Understanding Period Cravings and How to Manage Them

When that time of the month comes around, it’s very common for us to reach for food as a form of comfort, to get us through the hell of PMS, irritability, mood swings, headaches, bloating, cramps, and cravings that we experience before and during our period.

This is the time where our self-care and mindfulness practice is especially critical to prioritize. It is important to pay attention to what you are craving because it’s your body trying to communicate to you what it needs.

In order to manage these cravings and understand what your body is trying to tell you, you need to understand why your body is craving certain foods. 

Here are some of the main foods women crave during their periods, why we are craving them, and how to best manage them:

Salty, greasy carbohydrates: These cravings are due to the hormonal fluctuations during and before that time of the month. Estrogen and progesterone (the sex hormones) levels go up and then they drop off just before the period. 

Also during this time, Cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’) increases while serotonin (the ‘happy hormone’) decreases, so feelings of irritability, moodiness, sadness, and stress make us want to reach for those salty carbs even more. 

These hormone changes can result in cravings for salty carbohydrates, which are known to promote serotonin (the happy hormone) to release. This is why we crave carbs even more during/before our time of the month.

If you are craving salty carbs like potato chips or french fries, replace them with a salty snack that is higher in healthy fats and protein, such as cashews and walnuts. Nuts are high in calories, however, and should be eaten in moderation. Popcorn is also a good replacement for potato chips and you can make it “healthier” by adding coconut oil, sea salt, and some turmeric.

Chocolate: Cravings for chocolate may be a need for magnesium, and some women find they can satisfy the craving by eating magnesium-rich foods, such as almonds or taking a good-quality magnesium supplement. If nothing but chocolate will do, opt for dark chocolate that contains at least 75% cacao. The intensity of dark chocolate makes it easier to feel satisfied with less.

Candy or pastries: In the premenstrual phase particularly, there is a change in the body’s response to insulin levels, which is why some women crave sweets even more during our periods, due to the extreme fluctuations in their blood sugar. When there is a decrease in blood sugar, that’s when you crave more sugar! Sugar cravings can be easily satisfied with whole fruits.

Ice Cream: When you crave ice cream, it’s your body telling you it needs healthy fats. For ice cream emergencies, choose one that is low sugar like sorbet or coconut ice cream. Or eat some avocado, a handful of nuts/seeds or some full-fat yogurt (like a Greek Yogurt which is high in protein).

Soda: Many women can’t go a day without their Coke or Pepsi. While you may love the fizzy sweetness, what you’re most likely craving is the caffeine hit. One serving of Coke provides 30 mg of caffeine – enough to give you a nice wake-up jolt but not enough to make you jittery. A less common reason for soda cravings is a calcium deficiency. The phosphoric acid in carbonated drinks can leach calcium and magnesium from your bones, creating a vicious cycle of depletion and craving.

Cheese: Cheese cravings mean your body is craving sugar, but it could also be a lack of calcium and/or vitamin D. If cheese is your vice, take little bits in moderation. An idea for cheese replacement – Nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast has a savory, cheesy flavor and fewer calories than cheese. Nutritional yeast is also rich in B-complex vitamins and folic acid and is often fortified with vitamin B12. A good-quality calcium and/or a vitamin D supplement may be helpful as well.

Now that we understand why we are craving these foods and what to replace them with, here are my tips for managing these cravings before/when you have your period:

Make sure you are getting enough iron in your diet to make up for the blood and mineral loss from your period. Good iron sources include red meat, fish, poultry, eggs lentils, and especially green veggies like spinach and broccoli, or invest in a good-quality iron supplement.

Eat healthy carbs – When it comes to carbohydrates, the ones we usually crave are those which are super-naughty refined, sugary and fatty. Instead, choose healthy, slow-release carbohydrates (like quinoa, sweet potato and/or other whole gluten-free grains), which will give you the same carby satisfaction without the negative side effects of eating the naughty ones.

Avoid skipping meals – Although it might seem counter-intuitive, restricting food intake after eating pizza, ice cream or chocolate can lead to increased appetite and food cravings. Also, your metabolism needs consistency in your diet to maintain a healthy weight and maintain a healthy hormonal balance. BUT, if you do indulge, be gentle and kind to yourself and don’t skip your next meal!

Eat a healthy, balanced breakfast (and snacks) – Enjoy a good balance of protein and good fats at each meal as these will help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep you feeling fuller, longer. Avoid mixing meats with grains and/or starches because this could negatively impact your digestion causing additional and unnecessary bloating, and who needs more of that when we have our periods!?

Move your body – During that time of the month, it can be hard to even think of exercising, or even just getting out of bed! However, gentle exercise like walking or yoga can be one of the best strategies to cope with bloating, mood swings and cravings.

Exercise can help to reduce bloating, fatigue and the moodiness that come during our time of the month, and it also helps to alleviate stress by giving you a boost of endorphins and happy hormones, that your body needs during this time!

Plan ahead – Meal prep is key here! When you know you are in for a rough ride during your period, dedicate some time to meal prep your favourite healthy meals so that they are readily available, and you’re not tempted to reach for the naughty things you are craving.

Treat Yourself – As much as we try, when we’re feeling the negative side effects of our periods, it’s unrealistic to be 100% disciplined, 100% of the time. By allowing yourself to indulge mindfully and moderately, it will help to prevent cravings and can help to make your period a better experience! Live your life girl!

Drink plenty of water – Sometimes when we think we are hungry, what our body is really telling us is that we are thirsty. Especially when those intense cravings kick in, reach for a glass of water and notice if you are still craving that chocolate or those chips. Drinking lots of water also helps aid in our digestion which aids in digestion and prevents bloating. 

Managing cravings can be difficult when we are not feeling ourselves during that time of the month. But understanding why we crave the foods we do as well as practicing eating mindfully, in moderation, and with a little discipline, can go a long way when we are trying to best manage and maintain our health by not letting these cravings take control of our bodies. 

Your body will thank you later!

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