Binge Eating and Menstruation: How are They Linked?


The average menstrual cycle is full of ups and downs, and moments of pain and discomfort. But a menstrual disorder only makes these highs, lows, aches, and agonies even more pronounced.

These conditions are often related to larger-than-normal hormonal fluctuations during the monthly cycle, and these wider variations can impact everything from mood to physical health to energy level.

They can also impact hunger cues and other internal mechanisms that can serve as potential triggers for disordered eating behaviors.

What are Menstrual Disorders?

Menstrual disorders are conditions that impact a woman’s menstrual cycle. They can range from mild to severe, and lead to disruptive physical and/or behavioral symptoms, typically occurring just before or during menstruation.

While any number of uncomfortable symptoms may arise as part of someone’s regular monthly cycle, menstrual disorders usually represent more extreme versions of these ailments.

Mild menstrual disorders are very common, but there are some types of these conditions that can have a greater effect.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) represents an entire suite of symptoms that are brought on by the changes involved in the monthly menstrual cycle. Cramping, bloating, breast tenderness, fatigue, mood swings, irritability, and tearfulness are among the most common manifestations of this condition, generally taking place anywhere from two weeks before the start of a period through the completion of menstruation.

Premenstrual syndrome is incredibly common, with more than 90% of women estimated to have experienced at least some PMS symptoms over their lifetime. [1] Still, for some, these symptoms can be extreme, to the point of disruption, with an estimated 5%-8% of women regularly experiencing severe PMS. [2]

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a more severe form of PMS, which is experienced by a small number of women.

The types of symptoms involved in PMDD are similar to those occurring in premenstrual syndrome, though there may be more of them that occur at once. To be clinically diagnosed with PMDD, someone must regularly experience at least five period-related symptoms, with at least one specifically impacting mood. [3]

In general, PMDD is thought to be more closely tied to mood disorders, and some researchers have suggested that the condition is actually an anxiety disorder variant or a subtype of depression. [4]

Menstrual Disorder Treatment

Whether mild, moderate, or severe, the symptoms involved in menstrual disorders are often unpleasant, but various treatment options can be used to help alleviate these ailments.

Certain types of contraceptives that include doses of hormones may be prescribed to help balance out larger-than-normal hormonal fluctuations. For those who struggle with PMDD, antidepressants have also been found to help effectively manage symptoms. [4]

Outside of medication, certain lifestyle choices may also help relieve certain symptoms associated with PMS and PMDD. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and a healthy diet may all help encourage a natural regulation of hormones, while stress reduction techniques, mindfulness, or meditation practices can help regulate mood.

What is Binge Eating?

Binge eating, sometimes also called compulsive eating, occurs when someone eats an amount of food during a certain period of time that is larger than what would normally be consumed in that time period. It’s often characterized by rapid eating, eating to the point of discomfort, or eating when not physically hungry.

Individuals who binge eat also frequently lose a sense of control over how much or what is being eaten during these episodes, and experience feelings of guilt or shame afterward.

When these types of episodes occur on a more regular basis, they may be associated with several eating disorders, including binge eating disorder (BED), and bulimia nervosa (BN).

Binge Eating Causes

Binge eating can have a number of causes.

Many people experience these behaviors as emotional eating, where the episode is set off by a situation that causes them stress or makes them upset. Others may experience intense food cravings after attempting to otherwise limit their food intake.

A number of frequently co-occurring conditions may also play a part in someone’s tendency to binge eat, including anxiety disorders, depression, or a history of trauma. [5]

And some genetic or biological components may put someone at a higher risk of developing binge eating disorder.

Binge Eating and the Menstrual Cycle

Binge eating and menstrual disorders share a complex and nuanced relationship.

While it’s normal for many women to experience changes in their appetite during their menstrual cycle, including mild premenstrual compulsive eating or food cravings, these changes can be especially hard, or potentially triggering, for someone already struggling with disordered eating symptoms.

In particular, studies have found a significant association between changes in ovarian hormones and binge eating in women with bulimia nervosa. [7] And the onset of puberty, including the start of menstruation, has long been associated with the development of eating disorders.


Menstrual Changes and Binge Eating

There are several reasons why menstrual changes may trigger binge eating in women.

Hormonal Fluctuations

One of the leading causes of binge eating during menstruation is hormonal fluctuations. During the menstrual cycle, hormones such as estrogen and progesterone ebb and peak, which often causes shifts in mood, energy levels, and appetite.

For some women, these fluctuations can trigger cravings for certain foods. Some women crave chocolate, others may crave junk food, and others may prefer more carbohydrate-rich food.

Incidentally, these same types of foods have also been linked to binge eating, and while craving them may be natural during different times of the monthly cycle, eating them could be triggering for some women who struggle with disordered eating. [7]

Changes in Energy Levels

Changes in energy needs can also contribute to binge eating during menstruation.

Most women experience fatigue and low energy levels during their menstrual periods. And fatigue, regardless of the cause, has long been linked to the tendency to overeat.

Emotional Changes

The emotional symptoms that arise during menstruation can also increase the risk of binge eating.

Mood swings, irritability, and sadness are common during the monthly cycle. And many women may experience episodes of emotional eating during these times.

Binge Eating on Period Management

Since menstruation is a constant in most women’s lives for at least several decades, it can be challenging to manage the impacts these constant changes have on mood, energy levels, and appetite.

Still, there are some techniques that may help reduce symptoms, and possibly even improve overall mental and physical health.

Stress Management

The menstrual cycle is already a powerful mechanism for bringing about physical, mental, and emotional changes. But stress can exacerbate these symptoms—including binge eating—even more.

Activities that help someone reduce or manage stress can be a big help in riding these natural waves.

Meditation, yoga, mindfulness, or deep breathing exercises are all good places to start. But stress management can also come in the form of a number of other hobbies, including socializing with friends, making art, playing or listening to music, or simply going for a walk, among other options.

Professional Help

When symptoms associated with either binge eating or premenstrual syndrome become too severe, it may be helpful for someone to seek professional treatment.

A qualified therapist or healthcare provider can help someone develop a personalized treatment plan that will lay out the groundwork for recovery. Meal plans, healthier coping mechanisms, and techniques for recognizing or changing disordered behavior can also be available through these sessions.

Finding Help for an Eating Disorder

If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, it’s important to seek out help.

Contacting your primary care physician, therapist, or another trusted medical professional is a good place to start. These experts are generally educated about a number of different eating disorders and may be able to guide you toward an appropriate treatment program or help you determine the next best steps.

Eating disorder and mental health hotlines are also available. These services generally allow callers to remain anonymous, but also provide callers with information and additional resources about where, when, and how to find help.

When you’re dealing with unhelpful thoughts and behaviors on a regular basis, it may be difficult to imagine a world without them. But seeking help can be the first step on the path to a healthier and happier future.


  1. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). (2021, February). Office on Women’s Health. Accessed March 2023.
  2. Yonkers KA, O’Brien PM, & Eriksson E. (2008). Premenstrual syndromeLancet; 371(9619):1200–1210.
  3. Diagnostic Criteria for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). (2017). National Library of Medicine. Accessed March 2023.
  4. Landén M, & Eriksson E. (2003). How does premenstrual dysphoric disorder relate to depression and anxiety disorders? Depression and anxiety; 17(3):122–129.
  5. Iqbal A, & Rehman A. (2022). Binge Eating DisorderStatPearls Publishing.
  6. Klump KL, Keel PK, Culbert KM, & Edler C. (2008). Ovarian hormones and binge eating: exploring associations in community samples. Psychological medicine; 38(12):1749–1757.
  7. Drewnowski A. (1995). Metabolic determinants of binge eatingAddictive Behaviors, 20(6):733-745.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published September 5, 2023 on