Chocolate cravings and PMS
Why do I crave chocolate around my period? Is there some vitamin or mineral my body is craving I can take to ease my craving for chocolate? I eat about six candy bars a day when I go through my menstrual cycle.
The symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) vary from person to person; it seems like you’ve pinpointed your recurring craving for sweet foods. Researchers studying the causes of PMS don't have definitive answers as to why people who menstruate experience a range of symptoms during the seven to ten days before their periods, including why some crave chocolate. Some studies suggest that hormones lead to increased cravings for carbohydrates and sweet-tasting foods, while other studies suggest that chocolate cravings are a social phenomenon rather than strictly biological. There are some strategies that can moderate your cravings, such as eating more whole grains or increasing the amount of physical activity you get. However, as each person’s symptoms vary, you may want to discuss with a health care provider before making any serious adjustments to your diet.
It may be helpful to first understand potential biological mechanisms behind general cravings during PMS. Cravings in people who menstruate typically develop during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, which is the stage after ovulation and before menstruation, or right when PMS begins. During this phase, higher levels of progesterone (a hormone produced by ovaries) are produced, which scientists believe may contribute to cravings. Further, it's believed that multipurpose molecules in the body, called endocannabinoids, can impact eating behaviors and thus, potentially influence cravings during PMS. Altogether, when you experience cravings during PMS, it may be due to increases in hormones that contribute to cravings and decreases in your body’s ability to moderate or regulate those feelings.
Menstruating or otherwise, there are a wide variety of arguments as to why many people have chocolate cravings. Some think certain compounds in chocolate may be physiologically active, perhaps by inducing mood-lifting chemicals such as serotonin or dopamine in the brain. Others have argued that deficiencies in either magnesium or iron (perhaps heightened during menstruation) make people desire chocolate, which has a fair amount of both minerals. Although many people who menstruate do experience cravings, some evidence suggests that chocolate cravings may have to do with social expectations that are different across cultures. One example is of media depictions of people who menstruate eating a chocolate or junk food because it’s their “time of the month.” However, more research is needed to examine how social mechanisms contribute to chocolate consumption during PMS.
When it comes to the candy bars you eat each month, it could be helpful to reflect on how it ends up fitting into your life. Do you enjoy eating them? How do you feel after eating them? If you enjoy eating the chocolate and it doesn’t make you feel sick, you may consider how you can incorporate it into your diet. This could ensure you can eat it while also continuing to get the nutrients your body needs. However, if you find that you don’t feel great after you eat them, you may want to find a new way to approach the cravings so you won’t feel sick. Some approaches may include:
- Eat small amounts of high-quality dark chocolate rather than candy bars or milk chocolate. You may also try to reduce the number or size of the candy bars over time.
- Eat more complex carbs, such as whole grains or brown rice. These foods contain vitamins that may help fight PMS symptoms.
- Break up your meals into smaller, more frequent meals to reduce cravings.
- Mix foods high in magnesium into your diet, such as leafy greens, cashews, or peanut butter. These foods contain similar magnesium levels to chocolate without being as high in fat.
- Participate in physical activity that raises your heart rate and serotonin levels to reduce the desire for chocolate.
- Take a walk outside to catch some natural sunshine and improve your mood. You might want to consider bringing some sunscreen along if it’s a particularly sunny day!
If you’re willing to put a little extra time and effort into understanding your cravings, you could keep a diary for a few months where you record your feelings, physiological changes (including appetite), diet, and physical activity habits. This may help you in pinpointing when the cravings begin so you’ll be prepared to monitor them. It may also highlight other reasons that may explain your increased cravings for chocolate.
By taking some of the steps outlined above, you may find a way that works for you to keep your chocolate consumption at a level that works for you and learn a great deal about your body and yourself in the process. Good luck!
Originally published Mar 29, 1996
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