressive Behavior and Fatigue. Biological psychology, 91(3), 376-382.

8. Henry, C. J. K., Lightowler, H. J., & Marchini, J. (2003). Intra-individual variation in resting metabolic rate during the menstrual cycle. British Journal of Nutrition, 89(6), 811-817.

9. Rapkin, A. J. (1992). The role of serotonin in premenstrual syndrome. Clinical obstetrics and gynecology, 35(3), 629-636.

10. Noorbala, A. A., Akhondzadeh, S., Tahmacebi-Pour, N., & Jamshidi, A. H. (2005). Hydro-alcoholic Extract of Crocus Sativus L. Versus Fluoxetine in the Treatment of Mild to Moderate Depression: A Double-Blind, Randomized Pilot Trial. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 97(2), 281-284.

11. Gout, B., Bourges, C., & Paineau-Dubreuil, S. (2010). Satiereal, a Crocus sativus L extract, reduces snacking and increases satiety in a randomized placebo-controlled study of mildly overweight, healthy women.

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