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How to Stop Food Cravings During Perimenopause

Updated: Jun 1


Do you have perimenopause food cravings that feel like an emotional and physical rollercoaster? Learn how to stop food cravings during perimenopause with this quick carb crushing guide.


If you're perimenopausal and keen on staying healthy and understanding the hormonal changes you are experiencing, the tips in this article can help eat foods that reduce food cravings.


Types of Food cravings during Perimenopause


Many women experience cravings for carbs in either a sugary or salty form. They may also crave fatty foods.


a woman sitting at a cafe craving food in perimenopause and has a glass of orange juice and croissant in front of her

Why do I Crave Carbs in Perimenopause?


Carb cravings can be common in perimenopause. The cause of carb cravings is often multifactorial, with a number of driver including:


  • Hormones

  • Diet

  • Genetics

  • Fatigue and energy levels

  • Your relationship with food, your body and your emotions


Hormones and Carb Cravings


Hormones impact appetite and cravings. Pre-menstrually, up to 85 percent of women experience food cravings (Premenstrual Symptoms Across the Lifespan 2022) due to falling hormonal levels during the menstrual cycle.


These falling hormone levels are exaccerbated during perimenopause.


Changing hormone levels affect brain function and nervous system regulation, mood and energy, and your capacity to exercise, all impacting your metabolism and appetite and triggering powerful cravings for carbs.


Estrogen also influences many other hormone systems involved in hunger including leptin, ghrelin, and GLP-1. It also influences those involved in energy balance and metabolism, including thyroid hormone function, insulin and blood sugar regulation and cortisol/stress hormone systems.


Carbs and insulin resistance


As estrogen levels fluctuate and drop in perimenopause, it can impact insulin levels and glucose metabolism.


Insulin resistance means the body needs more insulin to keep the blood sugars balanced. It also means it will drive your body to store more energy and can influence appetite. Additionally a loss of estrogen appears to reduce leptin, which is the hormone involved in long-term energy balance (Leptin in postmenopausal women 2000).


Insulin resistance can also be aggravated by symptoms of menopause such as

  • sleep disturbance,

  • shift work,

  • stress and dysregulated cortisol.

These hormonal changes can cause blood sugars and energy levels to fluctuate and as blood sugars reduce, hunger drives you to seek out quick energy sources, of which carbs are the most readily available.


In the modern food environment, refined carbs and ultra processed foods such as products made from sugar and white flour are often most readily available forms of energy.


These refined carbs give us a boost of serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good hormones that we really want and need when we are not feeling our best.


Fatigue and Carb Cravings: The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster


Fatigue is common experience during perimenopause. Low energy levels are often driven by both the falling hormone levels in perimenopause and the symptoms of menopause such as disrupted sleep from hot flashes and urinary frequency.


Fatigue often prompts you to seek out easily accessible sources of energy, hence the craving for quick-burning carbohydrates.


When you are tired you crave fast-acting fuel and sugar and refined carbs provides that quick relief. It is usually a temporary solution however, that often repeats throughout the day with continuous snacking.


Indulging in refined carb meals or snacks can result in a spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a crash, leading to further feelings of fatigue, irritability, and, consequently, a cycle of more cravings.


Carb Cravings and Perimenopause Metabolism


Your metabolic rate is reduced between premenopause (before menopause) through perimenopause to post-menopause, meaning you become less efficient at burning energy as fuel.


A study found that post-menopausal women when matched with premenopausal women with the same level of visceral fat, had both:


  • lower resting metabolic rate - so they burned less energy at rest

  • lower energy expenditure - so they did less activity, so had less opportunity in the day to burn additional energy (Lower resting and total energy expenditure, 2014).

The metabolic rate is lower due to lower estrogen and lower muscle mass which is more metabolically active. These changes in metabolism can contribute to disease risk.


Cravings and Emotional Eating


Food cravings can be connected to a world of internal feelings and memories, because food is more than simply fuel.


Food is a source pleasure, and has been from birth.

Food is one way we connect with others.

Food is memories.


a perimenopausal woman and her male friend are sitting ina cafe and eating, sharing memories and making social connection together.

We have all made a myriad of associations through our lifetime with food, cuisine types, and the smells and tastes of food.


Some of us have learnt to soothe our wounded hearts with food that makes us feel loved and comforted.


It may be the medicine we use for loneliness, inadequacy, low self-esteem, low body-image and more. There is no shame in this, it was a tool that has worked for you until it doesn't.


Unlearning these patterns and finding other tools or practices to take their place is sometimes what is needed alongside working with your hormones.


10 Techniques to Combat Food Cravings in Perimenopause


While we can't completely eliminate the influence of hormones on food or carb cravings, we can alter our eating and lifestyle habits to reduce their frequency and intensity.


Here are ten strategies to support your homones and health during perimenopause.


1. Adequate Protein Intake


Eating enough protein is necessary to manage food cravings.


Protein-dense foods help you feel full for longer, stabilize your blood sugar levels, reduce insulin demand, build muscle and prevent the post-carb meal energy slump. Protein also is made of amino acids which are essential building blocks for building hormones and neurotransmitters involved in appetite regulation and metabolism.


a bunch of protein based foods to reduce perimenopause food cravings including eggs, nuts, seeds, fish and salmon


You don't have to eat slabs of meat to increase your protein either! There are plenty of plant-based proteins you can eat that will leave you fuller for longer. These include:


  • Tofu & Tempeh, soymilk

  • Lentils, Chickpeas, Beans, edamame

  • Quinoa

  • Nuts such as almonds or cashews, nut butters

  • Seeds such as flaxseeds, chia, hemp, pumpkin or sunflower seeds

  • Nutritional yeast can be added to soups and casseroles to increase protein and flavor.

Adequate protein is also important to maintain your muscle mass and strength.


2. Healthy Fats are Your Friends


Healthy fats help regulate hormones and improve insulin sensitivity, both of which can reduce carb cravings. The healthiest fats are always those found in nature and especially monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in plants and seafood.

Incorporate plenty of whole food fats into your diet, such as:


  • avocados,

  • olive oil,

  • fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines)

  • nuts and seeds, especially flax and hemp seeds

  • eggs

  • Tahini

  • Nut butters

These whole-food based fats can help curb cravings by keeping you fuller and again, is kinder to your pancreas and demands less of an insulin response. They also support brain health, which can alleviate some perimenopausal symptoms.


3. Plant-Focus – Adequate Fiber, Prebiotics and Probiotics in your Diet


A whole food plant-based diet is rich in fiber. Fiber is beneficial for digestive health and contributes to a feeling of fullness. This, in turn, can reduce your urge to snack on heavy carbs.


Many high fiber foods are also great prebiotics. Prebiotics are foods for your gut bacteria that help the healthy populations to flourish.


Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help maintain gut health and can reduce cravings for sugar and refined carbs.


Prebiotics include:

  • Chicory root

  • Garlic

  • Leeks

  • Onions

  • Asparagus


Probiotic foods include:

  • Sauerkraut (raw fermented cabbage)

  • Kombucha (fermented tea)

  • Kimchi (spicy fermented vegetables)

  • Unsweetened Yogurt with live cultures.


We know that the bacteria in our gut make a myriad of substances that help with body processes such as:


Mouse studies give us insight how an imbalanced gut microbiome impacts cravings. Mice who had an imbalanced but microbiome due to antibiotic use had a preference for sweet or fatty foods (Gut Microbiota and Palatable Foods 2023).


While further research to do in this space, the current research indicates that a healthy gut microbiome is important for reducing cravings.


4. Choose Whole Food Complex Carbs over Simple/Refined Carbs


Complex carbohydrates take longer to break down, are accompanied with fiber, provide food for your gut bacteria, support hormone metabolism, reduce inflammation and provide a steady release of energy.


These include:


  • Whole grains: brown/black/red rice, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat,

  • Starchy vegetables: whole potato, sweet potato (kūmara),

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Non-starchy vegetables: aubergine, capsicums (bell peppers), broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber

  • Green leafy vegetables:  spinach, kale, collards

  • Legumes: lentils, chickpeas, beans

  • Seasonal fruit: berries, stone fruit, apples, oranges and pears.


a perimenopausal woman at the grocery store buying whole foods to reduce her food cravings

Just remember there are no good and bad foods, but everyday carbs are whole food complex carbs, and sometimes carbs are refined carbs.


If refined carbs become daily carbs you are more likely to get stuck in the crave carbs - eat carbs - crave carbs loop.


5. Limit Refined Carbs and Refined Grains


Refined carbohydrates offer little in terms of nutrition and are quickly digested, leading to spikes in blood sugar levels, followed by craving for more.


Refined carbs include:


  • sugars such as table sugar and sugar based products such as breakfast cereals including syrups, honey, molasses, soft drinks

  • sugar based products such as:  cookies, doughnuts, cakes, candy

  • sugar added products such as: sweetened yogurts and dairy products

  • refined grains such as puff wheat and rice, white rice, wheat pasta, noodles,

  • Flour based products such as crackers, pies,

  • Potato based products such as potato chips and french fries

  • Fruit juice such as apple, orange or guava juices.

Eating less sweet food can reduces sweet cravings.


6. Weight Train to Maintain and Build Muscle Mass


Weight training is a crucial to maintain and build muscle mass during perimenopause. Resistance-based exercises include:

  • body weight exercises such as push-ups and squats

  • weight lifting

  • crossfit


As muscle mass is metabolically active, maintaining your muscle mass, can help maintain your metabolic rate, and nutrients consumed can be ustilised for building and maintaining muscle function.


perimenopausal woman doing weight training with a medicine ball at a crossfit gym

7. Recognize Triggers For Carb Cravings


The first step in managing triggers for carb cravings is awareness.


Keep a diary and note the times you experience cravings, what you ate previously and also what your thoughts and feelings are centered around.


Some common triggers for food or carb craving can include:


  • fatigue

  • stress

  • boredom

  • loneliness

  • low-self esteem

  • low energy/motivation for self-care.

Once you've identified your triggers, you need alternate strategies to manage these triggers or find alternatives to using food as a coping mechanism. Talk to your health provider to get help around this.


Stress eating and emotional eating can also exacerbate perimenopausal weight gain.


8. Restorative sleep


Sleep is essentially a daily hormonal and metabolic reset for the mind and body.


Getting enough rest is essential for regulating hormones and managing cravings. A lack of sleep can lead to imbalanced hormones, increased cortisol levels, and heightened carb cravings. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to sleep well.


Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Get appropriate support/treatment for symptoms that contribute to poor sleep. Poor sleep can disrupt the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, leading to increased appetite and, consequently, cravings.


9. Manage Stress – An Upregulated Nervous-Hormonal System Triggers a Dysregulated Metabolic System


Stress releases cortisol, which can trigger hunger and cravings.


Techniques like meditation, yoga, or any activity that you find relaxing can do wonders for managing stress, and, by extension, your cravings.


These are practices that need to be used daily to calm down the nervous system and settle hunger and cravings.


10. Disconnect Food as a Reward System


Food is often used as a reward or a comfort. Often food was used in this way as we were growing up, as a reward for a job well done or as a bribe to do something we dislike.


Try to find alternative ways to treat yourself or to manage stress or cope with discomfort, like:


  • taking a walk

  • a warm bath

  • reading a good book

  • spending time with friends.


Also: Stay well hydrated: sometimes we reach for food when what we need is fluids and hydration.


The Takeaway about food cravings and Perimenopause


If you experience intense food cravings, especially of carbs or sugar, try implementing these strategies to short circuit the craving cycle.


By being mindful of your body's changes, be kind. Nourishing yourself with delicious whole foods, managing your stress, and sleeping well, you can thrive during this transitional phase.


Remember, it's about a holistic approach; food is just one piece of the puzzle.

Join our Menothrive Program, to feel great and love your life during peri and menopause.


Book an appointment with Dr Deborah Brunt at Otepoti Integrative Health.


References


Gower BA, Nagy TR, Goran MI, Smith A, Kent E. Leptin in postmenopausal women: influence of hormone therapy, insulin, and fat distribution. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2000 May;85(5):1770-5.


Zhang YJ, Li S, Gan RY, Zhou T, Xu DP, Li HB. Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases. Int J Mol Sci. 2015 Apr 2;16(4):7493-519.


Ousey J, Boktor JC, Mazmanian SK. Gut microbiota suppress feeding induced by palatable foods. Curr Biol. 2023 Jan 9;33(1):147-157.e7.


Hantsoo L, Rangaswamy S, Voegtline K, et al. Premenstrual symptoms across the lifespan in an international sample: data from a mobile application. Arch Womens Ment Health. 2022 Oct;25(5):903-910.


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