How hormonal fluctuations affect appetite and what you can do about it
Many women experience a sudden increase in appetite a few days before and during menstruation. This feeling of hunger can feel overpowering and can lead to feelings of guilt and shame when we’re unable to resist.
If you’ve ever felt this way, there’s no reason to despair. It’s actually a good thing when our body sends us signals to get what it needs. By learning how to better interpret these signals, we can start nourishing ourselves with nutrient dense foods that help curb our appetite rather than fuel it.
How the menstrual cycle affects our appetite
The menstrual cycle is a monthly fluctuation in hormone levels that enable women to become pregnant. Most women experience 4 different phases.
- Menstruation (days 1–5)
- Pre-ovulation (days 6–14)
- Ovulation (days 15–23)
- Post-ovulation (days 24–28)
Our appetite is mostly affected during the post-ovulation phase, which is when both estrogen and progesterone levels start to fall. There are several different things that could be happening here that can increase hunger.
One reason might be that estrogen levels have hit a low, but progesterone levels haven’t. Estrogen tends to reduce our appetite while progesterone is an appetite stimulant. This stimulating effect can make it harder to resist when the body needs more energy to prepare the body for menstruation. Our need for more energy during this time of the month is part of the reason why we often crave energy rich foods with high levels of fat and sugar.
Another reason why our appetites increase is because estrogen affects neurotransmitters like serotonin, which can affect our mood. Eating is a common response to stress and unhappiness. When we feel an overwhelming desire to eat, it could be our body’s way of self-medicating.
Luckily, refined carbs aren’t the way to boost our mood and energy. Here are 6 ways that you can manage the period munchies.
1. Fill up on foods that are rich in fiber and protein.
Fruits, nuts, and whole grains are great sources of energy that don’t come with the sudden crash in energy that we experience when we consume something spikes our blood sugar levels. To stave off some of the hunger pangs that come with changes in our hormones, prioritize more of these high-fiber and protein-rich foods over salads and soups to crowd out the desire to snack on less healthy options throughout the day.
2. Practice mindful eating.
Instead of restricting the foods you crave, practice self-compassion and honor your hunger and do it mindfully. Mindful eating keeps us in-tune with our bodies because we’re savoring each bite and paying attention to cues that tell us that we’re full.
Exercise increases natural chemicals like endorphins that boost our mood. There several more benefits to working out during our period like shedding water weight and reducing cramps.
4. Eat foods that are high in estrogen.
Several foods are naturally high in estrogen like flaxseeds, edamame, dried fruit (learn more about dried vs. fresh fruit), garlic, sesame seeds, and cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. Incorporate more of these foods into your meals and snacks to supplement the decrease in estrogen during your period.
5. Reduce alcohol consumption.
There are several reasons to cut down on alcohol consumption for our health but it’s especially important to limit our drinking if we’re struggling with period munchies. Alcohol stimulates a region in our brain that tells us that we’re hungry and inhibits the hormone leptin which suppresses our appetite. Alcohol can also raise stress hormones like cortisol which makes it even harder to manage our urge to eat. Check out this article to learn more drinking responsibly and for tips on how to cut down.
Adjust your sleep schedule and your bedroom to make sure you’re getting plenty of good sleep. When we’re tired, we feel hungrier and crankier, and it’s harder to make well-thought-out decisions like whether or not we really want to scarf down that entire cake.
While these tips are helpful for most women who are struggling with the period munchies, it’s possible that your appetite is being affected by an underlying medical condition. For example, if you’re experiencing a strong increase in hunger with other symptoms like shaking and heart palpitations, your hunger might be due to a thyroid disorder instead of the usual period-related munchies. Always speak with a medical professional that you trust about your specific situation and symptoms to make sure that there isn’t a more serious underlying issue that needs to be addressed.