“Endless hunger” is an experience most of us ladies can probably relate to, especially when your period is right around the corner

We’ve all been there — eating everything in sight and hovering over the pantry like it’s a newfound obsession, yet still unable to satisfy your growling stomach. 

It turns out, you're not crazy. These are all appropriate signs from your body to make up for what’s going on internally as it prepares for your period. 

woman cooking over the stove top

So, why are you so hungry before your period?

Right before your period, you’re in the latter half of your luteal phase, which is when estrogen starts to decline and progesterone levels slowly drop off but still remain dominant. Basically, your body is in a period of breakdown as you prepare to shed your uterine lining. 

Because of this, your basal metabolic rate speeds up (aka, you burn more calories), and physically need more energy (~300 more calories) to supply your body with the fuel it needs to menstruate in the days that follow. Your fluctuating hormone levels also influence your cravings and appetite.  

Hormonal changes that may affect your appetite 

Take estrogen, for example: When high during the ovulation and follicular phases of your cycle, it has a mood-lifting and appetite-suppressing effect, while a drop in estrogen in the luteal phase may increase your food cravings. The opposite is true for progesterone: When high in the second half of your cycle, progesterone tends to increase hunger and cravings. 

Then there's serotonin, or the “happy chemical." Estrogen can increase the density and sensitivity of serotonin receptors in your brain. When estrogen levels decline before your period, there are fewer receptors available to bind with serotonin (thereby, preventing it from being signaled into action). The dip in serotonin that commonly happens before your period often results in cravings for sweet and starchy foods, as carbohydrates can temporarily boost serotonin levels and improve your mood. 

Iron levels can also affect food cravings 

Women with heavy menstrual bleeding or low iron levels tend to have especially strong cravings, especially for specific foods and flavors such as savory and umami. If your iron levels are extremely low, they can even last all month. 

It’s your body’s way of signaling to you that you’re low in a vital nutrient and you need to go out and seek it. 

Leading up to your period, these cravings can become even stronger as the body recognizes it’s about to lose more blood. If you suspect you may be low in iron, please talk to your doctor about getting a full iron panel and potential treatment options if changes in your diet aren’t doing justice. 

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A note on eating disorders

Compulsive eating, also known as binge eating disorder (BED), is not the same phenomenon as the ravenous hunger that happens to many of us before our periods. 

Occasional overeating due to stress or overeating during specific times of the month when your body is metabolically ramped up, is normal. Meanwhile, compulsive eating is when you recurrently eat large amounts of food, typically in a short period of time, and feel a lack of control and a sense of distress over these episodes. 

To be diagnosed with BED, you have to engage in this type of out-of-control eating two or more times weekly for six months or more. For women already suffering from BED, the hormonal changes that take place during the luteal phase can be especially problematic given their compulsion to binge eat is ramped up during this time of month.

That said, the luteal phase is often when eating disorders are more likely to be activated, including for women suffering from anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders. Our bodies tell us we need to eat more and that can be challenging for women with a voice in the back of their head telling them they shouldn’t be. 

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or have in the past, it’s important to seek help for your own health’s sake especially knowing you’ll be met with these hormonal changes where relapse is more likely to occur every month. Some great online sources are Within Health and Arise

How to manage hunger before and during your period 

1. Don’t deprive yourself 

If your body is sending you a message for food, it's for a reason. Listen to it! 

You can also stack the conditions in your favor by keeping your body well-nourished throughout your entire cycle, especially by nailing your macronutrients (protein, fats, carbs) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), so your body is in a well-fed spot before you enter a period of breakdown. 

Cronometer is our go-to tool for staying accountable to our macros and micros. You can also use Alissa Vitti’s app, MyFLO Period Tracker, for advice on which foods to eat during each phase of your cycle.

2. Move your body regularly 

Physical activity is associated with healthier food decisions, specifically choosing single-ingredient foods over ultra-processed ones. Exercise also boosts our mood, keeps us regular (which is vital for hormone regulation), and may keep our appetite more stable. 

3. Load up on iron and fiber-rich foods 

Nourishing your body with iron-rich foods like red meat, chicken, fish, legumes, leafy greens like spinach, kale, swiss chard, quinoa, and nuts and seeds, especially before your luteal phase, can help replace the iron you’re about to lose and help offset cravings. 

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Fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and popcorn help you feel fuller for longer periods, which naturally offsets an extreme hunger spike. 

4. R&R is your BFF 

Not getting enough sleep can increase your body’s hunger cues even more. When we don’t get restorative sleep, our bodies produce more ghrelin, our hunger hormone. 

High-quality sleep also allows us to handle stress better and high stress can drive you straight to your fridge due to the cortisol release that coincides. If you’re prone to emotional eating as a way to cope with stress, this can be amplified even more. 

That said, stress management techniques like meditation, deep breathing, journaling, yoga, and hanging out with friends can all make a massive difference (even though it’s not what you want to hear!).  

woman reflecting by the ocean

5. Eat mindfully 

Eating slowly and enjoying your food can prevent overeating and also make the process more peaceful (no one really wants to be inhaling a bag of chips). If you’re still hungry after eating, set a timer for 30 minutes, then re-assess. Sometimes extreme hunger drives us to speed eat, which often results in overeating due to momentum, rather than soaking up each bite. 

6. Stay hydrated 

Sometimes dehydration can be mistaken for hunger since the cues subtly compare to one another. Make sure you’re getting enough water throughout the day and if you find yourself experiencing “endless hunger,” try drinking a glass of water before diving into your meal, then re-assessing if you’re actually as hungry as you think you are. 

Happy eating!

Caroline McMorrow is a Content Strategist at Rescripted.