We've partnered with Libra to talk about periods and normalise the bloody thing.

There’s an old joke that says any calories you consume while on your period simply do not count. While this is factually untrue (and entirely unfair), the reason that this joke got so big is because whenever it’s period time, a lot of people get really intense food cravings.

And we’re not just talking the, “ooh I could maybe go a small biscuit,” kind of craving. We’re talking the, “if I don’t consume every last scrap of edible food in this entire cupboard then the world will cease to have meaning and I’ll collapse into nothingness,” kind of craving.

So we decided to consult Libra and Ask Gemmah, to find out what exactly makes us turn into amorphous blobs devoted to chocolate whenever our periods are due.

Why do I want to eat so much junk food on my period?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not usually a chocolate person. Chips and popcorn? Shove them down my gullet ’til the cows come home, but choccies? Not generally. Unless, that is, it’s time for my period.

In that short time period (so to speak), I crave it so badly that I can envision all of my belongings turning into a sort of liquid chocolate formulation so strong it would make the Terminator 2’s liquid chrome crumble into nothingness. And I’m not alone in that feeling — most people will crave junk food on their period, particularly sweets like chocolate and salty snacks like chips.

There are a couple of reasons this might be the case. The first theory is that certain junk foods stimulate the production of dopamine in your body, which makes you feel better. And if you’re feeling shitty about your cramps and bloating, you’re probably in need of a boost (or, well, a Boost bar), so we seek comfort in food.

The second theory is that, like most things with your period, it can be attributed to the general fluctuation of your reproductive hormones. Finally, it could be that your body is craving nutrients — for example, dark chocolate (cocoa) is rich in magnesium, which your body is lacking come period time. Either way, we just want to eat chocolate and feel good, damn it.

actual footage of me

Can the food you eat on your period influence pain levels?

As a teenager, I was absolutely convinced that if I chewed frankly excessive amounts of green apple chewing gum, my cramps would go away entirely. Was there any scientific basis in this? No. Did I do any kind of trial and error beyond correlating a low pain day with the purchase of a packet? No. Was I kidding myself? Absolutely.

Now, for me this was a placebo. There wasn’t actually any correlation between the two events, but it worked because I believed it would, so any evidence to agree with that was taken as gospel. Having said that, if you think there isn’t any kind of connection between your food intake and your period symptoms, you’re wrong.

There is no magical food that can solve all your period problems, I’m sorry to say. But there are foods that can lessen some of your symptoms. Be nice to yourself and up your intake of veggies and other whole foods, but don’t be afraid to treat yourself within reason.

This means foods like chocolate, bananas, oranges, fish and eggs are a goer, so you can fashion yourself the weirdest fruit salad in existence. But unless your cramps are particularly inhibiting, don’t stress about the occasional carb intake. In fact, go for it! You have my blessing and permission! Pasta is king!

go forth and shovel down your gullet

I always get so bloated and gain weight in the week leading up to my period. But I also get so unbelievably hungry. Should I try and control my hunger or just eat what my body tells me it wants?

This is a tricky one because it depends entirely on your body, and how well you know it. If you’re feeling like your cravings are too much, or could be unreasonable, then by all means you should keep a lid on it (literally, step away from the cookie jar). But only you know what’s normal and what isn’t normal for your body.

Generally speaking, each person has an average caloric intake that they should stick to in order to maintain a healthy weight, so ideally you won’t venture too far outside of that — but you should be willing to cut yourself a bit of slack here too. Unless you’re in the midst of training, a few extra calories here and there shouldn’t make you feel too guilty.

Having said that, there are a couple of signs you should keep an eye out for. If you have more unusual cravings (like the urge to crunch on ice chips, for example), that could actually be a sign of something completely different. Iron deficiency anaemia, for example, could coincide with your pre-menstrual or menstrual cravings because of the link between menstrual blood loss and low iron levels. Weirdly it can give you the urge to eat strange non-food things like dirt and rocks, a phenomenon known as ‘pica’.

So ultimately, if your body is telling you to finish a whole bag of potato chips and go back for some ice-cream afterwards, it’s probably fine (if a little indulgent). But if your body is telling you to go for a munch in the garden bed, consider going to the doctor instead.

an all-time mood

If you’re concerned about the cravings that you’re getting, just check in with your doctor and keep a food diary. But don’t beat yourself up too much — if there’s any time of the month where you can justify a bit of added self care and an extra serving of dessert, it’s period time.

And hey, if you’re feeling hungry after all of this, I give you my full permission to go and get yourself a lil’ snack (or even two).

Disclaimer: the questions will not be answered by a physician, but one has been consulted for accuracy. If your period questions were not answered in our first few rounds with the DM Doctor, head over to Ask Gemmah.

Image: She's The Man