Why Can’t I Stop Eating When I’m On My Period?

It’s common to experience an increase in appetite or cravings before your period. Here is what’s going on in your body and what you can do to work through it.

Question of the Day. When it’s “that time of the month” all I want to do is eat and crave sweets. Is this normal?

Answer: Yes. It’s very common to experience an increase in appetite or cravings for certain foods just before or during your period.

How Your menstrual cycle affects Your appetite

Levels of the hormone progesterone rise in the second half of the menstrual cycle, leading up to the onset of menstruation. It’s known to have an appetite-stimulating effect.

Women tend to eat more and favor more calorie-dense foods in the week or two leading up to the onset of the menstrual cycle. Perhaps this is the body’s way of preparing for the extra energy demands of being pregnant.

However, there are a couple of other compensating factors to consider. Levels of the hormone leptin also rise during the second half of the cycle, and this appetite-regulating hormone tends to suppress the urge to eat. So, we are not completely at the mercy of our hunger hormones.

Did you know you burn more calories in the days leading up to your period? It’s a myth that women burn up to 500 extra calories per day during their period. In reality, you might burn an extra 500 calories per cycle. If you’re a bit hungrier than usual, that may be part of the reason. As long as you don’t completely derail, that extra calorie burn could cancel out an extra snack or two.

The typical changes in appetite hormones and metabolism during your menstrual cycle largely balance themselves out. You may gain and lose a few pounds every month, but remember, this weight fluctuation is mostly water retention and not fat.

serotonin During Your Period

Cyclical changes in neurotransmitters may also play a role in your appetite. Serotonin, for example, has a number of functions throughout the body. It’s best known for its effect on mood, but it’s also involved in sleep, digestion, and more.

When serotonin levels fall, it can create cravings for carbohydrate foods—a big dose of carbohydrates will cause a temporary rise in serotonin levels. When you crave carbs, you’re literally self-medicating.

For many women, serotonin levels remain relatively level throughout their cycles. But for some women, serotonin levels fall prior to their period and this could explain cravings for chocolate or carbohydrates. This seems to be particularly true for women who suffer from PMS or who are prone to depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

The problem with using carbs to self-medicate for a serotonin deficiency is that eating a lot of refined carbohydrates (aka; processed carbs) makes some ladies want more carbs. The more they eat, the more they want. So, instead of a periodic cycle in which your appetite and metabolism rise a bit and then fall, your intake simply escalates.

Fortunately, carbs are not the only way to boost your serotonin levels. A quick walk, workout, exposure to sunshine, doing something nice for someone, and smiling are all proven ways to boost your mood.

How to Cope With Menstrual Munchies.

  1. When you have menstrual munchies, try to stick to healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and protein-rich foods.
  2. If the cravings feel emotional, try to lift your mood in other ways like taking a walk, exercising, getting a massage or facial, reading a book, or watch a funny movie.
  3. Make sure to get plenty of sleep. Being sleep-deprived can increase appetite and cravings greatly.
  4. Consider giving in to that chocolate craving. After all, chocolate contains compounds that lift your mood. But instead of breaking out the king-sized bag of M&Ms, treat yourself to 1-2 ounces of the best quality chocolate you can find.

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