Have you ever woken up one morning fantasizing about an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, followed by an extravagant lunch and a 5-course dinner? Or have you ever had those days when no matter how much food you eat, it doesn’t seem to fully satisfy you?
If you have, there is a good chance your period is on its way. One of the most frustrating feelings is being out of control when our period comes. Our moods can change, our productivity levels can dip, and, most noticeably, our hunger levels can skyrocket!
There’s just something special about laying on the couch and binge-watching Netflix’s new shows usually that sounds pretty enticing to combat period discomfort.
So, if we aren’t getting in extra movement, why are we so much hungrier?
First, let’s figure out what is happening during our period and why hunger is part of it.
Let's talk hormones. Estrogen and progesterone in our body are cyclical, meaning they change and fluctuate throughout the month. They impact our appetite and metabolism, leading to an increase in feelings of hunger.
Experiencing changes in our appetite throughout the menstrual cycle is normal, especially right before starting your period. The most rapid change in hormones happens a few days before the start of your period; it is most common to experience cravings before and during the first few days of your period while progesterone settles and estrogen starts to increase.
We know it can be frustrating, but there are scientific explanations (and a few remedies) for our seemingly uncontrollable period hunger.
Although it may seem like the only activity that gets done during your period is craving chocolate and getting up to find the nearest heating pad, your body is actually doing an incredible amount of work.
Periods can be broken down into different phases, and the luteal phase accounts for the time between ovulation and before the start of menstruation.
During this time, progesterone is produced, peaks, and then drops. Your caloric needs may increase during the luteal phase, which also means you may naturally need more fuel.
While on your period, your body has to put in extra energy, which in return burns more calories. Because of this, your basal metabolic rate naturally speeds up right before your period comes to prepare fuel for its duration.
Right before and for the duration of your cycle, your hormones are rapidly changing. Your hormones can even affect neurotransmitters like serotonin, potentially causing it to dip. When your serotonin is lower than usual, it can affect how the rest of your body functions since it plays a huge role in homeostasis.
Low serotonin has been linked to increased premenstrual syndrome, aka PMS. Carb consumption in the form of sweet potatoes, squash, lentils, etc can support serotonin levels, which can promote overall wellness as well as good fats in the form of avocados, coconut oil, wild fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies and sardines.
When your serotonin levels are low, your body tells you to eat carbs because they can support your serotonin levels.
Keep a healthy amount of carbs and good fats in your diet during your cycle, and you may notice you’ll feel calmer with fewer cravings since your body is getting the fuel it needs to keep everything running during this busy time and keep your hormones in balance!
Sometimes our periods can bring waves of anxiety, sadness, or stress. If you have found comfort in food, then turning toward your favorite foods is going to be tempting as your body is going through its monthly plunge into a hormone-driven increase in irritability and sensitivity.
People with genetic risks for eating disorders are especially vulnerable to emotional or binge eating during their menstrual cycle, so it’s extra important for individuals in this group to track what they eat (which the Able app can help with!).
Leading up to your period, your insulin sensitivity can also decline. This means that you will be taking blood sugar into your cells slightly less efficiently (more sugar taken into your cells = more sugar needed back in the body). Because of this, you may find you’re hungrier and have stronger cravings. Make sure you are getting good, quality sleep and managing your stress levels (cortisol). Cortisol is directly related to your insulin levels so if you haven't slept, or have a lot of stress on - your insulin will also be higher!
It has become more common for people to recognize that they may have iron deficiency. This can impact your life in many ways, but it also alters how your body works on your period.
Because you are losing a notable amount of blood throughout your cycle, this can cause your iron levels to drop even further.
If you find yourself having intense cravings for steak and red meat (or leafy greens, especially spinach, if you’re a vegan or vegetarian), that usually means your body is signaling certain nutrients it is lacking. You might need to boost your iron-heavy food intake or look into iron supplements, even if only during your period.
Tip: Making sure you have a good quality mineral supplement can really help here!
While on your period, your body also drops in magnesium. This can explain why everyone seems to crave chocolate during their period — dark chocolate is incredibly rich in magnesium. In fact, a 100-gram bar of 70 to 85% dark chocolate contains 58% of the recommended daily intake for magnesium. Restoring your magnesium levels can also help reduce cramps significantly. Opt for the highest and darkest chocolate you can tolerate - we like 80+ dark chocolate sweetened with stevia. But be mindful that chocolate does contain caffeine so best not to eat it too late in the day.
On the run-up to our period (approx 1 week prior), our estrogen levels are at their lowest while progesterone is higher, making us feel extremely tired. In fact, feeling tired is the most common symptom of PMS.
When our body is lethargic, it signals to our brain that we need more fuel. In response to that, we decide to eat more to try and perk our bodies back up, which is why we crave a lot of ultra-processed foods.
We might want to reach for the sugariest food we can get our hands on, even when a balanced meal with veggies and a good protein source will help the most.
Listen to your body. The week before your period may mean a struggle for your workouts and create more stress on your body if you push yourself too hard (yes, over-exercise is a thing!!). Opt for pilates, yoga and even walks especially after meals which can help you to feel less tired but also help to balance your blood sugar. Avoid any fasting the week before your period!
Although the increase in cravings and hunger can be frustrating, it is comforting to know that your body really just needs extra fuel to get you through your cycle. While it may be tempting to indulge in every craving or ignore them all completely, you have to keep a balance in mind.
You need to listen to your body and always give it the proper fuel and nutrition it needs. So eat when you are hungry, but if you are turning toward food as comfort when your cramps are bad or emotions are high, start running a hot bubble bath that you can just sink into, or put on your coziest pair of pajamas and watch that show that’s been on your to-watch list.
As we discovered before, iron is really important during your period. Since your body loses blood, it needs to refuel in other ways.
Pay attention to what foods have a lot of iron in them: beef, seafood, spinach, organic wheat products, strawberries, and beans are all on the list. Beyond that, you can ask your doctor what iron supplements might benefit you.
Also, don’t forget about getting extra magnesium, which can help combat some of the discomfort you’re feeling — just be careful with magnesium supplements versus magnesium from whole foods, since magnesium in the form of citrate can have a laxative effect, and getting a little too regular during our period is already enough to deal with on its own. An easy way to get more magnesium into your diet is through hydrating with electrolytes!
Besides paying attention to the nutrients your body needs, you also need to be sure to eat a healthy variety of foods while on your period.
By filling your plate with wholesome, nutritious proteins, vegetables, good fats, and natural carbohydrates, you will be better able to stabilize your blood sugar, reducing the chances of sudden, extreme hunger and cravings.
Pay special attention to the start of your day. Skip the sweet breakfast and opt for a savory one. Make breakfast with protein, and healthy fats, so your body feels full and satisfied, which will set your body and mind on the right path for the rest of the day.
Also, be sure to keep a bottle of electrolyte water on hand — don’t mistake thirst for hunger, which we all admittedly do!
Not getting enough sleep may actually cause an increase in the cravings you have during the following day since your cortisol (stress hormone) will be higher due to the lack of deep and REM sleep. A good night’s rest promotes the healthy production of hormones that control appetite.
So, without a good night’s sleep, your body’s hormones may be out of balance. Because your hormones are already fluctuating during your cycle, do your body a favor and prioritize getting some ZZZs throughout the entire month.
Quality sleep equates to a balance of hormones and helps to fight cravings. Don't believe us? Pay attention the next time you don't sleep well and track your food intake in our app! How does that log differ from days you've slept well?
It turns out stress can also cause an imbalance in your hormones (surprise, surprise). So, while also paying extra attention to sleep during your period, you also need to keep track of your stress levels.
You can combat this by doing daily meditation, practicing yoga or deep breathing exercises, or finding the things that relax you the most. Try your best to de-stress, and you might find your periods to be much more manageable.
If you are worried about how much you’ve been eating during your period, no need to worry. We can keep track of snacks, meals, and everything else in between using the Able app.
Our app has a food tracker that lets you input your meal choices to be more aware of the foods you eat in a day.
Want to stay on track with your eating habits during your period? Able has online live health coaches that can help guide your nutritional choices in the right direction. They can help with food ideas and recipes you can try out via live chat.
Join Able app today and get a little help getting a handle on your period cravings.
It may feel overwhelming to keep track of what to do and what not to do while on your period, but just know you are not alone. Many people understand the pain of cramps and the overwhelming feeling of hunger. However, at the end of the day, your period is a time every month to do everything you can to take care of and nourish your body!
So the next time you find yourself sitting in front of the fridge eating anything in front of you, take a minute to remember why your body is extra hungry and how you can best give yourself the fuel you need to nourish. Then, take advantage of Able app to help you stay on top of your nutrition without any hassle.