Selected Podcast

Can Your Menstrual Cycle Cause an Eating Disorder?

Can Your Menstrual Cycle Cause an Eating Disorder?
In today's weight- and size-obsessed society, it's easy to become overly concerned with the way you look and how much you weigh.

During times of celebration, like birthdays, holidays, weddings, or family/friend parties where the food and booze can be overflowing and unlimited, you may find yourself feeling anxious, and overly trying to control every single thing you put in your mouth.

Even if you've watched what you've been eating (whether it's during a holiday or not), women's weight fluctuates monthly naturally due to hormones from your menstrual cycle. However, according to a Michigan State University study, even though the number on your scale routinely goes up and down it can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder... especially if you're someone who uses the scale to determine your self-worth, self-confidence, and beauty.

Unfortunately, when you're about to experience your "time of the month," you are biologically wired to increase your food intake, due to the preparation of pregnancy (even if you're not pregnant, this happens naturally). According to lead researcher, Kelly Klump, PhD, monthly fluctuations in hormones cause women to increase the amount of food they eat and also causes emotional eating, which is the tendency to over-consume food in response to negative emotions.

What can women do about these natural fluctuations?

Klump, who is the MSU Foundation Professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University, discusses why women's weight naturally fluctuates during monthly menstrual cycles and how it could lead to an eating disorder.
Featured Speaker:
Kelly Klump, PhD
Kelly KlumpKelly Klump is an MSU Foundation Professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University (MSU). In 1998, she received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Minnesota.

She completed her pre-doctoral, clinical internship at McLean Hospital, Harvard School of Medicine (1997-1998), and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine (1998-2000).

Her research focuses on genetic and biological risk factors for eating disorders using both human (i.e., twin studies) and animal models. She is particularly interested in developmental changes in genetic and hormonal risk factors and their meaning for the development of eating disorders.

Dr. Klump has published over 145 papers and has received a number of federal grants for this work, including several funded NIMH projects. She also has been honored with numerous awards including the David Shakow Award for Early Career Contributions to Clinical Psychology from the American Psychological Association, New Investigator Awards from the World Congress on Psychiatric Genetics and the Eating Disorders Research Society, the MSU Teacher-Scholar Award, the MSU Distinguished Contributions to Honors Students, and the Price Foundation Award for Research Excellence from the National Eating Disorders Association.

Dr. Klump is the first faculty member to receive a MSU Foundation Professorship, which is an endowed professorship that aims to recruit and retain top faculty at MSU. She was the 2007-2008 President of the Academy for Eating Disorders, the largest, international professional organization dedicated to the treatment, research and prevention of eating disorders.

RadioMD Presents:HER Radio | Original Air Date: Thursday, January 29, 2015
Hosts: Michelle King Robson and Pamela Peeke, MD
Guest: Kelly Klump, PhD

Pamela: Hi, I’m Dr. Pam Peeke and my wonderful co-host Michelle King Robson is travelling today. Hormones and your menstrual cycle, how does that work? I was reading this fascinating new study that was just published. It was all about women’s weight and how it fluctuates with your monthly cycle. Raise your hand if you’ve been through that one, honey. Just try to do a little scale hopping and try to make sense of what’s going on down there on that piece of metal as the numbers go flashing on by, way too high. So when I read this study it was fascinating because Dr. Kelly Klump, who’s an MSU Foundation professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University is the senior author, explains why this happens, what this means, and, quite frankly, how this also relates to incidents of eating disorders too. Dr. Klump, welcome to HER Radio. We are so excited to have you on. I’m just going to ask you, how do hormones affect a woman as she’s going through her menstrual cycle and her weight? What is the relationship between hormones and weight?

Dr. Klump: Thank you so much for having me, I’m excited to talk about this topic. What we know is that changes in the hormones estrogen and progesterone seem to predict when women will increase their food intake, across the monthly cycle. What we found is that high levels of these hormones during the mid-luteal phase, which is right after ovulation, seems to cause women to eat more during that phase of the menstrual cycle.

Pamela: That makes sense, though. Why are they eating more? Let’s go back to, what, our primal drive. Why would a woman want to be eating more then?

Dr. Klump: We think that it’s built into us because of evolution. The mid-luteal phase is right after ovulation, and if you’ve ovulated and have a fertilized egg, that egg will be implanted and it needs to survive. How do implanted eggs survive? They do so by being fed. It makes sense biologically that a woman would increase her food intake during this phase in order to sustain a fetus.

Pamela: It makes all the sense in the world. I want every woman out there in HER Radio land to understand this. It’s okay when you have these fluctuations. Stop that scale hopping right around the time of your menstrual cycle, unless you want to beat yourself up. It makes all the sense in the world because you do want to be able to provide nourishment to the fetus, if there’s going to be a fetus, if you are going to become pregnant. So it makes sense, right?

Dr. Klump: Absolutely.

Pamela: But here’s an issue. There you are, if you’re a woman who is maybe more subject to, or more vulnerable to, disordered eating, emotional eating, to looking at that scale as her source of self-esteem and self-confidence, we have ourselves a problem, don’t we Dr. Klump?

Dr. Klump: Absolutely. What we found is that these increases in food intake during this point of the menstrual cycle actually increase the chances that a woman will become preoccupied with her weight. What this means is that the woman might start weighing herself more, she might start extreme diets, etc., to decrease the effects of that increase in food intake on her body weight. It can be a very dangerous cycle. Particularly for women who are at risk for eating disorders or who are already engaging in disordered eating.

Pamela: We’re both women, right? Did you go through this kind of thing? I’ll share first. I can remember, specifically, three day prior to the onset of my menstrual cycle nothing was safe around me, that wasn’t tacked down. Seriously, I’m a little sugar girl. I found myself drawn to weird things like liquorices and stuff like that. So much so that I actually kept a little, what I called, PMS jar. It just had red and black liquorices in it and there was no other tie in the month that I even gave a darn about liquorices at all. Just those three days before and when my menstrual cycle started, boom, I had no interest. None, that was it. How about you?

Dr. Klump: The funny thing is, until I started doing studies on the menstrual cycle, I never tracked my patterns of food intake. But now that I have, yes, I have the exact same situation. For me and it sounds like for you, and this is what we’re studying next, it’s not that in the stage before menstrual bleeding, it’s not like I’m craving chicken. I’m not craving vegetables. I’m craving sugar. I’m craving doughnuts. I’m craving cake. That’s kind of the next step in this line of research; to try to look at what particular types of food are these hormones increasing our desire for. Again, these types of foods that are high-fat and high-sugar make sense biologically. If you do get pregnant and you do have a fetus, the first thing you need to do is add body fat. What’s going to help you add that body fat? Doughnuts, cake, brownies, etc. So it makes sense biologically, but we are just now doing the studies to show what’s happening.

Pamela: I think that’s utterly fascinating. I just know that all the women listening out there in HER radio land are sitting back saying: “Well that makes a whole lot of sense.” It’s funny how tuna on a bed of greens never quite does it. That’s not what I was craving when I was PMSed out of my brains. I guess I was also called ‘pre-monstral’ because I also had some seriously bad attitude that went along with the Twinkies and the Dunkin Doughnuts. You’re absolutely right. You know what I’m also thinking about? What happens during perimenopause? There’s a research question for you Dr. Klump.

Dr. Klump: That is exactly true. So far we’ve looked at the pubertal period. We’ve look at the menstrual cycle. One of the additional next steps is to look at perimenopausal period and see what happens to these women. Some of these women, of course, are put on estrogen replacement therapy. What happens when you’re menopausal but then you’re put on hormones? All of these questions are things that we are hoping to follow up in order to better understand this critical aspect of women’s health, and how they may actually affect both physical health and also psychological health.

Pamela: It’s interesting. What we’ve seen in preliminary research, and you might find this interesting, is that taste changes. Women notice that for years they say: “Sweet stuff, who cares?” All of a sudden they are eating it like it’s going out of style. Clearly taste changes as you age, but this is also another very interesting thing that is happening as the body is weaning off the estrogen and progesterone. It’s further complicated by whatever kind of creative, wild combination of hormonal replacement therapy they may go on at any point in time. Then they go off that and we’ve got post-menopause with and without hormone replacement therapy. So, ladies out there in HER land, here’s the gig. If you’re having those strange little taste issues and you still have PMS, we understand it, it’s okay. Stop scale hopping. Just get through that week. Get through your cycle and get right back to your healthy living all over again.

We want to thank Dr. Kelly Klump, MSU Foundation professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University, for coming onboard HER Radio and helping us understand all things hormone, menstrual cycle, and weight. I’m Dr. Pam Peeke with Michelle King Robson. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. And for heaven’s sake, stay well.