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Why do I “crave” foods during my period?

Why do I “crave” foods during my period?

A question we get asked commonly as Dietitians is how to stop cravings. And if you are familiar with any of my other blogs or content, you may know by now that I am not a huge fan of framing “cravings” as a negative experience.

What “cravings” indicate to me as a clinician is that our bodies are trying to tell us something, and usually this is something quite important.

In the context of everyday eating, menstral cycles aside, “cravings” may be an indication we are not eating enough, or restricting ourselves at certain times throughout the day.

Similarly, it could also be a sign the foods we are eating are not satifying enough, a concept I could probably write another whole blog piece about to be honest.

Now… if we switch our line of thought to “cravings” during our period, there is certainly a lot to unpack here.

So let’s explore some of the common thought pieces around eating during our menstral cycles.

  1. It is generally accepted, both in media, and our everyday lives that we eat more during our periods. Eg: the visual of the someone reaching out from under the covers for a chocolate bar.
  2. Many people accept that they tend to reach for foods higher in sugar or carbohydrates.
  3. And, unfortunately in many circumstances, experincing these cravings is framed in a negative context.

Ok, interesting right. But what does the science tell us?

Current literature shows us that in the days leading up to our period (aka the luteal phase), our energy (caloric) needs increase. Meaning we require more food than usual for our body to continue functioning.

Research also shows that individuals who have a menstural cycle can also experience preferences toward certain for foods, particularly foods that are high in carbohydrate and fat.

So what does this tell me as a clinician.

One, it tells me our bodies are doing some really hard and amazing work to prepare our bodies for our periods (or pregnancy).

And two, that our bodies are doing a really great job of signalling us to let us know we need a little more food to keep us going!

How clever are our body’s innate cues?

And why do we tend toward carbohydrates and fat. While the research is inconsistent, it makes a lot of sense that when our energy needs are increased we prefer carbohydrates (our main energy source) and fat (the most nutritionally dense macronutrient).

So, what are my take home messages:

  1. Food cravings are not necessarily a sign of weakness of poor self control, it is most likely your body trying to tell you something important.
  2. Cravings during period is our bodies’ way of kindly asking us for a little more nutrition to support their brilliant everyday work.
  3. Our bodies are pretty darn clever!

Trigger Warning: Some of the language in the literature below may be triggering for certain readers. We hope the research world will catch up with body inclusive language soon.

Cross GB, Marley J, Miles H, Willson K . Changes in nutrient intake during the menstrual cycle of overweight women with premenstrual syndrome. Br J Nutr 2001; 85: 475–482.

Davidsen, L., Vistisen, B. & Astrup, A. Impact of the menstrual cycle on determinants of energy balance: a putative role in weight loss attempts. Int J Obes 31, 1777–1785 (2007). (TW: Fatphobic Language)

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Olivia Mcdonnell Dietitian