You may sometimes have a craving for a particular food that’s so intense you can practically taste the food in your mouth. Imagine what it would be like if you regularly experienced such intense food cravings.
Some people who are going through the transition to menopause have major cravings, which may be partially a result of this transition itself.
The word “perimenopause” means “around menopause,” so it refers to the time around what some people might call “the change.”
Changes to your menstrual cycle can happen over a period of several years or even longer, leading up to the time when menstrual periods stop forever. Changing hormone levels are responsible for this transition and can trigger a number of symptoms, such as hot flashes, night sweats, joint pain, headaches, and vaginal dryness.
Those changing hormone levels might also make you feel hungry — maybe hungrier than you’ve ever been before. So yes, hormonal fluctuations are partially responsible for your increased desire for cupcakes and potato chips.
So, if you’re feeling extra hungry as you go through perimenopause or menopause, you’re not alone. Here’s what you might want to know about this experience.
Anyone who has ever gritted their teeth and called upon willpower to resist the siren call of the kitchen pantry can attest that willpower isn’t always enough. Your hormones can make you hungry — really hungry.
During perimenopause, your estrogen levels fluctuate as your body prepares for menopause. But ultimately, your estrogen levels will begin to decline.
Estrogen is thought to dampen appetite. So, when your estrogen levels begin to decline, estrogen may no longer inhibit your appetite to the same degree that it once did.
Leptin is a hormone produced by your fat cells that helps you regulate energy. Some people call it the “satiety hormone” because it inhibits hunger.
High levels of leptin tell your brain that you’ve eaten and it’s time to stop eating. This helps regulate your weight. Some research published in 2000, as well as more recent research from 2020, suggests that aging is associated with lower levels of leptin, which may make you feel hungrier.
If leptin is the satiety hormone, then ghrelin is the opposite — the “
The cells in your gastrointestinal tract produce ghrelin, which signals to your brain when your stomach is empty, telling your brain it’s time to eat. Your ghrelin levels typically increase between meals and then decrease once you’ve eaten.
Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone.” It’s a steroidal hormone produced by your adrenal system, and it helps you respond to stress, ward off infections, and regulate your metabolism. Some
Knowing that your hormones are at least partially responsible for your cravings may help you give yourself some grace. But if you’re worried about gaining weight, which may increase your risk of some health conditions, you may want to develop a strategy to resist those cravings.
Understand your cravings
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Don’t starve yourself
One mistake people frequently make when they want to lose weight is embarking upon a restrictive diet. This strategy usually backfires. Make sure you’re eating enough calories to provide the fuel your body needs on a daily basis.
Be patient with yourself
But the research also suggests that, eventually, your body will realize you don’t really need those foods and the cravings will decrease.
Eat nutrient-dense foods
Eating a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods will help you feel full longer. Some examples of nutrient-dense foods are:
- whole grains
- lean proteins
- healthy fats
Feeling full longer can help stave off cravings — especially cravings for snack foods and late night treats. You might find it helpful to write out a list of nutritious foods that can stand in for the less-nutritious foods you frequently crave.
Get up and move
In the past, some people believed that exercising made you want to eat more. But actually, research suggests the opposite: Exercise and physical activity can help reduce those pesky cravings.
So, getting up and going for a walk might be worth a shot when you suddenly find yourself “needing” a doughnut.
Tackle your stress
Feeling stressed? It could be ratcheting up your appetite.
Chronic stress can disrupt your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which affects how much cortisol is released in your body — and that could be affecting your appetite.
Take a look at the factors that are increasing your stress levels and determine where you might be able to make some improvements.
Get some sleep
Some research, including a small 2018 study, suggests a link between cravings and a lack of sleep.
A small 2021 study even found an association between sleep deprivation and a preference for certain foods, along with a decrease in self-control around those foods.
So, if your food cravings are particularly distracting, try to focus on making sure you’re getting enough sleep — and good-quality sleep at that.
Managing food cravings is just one factor you’ll need to consider when managing your weight after menopause. These strategies may be helpful too.
Enjoy your favorite foods
Just as the experts don’t recommend severely limiting your calorie intake, they don’t recommend that you entirely eliminate your favorite foods from your diet.
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Talk with a professional
Worried that you may need to change some of your food habits? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
It could be useful to talk with a registered dietitian about adjusting your diet if you’re having trouble figuring out what (and how much) to eat.
Additionally, talking with a mental health professional may help you change your thinking around food and cut down on the negative self-talk that may accompany dietary slip-ups.
You’re more likely to gain weight if you’re sedentary. Aerobic exercise has multiple benefits, including the ability to burn calories. Walking, jogging, biking, swimming, aerobics, and even dancing all fall into this category.
If you don’t have any physical limitations that would prevent you from doing so, you could even try high intensity training, as a recent study of postmenopausal women found multiple health benefits from this type of exercise routine.
Incorporate resistance training
Aerobic exercise is important, but experts also suggest that menopausal and postmenopausal people include strength training or resistance training in their exercise routines. It has a number of benefits, including speeding up your metabolism.
Aim for two or three strength training sessions per week. You can use weights, resistance bands, or resistance tubes. If you don’t like using equipment or don’t have access to any, you can even do bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, and pushups.
If you’re unsure of how to start, consult a trainer or an exercise professional.
At present, there does not seem to be an association between increased appetite and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) — so if you’re taking HRT, that’s one thing you may not need to worry about.
Medications for certain health conditions may cause increased hunger as a side effect.
For example, people who take certain mood-stabilizing medications and some second-generation antipsychotics can experience an increase in appetite. People who take oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone, have also been known to experience an increase in appetite and subsequent weight gain.
If you’re not taking any medications that would likely cause extreme hunger and you can’t think of any other factors that might be the cause, consult a healthcare professional. Some other medical conditions can cause increased hunger, such as:
You may feel like your hormones are working against you as you go through menopause (and even afterward). But just because you experience food cravings, even intense ones, doesn’t mean you’re completely powerless against them.
Understanding why you’re hungry and what you can do to manage your cravings can help you prevent unwanted weight gain during this phase of life.