Every month or so, I start eating like an uncontrollable beast who has just awoken from 100 years in hibernation.
I’m talking second breakfasts, constant inter-meal snacking and supersize dinners with all the trimmings (and by trimmings, I mean chips). And I can’t lie, I start to freak out. I worry that this ravenous hunger will never leave me and that if I continue to eat at this rate, I’m destined for a future as the world’s largest woman.
But then… then I get that pang; that little twitch in my lower abdomen giving me a head’s up that my period is on its way. And suddenly I remember that this always happens, that a few days before my period I am always hit with the most unquenchable hunger. Then I chill the hell out.
You see we’ve all heard of pregnancy cravings (which seem to involve eating pickles with everything), but we rarely talk about period cravings – even though many women encounter them on a monthly basis. As well as just wanting to eat EV-ER-Y-THING for a time, I also get really seriously into cheese. And chocolate. Toasties, cheese on toast, thick chocolate milkshakes and really dense, sticky brownies are my go-to treats – things I usually eat as occasional treats suddenly become essential parts of my diet.
And it’s not just me. I asked around my friends, and everyone agreed that their eating habits changed around the time of their period. Unsurprisingly, chocolate featured pretty highly on a lot of people’s period craving charts, but some of the foods were a bit more leftfield. Not one but two people got back to me saying they craved all things tomato – from plain old tinned tomatoes to baked beans and even tomato & basil pasta sauce straight out the jar – while another friend said she became a crazed carnivore, always fancying loads of bacon, sausages, steak and, I quote, ‘ALL THE CHICKEN.’
But what do these cravings MEAN? Is there any rhyme or reason to them, or are they all just random? And are there any dietary dos or don’ts we should know about? To find out, I spoke to Gaynor Bussell, a dietician and registered nutritionist specialising in women’s health.
First up, Gaynor confirmed that period – or PMS – cravings are totally normal. She explained: ‘Cravings can be one of the symptoms of PMS, and due to changing hormone levels this can happen from two weeks before the period (known as the luteal phase) to the time when the period really gets underway (which could take a few days from when it first starts). Calorie requirements increase for many during this time of the month, and so there is an increase in hunger which may drive cravings.’ Phew.
So the hunger is normal, but what about our food choices? ‘Nobody really knows why certain foods are craved and cravings do vary, with some preferring savoury while some crave any carbs,’ Gaynor explained. But when it comes to chocolate, Gaynor told me it’s all about that feel-good feeling: ‘Chocolate has always been associated with comfort, regardless of PMS. This time of the month is associated with increased depression and anxiety so comfort food may be craved.’
Finally, I asked Gaynor for her period dietary tips. Unsurprisingly, seeing as she’s a nutritionist, chips and chocolate brownies didn’t feature too highly. Instead, she advised: ‘A healthy diet throughout the month has been associated with less PMS symptoms. Being generally active too can help reduce symptoms. It is also believed that having regular meals throughout the day that that are made up of low energy release carbs, such as pasta, seedy bread and oats, can help even out swings in blood sugars and hence avert cravings. And in general, you should avoid consuming too much junk food – especially foods and drinks that give you quick energy/sugar boosts which may be followed by crashing lows. These are known perpetrators of PMS.’
So, as ever, it seems that a healthy, active lifestyle with the odd treat is the way to go. I’ll try to remember that next time I’m dunking chips in a chocolate milkshake with a side of double-cheeseburger…
Image: Manjit Thapp