As a woman, you’re probably familiar with the compulsive drive to eat certain foods just before your monthly period. But why is the urge to devour chocolate and junk food so powerful during that time of the month?

Read on to learn what happens in the body to cause these premenstrual cravings and how to curb them.

What Is Compulsive Eating?

Compulsive eating, also called binge eating, is characterized by a strong, uncontrollable impulse to consume large amounts of food. In some cases, compulsive eating progresses into binge eating disorder, which is a formal diagnosis. In others, it occurs only at specific times, such as the days leading up to your period.

Some common symptoms of compulsive eating include:

  • eating when you’re not hungry or even when you feel full
  • frequently eating large amounts of food
  • feeling upset or ashamed after a binge
  • eating in secret, or eating constantly throughout the day

Signs and Symptoms of Compulsive Eating Disorder

Why Does Compulsive Eating Happen Before My Period?

Research indicates that premenstrual compulsive eating has a physiological component. According to a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, ovarian hormones appear to play a major role. The study showed that high progesterone levels during the premenstrual phase may lead to compulsive eating and body dissatisfaction. Estrogen, on the other hand, which is at its highest levels during ovulation, appears to be associated with a decrease in appetite.

Tips for Healthy Snacking
For sweet cravings, whip up a fresh fruit and yogurt smoothie, caramel popcorn, or a sweet potato topped with a small pat of butter and a teaspoon of brown sugar. If you’re in the mood for a salty or savory treat, make a batch of baked potato chips or curried fruit and nut snack mix.

In a simplified sense, you’re likely to feel more dissatisfied about your body right before your period. This dissatisfaction may be a trigger for you to eat compulsively.

Premenstrual bingeing usually lasts a few days and ends once menstruation starts, although this isn’t always the case.

How Can I Avoid Compulsive Eating?

The first step to reducing or avoiding compulsive eating is recognizing that the problem exists. You’ll also want to determine when you’re most likely to binge.

Once you’ve done this, try these tips to help avoid overeating:

  • Keep a food diary to track everything you eat, especially if you binge. Seeing how many calories you’re eating on paper or through an app may help you stop the cycle.
  • Try to eat healthfully throughout the month. Cut back on foods containing refined sugars.
  • Load up on high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, and whole grains. Fiber helps you feel fuller longer.
  • Don’t buy junk food. It’s harder to eat it if it’s not in the house. Instead, buy ingredients to make healthy snacks with a variety of textures and flavors.
  • When the urge to binge hits, drink a glass of water infused with fresh fruit or mint. It may be enough to curb your cravings. Chewing gum or eating a lollipop may also help.
  • Stress may lead to emotional eating around your period. Exercising, practicing relaxation techniques, getting regular sleep, and maintaining a positive outlook can help manage stress.
  • Join a support group such as Overeaters Anonymous. Talking to others who understand what you’re going through may be helpful, plus you may be able to implement some of their successful treatment strategies.

When Should You Call a Doctor?

Not everyone requires treatment for premenstrual compulsive eating. If you find yourself bingeing at times other than the days leading up to your period, or if compulsive eating causes significant weight gain or emotional distress, you should consult a doctor.

According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment for binge eating disorder includes various types of psychological counseling such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). DBT is a specific type of CBT with a focus on ‘emotion-regulation,’ as a means of curbing harmful behavior patterns. Appetite suppressants or other medications may also be used.

Premenstrual cravings are hard to battle. Arming yourself ahead of time with knowledge, healthy food options, and stress management techniques, can help you to fight off the urges. If you struggle to stop compulsive eating despite your best efforts, seriously consider seeking professional help.