Suddenly you’re ravenous and scouring your apartment for an emergency chocolate stash. Or maybe you’re raiding the pickle jar of every last spear and then downing the juice too. Aunt Flo is on her way!
Cravings and hunger before your period are primal instincts — even in the age of Uber Eats.
Here, we take a look at why that trifecta of tacos didn’t even begin to fill you up. Plus, we provide an action plan that will help you feel more satisfied during these insatiable times.
During ovulation, around 6 to 14 days before your period, your body is getting ready for a potential pregnancy, says Jamé Heskett, MD, author of The Well Path. This prep work can impact your hormones and your metabolism.
In the late stage of the follicular phase, which happens right before ovulation, your hormones hop on a roller coaster. (Weeeee!)
First, the estrogen hormone, known as estradiol, climbs and peaks. Your hormones continue their joyride during ovulation and also right after, for the luteal phase, which lasts until your monthly pal shows up.
Estrogen dips in the first part of the luteal phase, about the time that progesterone skyrockets.
Researchers are still trying to understand the specifics on how the menstrual cycle impacts hunger, but they’ve known for decades that the luteal phase can cause an increase in appetite and carbohydrate cravings (pass the pasta, please).
Some people are more predisposed to experiencing hormone-fueled hunger than others, says Kelly Klump, PhD, a Michigan State University Foundation Endowed Professor who studies eating disorders.
Those who have genetic risks for eating disorders are more vulnerable to “emotional” or “binge” eating during their menstrual cycle, when it feels impossible to stop, she explains.
“These hormones actually turn genes on and off,” Klump adds. So when there’s an increase in the hormones after ovulation, risk genes for eating disorders are more likely to be activated.
That means the risk of ED-prone behavior can spike when hormones are all over the place. This susceptibility can create a vicious cycle, especially because Klump’s recent research has found that individuals become increasingly preoccupied by their weight post ovulation.
It’s a kind of reaction to binge eating, she says. After our bodies tell us to consume more calories, we can be left with concerns about weight and shape.
Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels can also affect neurotransmitters like serotonin, says Gerardo Bustillo, MD, an OB/GYN at Orange Coast Medical Center.
Serotonin plays a big role in mood swings and food cravings, he adds. If you’re lusting after carbs, your body may be attempting to self-medicate when serotonin levels dip during the luteal phase.
Low serotonin has been linked to an increase in premenstrual syndrome, aka PMS. Think cramping, crankiness, depression, headaches, and all that not so fun stuff.
Carb consumption can boost serotonin, which can boost your well-being. In other words, your body wants that morning muffin to muffle your pre-menstrual misery.
If you have disturbed sleep — pulling all-nighters or only getting 6 hours — that can make it even worse, adds Iffath Hoskins, MD, an obstetrician at NYU’s Langone Medical Center.
Your body has to work a little harder in prep for its surf on the crimson wave, too. That’s why your basal metabolic rate speeds up just before and during the early part of your period, Bustillo says.
A slightly higher calorie burn and demand for energy in the days leading up to and the start of code red can also drive hunger.
Frustratingly, hunger can also be a reaction to denying yourself food. If we anticipate saying no to the good stuff because we know we’re going to be extra hungry, the body actually makes the hunger instinct even stronger, Heskett says.
Being hungry before your period is super common, and so is eating a little more around your time of the month. In general, it’s not something to worry about. Here’s some period prep that will come in handy next time.
Don’t deprive yourself during period hunger
If you enter the luteal phase already deprived of calories and important micronutrients — think vitamins and minerals — your body will send you all the hunger signals it can.
Keep yourself adequately fueled throughout your menstrual cycle. And aim for foods that will help you feel good and fight PMS.
If you’re dealing with what feels like unassailable hunger but know that you ate only an hour ago, Heskett says to try waiting 20 minutes before eating again. The hunger may pass. If it doesn’t, grab a healthy snack.
Fuel up on iron
Load up on iron-rich foods pre-period stage, Heskett suggests. Foods like red meat, fish, and leafy greens can help replace the iron that you’re losing right before and during your period.
This will create a “feedback loop” to the body, telling it that you are actually responding to it in a way that it needs, Heskett explains.
Get some sleep and de-stress
Not getting your Zzz’s can cause hunger levels to spike, so aim for 7 to 9 hours of shut-eye.
And stress can also send you straight to the pantry. If that’s the case, try quick relaxation techniques to boost your well-being.
If you want to better anticipate when cravings or hunger might arise, it can help to be mindful about what your hormones are up to, Heskett says. Tracking your cycle can give you back some power over it.
And if any PMS or period symptoms become bothersome or change, talk to your healthcare provider.
You don’t need to lock up the peanut butter jar, however. Keep in mind your body needs extra nourishment so that you can function at your best and give PMS the boot.