Psychologist Sarah McMahon talks about this significant issue for so many females!
Binge eating and menstruation are two separate phenomenon however often they occur simultaneously. When our female clients complete food diaries or log their eating behaviour, a predictable pattern of binge eating emerges for many around certain times of the monthly cycle. And while many people are aware of this pattern before they seek treatment with us, for others this connection is quite an epiphany. The fact is that craving food is associated with menstrual periods- and for many people it is normal, healthy & very distinct from disordered eating. However for those who already experience disordered eating, craving food and even eating additional food during menstruation can be extremely triggering & can drive binge eating.
What goes on during menstruation that makes us crave food?
Food cravings before, during and after menstruation is associated with two things: hormonal fluctuations; and changes in our energy needs. During menstruation, a lot happens in a females body! For example many people experience report increased breast tenderness, depression, and bloating. Others report being “more moody” or less tolerant than normal. Others again report feeling tired, whilst still others report feeling sick. So given the changes that occur in our body, doesn’t it also make sense that our body may have different nutritional requirements at this time as well? Food cravings are our bodies way of ensuring we obtain the nutrients our bodies require. Further, during the peak of a women’s menstrual period , extra energy is in fact needed. The body, wanting to maintain homeostasis (in everything from weight to mood), will intuitively know what it needs and will crave certain foods to obtain those requirements. In particular, many women crave carbohydrates and chocolates which raise serotonin levels. For others, ingesting food rich in potassium and magnesium is beneficial to regulate mood.
What type of food is typically “craved”?
Many women crave chocolate- and feel terribly guilty about it! Though most women are unaware about this fact, chocolates contain tryptophan, which is a constituent responsible for the release of serotonin hormones in the brain. Serotonin is an enhancer of mood in the brain and mood swings are really common during menstrual periods. Carbohydrates are also most commonly craved for this reason: like chocolates, carbohydrates can enhance the mounting of serotonin levels in the brain to help set a good mood.
The problem is the guilt we feel after eating these foods
– not the food itself
Females often do not allow themselves to listen to their body & accommodate these physical changes that are required. It is the guilt we feel right after eating these foods that is far more likely to lead to binge eating, rather than the food itself. So reminding yourself of what is taking place at a physiological level during menstruation and normalising the fact that we have different nutritional requirements at this time is so important to reduce the guilt associated with the fact that our body is actually doing what it needs to be doing.
How to Manage Binge Eating Around Menstruation
Allowing yourself the food you crave, and enjoying it, is actually the main secret to preventing development of binge eating during menstruation. Do not restrain yourself from eating it or worry about weight gain- you actually need to trust your body! Four good things to try…
- Allow yourself to eat the food your body is craving. Have you ever noticed that denying cravings only makes them stronger? So satisfy them!
- Enjoy eating the food- eat it slowly & mindfully. Savour each mouthful.
- Prepare in advance to meet your bodies needs during this time. So now you know that you are likely to not just crave, but actually need extra food during menstruation, dare to embrace this fact! Plan a menu that includes more energy & more carbohydrate rich food than what you would normally eat, if that is what your body is asking for. Remember that denying your body food is going to increase your physiological need to obtain these foods, leading to increased food seeking behaviour and an increased chance of binge eating. Psychologically denying these foods actually perpetuates this food as “forbidden”- increasing guilt and thus the chance of a binge.
- Consider speaking to a dietician to understand this physiological connection further. Also think about seeing a psychologist such as one of our therapists at BodyMatters to work on the emotional basis for this issue if it continues to bother you.