Have you ever had a sudden urge for chocolate ice cream or French fries, and the next day or two your period starts? Or maybe it’s the week-of and you can’t stop eating that sugar cereal you save special?
There’s a lot going on in the body leading up to menstruating, and that’s going to affect your energy levels and hunger levels. Let’s take a look at what’s going on during the menstrual cycle to better understand those cravings.
Extra Calories Needed to Support Fluctuating Hormone Levels
There’s a whole slew of hormones working all the time to keep bodies functioning properly. Over the course of this 21-35 days cycle there are specific hormones working to prepare for the possibility of getting pregnant.
Some of the usual hormones- like insulin, ghrelin, and leptin trigger hunger when you’re not eating enough. As I wrote in this blog, the body needs adequate energy to go through this cycle. When people chronically aren’t eating enough, they’ll likely lose their menstrual cycle. Eating regularly and consistently a well-varied diet in tune to your body’s signals can ensure you’re properly energizing your body and fueling the many cycles and functions that regularly occur.
Some of the specific reproductive hormones- like estrogen and progesterone, are chemically constructed from fat (specifically cholesterol). In order for the body to create and replace these hormones it needs a steady source of fat and other nutrients from the diet.
Hormones keep the body functioning properly, and they need energy to do so- for their structure and to work at their peak.
Beyond that, fluctuating hormones can affect mood and behaviour. Comfort foods are real- they are an effective way for dealing with these roiling emotions!
Eating for Growth & Development
Remember the purpose of this cycle? These hormones are setting the stage for a future pregnancy. They trigger the creation of a thick cell lining called the endometrium where an egg would theoretically be implanted and grow. Just like all growth, this requires extra energy, and may be reflected in increased hunger.
Food Cravings for Increasing Food Intake
When we’re not eating enough to meet our needs the body experiences that as restriction. It doesn’t matter if it’s intentional or there isn’t enough food available. But the body doesn’t like it, and it does everything it can to get more energy as food. This includes constantly thinking about food and initiating urges for high calorie foods (so it gets the biggest bang for its buck).
Food cravings come whenever the body experiences restriction, even when it’s not period related. But especially during the week or days before menstruating when energy needs are higher, there will typically be more intense cravings for high energy food.
As described above, energy needs are high (to create hormones and build the endometrium lining). It makes a lot of sense that your body needs more food. And if you’re not giving it enough, it will work hard getting your attention to eat more- hence: cravings!
Why Crave Chocolate During Menstruation?
When I asked on Instagram for people’s typical period cravings, I got a variety of answers. Chips, bread & mayo, ice-cream, cream cheese… but chocolate was a big contender! A number of years ago my sister sent me a picture from her local pharmacy’s period-care aisle that had chocolate placed right by the pads and tampons. Is it just a cliché, or is there really something about eating chocolate when menstruating?
From the research I’ve found, it seems chocolate is a cultural choice specific to American culture. In contrast, in some Asian countries rice cravings are common, as is sushi cravings in Japan.
But beyond the cultural aspect, chocolate has many benefits. Chocolate is a good source of energy, and it provides some nutrients including iron, magnesium, and potassium. It also includes some psychoactive ingredients that affect mood and emotions. And it tastes good, which typically makes us feel emotionally better.
How to Deal with Period Cravings
Address your cravings without guilt or shame. Ignoring cravings is not the way to go. It’s like denying yourself from breathing extra after a quick sprint or holding your breath. Cravings are a sign your body needs more food. Respect and appreciate how your body supports your needs. Whether you crave chocolate ice-cream, peanut butter, potato chips, or extra servings of dinner, they’re all morally neutral. Cravings are legitimate needs. When you recognize this, you can eat the food you want (and need) without guilt or shame.