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.
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 (BED), which is a formal diagnosis. In others, it occurs only at specific times, such as during the days leading up to your period.
Some common symptoms of compulsive eating include:
- eating when you aren’t 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
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, appears to be associated with a decrease in appetite. Estrogen is at its highest levels during ovulation.
In a simplified sense, you’re likely to feel more dissatisfied about everything 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.
If compulsive eating continues outside of the menstrual cycle, see your healthcare practitioner.
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 isn’t 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.
- For sweet cravings, whip up a fresh fruit and yogurt smoothie or a sweet potato topped with a small pat of butter and a teaspoon of brown sugar. Also try this healthy cinnamon maple caramel popcorn recipe from Cookie + Kate.
- If you’re in the mood for a salty or savory treat, make these baked potato chips with paprika and salt from Pickled Plum. Another great option is a mix of curried nuts and fruits, such as this curried nuts and apricots recipe from Family Circle.
Make healthy lifestyle choices
- 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. You may be able to implement some of their successful treatment strategies as well.
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 healthcare professional.
According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment for binge eating disorder includes various types of psychological counseling, such as:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) (CBT)
- interpersonal psychotherapy (ITP)
- 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. Be aware of what you’re eating.
If you find it difficult to stop compulsive eating despite your best efforts, consider seeking professional help.