Woman in menopause eating in kitchen.
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Sometimes you can have a craving for a food that is so intense you can almost taste it. Imagine what it would be like to have such intense food cravings.

Some people who are going through the transition to menopause have major cravings, which may be a result of this transition itself.

The word “perimenopause” means “around menopause,” so it refers to the time around what some people might call “the change.”

When your menstrual periods stop forever, there can be changes to your cycle over a period of several years. Hot flashes, night sweats, joint pain, headaches, and vaginal dryness are some of the symptoms that can be caused by changing hormone levels.

You might feel hungrier than before, because of the hormones changing. Your increased desire for cupcakes and potato chips is partially due to hormonal fluctuations.

A small 2014 study in 94 premenopausal women found that an increase in hunger often accompanied the menopausal transition. The study participants also experienced an increase in their psychological desire to eat.

If you are feeling hungry during perimenopause or menopause, you are not alone. Here is what you might want to know.

It is not always enough to resist the call of the kitchen pantry, even if you have tried hard. Your hormones can make you hungry.

Estrogen

Your body prepares for menopause as your estrogen levels fluctuate. Your estrogen levels will decline eventually.

Estrogen is thought to make you less hungry. When your estrogen levels decline, you may not be able to eat as much because it will no longer be as strong.

Leptin

Leptin is a hormone produced by your fat cells that helps you regulate energy. Some people call it the “satiety hormone” because it inhibits hunger.

High levels of leptin tell your brain that you’ve eaten and it’s time to stop eating. This helps regulate your weight. Some research published in 2000, as well as more recent research from 2020, suggests that aging is associated with lower levels of leptin, which may make you feel hungrier.

Ghrelin

If leptin is the satiety hormone, then ghrelin is the opposite — the “hunger hormone.” Ghrelin levels tend to increase during perimenopause, making you feel hungrier.

Research suggests that people with higher baseline ghrelin levels tend to have more intense food cravings.

Ghrelin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract when your stomach is empty, which signals to your brain to eat. Your ghrelin levels increase and decrease after you eat.

Cortisol

Cortisol is often called the “stress hormone.” It’s a steroidal hormone produced by your adrenal system, and it helps you respond to stress, ward off infections, and regulate your metabolism. Some older research indicates that cortisol levels tend to increase throughout the menopausal transition.

Knowing that your hormones are at least partially responsible for your cravings may help you give yourself some grace. But if you’re worried about gaining weight, which may increase your risk of some health conditions, you may want to develop a strategy to resist those cravings.

Understand your cravings

According to a 2020 review published in Current Nutrition Reports, food cravings tend to develop in the late afternoon or evening, and the desire to eat high calorie foods increases throughout the day. Being mindful of this may help you prepare for those cravings.

Don’t starve yourself

One mistake people frequently make when they want to lose weight is embarking upon a restrictive diet. This strategy usually backfires. Make sure you’re eating enough calories to provide the fuel your body needs on a daily basis.

Be patient with yourself

The 2020 review about food cravings also found that people who try to refrain from eating certain foods, such as carbohydrates, often experience more intense cravings for those foods in the first few days they try to go without.

“The research suggests that eventually your body will realize you don’t really need those foods and you will stop craving them.”

Eat nutrient-dense foods

A diet rich in vitamins and minerals will help you feel full. Some foods are rich in vitamins.

  • There are fruits.
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • lean meat products.
  • healthy calories

Feeling full longer can help stave off cravings — especially cravings for snack foods and late night treats. You might find it helpful to write out a list of nutritious foods that can stand in for the less-nutritious foods you frequently crave.

Get up and move

Some people believed that exercising made them want to eat more. Research shows that exercise and physical activity can help reduce cravings.

One small 2016 study in 11 men found that a 12-week regimen of moderately intense exercise not only reduced the participants’ cravings but specifically reduced their cravings for high fat foods, carbs, and fast-food fats.

When you suddenly need a doughnut, getting up and going for a walk might be worth the risk.

Tackle your stress

Feeling stressed? It could be ratcheting up your appetite.

Chronic stress can affect the HPA axis, which can affect how much cortisol is released in your body.

Take a look at the factors that are increasing your stress levels and see if you can make some improvements.

Get some sleep

Some research, including a small 2018 study, suggests a link between cravings and a lack of sleep.

A small 2021 study even found an association between sleep deprivation and a preference for certain foods, along with a decrease in self-control around those foods.

If you have food cravings, try to focus on getting enough sleep and good quality sleep.

Managing food cravings is one of the factors you need to consider when managing your weight after menopause. These strategies may be helpful.

Enjoy your favorite foods

“The experts don’t recommend that you completely eliminate your favorite foods from your diet.”

As a small 2018 clinical trial in older women showed, being flexible with your diet is more likely to lead to long-term weight loss and weight maintenance in comparison to strictly restricting your diet. Just remember that moderation is key.

Talk with a professional

“Are you worried that you may need to change your eating habits? Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

If you are having trouble figuring out how much to eat, it is possible to talk with a registered dietitian.

Talking with a mental health professional may help you change your thinking around food and cut down on the negative self-talk that may accompany diet slip-ups.

Exercise regularly

If you are sedentary, you are more likely to gain weight. Aerobic exercise can burn calories. This category includes walking, jogging, biking, swimming, aerobics, and even dancing.

If you don’t have any physical limitations that would prevent you from doing so, you could even try high intensity training, as a recent study of postmenopausal women found multiple health benefits from this type of exercise routine.

Incorporate resistance training

Aerobic exercise is important, but experts suggest that post-menopausal people should also include strength training in their exercise routines. It has a number of benefits.

Aim for two or three strength training sessions per week. You can use weights, resistance bands, or resistance tubes. If you don’t like using equipment or don’t have access to any, you can even do bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, and pushups.

If you are unsure of how to start, you should consult a trainer.

At present, there does not seem to be an association between increased appetite and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) — so if you’re taking HRT, that’s one thing you may not need to worry about.

Increased hunger can be caused by certain health conditions.

For example, people who take certain mood-stabilizing medications and some second-generation antipsychotics can experience an increase in appetite. People who take oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone, have also been known to experience an increase in appetite and subsequent weight gain.

If you’re not taking any medications that would likely cause extreme hunger and you can’t think of any other factors that might be the cause, consult a healthcare professional. Some other medical conditions can cause increased hunger, such as:

“You may feel like your hormones are working against you during menopause. Even if you experience food cravings, they don’t mean you’re powerless against them.”

Understanding why you are hungry and what you can do to manage your cravings can help you prevent weight gain during this phase of life.