Why do we crave chocolate on our periods?
You’re bloating and bleeding and now you have to deal with being overly-hungry, too. Why do we get cravings and what’s our fascination with chocolate? Read on, my hungry friend.
By Amber McKenna, Emerita, on Aug 10, 2011 | 2 comments
Okay, so it’s that time of the month, again, and you feel heavy, crabby and hungry. Picture what food is usually on your brain….chocolate? Ice cream? Cheese fries?
Chocolate, sugars, salts and carbohydrates are the culprits of cravings for many women right before they start their periods.
Many experience a group of emotional and physical symptoms related to the menstrual cycle, in the 7 to 10 days before the onset of the period…which may continue through and after the period.
It has been reported that 70 percent of menstruating women experience at least one period-associated discomfort.
These may include bloating, mood swings, irritability, sleeplessness and CRAVINGS.
So what’s behind the seemingly-unexplainable monthly cravings? Hormones, psychology and culture are just a few of the main theories.
As ovulation occurs and estrogen fluctuates, so do your other hormones. The body reacts by trying to balance out the hormones. Cortisol, the stress hormone, often increases. Serotonin, on the other hand, known as the feel-good hormone, can be increased by exercise, as well as eating some foods.
You may crave simple carbs, sugars and fats when serotonin is low, as these foods can elevate serotonin quickly—and briefly.
Chocolate is a similar but unique beast.
It is thought women specifically crave chocolate due to its ability to mimic serotonin and release endorphins, which may decrease depression and anxiety.
Some theories cite the chemical phenylethylamine, or PEA, which is found in chocolate and stimulates blood pressure and increases heart rate…just like those love-y dove-y butterflies in your stomach can. Though, it is debated whether or not enough PEA absorbs into your body by eating chocolate to affect emotions.
Others say we crave chocolate because of its high magnesium content and the need for more calcium in our bodies. (Though eating more whole grains and greens is the best way to gain magnesium, rather than chowing down on chocolate.)
Business or pleasure?
The simple hedonic appeal of chocolate could be the main draw. The sugar, the fat, the texture, the aroma—all so seductive and intriguing.
Or maybe it’s because chocolate could be good for you. Recent studies show that chocolate, especially the dark varietal, contains chemicals that can lower the risk of cancer and heart disease. The antioxidants in dark chocolate have been shown to make a difference in cardiovascular health.
Some studies show that chocolate may help heart function and anti-aging, but it’s still a sugary treat, so moderation is key.
Cocoa is said to have come from the Amazon over 4,000 years ago. In the sixth century the Mayans used chocolate to represent fertility and life. Chocolate was sacred and used in religious rituals. When chocolate was eventually brought to Spain in the 1500s, it was mixed with sugar and spices, and specifically reserved for nobility. But soon, the rest of Europe knew about this coveted, delicious treat.
By the late 1700s chocolate-making factories were popping up throughout Europe, as well as the newly-formed USA. Today, chocolate eating and consumption is popular throughout the world.
By the numbers:
- The Swiss are the leading consumers of chocolate in the world, eating about 22.3 pounds of the stuff per person each year.
- Austria and Ireland follow in chocolate consumption with 20 and 19.5 per pounds per person, respectively.
- Americans, on average, eat about 11 pounds per person per year and prefer milk chocolate.
-22 percent of all chocolate consumption takes place between 8 p.m. and midnight.
-More chocolate is consumed in winter than in any other season.
It could be that we desire chocolate so strongly simply because our society paints it as the ultimate indulgence.
In the US, specifically, chocolate seems to get gendered as a food preferred by females. Do you see men biting into a square of the luxurious treat on commercials? No. Ever hear a man say, “I’m dying for some chocolate!” Unlikely.
A 1999 study done by psychologist Debra Zellner found 50 percent of American women craved chocolate while only 20 percent of men said they did. But the study found that in Spain both sexes crave chocolate equally and in the UK young boys showed a preference for sweets far more than young girls did.
In France, chocolate is associated with love and luxury—not a certain gender—often paired with wine, or enjoyed as a spread on a baguette.
As the numbers above indicate, chocolate is a part of everyday life for the Swiss and more of a sporadic indulgence for Americans.
In the end, it could be that we simply want chocolate because we see it as the “forbidden food” something to desire, to treat yourself too…Especially when you’re sad or upset, cravings for chocolate might come, since you already know it makes you feel good.
What else can be done to keep cravings at bay?
- If you decide to give in to your yearning for chocolate (which is totally okay from time to time) choose wisely. Try a small square of high-quality dark chocolate to satisfy.
- Steer clear of simple and aim for complex carbohydrates. If you need a bagel and smear grab one that is whole grain and choose cheese that is low-fat. The extra fiber in complex carbs slows down the speed at which your body absorbs carbohydrates so that you feel fuller longer.
- Chart your cycle and prepare for the time when you know cravings could hit. Make sure your kitchen is stocked with fruits and veggies…or at least the healthiest version of your favorite salty and sugary snacks.
- Walk it off…or run…or bike; just get you body moving! Exercise produces the same hormones your body is craving to feel good—without the calories.
- Supplement yourself. Even when maintaining a balanced diet, it can be difficult to get all the essential nutrients your body needs. Go to your local health food store and ask when supplements and vitamins are right for you and your lifestyle.
Most important, remember that having cravings during your period is natural and normal. A woman’s weight fluctuates throughout her cycle, and naturally her body needs more calories in the days leading up to the menstrual cycle as the body prepares for a potential pregnancy.
Good news though…you’re at your lowest weight of the month right after your period ends, so reward yourself with something you’ve been craving!
Do you crave chocolate…or something else? What’s your favorite kind of chocolate treat? Share your comments on our Facebook page for your chance to win some delicious Moonstruck Chocolate…mmmmm.