Ack! I need chocolate! The science of PMS food cravings

Premenstrual food cravings are the punchline of endless jokes. Like most good jokes, they're funny because they're true.

Certain parts of a woman's menstrual cycle do seem to go hand in hand with the desire for chocolate ice cream and potato chips. I hear about this every day from my OBGYN patients.

Researchers have studied food cravings for years; one of the most cited studies dates back to 1953. Scientists – and lots of others – want to know who has food cravings and why, what they crave, when they crave it and how to minimize the cravings. Here's what the research has found.

Craving and eating before a period

Food cravings are just one of the many symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, also known as PMS. PMS is likely caused by hormonal fluctuations and how they affect chemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters. Its symptoms are exclusive to the second half of the menstrual cycle. This luteal phase of the cycle starts with the release of the egg at ovulation and ends when a period begins. The symptoms usually resolve around the third or fourth day of menstruation.




Researchers have documented more than 150 different PMS symptoms in studies, ranging from physical to emotional to behavioral to cognitive. Food cravings are up there with the most commonly reported behavioral PMS symptoms, along with mood swings, irritability, anxiety and tension, and sad or depressed mood.

A woman doesn't need an official diagnosis of PMS to report hankering for sweets and chocolates, though. Eighty-five percent of women have some sort of perceptible premenstrual symptoms, while only somewhere in the range of 20% to 40% of all women meet the diagnostic criteria for PMS. Researchers find that cravings can occur during that premenstrual time period in normal, healthy individuals without a diagnosis of PMS or other disorder. In fact, one study showed that 97% of all women had previously experienced food cravings – independent of their menstrual cycle.

Research data confirm women tend to eat more during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, compared to the follicular phase that leads up to ovulation. With or without the diagnosis of PMS, this increased food intake can be as high as 500 extra calories per day.

What foods are women reaching for? Carbs and fats and sweets. No surprise there. The most commonly reported food craving is chocolate, likely because it's a pleasantly sweet combination of carbs and fat.

And although the existence of any craving is similar across women with and without PMS, the craving itself may differ depending on if you have the diagnosis of PMS. In one study, women without PMS increased their intake of energy and fat, while women with PMS showed increase in total energy and all macronutrients.

What causes food cravings?

Researchers aren't exactly sure where these food cravings come from, but there are several leading theories.


One idea is that women are unconsciously using food as a pharmacological therapy. Many studies show that women in their luteal phase crave more carbohydrates compared to during their follicular phase. Eating carbs turns up levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, which contributes to a general sense of well-being and happiness. By increasing carb intake, women may be self-medicating with food to cause that serotonin bump in order to feel better. In one study, when researchers increased serotonin neurotransmission in the brain, either through diet or drugs, people's food intake and mood went back to normal.

Another possible explanation for food cravings suggests that women intentionally turn to food for physical and psychological comfort. Food can play a sensory role, eliminating any uncomfortable feeling of hunger while tasting good and feeling pleasant to eat. Researchers find that "thinking" of a really tasty food is the most common provocation for wanting to consume it and that cravings are not solely hunger driven. Women also usually reported specific triggers for thinking of comforting food, like boredom or stress, further promoting the idea that the comfort of food helps mitigate unpleasant feelings – as one might experience with PMS.

Other researchers suggest that these food cravings are regulated by hormones. Scientists have observed that women tend to eat more when estrogen levels are low and progesterone levels are high – as occurs during the luteal phase. The reverse pattern is seen in rats during the follicular phase, when estrogen levels are high and progesterone levels are low. The fact that progesterone-only forms of contraception like Depo Provera are associated with weight gain, likely due to increased appetite, supports this theory as well.

How can you get rid of monthly cravings?

My general advice to women: be knowledgeable about your own body and how it changes in response to your monthly cycle. Your experience is different than your best friend's. Being in touch with your symptoms can help you acknowledge that they are normal for you at this point in time instead of worrying whether they're weird. If you feel unsure, ask your gynecologist.


Lifestyle changes can help balance and minimize unwanted symptoms related to your menstrual cycle. Things to try include regular exercise, relaxation and stress reduction techniques such as breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, massage, self-hypnosis and regular, good sleep.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and biofeedback may be options. They usually require support of a therapist or counselor to be most effective.

And you can optimize your diet to fight cravings:

  • Choose complex carbohydrates, including whole grains, brown rice, barley, beans and lentils. Choose whole wheat over white flour.
  • Reduce fat, salt and sugar – all of which can leave you craving more.
  • Minimize or avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Eat more calcium-rich foods, including green leafy vegetables and dairy. One study showed women who consumed milk, cheese and yogurt had less abdominal bloating, cramps, appetite and cravings for some foods, possibly because the calcium they contain helped reverse an imbalance of feel-good serotonin. Women who are sensitive to dairy can take a calcium supplement of 1200 mg daily.
  • Try magnesium supplements. This mineral can help reduce water retention and bloating, breast tenderness and mood symptoms.
  • Vitamin B6 (50 mg daily), in addition to magnesium, may have some benefit as well.
  • Vitamin E (150-300 IU daily) may be helpful to reduce cravings.

When food cravings are part of a PMS diagnosis, treatment for premenstrual syndrome in general may help minimize them.

Sara Twogood is an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, University of Southern California

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. You can read it here.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Chris Evans is playing the lead role in the upcoming Pixar film "Lightyear."

Chris Evans was already skilled at squeezing hearts on social media, cavalierly sharing sweet pics of his adorable dog and piano-playing videos on Instagram, as if we could just casually watch him be a near-perfect man without swooning. And now he's being even more delightful with his gushing giddiness over getting to play his dream role.

The guy is already best known as the studly Marvel superhero Captain America, so what could possibly top that? Pixar, apparently. Evans' ultimate acting dream is being in a Pixar movie. And now that dream is coming true, the most eligible of the Chrises could not be cuter in his expressions of joy.

Sharing the new trailer for "Lightyear"—Pixar's origin story about the astronaut the Buzz Lightyear toy was based on in the "Toy Story" universe—Evans wrote on Twitter:

"I'm covered in goosebumps. And will be every time I watch this trailer. Or hear a Bowie song. Or have any thought whatsoever between now and July cause nothing has ever made me feel more joy and gratitude than knowing I'm a part of this and it's basically always on my mind."

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Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.

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