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Hormones & Healthy Eating: How To Quit Excessive Snacking Throughout Your Cycle

Hormones & Healthy Eating: How To Quit Excessive Snacking Throughout Your Cycle

Written by Yoppie

05 Apr 2021

What is emotional eating? 

Why emotional eating is bad

What your hormones are doing

How to avoid emotional eating 

“Oh, go on then, just one more bite…”

How many times have you uttered this line the closer you get to your period? It’s not uncommon for your appetite to increase at certain times during your cycle, but what if it’s more than just one more biscuit? One more cake? Or one more scoop of Nutella straight out the jar? (Don’t lie, we’ve all been there…)

If you find yourself regularly indulging in emotional eating, then it could be time to figure out a) what’s causing it, and b) how to regulate the sudden urge to unhinge your jaw and shovel in everything your snack cupboard has to offer. 

What is emotional eating? 

It’s difficult to define. Many of us associate any kind of overindulgence with feelings of guilt and shame, but you should never feel this way in your day-to-day life. When it comes to food, you do you! If that means the occasional takeaway and chocolate bender then we’re never going to tell you not to enjoy. But let’s talk about what happens when you yourself feel that your food is controlling you, rather than the other way around, and when you feel your health and energy levels could be suffering as a result. 

You can call it emotional eating or stress eating. The general idea is that we overindulge in food when we feel stressed, anxious or depressed. We turn to food as a comfort, providing a temporary boost in positive emotions thanks to dopamine in our brains, and the more we do this, the more we train our brains to believe that whenever we’re feeling a bit glum, something tasty will perk us right back up. And it does... for a while.  

On the more extreme end of the spectrum is compulsive eating, also known as binge eating, which is essentially a strong, uncontrollable urge to eat large portions of food. This can mean eating when you aren’t even hungry, eating when you’re already full, eating in secret, and resulting in even more feelings of guilt and shame. 

Why emotional eating is bad

As we said before, having a snack because you feel a bit blue is never a problem - who doesn’t want to chase the low mood away with something sweet! The trouble is when you feel it’s no longer within your control, and your health could suffer. 

Overeating comes with negatives that, although aren’t always visible in the short term, could lead to long-term health issues, so they’re worth addressing. The most obvious is of course weight gain and obesity, which can create related health concerns like heart conditions, type 2 diabetes and blood pressure issues.

It’s also worth monitoring your feelings around emotional eating, as it can slip into dangerous territory in terms of eating disorders, such as binge eating, or even bulimia (purging after overeating). If you believe you have issues with binge eating or bulimia, you should contact your GP or a professional service like Beat for help. 

When it comes to periods, binge eating could even affect the menstrual cycle itself. One study found that women who suffered from binge eating compulsions were more likely to report amenorrhea (when periods disappear altogether) than women who did not binge eat. 

What your hormones are doing

It’s those pesky hormones again! A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that hormones are a factor in deciding how much we eat. According to the study, high progesterone levels during the premenstrual phase could lead to compulsive eating and feelings of body dissatisfaction. Meanwhile, estrogen is associated with a decrease in appetite - it’s no wonder our appetite fluctuates so much throughout the month. 

If we split our cycle in two, the first half (ovulation and beforehand) is when you are less likely to engage in emotional eating, because rising estrogen keeps cravings at bay. The second half (menstruation and beforehand) is when you are more prone to emotional eating, because progesterone in our system prompts us to reach for food in order to deal with emotional distress.

How to avoid emotional eating 

Understanding why you’re indulging in emotional eating can be a big help. Essentially we do this in an attempt to manage our own mood. By understanding that not only is this unhealthy, it’s also futile, we can start to look for non-food related ways to manage our mood. A few lifestyle changes to consider are:

  • Plan ahead to ensure you are eating filling, satisfying meals that don’t leave you wanting more. 
  • Switch to healthy alternatives. If chocolate is your thing, buy some 70% cocoa dark chocolate instead to satisfy your sweet tooth.
  • Practice mindful eating, which is when you give more focus to your food in order to achieve satiation. The Headspace App site has some great info on this. 
  • Avoid buying junk food so you’re not tempted to snack. The best way to make sure you don’t do this is to never go to the supermarket hungry! 
  • Make sure you are getting enough sleep, doing at least some exercise throughout the week, filling yourself up with plenty of water, and other healthy habits that will help to regulate your appetite in the long run.  

Do you find yourself stress eating at certain points in your cycle? How do you manage your cravings? We’d love to hear from you! Shout out in our private Facebook group or drop us a note on Insta @itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised period box can get organic tampons, PMS supplements and more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox, giving you more time each month to focus on those big mindfulness goals.

This article was fact-checked by Yoppie’s nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.

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