Words by Gabrielle O’Hagan
It’s like clockwork.
Forget calendars, diaries or menstrual tracker apps – I know I’m about to get my period whenever I find myself rifling through the pantry for something loaded with salt. Usually, I just end up just sticking a spoon inside a jar of peanut butter and trying to avoid the half-quizzical, half-judgemental looks I get from whichever unfortunate human happens to be in my orbit at the time.
I know I’m not the only one. Maybe we don’t all eat plain peanut butter straight out of the jar, but anyone who gets their period probably will have experienced the hunger I’m talking about. Whatever your guilty pleasure is, it tends to be the greasiest or sugariest food you can get your hands on.
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Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ashamed of my period cravings. Giving in to them can be extremely satisfying. But I’m not exactly hitting any of the major food groups with my impromptu ‘meals’. And within an hour or so, I’m hungry again. So I end up back at the fridge for round two, stuck in a delicious but twisted cycle of peanut butter and insanity.
Way to kick us while we’re down, uteruses. Don’t we have enough to deal with on our periods without getting a random craving for some obscure brand of yoghurt or chocolate? For a little bit of insight (and perhaps some coping mechanisms), I decided to reach out to two experts: Berrion Berry, a certified integrative health practitioner and menstrual health educator, and Lara Briden, a naturopathic doctor and author of the bestselling book Period Repair Manual.
Why do we experience cravings during our periods?
According to Berrion, it’s all about our metabolism. “The closer you actually get to your period, there’s actually an increase in the resting metabolic rate – meaning you actually want more nutrients,” she tells me.
Natural changes in our hormonal levels are responsible for our increase in appetite too. “It’s normal for appetite to increase in the days leading up to the period,” Lara says. “It’s because oestrogen has a natural appetite-suppressing effect so when oestrogen goes down, appetite goes up.”
Why junk food in particular?
“We’re more likely to crave high-calorie foods during our period and probably starchy, carbohydrate foods,” Lara says. This is because our bodies are trying to communicate what nutrients need replenishing.
Sugary foods in particular are common cravings for people who are menstruating. Chocolate is a prime example – it’s practically the universal craving among menstruators. “The reason for that is that the body’s looking for magnesium. It also might be needing vitamin D or calcium,” Berrion explains.
“We think the body just wants chocolate, but the body’s actually saying ‘Hey, these are nutrients that I know might be present in chocolate or cacao, so this is what I’m craving and this is why I need it’.”
How should we handle these cravings?
Both Berrion and Lara say that it’s important to listen to what your body wants and not try to suppress your appetite or ignore your hunger.
“I love to honour a craving. If you want chocolate, I want you to have your chocolate. But instead of your traditional snickers or whatever it is you might reach for, reach for cacao because cacao has the nutrients in it,” Berrion says. “The number one thing I would recommend is learning what cravings you have and what nutrients they’re linked to.
“It’s so much easier to just honour your body’s hunger and give your body what it needs in the form of satisfying and high-calorie (but healthy) foods,” Lara agrees.
However, if you find that the food you’re eating during your period is linked to bloating, cramping or fatigue, it might be a good idea to avoid things like gluten and dairy. These foods can worsen period pain and discomfort in some people.
“Instead of a gluten-filled pasta, maybe try gluten-free,” Berrion suggests. “Because we still want you to enjoy those things… [while also] keeping in mind your hormonal health.”
Are there any good foods to eat while menstruating?
“Menstruation really depletes the body [of things] like micronutrients, like our iron, our zinc, our magnesium – all those things are getting released when we’re menstruating, so we want to replenish [them],” Berrion says.
“The best thing you can do is really focus on getting enough calories and complex carbohydrates, having enough protein specifically, but also replenishing the body with micronutrients and minerals.”
Food can also be a great way to reduce or treat some of our other period-related hangups like bloating and cramping. “Magnesium-rich foods like nuts, seeds and leafy greens are the best for premenstrual mood symptoms,” Lara tells me. “For the natural premenstrual increase in appetite, protein-rich foods like meat and eggs… can help you to feel full.”
The bottom line? Periods put a certain amount of stress on the body, so you’re experiencing cravings for a reason. Don’t get too caught up in what it is you’re craving – think about why, and how you can help replenish your body’s nutrients.
For more period-related nutrition information, try this.