Why Do People Feel Insatiably Hungry During Their Period?

Why Do People Feel Insatiably Hungry During Their Period?

Do you get cravings before or during your period? Turns out there are several reasons why!

Everyone that gets or ever has gotten a period knows that the symptoms can be rough. Some months are fine, but then some months seem to be worse than ever.

One symptom I get nearly every month is unrelenting food cravings. For a short period of time each month, all I want to do is stuff my face with whatever food I can get my hands on. I never seem to get full, craving more and eating my way through leftovers containers, boxes of cereal, and whatever food crosses my path. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a food I don’t like. When I’m on my period, I’ll eat it anyway and still want more.

I never thought much of my PMS food cravings until I lived in my first apartment and started buying my own groceries. That sheer amount of food I consumed during my period was alarming.

It turns out that there might actually be more than one reason. While estrogen levels are highest during ovulation, progesterone peaks right before your period. The problem is that, according to S. Zev Williams, MD, PhD, the chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Columbia University Medical Center, progesterone has been linked to an increased appetite while the opposite is true of estrogen. Progesterone increasing the appetite combined with a few other reasons, can make someone feel ravenous, especially right before their period starts.

Estrogen and progesterone levels aren’t the only things that change as your period looms closer. The body starts to produce more cortisol, the stress hormone, in the attempt to help “deal with your period’s effect on your body,” according to Dr. George M. Arnold, the chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Markham Stouffville Hospital in Ontario. A surge in cortisol brings with it sugar cravings. Dr. Arnold says that it increases “insulin sensitivity, which leads to more sugar being used, and thus a lower sugar level.”

The increase in cortisol brings with it a decrease in serotonin, the “feel good” hormone as Dr. Arnold puts it. Lower levels of serotonin cause increased anxiety, fatigue, sensitivity, and depression, along with the need to eat carbohydrates. Dr. Arnold says, “Many of the carbs you eat result in an increased level of serotonin…the more you eat, the better you feel.”

Your body’s magnesium levels can also have a big impact on food cravings. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, blames the hormonal changes you experience during your period, along with “the physical stress of the period.” It all causes magnesium depletion, which can also affect serotonin because it “depends on magnesium for its production and function.” Because chocolate is high in magnesium, you might crave it more than normal. Keep in mind that dark chocolate has more magnesium in it than other types of chocolate.

Let’s not forget the metabolic changes caused by PMS. Your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR, is used to measure how many calories it takes to perform basic body functions. This includes circulation, breathing, digestion, and much more. Your BMR peaks right before your period, explaining the desire overload on food. Dr. Anne Henderson, an OBGYN, says that, surprisingly, we burn fewer calories while on our periods than during it. However, the body’s metabolic rate increases as much as nine percent, causing increased appetite. Higher progesterone levels and appetite “signal that the body requires additional energy to match increased BMR.” Dr. Henderson calls the continued feelings of hunger during your period a “hangover effect.”

So what can we do about all these food cravings to avoid binging? To help combat symptoms, Dr. Williams suggests eating food high in iron, especially if you have a heavy flow. Spinach and other leafy greens, fish, and red meat are good options. If you keep junk food out of your home, it will make it harder to eat it when the cravings start. If your binging gets particularly bad, keeping a food journal might help keep track of what you’re eating. Waiting 20 minutes to see if you’re actually hungry or just want to eat is another good option. Don’t forget to talk to your doctor about your symptoms, especially if they worry you.

Cover image courtesy of Getty Images.