Do you have a ravenous appetite before your period? Crave chocolaty treats, baked goods, and salty snacks?

Many women experience intense food cravings in the week or two before their periods — a symptom of PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Scientists believe fluctuating hormones and serotonin levels during a woman’s cycle are to blame.

Hormone changes can cause a drop in blood sugar levels, which leads to sugar cravings. Serotonin levels — the “feel good” chemical in your brain — also tend to be lower during this time. When that happens, we crave sugars and especially carbohydrates (like potato chips) because the body uses carbs to make serotonin.

So what can you do to curb those PMS cravings? Here are five tips to help you cope:

Pick Complex Carbs

Eat fiber-rich foods like whole grain bread, pasta, and cereals to keep your blood sugar even and ease mood swings and food cravings. Enriched whole grain products also have PMS-fighting B vitamins, thiamine, and riboflavin. Other examples are barley, brown rice, beans, and lentils.

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Eat Six Small Meals

Smaller, more frequent meals will keep your blood sugar levels stable and help control cravings. Try eating six small meals a day instead of three large ones. Or, eat slightly less at your three meals and add three light snacks.

Boost Your Magnesium

If you’re craving chocolate, your magnesium levels might be low. Chocolate is rich in magnesium, but it’s also high in fat. Healthy sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, legumes, cashews, almonds, peanut butter, seeds, and whole grains. If you can’t resist chocolate, choose dark chocolate.

Work It Out

Any physical activity that gets your heart going will raise serotonin levels and help nip those cravings and other PMS symptoms like fatigue and depression. Brisk walking, running, bicycling, and swimming will increase your heart rate and lung function. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

Seek Sunshine

Sunlight helps your body produce serotonin. Too little sunshine can lower your serotonin levels and your mood, leading to increased appetite and cravings. Get outside to raise your serotonin levels and reduce cravings. Just remember your sunscreen!

To learn more, explore information about the menopause years produced by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If you have any questions related to your menstrual cycle or overall women’s health, visit the Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC website or to schedule an appointment with a gynecologist, call 1-866-MyMagee (696-2433).

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.