Do all women tend to eat more?
You are not alone when it comes to periods and food cravings. A review of 30 studies (Dye et al. 1997) looked at women’s energy intake at different phases of the menstrual cycle. They identified, that in 27 out of 37 groups of women, energy intake was higher in the second half of the menstrual cycle (day 14-28), just before the period was due.
The link between periods and food cravings, therefore, does exist in other women, however, in order to determine whether this increase in energy intake is due to a physiological increase in our bodies energy needs, further studies need to be conducted in humans. Some research suggests our energy requirements may be slightly higher, however, the research is varied and this will also vary from women to women.
We are also yet to determine whether periods and food cravings are linked to our hunger hormones. Hunger hormones tell us when we are hungry, and when to stop eating. More research is required to determine whether our female hormones interact with hunger hormones to control changes in appetite over the course of the menstrual cycle.
Is it carbs, fat, or protein that we crave?
Studies on whether it’s fat, carbohydrate, or protein that we crave, are inconsistent (Davidsen et al. 2007). Different studies have determined that in the build-up to our period (1-2 weeks), our intake of carbohydrate, proteins, and fats are increased. In reality, it is challenging to interpret data when it comes to what type of foods we crave. For example, say the consumption of something like a donut is consumed by a craving, is it the carbohydrate, or fat in the donut that was sought for? Who knows!
Typical PMS symptoms
Premenstrual Syndrome can be characterised by various symptoms in 1-2 weeks before your period, that is usually relieved when the period starts. Symptoms vary among women and each individual can also experience different symptoms from month to month. These include mood swings, irritability, increased appetite, carbohydrate and alcohol cravings, breast tenderness, headaches and bloating.
I get cravings, what can I do about them?
- Eat regularly – this will help prevent the rise and falls in your blood sugar, which you may be more sensitive to before your period, and also may help stabilise food cravings. Ensure you eat something every 3-4 hours. Most people find that leaving more than 4 hours between meals can result in feeling overly hungry, which may result in over eating at the next meal. Whilst it’s normal to overeat at times, not eating enough, and then overeating can not only fuel into the ‘diet’ cycle explained below, but can also lead to unstable blood sugar control.
2. Chose Low Glycaemic Index foods – Basing meals and snacks around low GI carbohydrates (such as root vegetables, quinoa, wholegrain bread, oats, beans, pulses, chickpeas) may help with PMS symptoms by maintaining an even blood sugar level. Such a diet may also help reduce food cravings. A low glycaemic load (GL) diet, where both the GI and amount of carbohydrate are taken into consideration, has been shown to be associated with a decrease in inflammation markers which could, in turn, lessen the PMS symptoms. A portion of these starchy foods is approximately your fist size.
3. Don’t over-restrict – over-restricting, often leads to over-indulging. Over-indulging, can lead to feelings of guilt and shame which feeds into the diet cycle that looks something like this:
1) Feel bad about your body/self
2) Decide to over restrict, diet as you believe this will make you feel good
3) Restrict and deprive yourself for various periods of time
4) Break the diet, overeat or eat anything but is within the boundaries set in your diet
5) Feel guilty, ashamed, distressed about this whole cycle, which may feed back into point number 2… and the cycle continues!!
4. Listen to your body – a bit like you would listen to your bladder when you need the loo, it’s important to listen to your bodies cues to eat and not ignore them. Your body is the best determinant of when to eat, and if you are filling it with healthful foods and balanced meals, you can’t go far wrong.
5. Stop labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – of course some foods are healthier than others, but labelling foods as bad and good can make you feel good for eating the ‘good food’ and bad for eating the ‘bad foods’, again fuelling into the diet cycle. Rather than labelling foods as ‘good or bad’. try using ‘every day foods’ and ‘celebratory/occasional foods’. It’s normal and healthy eating behaviour to enjoy delicious celebratory foods, now and then when you fancy them and the rest of the time enjoy nourishing your body with good quality healthful foods that you enjoy (wholegrains, fruit, veg, dairy, nuts, seeds, lean meats etc).
6. Eat protein and fats with your meals – fats can support keeping you feeling fuller for longer, and proteins can help lower the GI of your meals, as they mix with the carbohydrates in your stomach, and slow down their absorption. Making sure your meals contain small amounts of healthy fats (e.g. 1 tbsp olive oil, 1.5tbsp seeds or nuts, 20 olives, 1/2 small avocado), and small amounts of lean proteins (e.g. 1/2 can lentils, 150g chicken or turkey, a can of tuna, or 1 fillet of fish) is therefore important.
7. Stay well hydrated – it’s really easy to mistake hunger for thirst, therefore if you sip fluids regularly and are well hydrated, you are less at risk of this happening. I love these Memo Bottles which can be purchased by my “Nourish Well Care Package”, that slip perfectly into my handbag!
8. Schedule your meals if tired or stressed – I often emphasise how important it is to listen to your body, and eat when you are hungry, not because the clock says. However, at times of stress, tiredness, or when you are not feeling so in control, it’s really important to try to make sure you schedule proper meals and have activities to do in between your meals. An example of what a day could look like with food is breakfast at 8 am, snack at 10:30 am, lunch at 1:30 pm, a snack at 3:30 pm, snack at 5:30 pm, and dinner at 7:30 pm.
So in summary…
When it comes to periods and food cravings, you are not on your own. Whilst in the two weeks lead up to your period, you may find that you feel a little more hungry, we do not know whether this is the body actually needing more energy, or whether it’s just our hormones causing cravings. More research is required. But don’t worry, there are still things you can do, and I have provided you with some top tips to ensure you stay on top of cravings.
If you battle with your weight, and willpower, you might find my free 1 week course useful! It’s not more willpower that you need, it’s a better relationship with food.
- Davidsen, L., Vistisen, B., & Astrup, A. (2007). Impact of the menstrual cycle on determinants of energy balance: a putative role in weight loss attempts. International journal of obesity, 31(12), 1777
- Dye L, Blundell JE. Menstrual cycle and appetite control: implications for weight regulation. Hum Reprod 1997; 12: 1142–1151.
- Hetherington MM, Macdiarmid JI. ‘Chocolate addiction’: a preliminary study of its description and its relationship to problem eating. Appetite 1993; 21: 233–246.
- Rozin P, Levine E, Stoess C. Chocolate craving and liking. Appetite 1991; 17: 199–212.
Other useful resources:
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