Period cravings are normal but have you ever wondered why we get them? WUKA experts discuss what causes cravings and how to deal with them.
Why do you get cravings on your period?
Got a craving for something sweet? Or salty? Ot just anything, as long as it's edible?! You’re not alone. Period cravings are one of the most common PMS symptoms reported, and one that some of us know only too well. But what are period cravings, why do we get them and can they do harm to our health and wellbeing if we give in to them?
There are a few theories as to why we get cravings on our period. Interestingly, some believe that it could be psychological- we associate our period with cravings for chocolate, and we assume that eating it will make us feel ‘better’. This is known as cue-induced cravings, as explained in this article by nutritionist, Melanie McGrice.
McGrice also points out however, that other research actually challenges this view- this study for example, studied American and Spanish women, and found that one group craved chocolate during the premenstrual phase their cycle, while the other did not. Researchers concluded that ‘time of the month’ had little effect on cravings therefore.
Another study which surveyed students in America also found the same, with only 32% of the women they spoke to linking their cravings to their period. It’s also worth noting that of those they spoke to who admitted to experiencing cravings, 97% were female, compared to 68% male.
And if the jury’s out on whether or not period cravings are psychological, what other factors play a role? Many believe that hormonal fluctuations are at least in part to blame, and drops in blood sugar levels are also thought to influence our hunger cues, which can lead to cravings.
Studies like this one suggest that the hormones which control the menstrual cycle might be influential here. Researchers concluded that,
“Estradiol is associated with increased carbohydrate rich food intake, while progesterone with craving sweetened beverage intake.”
So let’s look at the hormones a little more closely.
Do hormones cause period cravings?
Hormones play a huge role in our menstrual cycle, and are responsible for many of the PMS symptoms we experience. But are they to blame for period cravings?
One study found that mid-luteal progesterone could be the reason why we crave certain foods right before our period. As we enter the luteal phase, levels of progesterone rise, before dropping again just before our period starts- and scientists who carried out this research believe that the drop could be the cause of the cravings.
However, this study found the opposite, as the subjects in their research continued to experience cravings- even when supplemented with progesterone during the last part of the luteal phase, when levels of the hormone naturally drop.
Could other hormones be at play here too? Possibly serotonin and leptin. Serotonin is the ‘feel good’ hormone which helps to regulate the mood. This study suggests that low levels of serotonin could be to blame for carb cravings, explaining why we tend to reach for the sweet stuff when we’re feeling low or anxious.
Leptin is the hormone which regulates the appetite, and when levels of this hormone drop we feel increased hunger, which can lead to increased food cravings. This study found that low levels of leptin can cause cravings for sweet food specifically.
What other causes are linked to period cravings?
But it might not all be down to hormones:
- This study found that those who consumed milk were more likely to experience period cravings, alongside many other PMS symptoms. These researchers concludes that “PMS and dysmenorrhea (period pain) are frequently overlapping. We also found that PMS is associated with dietary habits.”
- Other triggers could also be to blame, such as boredom or stress. We tend to reach for comfort food at these times and in the case of stress, PMS can sometimes be to blame. This study links stress to food cravings.
- Nutritional deficiencies might also be to blame for cravings. It’s thought that those who are low in iron crave foods which will help their body to produce more. Dark chocolate falls into this category, which could explain why we crave it during our period. Other deficiencies include magnesium (again, dark chocolate is a good source), vitamin D and calcium. Additionally, craving salty foods could indicate a diet which is low in sodium too.
When do period cravings happen?
So when are we most likely to experience food cravings? Depending on your theory about whether or not period cravings are caused by hormones or whether they’re psychological (which is essence, can still be put down to hormones…), the answer is: it depends.
But if we’re talking specifically about period cravings, the luteal phase (the last part of your cycle, post-ovulation, right before your period starts) is the time where most of us experience cravings more intensely.
This study found that those who experienced cravings during the luteal phase were more likely to link sweet food to feelings of happiness, a finding which also supports this study from 2009. The latter also reported that 72% of the women they spoke to experienced food cravings during the premenstrual period.
Which foods do we commonly crave on our period?
It might come as no surprise that chocolate is probably the number one most commonly craved food during the luteal phase, along with other sweet foods.
Other popular foods include pizza, salty foods, sugar and carbs. And when you consider what we now know about the potential causes of cravings, it’s easy to see why these foods tick all the right boxes.
What happens if you give in to period cravings?
So is it ok to give in to cravings when they strike? We’re not about to tell you no! But as with anything in life, moderation is key, so if you constantly crave unhealthy foods that you know make you feel rubbish, then an 80/20 approach might be a good idea.If you do give in to cravings, and the foods you eat make you feel rubbish- bloated, nauseous, crampy- then make sure you wear a nice comfy pair of period pants to keep you gently supported as you rest. We recommend our Stretch Seamless, as they're perfect for premenstrual weight gain, thanks to the fact they can stretch up to 6 sizes.
How can you stop period cravings?
If you’re concerned about period cravings and you want to make some changes, there are some easy lifestyle habits you can adopt.
- Eat less refined carbs overall, but especially during the week leading up to your period. This will help to keep your blood sugar levels more stable, in turn helping to regulate your appetite.
- Avoid caffeine- this can cause fatigue which can again lead to a drop in blood sugar levels, and it could also make period cramps worse too.
- Eat more protein, as this will help you to feel more full for longer, helping to keep cravings at bay.
- Exercise more- the feel good hormones that are released when we exercise help to keep cravings away.
- Be kind to yourself. It really is ok to have some chocolate when cravings strike. Be kind to yourself, listen to your body and try to practise as much self care as you can.
Is it ok to satisfy period cravings?
Restricting food is never a good idea and can lead to un healthy food habits. But indulging in comfort foods too often can also have a negative impact on your health and wellbeing. An 80-20 approach can work well if you feel that your cravings are becoming a problem.
Listen to your body and don’t be afraid to have that chocolate if you really want it. As long as the rest of your diet is balanced, it won’t have a detrimental affect.
What do period cravings feel like?
We’re all different, and we all experience PMS symptoms differently too. Some of us might be able to think of nothing else other than the specific food we’re craving, while others might describe their cravings more as ‘Ooh I really fancy some chocolate…’ but can be distracted from it. Both experiences are normal!