This week On My Blob, I’ve been thinking about what questions I have about my periods that I’ve never actually asked. Given that I am currently craving all kinds of chocolate and sugary treats because of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), now seems like the perfect time to explore what’s actually going on in my body.
Why does PMS induce these major cravings?
Lots of research has been done into women’s menstrual cycles trying to identify the cause of monthly food cravings, which is the most commonly reported PMS symptom. Craving chocolate, cakes and any number of sweet treats before your period is a perfectly normal part of your menstrual cycle.
There are a number of theories for this. Firstly, during the luteal phase (the second half of your menstrual cycle that starts after ovulation) hormone changes affect your appetite. Your progesterone, oestrogen and serotonin levels drop, while cortisol rises, causing an increase in stress. This hormone fluctuation may cause your cravings.
However, scientists also point to behavioural factors in our choices. Comfort eating is a common result of stress or discomfort, yet what and when we crave is a learned behaviour. A 2004 study into chocolate craving and the menstrual cycle showed that while American women craved chocolate due to PMS, Spanish women did not. This shows that craving chocolate before your period is a learned behaviour stemming from cultural habits.
For me, PMS means chocolate. I don’t care in what form, I crave the sweet, creamy, deliciousness of my favourite chocolatey treats. This is apparently down to the perfect combination of carbohydrates and fat found in our chocolate friends.
The high fat and sugar treat is a go to for many and when we are feeling tired and stressed in the lead up to our periods. It doesn’t seem to be down to anything special about chocolate though. The craving is likely a mix of physiology, psychology and cultural conditioning. Changing hormones and learned behaviours tell us to grab the sweet stuff!
Is this ever a problem?
Sometimes I do worry that eating too much sugar during this time is bad for me. My PMS can last longer than the standard few days, so I try my hardest not to eat ALL the chocolate straight away…
But given the changes happening in your body and the fact that indulging in your favourite treats may make you feel better, if not less bad, then I wouldn’t worry about what you consume too much.
The key is to learn about your body. Try keeping a diary of when your cravings start, what you like and how you feel, so you can try to predict your monthly rhythms.
Every person is different, learning what makes you feel better during your menstrual cycle is important for your wellbeing and if that’s chocolate, welcome to the club!