The idea that all women with PMS want chocolate and ice cream may be a tired stereotype, but many women do report some sort of change in appetite or cravings around the time of their periods. But while it might seem wise to ignore PMS food cravings or hunger—you’re already feeling bloated and gross; why risk packing on pounds, too?—resisting may actually be the worst thing you can do.
That’s not saying you should fill up on M&M’s and pizza just because it’s that time of the month. But if you’re feeling extra hungry just before starting your period, listening to your body and eating more than usual might be prudent. During the premenstrual phase of your cycle, “the female body starts channeling a high amount of its energy to the ovaries and to related activities, like producing extra quantities of female hormones,” write psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and journalist John Tierney in their recent book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.
As more energy and glucose are diverted to the reproductive system, there’s less available for the rest of the body, which responds by craving more fuel. Chocolate and other sweets are immediately appealing because they provide instant glucose, but any kind of food can help, which is why women report more food cravings and tend to eat more.
You hear that? Eating more while around the time of your period doesn’t signal some disastrous lack of willpower; it’s actually a reasonable response to the fact that your body is using up more energy doing all those woman things it does. What’s more, a lack of glucose can lead to a lack of willpower. If you try resisting PMS-induced hunger all together, your already depleted glucose levels may lead you to break down and gobble the first sweet (or salty, or fatty, or whatever your thing is) treat you can get. But if you accept that your body needs more food at this time of the month and allow yourself extra healthy calories, you may be able to prevent a candy or Doritos binge. Tierney and Baumeister note:
The typical woman in a modern thin-conscious society like America does not take in enough extra food to supply the body’s increased demands for glucose during these few days each month … When there isn’t enough energy to go around, the body has to ration it, and the reproductive system takes priority, leaving less glucose available for willpower.
And that doesn’t just mean the willpower to stick to a healthy diet—studies have shown women spend more money, make more impulse purchases, drink more, smoke more and are more likely to do drugs during their premenstrual phase! All because they’re not supplying their bodies with enough extra energy to keep their glucose (and thereby willpower) at regular levels. Think about that next time you’re PMSing—and then help yourself to a little more food than normal, okay? It might even help with other PMS problems, like moodiness and emotional outbursts, which can also be related to glucose and willpower.