Ever notice that your appetite seems to increase in the days leading up to your period? If so, you’re not alone. During our weekly Ask Dr. Brighten Q&A on social media I am often asked, “why am I so hungry on my period (or before),” especially for sugary snacks. It’s a common question among my patients too. So if you’ve ever experienced this, know that you’re not alone.
This article will explain what can cause an increased appetite around period time and what to do if those cravings hit.
Why Am I So Hungry During My Period?
Estrogen and progesterone are cyclical, meaning they change and fluctuate throughout the month. They have an impact on our appetite and metabolism that can lead to an increase in feelings of hunger. Experiencing changes in our appetite throughout the menstrual cycle is normal.
Check out my article about the menstrual cycle phases if you need a refresher on how our cycles work.
What many women experience in the first few days of their cycle is linked to the hormonal changes that happen just before menstruation. It is most common to experience cravings before and the first few days of your period.
Why Am I So Hungry Before My Period?
During the luteal phase (which begins following ovulation), your body releases progesterone to prepare the body for pregnancy.
Progesterone is usually highest around the middle of the luteal phase and is associated with an increase in cravings and hunger. Estrogen, on the other hand, typically has a suppressive effect on our appetite and begins to decline just before menstruation in response to the egg not being fertilized. Depending on the levels of these hormones, you may feel more hungry before your period. The hormonal fluctuations in this phase are one reason women experience symptoms of PMS and cravings or compulsive eating may be part of your PMS symptoms.
What Is Compulsive Eating?
Individuals who experience compulsive eating have a strong, uncontrollable urge to eat large amounts of food, eat very quickly, or eat when not hungry. This is often referred to as binge eating. In individuals who engage in this behavior twice weekly for 6 months or more, it is considered binge eating disorder (BED).
BED is a diagnosis that needs to be made by a healthcare professional. If you find you’re eating in secret, feeling ashamed after a binge, frequently eating large amounts of food uncontrollably, or eating when you’re not hungry, please meet with your healthcare provider.
Why Does Compulsive Eating Happen Before My Period?
Compulsive eating may feel especially problematic prior to menses due to the rise in progesterone. Research has shown that progesterone can be problematic for people struggling with this issue, which is why the impulses may be highest the days leading up to menstruation.
If this is something your struggle with, meet with your healthcare provider. There are lots of ways to support you including cognitive behavioral therapy, nutritional therapy, and more.
Why Do I Crave Sugary Foods and Carbs Before My Period?
On top of increased appetite, many women crave foods high in sugar and carbs. There are a couple of possible reasons for this.
Firstly, sugary treats make us feel good. When we’re stressed, upset, or tired, something sweet can instantly boost our mood and energy. Research has shown that sugar releases serotonin, which modulates our mood.
And many of us find carbs comforting – think pasta, bread, and rice. A study showed that women with higher levels of estradiol in the luteal phase craved more carb-rich foods.
Now, I am not here to shame you for indulging in high-sugar snacks when you crave them. But it is essential to know that sugar highs are always a temporary fix. Besides, sugar can affect our hormones.
Serotonin and Carb Cravings
Your hormone shifts throughout your cycle also impact neurotransmitters like serotonin. Dips in serotonin prior to your period can have your body craving carbs. Carbohydrates can help increase levels of serotonin.
Serotonin is often thought of as the “happy neurotransmitter” because it is significant to mood health. But it can also be a culprit in mood swings and food cravings. If you’re craving carbs, plus feeling sad, irritable, or having headaches—serotonin may be to blame.
So is it bad to eat carbs before during your period? Not at all. In fact, it may not only support your serotonin, but also your overall metabolism.
Insulin Sensitivity and Period Cravings
Leading up to your period your insulin sensitivity may decline meaning you’ll be taking blood sugar into your cells slightly less efficiently. Because of this, you may find you’re more hungry and have stronger cravings.
In addition, your caloric needs may increase 5-10% during the luteal phase, which also means you may naturally need more fuel.
You can read more about exercising with your cycle and the physiological changes that happen each month.
Iron Levels and Period Cravings
If you’ve been diagnosed with iron deficiency, or if you suspect that your iron could be low because of heavy periods, you might notice that you tend to have strong cravings. These cravings can last all month long, and you might find yourself particularly ravenous around the time of your period.
This is your body telling you that it’s missing important nutrients, and it’s signaling you to go find foods that contain them.
Why would your period ramp up cravings related to iron deficiency? Especially when heavy periods are an issue, another round of blood loss means your iron levels drop further.
The fix? Work with your doctor to get your iron levels back where they should be, and you might find that your cravings calm down. I don’t recommend supplementing without guidance – you can go overboard with iron supplements, and your body absorbs some better than others.
Women with severe iron deficiency might find themselves craving non-food items, like ice cubes, dirt, or napkins. That’s a condition called pica, which needs immediate medical attention.
How to Control Period Cravings with Food
One of the best ways to feel fuller after meals and get a handle on sugar cravings is to incorporate more protein, fat, and healthy carbs in your diet.
By filling your plate with wholesome, nutritious proteins and vegetables (which contain nutrient dense carbohydrates), you will be better able to stabilize your blood sugar, reducing the chances of sudden, extreme hunger and cravings.
It’s also important to start the day off right. And no, I don’t mean a sugar-packed breakfast cereal that will inevitably cause an insulin spike and then sugar crash. During your luteal phase, make breakfast with complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats so your body feels full and satisfied. You can grab a free meal plan with recipes to support you in doing just this here. . This will give you the energy to take on your day.
You can check out what to eat on your period for tips on foods to support your body during this phase.
Also, try to keep simple, healthy snacks on hand so that if a craving does hit, you have options ready. Nuts, seeds, or veggies with dip are great ideas to keep you satisfied and away from less healthful snacks.
Lastly: Stay hydrated! Thirst is often mistaken for hunger. My advice? Carry around a bottle of water, so you have easy access to your water. You may notice your hunger levels decrease.
How to Control Hunger Before Period with Lifestyle
Stress, lack of sleep, and too little daily movement can all contribute to more severe PMS symptoms, which, in turn, can lead you to be hungry before your period.
I am not saying that reducing stress, sleeping more, and working out will take away those pre-period hunger pangs. I am saying that these lifestyle factors play a huge role in hormone balance, so optimizing them may help reduce the imbalances that cause hunger in the first place.
Our modern lives are very stressful. For many of us, stress management falls to the wayside — we have too many other things to do! But when we don’t manage our stress, our adrenals can start to feel the strain, which can lead to imbalanced hormones and a weakened immune system.
Stress management does not need to mean a 30-minute long meditation. (But, if you want to try that, go for it!) It can take the form of a five-minute breathwork session, a short walk in nature, or simply being present in the moment.
Sleep for happy hormones
Another lifestyle intervention that can help you is sleep. Adults need seven or more hours of sleep per night, but many do not get enough Zs. Not sleeping enough can lead to inflammation, so we must get sufficient, restful sleep to start getting our hormones back on track.
Move every day
Another critical part of a healthy lifestyle is movement and exercise. Modern life can be sedentary, especially if your job confines you to a desk. So, it’s essential to make a conscious choice to move more.
Try to do exercises that you love (like yoga, weight training, cardio, brisk walks, etc.) regularly. Exercise makes us feel good, keeps our bowels working (regular bowel movements are vital for eliminating excess estrogen), and helps us achieve better hormone balance.
Hunger Before Your Period: You Can Take Action
Many of my patients struggle with intense hunger around their periods, and while each case is different, I often see hormonal imbalance as a common thread.
Know that in most cases, increasing your intake of quality proteins, fats, fruits and vegetables, working on stress management, prioritizing sleep, and moving daily, you can manage your appetite and say goodbye to cravings before your period.
- Inam QU, Ikram H, Shireen E, Haleem DJ. Effects of sugar rich diet on brain serotonin, hyperphagia and anxiety in animal model of both genders. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2016. 29. 757-763.
- Krishnan S, Tryon RT, Horn WF, et. al. Estradiol, SHBG and leptin interplay with food craving and intake across the menstrual cycle. Physiology & Behavior,. 2016. 165. 304-312.
- CDC. Sleep and Sleep Disorders.
- Ennour-Idrissi K, Maunsell E, Diorio C. Effect of physical activity on sex hormones in women: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Breast Cancer Res. 2015. 17.