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Food Cravings on Period: Normal Hunger or Emotional Cravings?

Do you find yourself reaching for unhealthy foods during your period? You’re not alone!

Many women experience food cravings during their menstrual cycle.

But is this normal, or is it emotional? And is it normal?

In this blog post, we’ll explore the causes of food cravings and offer some tips to help you stay healthy!

What are food cravings during a period?

This might seem pretty obvious, but the difference between food cravings and normal hunger is sometimes hard to distinguish. When you add hormones into the mix, things can get even more confusing.

So, what are food cravings on a period (aka, PMS cravings)?

They’re intense desires for specific foods that are often unhealthy and not related to hunger. You might find yourself fixated on a certain food, thinking about it all the time until you finally give in and eat it.

For example, you might have dark chocolate cravings, or cravings for salty foods, or ice cream.

While the sweet foods might not seem harmful in moderation, overindulging can lead to weight gain and feelings of guilt or shame.

However, whether these desires for sweet foods are simply increased hunger or legitimate food cravings is another question!

What are the similarities between increased hunger and food cravings?

Here are ways in which hunger and food cravings are similar.

Both increased hunger and food cravings:

  • can be caused by menstrual cycle hormones
  • can be intense and hard to resist
  • might cause you to eat more than you normally would
  • can lead to weight gain
  • can be related to premenstrual syndrome

The Key Difference Between Food Cravings (Emotional Eating) and Increased Hunger

Emotional Hunger Versus Physical Hunger

Increased hunger:

  • is a normal bodily response to the menstrual cycle
  • is not usually specific to one food
  • can be helped by eating small, frequent meals throughout the day.

Food cravings:

  • are often specifically related to carbohydrate cravings or sugar cravings
  • are intense and hard to resist
  • might cause you to overeat
  • can lead to feelings of guilt or shame

Just to be clear, the main difference between increased hunger and food cravings is that …

Food cravings are specific and intense. You might be fixated on a certain food and thinking about it all the time until you finally give in and eat it (and then you feel guilty afterwards).

Increased hunger is more general. You’re just feeling hungry more often than usual, without necessarily craving any particular food.

What causes food cravings during a period?

What causes food cravings during a period?

For example, a 2019 science article found women entering or on their menstrual cycles can eat 500 more calories per day.

There are two main theories about what causes food cravings on a period:

The first theory is that food cravings are caused by hormonal changes, which includes mood swings and other PMS symptoms.

The second theory is that food cravings are a result of emotional eating.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these theories.

Hormonal Changes

It’s no secret that hormones can have a major impact on your mood and behavior.

So, it makes sense that they might also be responsible for food cravings (increased hunger) over a period.

During the menstrual cycle, levels of the hormone progesterone rise and fall. Some research suggests that when progesterone levels are high, food cravings increase.

But other studies have found no link between progesterone levels and food cravings. So, the jury is still out on this one.

Nonetheless, this type of craving or hunger is something you have very little control over. It’s normal, natural and nearly unavoidable.

While not all women experience increased hunger on their period, enough do, so the occurrence is much more genetic and/or sociological, and not due to individual willpower.

Emotional Eating

The second theory is that food cravings during a period are a result of emotional eating.

This means that people crave certain foods because they’re trying to satisfy an emotional need, not a physical one.

For example, you might be craving chocolate because you’re feeling stressed or anxious. Or, you might be craving comfort food because you’re feeling sad or lonely.

The bottom line is that food cravings during a period could be caused by either hormonal changes or emotional eating (or both).

So, what can you do about hunger and cravings while on your period?

If your food cravings are due to hormonal changes (aka, increased hunger):

There’s not much you can do to prevent them, but you can try to manage them.

Some people find that eating small, frequent meals helps to control food cravings (valid hunger signals). Others find that exercise or relaxation techniques are helpful.

If your food cravings are due to emotional eating:

The first step is to figure out what emotion you’re trying to satisfy with food. Are you feeling stressed, anxious, sad, or lonely?

Once you identify the emotion, you can try to address it in a different way. For example, if you’re feeling stressed, you might try exercise or meditation instead of reaching for unhealthy comfort food.

The bottom line is that food cravings during a period are normal (even if they’re not always fun to deal with).

If your food cravings are due to hormonal changes, there’s not much you can do to prevent them. But if your food cravings are due to emotional eating, you can try to address the emotion in a different way.

What are some healthier foods that can help reduce food cravings on period symptoms overall?

Some foods that may help reduce food period cravings include:

  • Protein-rich foods like lean meats, eggs, and beans
  • Fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, complex carbohydrates and whole grains
  • Healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and seeds

In general you want to be eating foods rich in nutrients! So think less processed, more protein, and more from nature.

If you’re struggling with food cravings on your period, talk to your doctor or an eating coach.

They can help you figure out if your food cravings are due to hormonal changes or emotional eating (or both). They can also give you tips on how to manage food cravings in a healthy way.

How can you deal with food cravings on a period without giving in to them all the time?

If you want to try and manage food cravings without giving in to them all the time, here are some tips:

  • Try and eat small, frequent meals throughout the day instead of large ones
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid trigger foods (foods that you know make your cravings worse)
  • Practice stress management or relaxation techniques

Remember, increased hunger is normal and here’s how to relate to hunger

If you do get more hungry than normal, that’s ok!

Try to sense if you really are hungry.

What does hunger feel like?

Here are some ways you can notice your genuine hunger in your body and what it feels like:

  • Your stomach feels empty or rumbles
  • You feel lightheadedness or dizziness
  • You get a headache
  • Your mouth feels dry
  • You feel cranky, irritable, or hangry

If you think you might be hungry, try eating a small snack first and see how you feel. If your hunger goes away after eating, then it was genuine hunger. If not, then you might be experiencing food cravings.

You can also try drinking a glass of water or another fluid and see if that takes away your hunger. Sometimes, people think they’re hungry when they’re actually just dehydrated.

Food Craving on Period Summary

Food cravings during menstruation can be caused by hormonal changes or emotional eating (or both).

If your PMS food cravings are due to hormonal changes, there’s not much you can do to prevent them. You can manage them better by eating more regularly and eating some more nutritious food. Some healthy foods that may help reduce food craving symptoms include protein-rich foods, fiber-rich foods, and healthy fats.  But overall, increased hunger is simply part of the equation.

But if your food cravings are due to emotional eating, you can try to address the emotion in a different way. If you’re struggling with food cravings on your period, try practicing the other self-care and stress reduction skills. Finally, talk to your doctor or an eating coach for help.

Do you have any tips for dealing with food cravings during a period? Share them in the comments below!

For more info about what cravings mean in general, read this chart here.

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About the Author

Hey, I'm Jared and I'm an introvert writer and coach.

I help yo yo dieters stop binge eating and emotional eating through journaling, which works because it's so easy, simple and effective for lasting habit change.


Check out my free Masterclass for my entire journey from yo yo dieting wrestler to Buddhist Monk and finally, to Eating Enlightenment. .

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