Have you noticed a change in your appetite in relation to where you are with regards to your menstrual cycle?
Research shows that intake of food, as well as cravings for specific foods, can vary across the menstrual cycle. This is largely due to cyclical variations in ovarian hormones such as oestrodiol and progesterone, which have been shown to influence food behaviours, intake and choices.
Research also shows that hunger levels, intensity of food cravings as well as amount of food consumed, is higher in the week before a menstruation.
This is particularly significant for women with eating disorders since hormone fluctuations have been found to predict binge eating and emotional eating across the menstrual cycle. Research suggests that women with eating disorders may be more sensitive to fluctuations in their hormones, and this may be one driver of eating disorder behaviour.
Eating disorder pathology including fear of fatness, dissatisfaction with body, and increased and highest preoccupation with weight was seen in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle (7-10 days before period is due). Interestingly, women with hormone driven conditions such as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) have been shown to have a higher incidence of bulimia, highlighting the relationship between hormones and eating behaviour.
What causes the cravings?
The intensity of cravings and increased eating behaviour has been hypothesised to be due in part to withdrawal of oestrodiol (and resultant drop in serotonin) which then causes increased food intake, since serotonin is involved with appetite.
Supporting sudden withdrawal of oestrogen & subsequent changes in neurotransmitters such as serotonin post ovulation, but particularly mid-luteal (1 week before a period) thus seems to be an important part of reducing the intensity of cravings and binge eating.
Ma R, Mikhail ME, Culbert KM, Johnson AW, Sisk CL, Klump KL. Ovarian Hormones and Reward Processes in Palatable Food Intake and Binge Eating. Physiology (Bethesda). 2020 Jan 1;35(1):69-78. doi: 10.1152/physiol.00013.2019. PMID: 31799907; PMCID: PMC7002865.
Fowler N, Vo PT, Sisk CL, Klump KL. Stress as a potential moderator of ovarian hormone influences on binge eating in women. F1000Res. 2019 Feb 27;8:F1000 Faculty Rev-222. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.16895.1. PMID: 30854192; PMCID: PMC6396839.