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managing period food cravings

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Do you crave ALL the foods leading up to your period? If so, you are not alone, as most women experience some level of period cravings. Managing period food cravings and PMS in general is tough, but there are things you can do to prepare for this time of the month and set yourself up for success. 

As a Registered Dietitian, these insatiable period cravings often come up in my client conversations. While some women experience cravings for just a day before their period comes, others can have cravings for up to a week beforehand (ps – either scenario is normal!). 

Keep reading to understand why PMS cravings happen and 10 tips for managing period food cravings.

Why do period cravings happen?

Period cravings are normal and result from various factors such as hormonal fluctuations, increased nutrient needs, emotions, and physical discomfort.

Hormones

Your menstrual cycle has four key phases: the follicular phase, ovulation, the luteal phase, and finally, menstruation (a.k.a. your period). During the luteal phase, the week before your period, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate. 

These fluctuations can increase your appetite and alter your preferences for certain foods. You may find that during this time, you crave certain foods (usually carbohydrates, sweets, or salty foods) that you don’t typically crave or are deterred by the food you usually enjoy.

These hormone changes can also affect blood sugar levels, leading to cravings for high-carbohydrate and sugary foods as the body seeks quick energy sources.

Serotonin levels can also decrease during the luteal phase. This is another trigger for carbohydrate and sweet cravings, as these foods help boost serotonin production in the body

Increased nutrient needs

Some women also experience cravings due to a true nutrient deficiency, such as magnesium or iron, especially if you tend to have heavier periods. Knowing this, eating plenty of iron-rich foods leading up to your period and during that time can help nourish your body properly and reduce cravings. Good iron sources include leafy greens, lean red meat, beans, and lentils.

Some women may experience cravings due to specific nutrient deficiencies, such as magnesium or iron. For example, chocolate cravings may be linked to a need for magnesium.

Emotions

Sometimes, your previous cravings may be more emotional than physical in nature. Stress, mood swings, and emotional changes are common during this time of the month, making it easier to turn to comfort foods that are high in calories to cope.

Physical effects

Common PMS symptoms like bloating, fatigue, and headaches can also lead to cravings for food that provides comfort or quick energy boosts. Sometimes, feeling crummy or seeing the scale go up during this time can make you feel more negative and adopt a “whatever, I don’t care” attitude.

10 Tips to Managing Period Food Cravings

Here are 10 expert tips to help you manage food cravings on your period.

1. Get ahead of it

If you can anticipate when these cravings come up, you can plan for it. Keep healthy, nourishing snacks around that are pre-portioned and satisfying, such as whole grain crackers (I like Wasa Crisp Breads) with BabyBel cheese. If you’re craving sweet, you can try a sweeter fruit such as grapes or berries with a small handful of dark chocolate covered almonds. 

In the week before your period, try to stock up on 3-4 healthy, balanced snacks like these so you can have them ready when cravings strike. This will help you be proactive in already having snacks ready so you’re not raiding the cookie drawer in the heat of the moment. 

2. Eat more frequently 

Eating more frequently, such as every 2-3 hours, can reduce the risk of blood sugar crashes, reduce cravings, and prevent overeating, making you feel more bloated and crummy.

Eating enough protein and fiber can also help since both nutrients stabilize blood sugar and help keep you full longer.

I’m a huge fan of meal schedules for myself and my clients. Try setting a schedule and posting it on your refrigerator to remind yourself to eat more regularly, such as three meals and two snacks. If you’re in the office or working from home, you can also put a sticky note on your computer to remind yourself not to go too long without eating.

3. Drink plenty of water

Sometimes, you may think you’re hungry, but you’re just thirsty. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day, starting when you first wake up, helps ensure you’re hydrated and can keep you fuller.

Keep a water bottle by your bed so it’s the first thing you drink when you wake up. This will help you get in the habit of drinking water for the rest of the day, too.

If you’re not a fan of plain water, you can hydrate with sparkling water such as La Croix, which is calorie-free like water but comes in delicious flavors.

4. Set up your environment

Set up your home, kitchen, and office for success. If there are certain foods you tend to crave and feel out of control during your period, don’t keep them out in visible sight. Putting these foods farther away, in the freezer, or where it’s harder to reach, forces you to pause before you reach for them.

On the flip side, keep balanced sweet snacks like yogurt with fruit or chia pudding front and center. Then, when hunger strikes, these are the options you’re more likely to grab. 

pms cravings

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5. Don’t skip meals

Skipping meals sets you up for failure. Sometimes, you may not feel like eating if you’re bloated, but the hunger can quickly build up. When you go too long without eating, your blood sugar can tank, leaving you feeling more ravenous. 

Again, it’s just about getting ahead of this. Sticking to a regular meal schedule, even if you prefer smaller meals, can help keep blood sugar levels steady and help stave period cravings as the day progresses.

6. Manage stress

Stress can exacerbate PMS symptoms and increase cravings for foods that will temporarily dull these feelings. While you can’t remove all stress, you can find healthier, more effective ways to manage it.

A few ways to manage stress include exercise, meditation, journaling, or spending time with loved ones.

7. Stay active

Even if you don’t feel like it, exercising around your period will always make you feel better, reduce bloat, and boost your mood. This can reduce stress-related cravings and just help you be more in tune with your body. Plus, it’ll be super easy to continue your regular active routine once your period is done (I promise it will be soon!).

If your usual workout routine doesn’t feel good, feel free to modify it and lower the intensity, such as with a brisk walk, pilates, or yoga. Anything to get the blood flowing will benefit you mentally and physically!

8. Get enough sleep

A lack of sleep can worsen period cravings by further disrupting hunger hormones, leading to increased cravings. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality shut-eye a night, which is easier to achieve when you limit screen time and establish a relaxing bedtime routine.

To support a better night’s rest, it’s best to shut off any screens (tv, phone, computer) within 30 minutes before bed. In addition, doing something relaxing like taking a warm bath, reading a book, or journaling can help you fall asleep faster and experience a more peaceful sleep.

9. Get in enough magnesium and iron

As mentioned earlier, magnesium and iron are two minerals that can decrease around your period. If you don’t get enough of these nutrients, you may crave red meat (iron) or chocolate (magnesium), which can be difficult to control.

To get ahead of it, include foods rich in magnesium and iron, such as nuts, seeds, leafy greens, lean beef, tofu, beans, and lentils.

10. Allow small indulgences

Just like when you’re not on your period, completely depriving yourself can lead to stronger cravings and potential bingeing. Allow yourself small portions of the foods you crave, and pair them with a healthy “friend” to satisfy your desires without overindulging.

For example, if you’re craving pasta, pair it with roasted or steamed veggies and a lean protein like shrimp or chicken breast to make it more satisfying. Adding these other foods will also bulk up the meal, leaving less room for higher-calorie foods like pasta.

Bottom Line

Managing period food cravings may only be a problem for a few days. But if yours lasts longer, being proactive can help. Planning your meals and snacks, modifying your kitchen environment, and staying active can help you feel your best and set you up for success.

If your cravings are more severe or your mood is very negative leading up to your period, consult your doctor for help. Some levels of PMS cravings are normal, but more severe cases could be related to a condition called PMDD or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, which may need to be treated medically.

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