Medically reviewed by: Dr. Priya, MBBS
“Uff, why does it feel like there’s a black hole in my stomach?” “I feel so unsatisfied if I don’t have a little sweet treat!”
We’ve all been there. It’s more common than you think to have a big appetite and intense (and sometimes weird) cravings before your period, especially for sweets. Binging on your favourite foods can temporarily give you a much-needed boost in mood and energy levels. Remember that it’s perfectly fine to listen to what your body needs and indulge in your cravings once in a while!
Understanding your body better empowers you to make the right decisions about your health. So, for the next time you find yourself sticking your nose in the fridge every 10 minutes, it might help to understand what goes on in your body before your period that’s making you hungry so often. Ultimately, you have the power to be mindful of your food habits and make the right choices for yourself!
Unboxing the munchies
Cyclical cravings are linked to the phases of your menstrual cycle.
Progesterone and estrogen are two hormones that fluctuate throughout the different phases. This causes the symptoms you may associate with premenstrual syndrome or PMS. Cravings is one of them!
Right before your period is the premenstrual phase; this is when people experience PMS. Progesterone levels increase during this time. Estrogen levels also go up slightly though lower than progesterone, before falling. (source).
When estrogen levels fall during PMS, it leads to a fall in serotonin. This is a chemical made by your brain that makes you feel happy and energetic. Lower serotonin can explain why you may have lower energy. Low energy and mood swings can make your body crave foods that increase serotonin levels, like sweets and carbs.
Higher progesterone is thought to cause cravings and high appetite, and lower estrogen makes you feel less satisfied after eating.
Leptin is another hormone made by your body that controls your appetite. Leptin decreases during the luteal phase, making you feel less satisfied after eating. This is linked to intense cravings and hunger.
Another possible reason is changes in your metabolism. Your body burns calories like a forest fire in preparation for your period. This could be why you get hungry quickly or feel dissatisfied after eating.
Let's look at the numbers.
A recent large-scale study found that up to 85% of people had cravings the week before their period. This was even more common than cramps and fatigue (source)! People also tend to reach for chocolate and other sweet treats during this phase (source 1, source 2) over salty foods.
An Indian study from 2016 found that close to 40% of people studied with moderate to severe PMS tended to overeat and have food cravings (source). Though there isn’t a lot of data on the prevalence of cravings and what exactly people in the Indian subcontinent tend to crave, there’s evidence from around the world that shows that this is a very common experience related to PMS and the premenstrual phase.
It’s also been found that lower mood and feelings of depression are linked to sugar cravings and impulsivity when it comes to eating (source). The lower your mood, the more likely you are to raid that emergency pack of gummy bears in your drawer. Low serotonin levels during your period as a result of changes in estrogen could be the culprit here and lead to emotional eating (source).
"How can I control my cravings", you ask?
If you find yourself opening Swiggy a few too many times a day “just to look at the options”, it can help to pause and think about what you can do to control your cravings.
Eat complex carbohydrates. Carbs are far from bad and are a vital source of energy so there’s no need to run away from them! However, going for complex carbs (think brown rice, whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes) can be better for you. Not only are they more nutritious than their simple counterparts, but also keep you fuller for longer.
Eat small meals throughout the day. If you can, try to eat 5 or 6 smaller meals spread out over the day. This also helps stabilise your blood sugar, making you less hungry and irritable. Reducing the amount of time in between lunch and dinner can also help take your mind off the next time you get to eat.
You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but try substituting sweets or chocolate with fruit once in a while. It’s all about balance!
Remember that you’re not spoiling your summer body goals by eating a little more than usual when your body needs it. With all the hormonal changes happening in your body during this time, it’s natural to need a little pick-me-up. Listen to your body and don’t deprive yourself of the fuel you need. At the same time, once you’ve understood what goes on in your body before your period and what causes all these symptoms you experience, you can make better and more informed choices about your health and nutrition.
- Team Cranberry
Hallam, J., Boswell, R.G., DeVito, E.E. and Kober, H., 2016. Focus: sex and gender health: gender-related differences in food craving and obesity. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 89(2), p.161. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4918881/ Accessed: August 5, 2023
Hantsoo, L., Rangaswamy, S., Voegtline, K., Salimgaraev, R., Zhaunova, L. and Payne, J.L., 2022. Premenstrual symptoms across the lifespan in an international sample: data from a mobile application. Archives of Women's Mental Health, 25(5), pp.903-910. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00737-022-01261-5 Accessed: July 15, 2023
Krishnan, S., Tryon, R.R., Horn, W.F., Welch, L. and Keim, N.L., 2016. Estradiol, SHBG and leptin interplay with food craving and intake across the menstrual cycle. Physiology & behavior, 165, pp.304-312. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938416304346 Accessed: July 20, 2023
Raval, C.M., Panchal, B.N., Tiwari, D.S., Vala, A.U. and Bhatt, R.B., 2016. Prevalence of premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric disorder among college students of Bhavnagar, Gujarat. Indian Journal of psychiatry, 58(2), p.164. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4919960/ Accessed: July 15, 2023
Souza, L.B.D., Martins, K.A., Cordeiro, M.M., Rodrigues, Y.D.S., Rafacho, B.P.M. and Bomfim, R.A., 2018. Do food intake and food cravings change during the menstrual cycle of young women?. Revista Brasileira de Ginecologia e Obstetrícia, 40, pp.686-692. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30485899/ Accessed: July 15, 2023
Um, Y. and Lee, J., 2023. Mediating effect of negative perceived stress on the relationship between premenstrual syndrome and emotional eating. Nutrition Research and Practice, 17(2), pp.330-340. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10042710/ Accessed: July 31, 2023
Yen, J.Y., Liu, T.L., Chen, I.J., Chen, S.Y. and Ko, C.H., 2018. Premenstrual appetite and emotional responses to foods among women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Appetite, 125, pp.18-23. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29407746/ Accessed: July 25, 2023