The Weird Factor That's Causing Your Food Cravings

Korin Miller
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Ever notice how you get the urge to eat more right around the time that you’re starting your period? It’s no coincidence! According to new research from the Baylor College of Medicine, we get the urge to overeat when our estrogen levels are low, which just so happens to occur at the start of every period.

“Many women report that they experience an increase in food cravings, particularly for carbohydrates, sugar, and salt, when their menstrual cycle draws near,” says James Greenblatt, M.D., author of “Answers to Appetite Control.” He cites other studies that have also established a link between low levels of estrogen and the hormone progesterone and food cravings. Both hormones are at their lowest just before your period starts.

There’s more: According to Greenblatt, estrogen and progesterone levels also decrease as you get older, making you feel hungrier more often. To counteract these side effects, Lisa Oldson, M.D., a board-certified obesity medicine specialist, says you shouldn’t load up on foods that contain estrogen to try to get your levels back up. Too much estrogen has been linked with an increased risk of developing breast and uterine cancer and, until more is known about foods that can safely raise your estrogen levels enough to impact your appetite, she recommends skipping that tactic. Instead, try one or all of these to avoid overeating during that time of the month:

Avoid highly processed carbs.
Crackers, cookies, white bread, and white rice are all no-nos when your estrogen levels are low, says Oldson. These carbs give you a little burst of energy after you eat them but will leave you feeling hungry again soon after.

Stock up on fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
They’re not just good for you: Eating a little more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains than usual when you get the urge to nosh won’t blow your diet. When you know your period is approaching, keep whole wheat pasta in your pantry and have your favorite vegetables prepped and ready to go in your fridge. The goal is to make it as easy as possible to grab the good stuff when you get the urge to eat.

Eat healthy fats.
Salmon, nuts, avocados, seeds, and olive oil are basically the opposite of processed carbs, says Oldson—they fill you up and keep you feeling fuller, longer. Aim to have a few servings a day of healthy fats both right before your period and during the first few days of it.

Exercise for 30 minutes a day.
We know—it’s the last thing you want to do when you get that sluggish feeling associated with your period, but several studies have suggested that exercise can help suppress food cravings. One study from the University of Minnesota found that exercise can increase the level of “good” estrogen in your body and decrease your breast cancer risk, so try going for a 30 minute walk or taking a short jog at the start of your period. Exercise has been found to help with cramps, too, so it’s a win-win.