Hunger, Hormones and even more hunger.
One of my favourite words and also the best way to describe my current appetite sitch.
I’m hungry. ALL the time.
Now, I hate to pass blame. But I’m gonna hold my hormones accountable for this one. And here’s why.
Whilst the role of the menstrual cycle and hormones is very much still being researched (and likely always will be), there are a few things we do understand, one of which is the relationship between our hormone fluctuations and our appetite.
I’m not going to go in a full explanation of the entire cycle (its long and complicated and I’ll save it for another post), I am going to focus on how hunger is affected throughout. It’s worth noting here that hunger is orchestrated by specific hunger hormones, but again, I’ll save that for another post.
Days 1 – 14. The Follicular Phase. *NB Day 1, is the first day you get your period.
In this phase the body is prepping for pregnancy. Oh yes, no matter what your brain, life and soul wants, your body wants one thing. (I am a feminist and fully support a woman being whatever she damn well pleases, but biologically this is an indisputable fact). I digress. In order to prepare for ovulation, Oestrogen (one of our key sex hormones) is on the rise, along with Testosterone (yup we got this one too) and FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone).
Oestrogen typically has a suppressing effect on appetite, meaning we aren’t as hungry; we tend to have higher energy levels and feel more focused too. I’ll take that please and thank you. (Anxiety may likely be higher here too, but again, another post.)
This happens right in the middle, for around 24-48 hours we kind of get a big surging peak followed by a dramatic drop. This dip can have a bunch of different effects in everyone: increased/decreased hunger, sensitive breasts, fatigue, headaches, nausea etc. Just one big party am I right?
Days 15 – 28. The Luteal Phase.
Here things change around. Oestrogen is low, but our friend Progesterone becomes the key player. Progesterone is associated with increased appetite and reduced energy. Basically the opposite of what we had before. Essentially Progesterone’s job would be to nurture an embryo for pregnancy – so it encourages the things that would be helpful for this = more food + more rest. Frustrating as it may seem, it actually does makes sense.
It’s also interesting to note that in this stage our BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) increases – meaning we can burn in the region of 2-300 kcal more per day. No wonder we’re hungrier really…
In the final week/days of the cycle (just before your period starts), everything falls again which is when we get super tired, hungry and irritable and wait for the whole thing to start again. JOYS.
Unfortunately, a ‘mind over matter’ approach here will not work. Hunger as you can now see, is a biological response. No amount of will power is going to overcome the inner signalling of your Endocrine System. And restriction will just aggravate the problem. (Deprivation fuels the hunger fire = even more appetite).
So what do I do?
My favourite approach is to eat everything within sight and reach but this is neither practical nor helpful long term. (Currently writing this with a bag of M&Ms. Sue me.)
Alternatively this may help:
- DON’T DEPRIVE. Trying to restrict your intake at this time will likely push you the other way. Honour and respect your hunger.
- SLEEP. Get your 8 hours girl. Sleep helps regulate our hormone rhythm, lack of sleep can result in over production of hunger hormones and make all this so much harder.
- IRON. – During our period, we lose iron. Ensuring our iron stores are topped up through iron containing foods, not only supports us functionally, but shows our body that we are responding to it’s needs. Basically its like saying ‘I’m listening and I’m trying, let’s play nice’.
- SNACKS. Focus on nutritious balanced meals, but when those times come that you do need a snack, focus on high protein & high fibre as these keep us fuller for longer. For a guide of high protein high fibre snack, download my recipes here:
I hope this gives you a little insight into what’s going on throughout the month regarding your hunger. You may be more or less sensitive to the effects of these hormones so take away from this what you need (we are all verrrryy different). Some women find that their cycle has very little noticeable effect on them – but doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong. Equally, being super sensitive to it doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong either, it just makes it more annoying.
If you want to understand your cycle a little more, then I suggest keeping a hormone diary/tracker either in a notebook or using an app. You can start to pick up trends and patterns from there.
If you have any questions then my emails are always open! Or email me to register your (no commitment) interest for my Hormone Balance Program coming this summer!