“Ugh, I just get so hungry before my period. I know I shouldn’t eat more, but I can’t help it. ”
Can you relate? If so, I’m here to tell you it’s okay. Please stop beating yourself up about eating more, and start celebrating that you’re listening to your body’s signals! Being hungry before your period is actually how your body is designed. Say what?! Let me explain from the beginning….
The menstrual cycle is a rhythmic cycle composed of four phases lasting about 25-35 days. Day 1 begins with bleeding. This may last 3-7 days and is followed by the follicular phase. Next is ovulation, which is the “Fertile Myrtle” stage when ovaries release an egg. And finally, the luteal phase, which usually lasts about 12-14 days. During this monthish-long cycle, your sex hormones are rising and falling in a very deliberate and rhythmic way thanks to your hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis.
The HPG-axis can be influenced by many physiological and pathological changes that occur throughout life, including stress, food intake, and menopause. However, if everything is running as planned, this is what happens. First, your hypothalamus (think of this part of your brain as the conductor over your metabolism, growth, sex hormones—you name it!) secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone, which sends a message to your anterior pituitary gland to secrete follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Both FSH and LH send a message to the ovaries to release progesterone and the estrogen hormones (estradiol, estrone, estriol). Check out the Figure below for this wave-like pattern.
Figure: Draper, C. F. et al. (2018)
Studies have shown that during the luteal phase, which is a week or two before your period, your metabolic rate (aka calorie need) increases by 8-12%. Researchers believe this is largely due to the increase in progesterone, since progesterone is hyperthermic, meaning it stimulates your metabolism. One study also found that during the luteal phase, the body is hard at work thickening the endometrial lining to support pregnancy. Researchers found that amino acids (protein) and fats were at their lowest levels, since both were being used to build the endometrial lining. Also, cholesterol, which is a fat, is needed to make sex hormones (i.e. progesterone and estrogen); therefore, another reason why fat levels in the blood are lower, and why many women tend to crave fatty food before their period. Hallelujah! You’re not crazy! Your body is using more energy to support a possible pregnancy, so you’re going to be a little hungrier.
Now, it’s not a huge rise in your metabolic rate, but enough where you may notice you’re wanting an additional snack or don’t quite feel satisfied with your usual meal. Please, listen to your body and eat foods to support all of this amazing work. Some ideas may include:
Simply eat just a little more protein, fat, vegetables, and/or starches at your regular meal
Add an extra snack to your day: hummus and veggies, avocado toast, or an apple with almond butter
I’d love to hear from you! What did you find helpful about this blog? What other hormone health issues would you like to learn more about? Please comment below or send me an email (email@example.com). It helps me continue to create great content that helps you. And, if you’d like to work with me on hormone health, please contact me to schedule a free discovery call.
If you thought this blog was helpful or know someone who would enjoy it, please like it and share it with them.
With love, Steph
Benton, M. J., Hutchins, A. M., & Dawes, J. J. (2020). Effect of menstrual cycle on resting metabolism: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One, 15(7), 236025. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0236025.
Bisdee, J. T., James, W. P., & Shaw, M. A. (1989). Changes in energy expenditure during the menstrual cycle. British Journal of Nutrition, 61(2), 187-199. doi: 10.1079/bjn19890108.
Chappell, S. & Hackney, A. C. (1997). Associations between menstrual cycle phase, physical activity level, and dietary macronutrient intake. Biology of Sport, 14(4), 251-258.
Davidsen, L, Vistisen, B., & Astrup, A. (2007). Review: Impact of the menstrual cycle on determinants of energy balance: a putative role in weight loss attempts. International Journal of Obesity (London), 12, 1777-1785. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803699.
Day, D. S., Gozansky, W. S., Van Pelt, R. E., Schwartz, R. S., & Kohrt, W. M. (2005). Sex hormone suppression reduces resting energy expenditure and beta-adrenergic support of resting energy expendicture. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 90(6), 3312-2217. doi: 10.1210/jc.2004-1344.
Draper, C. F., Duisters, K., Weger, B., Chakrabarti, A., Harms, A. C. Brennan, L, … & vanderGreef, J. (2018). Menstrual cycle rhythmicity: metabolic patterns in healthy women. Science Reports, 8, 14568. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-32647-0
Monda, V., Salerno, M., Fiorenzo, M., Villano, I., Viggiano, A., Sessa, F., … & Messina, A. (2017). Role of sex hormones in the control of vegetative and metabolic functions of middle-aged women. Frontiers in Physiology, 8, 773. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00773.
Zhang, S., Osumi, H., Uchizawa, A., Hamada, L., Park, I., Suzuki, Y., … & Tokuyama, K. (2020). Changes in sleeping energy metabolism and thermoregulation during menstrual cycle. Physiological Reports, 8(2), 14353. doi: 10.14814/phy2.14353.