Do you get food cravings before your period? Crave chocolate, chips or salty snacks, and baked goods? It may get you worried but experiencing these food cravings before your period is common.
These cravings may disrupt your food diet. Understanding the food cravings before your menses can help you find a way to cope. If you are trying to figure out ‘why do I get food cravings before my period?’, here’s the reason behind those cravings and how to deal with them.
Why Food Cravings Before Period?
About 85% of women experience premenstrual syndrome, with about 20% experiencing PMS to a degree that warrants medical attention (3). Intense food cravings before period are one of the most common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Other common PMS symptoms include mood swings, fatigue, headaches, diarrhea, sore breasts, and acne (6).
The degree of PMS symptoms varies from one person to another and is more severe in some women. The severe form of PMS is referred to as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). It is also possible to have no food cravings before period (6).
Hormones are largely to blame for food cravings and other premenstrual symptoms, which begin about 7 to 10 days before. An average menstrual cycle is about 28 to 35 days and has two phases – the follicular and luteal phases, separated by ovulation and menstruation (9).
So, one gets food cravings one week before period during the luteal phase. Progesterone, estrogen, follicle-stimulating hormone, and luteinizing hormone are responsible for changes during the menstrual cycle.
The levels of these hormones fluctuate throughout your cycle. But, ‘why do I have cravings for spicy and acidic food before my period? The reason for weird food cravings before period is changes in progesterone and estrogen levels (7). During the luteal phase, the levels of estrogen drop while that of progesterone rises.
When you eat starchy and sweet foods, your body releases serotonin (10). Serotonin is a hormone that boosts feelings of happiness. A boost in mood is usually great, especially just before your period, as you may be more irritable and experiencing mood swings. As the level of estrogen drops, so does serotonin.
Food cravings can sabotage your healthy eating patterns. If you give in to your food cravings and end up binge eating, your eating routine may be affected. And given that the sugary and salty snacks you crave are calorie-laden, it increases your calorie intake.
You might get concerned if you are pregnant when you get food cravings. Much as food cravings are a sign of pregnancy, you should take a test to confirm that you are pregnant. Additionally, you may experience nausea, food aversions, and a missed period (11). PMS and early pregnancy share some symptoms, but a pregnancy test should clear any doubts you may have.
Are you wondering, ‘how to stop food cravings before period?’ While it may not be possible to stop food cravings before period entirely, there are a few ways you can cope without stuffing yourself with calorie-filled snacks. Here are a few ways you can deal with food cravings before your menstrual periods.
How To Cope With Cravings Before Period?
Navigating food cravings before your period can be challenging. And when you are irritable, then it is even worse. But, much as dealing with mood swings and keeping off calorie-laden foods is tough, it is possible, and you can get through difficult days.
While the days before your periods can be a little frustrating, it is still crucial to listen to your body. Specific cravings happen for a reason, so do not beat yourself up over it. The best option is to swap out the sugary, salty, and high-carb snacks for healthier ones like whole carbs and fruits.
Below are a few tips to help you cope with those pesky food cravings:
Eat Foods Rich In Magnesium
Chocolate is one of the most common period cravings (4). It is rich in magnesium but is also energy-dense. Chocolate cravings could be a result of low magnesium levels.You can try healthy sources of magnesium such as spinach, legumes, cashew nuts, and peanuts.
If you must choose, then go for dark chocolate as it is healthier compared to milk chocolate. In addition, dark chocolate is a potent source of antioxidants and minerals (2). But do not overindulge; a square or two should be enough.
Go For Complex Carbs
As the level of estrogen drops before your period, so does the level of serotonin. This chemical helps stabilize mood and happiness. The low level of serotonin is often the driver behind the cravings for refined carbs like pasta, potato chips, and bread. If you eat too many of these foods, you could end up feeling worse and more sluggish.
Eating carbs helps you feel better as they increase the secretion of serotonin (1). Instead of refined carbs that contain low amounts of fiber, go for complex carbs to ease the cravings and make you feel better for longer. Eat satisfying fiber-rich foods like brown rice, barley, oats, lentils, and beans.
Swap Sugary Snacks For Fruits
Trying to stay away from the cookie jar or candy bowl during this can be quite the task. However, too much sugar is not good for you. It is, in fact, easier to overindulge when enjoying sugary treats as they are delicious.
It is okay to have a few biscuits but eating an entire bag is a no. Avoid refined sugars and choose healthy alternatives to satisfy sugar cravings. For example, you can try fruit and plain yogurt, trail mix, fruit smoothies, energy bites, or fruit slices with raw honey.
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Try Activities That Will Help Boost Your Mood
PMS can take a toll on your emotions. Irritability, sadness, and mood swings are common and may extend into our periods. At the time, comfort eating may seem like the best way to boost your mood. However, there are many activities you can engage in that increase the feel-good hormones like serotonin.
Do not sit and stuff yourself with candy and chips all day. Instead, to boost your mood and increase your energy, try:
- Talking a walk
- Talking to a friend
- Watch a comedy film
- Hug someone or cuddle your pet
- Listening to upbeat music or songs you enjoy
Eat Small Frequent Meals
To keep food cravings at bay, eat small frequent meals. You might be tempted to skip meals to reduce energy intake. But skipping meals can lead to an increase in appetite and make the period cravings even more intense.
When you skip meals or go for too long without eating, your blood sugar levels drop. When your blood glucose is low, your body responds by making you crave foods that will raise your sugar levels. You also do not want to get yourself too hungry as you may overeat during your next meal.
Eating small frequent meals will help keep your blood sugar levels stable and control the cravings. For example, try eating six small meals instead of three. Alternatively, you can eat less during the three main meals and include three light snacks in between.
Also, do not deprive yourself of nutrients even during the other phases of your cycle. If you enter the luteal phase, having denied yourself nutrients and calories, then your body will throw all the hunger and craving signals it can at you.
Go Out In The Sunshine
A walk in the sunshine will do you good. Exposure to sunlight is believed to increase the brain’s release of serotonin. Conversely, too little sunlight can lower your serotonin levels and interfere with your mood.
Don’t stay indoors all day, go out in the sun. You can walk your dog or take a visit to the park. And remember to wear your sunscreen and bring a bottle of water with you.
When you work out, the body releases endorphins. Endorphins interact with receptors in the brain that reduce your perception of pain. These chemicals also trigger positive feelings. Often, the feeling you get after a morning run or workout is described as euphoric.
Regular physical exercise also boosts other feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine (5). Moderate exercise should thus help control the cravings and other PMS symptoms. You can try moderate exercises like jogging, swimming, cycling, aerobic exercise, yoga, or dancing.
Get a few friends to work out with to make it more interesting. Aim for about 30 minutes of exercise several days a week throughout your cycle and not just before your period.
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Stock Healthy Foods
No matter how intense your period cravings are, you cannot give in if you don’t stock unhealthy snacks in your home or office. So if you tend to buy oreo and potato chips in bulk and are experiencing cravings, it’s time to change tact.
Stock a healthy pantry instead. Buy lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and lean protein like salmon and poultry. This way, you will have healthy snack options like carrots and peanut butter which are more nutritious and filling.
Other healthy snacks you can try include:
- Vegetable sticks and sweet potato hummus
- Apple slices with almond butter
- Blended frozen banana and strawberry ice cream
- Fresh dates or unsalted mixed nuts
- Avocado dip and whole wheat crackers
Also, you may want to avoid taking fatty foods during this period. Fats slow down the digestion and absorption of carbs (8). You, therefore, will not feel better until your body absorbs the carbohydrates, which increase the secretion of serotonin (1). Remember, low serotonin levels make you crave carbohydrate-rich foods.
Make sure to stay away from alcohol before your period. Drinking can make you feel more depressed. Also, when you drink, the body prioritizes alcohol metabolism to get rid of its toxic by-products. This, in turn, disrupts the metabolism of other substances, including carbohydrates.
Avoid Stress And Be Kind To Yourself
Do not stress about the cravings and worrying if you will give into them. It does you no good and only makes things worse. In addition, stress can lead to overeating as food helps provide some sort of comfort.
So just before your period, stay away from anything that makes you stressed. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. Food cravings before period are normal, and provided you generally stick to healthy foods; there is nothing to worry about. Try meditation, gardening, yoga, or breathing exercises to help you relax.
If any of your attempts to control your food cravings are not working, you should seek help from medical professionals. You can start by seeing a dietitian who will help you understand the connection between compulsive eating and your menstrual cycle. Then, they will help you develop a strategy to manage your cravings and moderate hunger.
You can also benefit from attending support groups if the cravings are excessive and you end up binge eating. If you experience severe binge eating symptoms, you may benefit from psychotherapy. A common form used is cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on changing thought patterns and behaviors.
When To See A Doctor?
Food cravings and wanting to eat more before your period is normal, and usually, there is no need for concern. The severe form of premenstrual syndrome is referred to as premenstrual dysphoric disorder and may need medical attention.
Some symptoms are a sign of an underlying issue. You should take a visit to your doctor if the hunger cravings:
- Cause significant unintentional weight gain
- Persist throughout the month
- Are a way to deal with severe depression, stress, or anxiety
- Cause anxiety or distress
- Interfere with your daily activities at school or work
- Affect your recovery or treatment of an eating disorder
If you want to better deal with your cravings, you can track your period. That way, you can tell when the cravings may kick in. In addition, being knowledgeable about these food cravings gives you an edge.
Remember to be kind to yourself and don’t stress. Eat small regular meals to remain full and opt for healthier snacks. And if you must eat that chocolate, pizza, or caramel ice cream that you are badly craving, do not overindulge.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving, obesity and depression (1995, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Core Symptoms That Discriminate Premenstrual Syndrome (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Does culture create craving? Evidence from the case of menstrual chocolate craving (2017, plos.org)
- Effects of Exercise and Physical Activity on Anxiety (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- FAQs Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) (2020, acog.org)
- Menstrual cycle hormones, food intake, and cravings – Krishnan – 2016 – The FASEB Journal – Wiley Online Library (2016, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- New Insights into the Interaction of Carbohydrate and Fat Metabolism During Exercise (2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Progesterone and the Luteal Phase (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Review Neurobiologic basis of craving for carbohydrates (2014, sciencedirect.com)
- Symptoms of pregnancy: What happens first (2019, mayoclinic.org)