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How To Deal With Period Cravings When They Strike

Written by Rama Manikumar on Wed, 16 November 2022

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You are one- to one-and-a-half weeks away from having your periods, and you have this uncontrollable feeling of binging on carbohydrate and refined sugar-rich food or salty foods like chips, French fries, burgers, chocolates. The list is endless. Consuming comfort food varieties does give you some amount of feeling of calmness, albeit temporary.

Ever wondered about the reason for this feeling of binging on ice cream, chocolate bars, potato chips, and other junk food on specific days of the month. This monthly cycle or ritual is none other than Period cravings - No woman would ever deny having them.

Food cravings are very commonly associated with Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and understanding the reason for such peculiar behaviour by your body will help you combat food cravings in a better manner.

Period and food cravings: know the cause

The menstrual cycle is characterized by constant hormonal fluctuations and chemical changes. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is caused by hormonal fluctuations and their effect on chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters. Its symptoms are exclusive to the second half of the menstrual cycle.

These very fluctuating hormones are those culprits responsible for cravings during your period. Your cravings for refined sugar, fat, or carbohydrates are totally governed by the hormones in your body.

1. Estrogen and cortisol

The levels of estrogen and cortisol go hand in hand. As one increases, so does the other. Estrogen increases in the weeks before your period, increasing the levels of cortisol. Cortisol being a stress hormone turns high metabolic stimulation, heightening your appetite causing you to crave carbohydrates and fat.

2. Serotonin

Serotonin or the feel-good hormone as it is known is associated with feelings of well-being is also believed to influence the type of food you will crave for. Does a low carb diet cause a decrease in serotonin levels? The answer is yes! This particularly matters when it comes to periods.

Let us understand the connection between menstrual cycle and cravings in depth. During PMS, as the serotonin level drops, your body will crave carbohydrates that are involved in producing serotonin. A few days before your period, as the cortisol increases and the serotonin drops, the body will look out for simple quick fixes like sugary carbohydrates in the form of sweets or chocolates to restore your serotonin levels.

That's exactly why you feel good about having sugary stuff to satisfy your food cravings in periods. However, if your cortisol levels are high but serotonin levels are normal you may crave foods high in fats and carbs. This is why you crave chocolates or cheesy pizza.

3. Swinging blood sugar levels

Blood sugar levels may also be a cause of food cravings and irritability during PMS. Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, causes a drop in blood sugar after eating; so, within a few hours, women would again be seen binging on food.

Is binging on carbs, fats, and refined sugars justified during PMS?

Giving in to food cravings may temporarily help to combat the hormonal imbalance occurring in your body. But it won't be long before you give in to craving just within a few hours of eating the 'craving food'. The vicious cycle of hunger and food would continue to affect your health in the long run. You can even end up having irregular periods due to them.

Is there any way to get rid of pre-period food cravings?

The best way to cope with period cravings is to maintain proper nutrition and some lifestyle habits. This will help minimize your cravings and prevent you from gaining weight.

Here is how to deal with cravings:

  • Eat complex carbohydrates (not the simple carbs you are likely craving): Choose complex carbohydrates, including whole grains, brown rice, barley, beans, and lentils. Choose whole wheat over white flour. This will leave you feeling fuller, maintain your serotonin levels, and prevent snacking on junk food later.
  • Reduce and limit the amount of fat, salt, and sugar - all of which can leave you craving more. Consumption of fat will slow down carbohydrate digestion and absorption which is necessary for serotonin production. A diet low in salt will reduce fluid retention and decrease that feeling of bloating. Simple sugars will increase your insulin secretion and leave you wanting more carbs and fats.
  • Eat foods rich in essential fatty acids: Consumption of food rich in essential fatty acids like salmon, tuna with safflower, or canola oil can slow the absorption of carbohydrates, stabilize blood sugar thereby controlling your appetite.
  • Minimize or avoid caffeine and alcohol
  • Dark chocolate is your friend: When chocolate cravings strike, turn to dark chocolate. Studies suggest that eating between 40-120 grams of dark chocolate is not only great to treat period cravings, it may also help to reduce period pain. This is probably because dark chocolate is rich in magnesium, which can relax muscles and ease aches.
  • Eat more calcium-rich foods: Include green leafy vegetables and dairy in your diet. Calcium in food may help reverse an imbalance of feel-good serotonin
  • Eat smaller sized meals more frequently: This helps to maintain proper blood sugar levels, which plays a part in keeping period cravings under control.
  • A few lifestyle changes may help: Regular exercise, relaxation, and stress reduction techniques such as breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, and regular, good sleep help in minimizing period cravings and alleviate symptoms of PMS.

Remember that you are the best observer of the changes in your body, especially with every approaching period. Be observant of your symptoms as well as period cravings and incorporate a few changes in your food and lifestyle habits to counteract them with healthy diet tips.

Now that you know all about period cravings explained, remember to consult your doctor if the cravings are persistent across the month and you are unable to overcome them.

Keep reading to know more about how nutrition affects your menstrual health!!

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Rama Manikumar

Rama is a nutritionist and a lifestyle consultant. Having worked in the health industry for more than 20 years, her expertise in health and well-being brings a fresh and healthy approach to everyday habits- food and lifestyle. She walks the talk and delivers excellent quality nutrition, and helps develop habits that peak health & Well- being. Rama Holds a Batchelorโ€™s degree in Biology; Extended/Specialized degree in Nutrition & Dietetics (Pennsylvania State Univ. USA).

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  1. Is PMS Sabotaging Your Diet? Available at https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/is-pms-sabotaging-your-diet#
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