You’re nearing the end of your menstrual cycle and your period is approaching rapidly. You eat a snack. Then another snack. That doesn’t hit the spot, it’s time for second dinner. You know the feeling.
You’re not the only one who feels like a bottomless pit this time of the month. Extra hunger and cravings are some of the most common symptoms associated with the time before your period. Like many bodily phenomena, this one can be perplexing. Why do you get so hungry before your period?
Luteal Phase Hormones
Hormones are responsible for regulating most processes in your body, this is especially true for your menstrual cycle. Levels of the hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all fluctuate throughout the month.
The luteal phase of your cycle starts after ovulation and lasts up until the start of your next period. During the luteal phase, progesterone levels rise, preparing the body for a potential pregnancy by thickening the lining of the uterus.
That’s not all that progesterone is responsible for. Research shows that progesterone can also increase ghrelin levels in the body. Ghrelin, also known as the “hunger hormone”, is produced in the stomach and is responsible for signaling your brain to increase your appetite. Higher progesterone means more ghrelin. From a hormone perspective, it makes sense why you’re more hungry before your period.
Find yourself reaching for more bread, pasta, and sugary goodies before your period? Your carb cravings are totally natural.
Carbohydrates help give the body energy. What are some of the most common symptoms of PMS? Fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Reaching for a croissant is your body’s way of trying to give you more energy. Also, they’re incredibly delicious.
People who experience PMS may also have lower levels of the happy neurotransmitter serotonin. Carbohydrates can help increase serotonin levels, which helps to offset PMS symptoms like irritability, anxiety, and low mood. So it makes sense why you crave carbs before your period.
This cycle can be exacerbated by insomnia and sleep disturbances that can come with PMS. When you’re tired, your body wants carbs to try to give it quick energy.
Unfortunately, refined carbohydrates and foods high in sugar may give you a quick rush, but they can also cause a crash when your blood sugar levels dip. You can prevent energy crashes by eating a snack or meal with fiber and protein before you reach for a carb-heavy treat. It’s also helpful to reach for complex carbohydrates that help sustain energy and are found in foods like vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
But by all means, please eat the treat!
Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy per unit your body uses while at rest. This means how much energy from calories you need to perform normal activities like pumping your blood and keeping your brain sharp.
Basal metabolic rate increases before the start of your period, and decreases once you start menstruating. Your body needs this energy after ovulation to build up your uterine lining in the event of a potential pregnancy. That’s hard work!
Researchers estimate that BMR increases by about 9.4% during the premenstrual phase. While that’s not a massive amount, it can make you want to squeeze in some more calories.
Another, more sensitive, reason why people may eat more before their period is a change in their emotions and mental health. Food is comforting. Eating can help people feel more grounded, nurtured, and give them something to reach for when they’re feeling low.
This is a regular response, and to some extent, it’s normal to use food as a support. It is a fine line though, as this behavior can contribute to disordered eating, increased shame or isolation, and ignoring feelings that need to be addressed.
If you experience extreme mental health changes before your period like intense anxiety or thoughts of suicide, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider, as these can be symptoms of pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder, PMDD.
Eating Before Your Period
Between hormones, lower energy levels, and the desire for comfort, it makes sense why you feel more hungry before your period. You understand the physiology behind hunger and hormones, but the next logical question is – do you really need to be eating more?
The short answer is no, you technically don’t need to eat more during your pre-menstrual phase. Your body will do fine without increased calories, and you’re likely to make up for the changes in your basal metabolic rate through everyday changes to your diet.
That being said, it’s important to listen to your body. If you’re feeling more hungry in the week before your period by all means, please eat a bit more. That could be as simple as slightly increasing your portion sizes or having an extra little snack when your uterus asks for it. PMS can be tricky to navigate, so be gentle with yourself, take the extra rest when you need it, and have that pasta.