GUEST BLOG FROM DIETICIAN LAURA TILT: Dieting during your monthly cycle

Have you ever noticed that your appetite (and cravings) seem to shoot up right before your period?! This isn’t your imagination… studies show women consume more calories in the days leading up to their monthly cycle.


Although we don’t completely understand why, it seems the fluctuations in hormones during your time of the month can trigger an increase in appetite and a change to eating habits. In fact, research has shown that carb cravings are more common during the premenstrual phase, particularly in women who suffer with premenstrual syndrome.


Your weight can also do crazy things around your period – hormones can cause fluid retention so the scales might stick or jump upwards, making you feel like your body is working against you.  This isn’t fat gain – it’s fluid, but it can feel crappy, particularly if you’re feeling a little low.


If you’re dieting, these monthly changes can be bloomin’ frustrating, but learning more about how your appetite and eating habits change around your menstrual cycle will empower you to better manage them, and lessen their impact on your journey.


Why do we get food cravings?

First up – remember that food cravings are completely normal. In fact, studies show anywhere between 59 and 97% of us experience them from time to time – and yes they peak around the menstrual cycle.  So why does this happen?


  • Emotions / mood


Most of the science shows that cravings are closely linked with changes in our mood. We’ve all felt the urge to eat chocolate or sweets after a crappy day – and studies agree that low mood often occurs before a food craving. Low mood is common during the menstrual cycle, so this is one reason that cravings increase at this time.


But why does low mood cause cravings? Well, foods like chocolate and sugar trigger the release of feel good hormones like dopamine when we eat them… you brain remembers this, and so you crave sugar the next time you’re feeling crap, because the brain knows it’s a quick fix.


Although your wise mind knows that eating probably won’t help in the long term, your prefrontal cortex (the logical part of you) goes offline when you’re stressed, so you’re left fighting with the emotional part of you, which just wants to feel better. This is why cravings are hard to beat.


  • It’s your hormones


Hormones released during the menstrual cycle can affect your appetite and eating behaviours – and sadly there’s not much we can do about it!


Some women also experience a drop in serotonin (the happy hormone) during the premenstrual cycle – which can trigger low mood and an increase in appetite. If you suffer with premenstrual syndrome, you are likely to be particularly sensitive to these changes.


  • Food restriction


Have you ever told yourself you’re never going to eat chocolate / carbs/ sugar / biscuits again and then suddenly found yourself craving them like crazy? Studies show when we eliminate foods; we suddenly experience more cravings for them.


This is one reason that cutting out foods isn’t a good idea – they just set us up to crave food, which can lead to bingeing. So, building in an allowance for treats, rather than avoiding them, is a smart strategy.


How to manage your diet around your period


Try keeping a food, cravings and mood diary for a few cycles to see what you notice about your eating habits during your period. You can also keep track of how your weight fluctuates. This will help you know what to expect – and you can then plan for it – knowledge is power!


If you do find food cravings and appetite peak around your monthly cycle, think about how can you support yourself with this, so that it doesn’t throw you off your path.


For example, you might choose to save some extra calories as a buffer (e.g. an extra 200 per day would be ideal in the 3-5 days before your cycle), or plan in some extra walks or gentle workouts to help increase your energy expenditure and balance out the increase in calories during these few days.


If you find you feel more hungry, help manage your appetite by prioritising protein rich brekkies and high fibre foods which are naturally filling. Pack your plate with lots of lovely veggies (roast root veggies to up the comfort factor) or curl up with a big bowl of veggie lentil soup. If you love dessert, try a baked banana oatmeal, or a baked apple with custard. If you crave chocolate, work in an allowance so you can include some, rather than fight it (and then end up thinking f@!k it!)


Another tip is to up your self care during your cycle, especially if you struggle with feeling low. Make a list of activities that help you feel comforted. By practicing more self-care, you’re less likely to turn to food to help you cope with low mood and difficult emotions.


One last tip – be kind to yourself! If you notice fluctuations in your weight, don’t freak out or assume you’ve failed, fluctuations are normal and to be expected, weight is one marker of progress and not always an accurate one! If you can’t separate yourself from the fact that weight is simply “data”, you may find it better to skip weighing yourself in the days leading up to your cycle.


My top 20 self care activities for during your cycle

    1. Take a 3-Minute Breathing Space
    2. Call a friend
    3. Have a hot bath
  1. Take a 10-minute walk in nature
  2. Have a relaxing shower with your favorite shower gel to “wash off” the day
  3. De-stress with an at home yoga session
  4. Don’t check emails tonight
  5. Change into soft comfy clothes as soon as you arrive home
  6. Turn your phone off for the evening
  7. Get into bed an hour early with a hot water bottle and a magazine
  8. Have a cup of tea and take 10 minutes away from your desk
  9. Plan a night out with friends
  10. Cook a nice meal
  11. Journal for five minutes
  12. Read a book with a hot chocolate

Want to learn more?

If you fancy learning more, join me on Instagram (@nutritilty) and Facebook(@TiltNutrition) for tips and mindful eating challenges or check out my website for all my blogs, recipes and guides.