Food Cravings before and during Periods

Have you ever experienced certain food cravings at specific times of the month? Don’t worry! You are not alone in this; we are about to unravel the link between periods and cravings.

Food cravings are an intense desire to consume certain specific foods. This is entirely different from hunger, which is caused by an empty stomach and can be satisfied by eating anything just to fill the stomach. But cravings are more particular; only having that specific food can overcome a craving.

Human bodies, particularly female bodies, are phenomenal. Hormones have a significant impact on shaping their entire life. These hormones influence both emotional and physical aspects and can be blamed for intense cravings.

When do period cravings start?

Food cravings usually start 7 to 14 days before the onset of periods and may persist throughout. However, cravings are most intense just a few days before menstrual periods, a duration termed as premenstrual period.

Many women, 3 out of 4, suffer from PMS (premenstrual syndrome). PMS is characterized by various emotional and physical symptoms that occur a week or two before the onset of menstrual periods. PMS symptoms include mood swings, anxiety, bloating, breast tenderness, cravings, and many more. Among the 150 symptoms of PMS, food cravings are the most frequent. Cravings start at the same time as other PMS symptoms begin.

What are the most common period cravings?

The most common foods desired by females before and during periods are:

  • Sugar: Sweet food items such as cookies, chocolates, sweets, and candies are sought after. Chocolate is the most craved item among females of reproductive age.
  • Salty foods: Chips, pizza, burgers, and pringles might be at the top of your list before periods.
  • Carbohydrate-rich foods: Items such as pasta, cake, and doughnuts are often craved.
  • Cravings for food containing sodium, such as chips, french fries, or popcorn, might indicate dehydration.
  • A hankering for calcium-rich dairy products might suggest a calcium deficiency.

What are the factors behind period cravings?

Food cravings are a result of the changes that occur during the menstrual cycle. Let’s discuss the causes of these cravings:

The Hormonal Rollercoaster

Hormones are the major pivot around which all functions of the female reproductive system revolve. The menstrual cycle includes various hormones, but those sex hormones that are involved in food cravings are estrogen and progesterone, which in turn influence levels of other hormones that also trigger cravings.

The menstrual cycle has four phases. Food cravings are mostly experienced in the luteal phase that occurs after ovulation (release of the egg from the ovary). So, it all starts during the luteal phase with estrogen and progesterone.


Estrogen levels start decreasing just after ovulation and continue to decrease all the way through the luteal phase. This causes the fluctuation of other hormones as well.

  • Estrogen has an impact on levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin. Serotonin, known as the happy hormone, regulates mood, emotions, and appetite. Estrogen increases the production and release of serotonin, boosting mood. But during premenstrual days, reduced estrogen decreases serotonin levels, leading to cravings and mood swings.
  • Estrogen also affects dopamine levels. Dopamine allows us to feel pleasure, motivation, and satisfaction. It provides an intense feeling of reward. Decreased estrogen modifies dopamine levels, causing cravings for those foods that induce dopamine release, to regain dopamine levels.
  • Low levels of estrogen result in decreased insulin sensitivity. Now, if you take a high amount of sugar, it will result in increased insulin but the blood sugar level will remain increased because cells are not responding to insulin. This causes rapid fluctuation in blood sugar levels, triggering cravings for carbohydrate-rich food.
  • Ghrelin is the hunger hormone; leptin is the satiety hormone. Both of these are involved in the regulation of appetite and cravings. Estrogen affects the levels of both hormones, thus contributing to food cravings during and before periods.

This is how falling levels of estrogen during the luteal phase result in intense cravings for carbohydrate-rich and sugary foods.


When no fertilization occurs (no pregnancy), the corpus luteum regresses and progesterone levels fall. Hence, the premenstrual period is accompanied by low levels of both estrogen and progesterone.

  • Progesterone is particularly found to increase cravings for sweetened beverages. It increases appetite by increasing levels of the ghrelin hormone. This causes you to eat more and more sweet foods.
  • There are endogenous opioid peptides (EOPs) that are present at normal levels. But progesterone increases EOPs levels, causing cravings.
  • A high level of progesterone decreases serotonin levels, giving rise to cravings for carbohydrates that will replenish tryptophan and hence serotonin levels.
  • Progesterone also has a mild effect on increasing the basal metabolic rate (BMR) and body temperature. Increased metabolism causes a greater requirement for energy-rich foods.

Mineral deficiencies

Your body might be giving you important signals through cravings. During the menstrual cycle, there is a lot of energy expenditure on the reproductive function of forming the egg and then preparing the uterus for the upcoming embryo (in case of pregnancy). This can cause certain mineral deficiencies.

Minerals play a vital role in maintaining overall health, and deficiencies in these essential nutrients can lead to specific cravings.

  • Cravings for chocolate may indicate a need for magnesium, which is involved in mood regulation and muscle relaxation.
  • Cravings for salty foods (chips, pickles) may be a sign of low sodium levels and dehydration.
  • Cravings for legumes or red meat are frequently seen as an indication of inadequate calcium or iron levels.
  • Craving foods such as nuts, chips, or seafood may imply a need for zinc, involved in immune function and DNA synthesis.
  • Potassium deficiency is associated with cravings for high-carbohydrate foods, such as bananas, potatoes, and sweets.

It’s regarded that giving in to your desires can help your body satisfy its nutritional requirements and make up for any deficiencies.

Psychological factors

Not only do biological factors contribute to cravings, but the psychological state of mind also plays a role in determining cravings for certain types of foods. Psychological factors, such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, emotional well-being, and environmental and cultural influences, all contribute to the cravings experienced during the menstrual cycle.

  • Menstrual periods are often accompanied by changes in mood and emotions, which can influence food cravings.
  • Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels might cause an increase in the desire to crave particular foods, especially ones that provide rapid energy or lift your moods, such as calming foods or sugary snacks.
  • Emotional binge eating and food cravings may be brought on by PMS symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, exhaustion, and stress. When experiencing these mood swings, comfort foods that are rich in sugar, salt, or fat may be sought after.
  • Stress, worry, and depression might make it more likely for someone to overeat emotionally or have desires for things that will provide temporary relief. Emotional factors can override physical hunger signals and lead to the consumption of foods that may not provide optimal nutrition.
  • Foods high in carbohydrates temporarily boost serotonin (happy hormone) levels, providing transient mood enhancement. This psychological mechanism is a way to cope with negative emotions.
  • Media and advertising often portray certain foods as desirable or suitable for consumption during menstruation, further influencing cravings.

Evaluate your Menstruation Hygiene

Picture showing different menstruation products

How to deal with food cravings?

Understanding and recognizing the factors contributing to cravings during the menstrual cycle can help us adopt strategies to deal with them effectively. Resisting cravings can have a negative impact in a way that resistance produces a much more intense urge to eat. So the only way is to find better, healthy alternatives to satisfy your cravings.

Here are some tips to fight your cravings and conquer them:

  • Consume complex carbohydrates: Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly and instantly taken up by cells, lowering sugar levels once again. Consuming complex carbohydrates such as wheat, whole grains, oats, and cereals takes time to be fully broken down and absorbed, preventing rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels. They provide a feeling of fullness and mood enhancement for a longer period of time.
  • Eat a protein-rich diet: Always add a portion of proteins to your meals. Protein is known to be more filling and satisfying compared to carbohydrates and fats. Including protein-rich foods in your meals can help you feel fuller for longer, reducing the likelihood of overeating or succumbing to cravings. Protein has little effect on blood sugar levels and it also slows the absorption of sugar in the blood, providing an overall stabilizing effect on blood sugar levels, which can help prevent hormonal fluctuations.
  • Increase the frequency but decrease the portion of meals: Instead of having a large amount of 3 meals, you can opt for 5 meals with smaller portions. This helps in stabilizing your glucose levels, preventing spikes or drops in sugar levels. Increasing the number of meals allows you to distribute your nutrient intake more evenly throughout the day and help prevent excessive cravings.
  • Mindful eating: It involves paying attention to your body’s hunger and fullness signals, as well as being aware of the taste, texture, and satisfaction derived from the foods you consume. This helps in preventing further cravings.
  • Add healthy fats: Fats also slow down the absorption of carbs, promoting satiety and providing a source of long-lasting energy. Consume fats rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids such as salmon, grains, chicken, and walnuts. Other good fats include nuts, avocados, red meat, and peanut butter.
  • Balance is essential: Satisfy your cravings. If you want to have a cheeseburger, go have one. If you want cookies, get some, but do not overindulge in them. Overeating can make you feel nauseous. Have only a moderate amount of them to satisfy your body and opt for healthy alternatives such as fruits, nuts, salads, and meat.
  • Avoid caffeine: Caffeine can never be a good option. It can cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a subsequent drop, which can lead to increased cravings. Caffeine causes a mild dehydrating effect. It can interfere with your sleep and cause hormonal fluctuations.
  • Abstain from alcohol: Alcohol damages your liver, affecting all the processes going on. It disturbs the metabolism of carbohydrates, stimulating appetite and leading to increased cravings, particularly for high-calorie and unhealthy foods.
  • Have good sleep: According to research, poor sleep also stimulates cravings. Sleep is important for regulating your body’s circadian rhythm. A disturbed circadian rhythm can influence hormonal levels involved in regulating sleep, further increasing cravings.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise is a healthy choice to increase levels of your happy hormones such as serotonin and dopamine. Go for a walk in the park, do some yoga or some stretches, it will instantly boost your mood and serotonin levels. So now, you don’t need to fulfill cravings to have a serotonin uplift.
  • Supplements: Certain food cravings could be the body’s secret attempt to meet a nutritional requirement. Mineral supplements make up for deficiencies causing cravings. There are many supplements available for iron, zinc, calcium, and folic acid.
  • Get some sunshine: Sunlight helps in increasing serotonin levels in the body naturally. This will improve your mood, lessen stress, and modify appetite levels. The mood alteration that makes people feel low around this time of the month must be countered with these hormones that make you feel good.
  • Hydration: Drink ample water so that your body systems will function properly. Staying hydrated is also good for reducing bloating associated with PMS symptoms.
  • Be happy: Avoid stress, whether it is work-related or personal. Stress increases cortisol levels that change estrogen and progesterone levels and also alters appetite.

When to seek medical advice?

Menstrual cravings are entirely normal; there is nothing to worry about, provided you are managing these cravings in a healthy style. However, if you observe any of the following, do consult your doctor, because these might indicate some underlying disorder.

  • Cravings for non-food items have no nutritional value, such as clay, chalk, sand, or paper. This is called pica and it might suggest some serious mineral deficiencies or mental abnormalities.
  • Cravings continue throughout the month.
  • Extreme cravings, affect your daily life and work performance.
  • If you notice significant and unexplained weight changes.

Menstrual Portal also offers free online consultation, regarding all your menstrual health queries.

Frequently asked questions

Is It okay to satisfy your period cravings?

Yes, it is perfectly fine to satisfy your cravings. Indulge in them slowly and in moderation, and try to adopt healthy, nutritious substitutes for your cravings. If you are craving chocolate, you can have a small piece of dark chocolate instead, which is full of antioxidants and magnesium.

How to differentiate pregnancy cravings from period cravings?

Pregnancy cravings are much similar to period cravings. However, there are some distinct signs such as aversion to certain normal foods that develop in pregnancy. Also, pregnancy cravings are accompanied by nausea, fatigue, breast tenderness, and missed periods.

Do I burn more calories during my period?

Energy expenditure differs from person to person. There is little effect on calorie burn during periods. The basal metabolic rate (BMR) is slightly increased, burning more calories, but due to menstrual cramps that limit physical activity and intense cravings, additional calories are consumed, balancing the burned calories. Hence, there is an overall slight effect on calorie burn.

Can hormonal contraceptives affect your cravings?

Yes, hormonal contraceptives can affect your cravings. The synthetic hormones present in contraceptives can interact with your natural hormone levels and potentially cause changes in your appetite and cravings. Some women experience increased cravings when they start using hormonal contraceptives, while others may have a decrease.

What can I do if my cravings lead to overeating?

If your cravings lead to overeating, it might be helpful to practice mindful eating. This involves eating slowly, savoring each bite, and paying attention to your body’s fullness cues. This can help you feel more satisfied with smaller portions and can prevent binge eating.

Last medically reviewed on August 9, 2023.