Why You're So Hungry on Your Period
I am at this point in my life where my cycle is very predictable. I have always sucked at tracking the exact day that I start and the exact day I have finished, the symptoms I've had each time, the volume of my period, etc., but without fail, certain symptoms have persisted throughout my life despite huge changes brought on by weight gain, pregnancies, and age. Since my very first period nearly 20 years ago (I started at 12 years old), I have had the same few PMS and MS symptoms: bloat, intense mood swings, and EXTREME HUNGER (with cravings for carbs). I think most women probably suffer from very similar symptoms, and unfortunately, doctors don't know EXACTLY why. Although, there are a lot of different theories, and they all seem to stem from the fluctuations of our hormones.
Hormones are to blame for a lot of the reasons why we might feel more hungry right before and during our periods. Estrogen and progesterone are hormones that fluctuate during our cycle. While estrogen levels are highest during ovulation, progesterone peaks right before your period. The problem is that progesterone has been linked to an increased appetite, while the opposite is true of estrogen. So on a super simplistic level, we might be hungrier JUST because more of this hormone is present during this time.
Progesterone helps to balance blood sugar. Because progesterone peaks just before our periods begin, we might experience changes in our blood sugar, and therefore have more cravings for carby foods. Keep a journal of your cycle and food cravings and see if the opposite happens around ovulation time when estrogen peaks-- which is also when you are most likely to be insulin resistant.
Exhaustion Demands Energy Boost
According to Dr. Molly O'Shea in this Good Housekeeping article, "When your uterine lining isn’t invaded by a fertilized egg, the hormones sustaining the environment aren’t needed anymore and the hormone levels plummet... When this happens, your body goes from high alert to nothing hormonally and that shift causes other changes, too, and all of those changes are exhausting. Until your hormone levels increase again, you are really tired." CAN I GET AN AMEN, LADIES?! I am absolutely exhausted on my period. In fact, I took a 2 hour nap yesterday (day 2 of my period). To be fair, I am hungrier and grumpier and all the PMS symptoms-er when I am tired. So this alone might be a huge reason for the cravings and hunger... for me anyway. I am so tired on my period and this makes me feel like my body is normal.
Moodiness Demands Dopamine and Serotonin
An imbalance of estrogen and progesterone can affect your levels of serotonin. This is what causes strong premenstrual-syndrome symptoms like anxiety, depression, irritability and mood swings. According to Dr. Shwarts in this Women's Day article "PMS is a common side effect of poor-quality or low-level progesterone. When we give bioidentical progesterone to women at this time of the month, we find the cravings disappear and the moods stabilize." This suggests that an imbalance is only half of the problem and that the other half is not having enough or good enough progesterone. I would love to hear back from some of you guys about how you feel when you supplement with bio-identical progesterone. Journal about it and then comment below so we can see how ya did! (Of course, visit with your doctor before trying any supplements)
According to Psychology Today, our culture has influenced our response to the negative emotions mentioned above. We are taught subliminally that in order to deal with certain emotions (regardless of hormone levels) we need to treat our problems with food. For example, we have learned that chocolate is positive, used as a reward, and it is a culturally-accepted, high-fat, high-calorie indulgence.
More specifically for women, this is the time of the month when women are actually allowed to eat junk and not be shamed by society. It is so weird and scary to think about the impact that our culture has on our associations surrounding food. The guilt we have about eating not well goes away during our period because it is an archetype in every chick flick and rom com that women get to binge on chocolate, ice cream, and wine when they are on their period and/or recovering from a break up (dealing with emotions). Other than those two times, women should be eating chicken and salad, #amiright? [insert eye roll here] A lot of women indulge during this time subconsciously because it is portrayed as a "free pass" time.
I look forward to journaling about this and giving an update post. I will give it a couple of months to really have a little bit of data to show you guys. The good news/bad news is that according to Psychology Today, these hunger pangs/cravings aren't any different that other hunger pangs/cravings. So, we can brainstorm some ways to overcome these cravings as much as possible during hell week. Ha!