Picture the scene. It’s a few days out from your period and you start to feel familiarly irritable and miserable, and the pull of chocolate, cheesecake, ice cream or (insert name of fave sweet food here) gets stronger and stronger. Then your period actually arrives and ‘comfort food’ is on the menu, baby. For many women, these changes in appetite are as normal as changes in mood. But why does it happen? Are we actually hungrier, or are we just filling a different gap? Here are some of the reasons you might be reaching for the Messina tub.
1. Hormones ’Tis true, hormones are to blame for most PMS symptoms. They are known to have an impact on nearly every organ and system in the body, and they play a part in appetite, too. But it’s not quite clear cut. Estrogen and progesterone levels rise, then drop off just before menstruation, and this is a theory for increased hunger. But it’s not proven, so for a change, hormones may be sharing the stage with others.
2. Insulin It’s known that women can become more responsive to insulin in the premenstrual phase. Small alterations in blood sugar levels have been monitored in studies, and that could certainly explain a lil’ craving for sweet things.
3. Mood enhancers Many women get irritable and cranky in the run-up to the main event, and eating chocolate is known to increase the production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. So reaching for the chocolate box could be pure instinct – nature’s way of helping to cheer you up and give you an energy boost.
4. Psychological How much of a part does popular culture play? The renowned US journal Psychology Today concludes that at least in part, chocolate cravings could simply be a learned behaviour – a response to the stress of the oncoming period – because chocolate is widely held as a way to deal with stress. As a society, women are told to avoid fat and sugar, but once a month, it's OK to give in. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If chocolate and ice cream get you through, that’s fine by us!
So what else can we do when the munchies strike? Choose dark chocolate over milk for its antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Along with those sweet indulgences, gentle exercise will also lift your mood, as will healthier, high fibre foods such as dates, nuts and cinnamon. Be kind to yourself, and if those cravings and other PMS symptoms start to impact your life, see your GP.