If your period is due, you’re almost certainly on the hunt for junk. A bar of chocolate. Party bag of cookies. Six pack of Frazzles. Whatever it is you’re craving, it all comes down to the same thing - being pre-menstrual and wanting to eat junk food go hand-in-hand for many women and for some it feels like a battle each and every month.
So, what’s the deal? Well, there are various theories on this, but not an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence.
What we do know is that women do get hungrier before their period. That’s because our metabolism increases and therefore so do our energy requirements. But pre-menstrual hunger and pre-menstrual cravings are not the same.
It’s probably no surprise that our hormones are considered the most likely culprit: as we approach our period, our hormonal levels shift. One shift is that our oestrogen and progesterone levels go up and then they drop just before the period and this is a theory for increased hunger.
Another possible reason for period food cravings is a change in the body's response to insulin in the premenstrual phase, meaning some women can experience mild alterations in their blood sugar and crave sweet foods.
Also, the stress hormone cortisol spikes and the happy hormone serotonin drops. This shift may be making your body crave sugar and fat because they boost the feel-good hormones and you feel good – but not for long. Before you know it you’re on the hunt for more of the same.
The good news is that as your period approaches, you don’t have to feel this way. But the key is your food choices through the month, not just in that few days before your period. Food choices can have a massive impact on our bodies response to those hormone shifts.
Balancing your blood sugar is a great way to tackle the cravings. That basically means trying to avoid the highs and lows we get when we eat foods that are high in sugar. Sure, you get a buzz for a while after a sugar hit – but what goes up, must come down and the higher the spike, the harder the fall.
My top tip? Keep that blood sugar balanced – if you can imagine your blood sugar as a graph, you’re aiming for a flat line not a roller-coaster ride. Eat three meals a day; include protein and a healthy fat with each meal. If you’re craving comforting food, opt for savoury instead of sweet - a baked sweet potato with a little butter and cheese; or try some nut butter with sliced apple or a handful of blue or kale tortillas with hummus. Be strong and step away from the biscuit tin.
Sometimes PMS is an indication that you’re not giving your body enough of the nutrients it needs. Improving your diet should be your first focus but there are also some supplements that can have a positive effect on your symptoms, including those cravings. A registered nutritional therapist can help you with your diet and help you choose which supplements are right for you.
And hey, listen, if that piece of cake proves too tempting, make sure you enjoy it without guilt. Sometimes we just really want a piece of cake.