During your menstrual cycle, do you feel like you’re a slave to your hormones? Maybe you’re elated and bursting with joy one minute, and desperate with sadness and depression the next. Perhaps, like some women, you crave sweets or perhaps even unusual food combinations. It’s not in your head. During the menstrual cycle, hormone levels swing wildly, which causes the body to have some extreme, but normal, responses. Hormone fluctuations affect appetite, mood, thoughts, and much,much more.
Understanding your menstrual cycle can help you take control, and provide you a deeper understanding and harmony with the changes your body, mood, and appetite are going through. Let's break down the menstrual cycle.
Across a four-week period, there are three phases in the menstrual cycle. For each woman, the length and intensity of these phases can vary.
Follicular phase (6-14 days): pre-egg release
The follicular phase contains the “menstrual phase,” which is when a woman begins to menstruate. During the follicular phase, oestrogen and progesterone levels are on the rise. During menstruation, the uterine lining is shed, and oestrogen and progesterone levels begin to crash.
Ovulatory phase (15-17 days): egg release process
This phase is when oestrogen and progesterone peak, and when a woman begins to ovulate.
Luteal phase (18-28 days): post-egg release
Hormone levels remain high. As the egg is released, if fertilisation does not occur, hormone levels start to lower and the menstrual cycle begins anew.
Now that we have an understanding of the month-long menstrual cycle, let's take a look at how you can treat yourself and cater to your body's responses during this month-long journey.
If you’re keen on fitness, but find yourself struggling to maintain your rigid fitness routine all month long–maybe it’s time to stop fighting your body and start listening to it. Try changing your fitness routine to be in harmony with the needs and abilities of your body. Here are some recommendations for fitness regimens to consider during each phase of the menstrual cycle.
If you’re tired, sore and cramping while you menstruate, maybe it’s not the best time to deadlift. During this phase, pamper and care for your body. Stretch, try yoga, long walks.
and meditation. Take it easy, and do what feels right.
Keep exercising lightly. Try light runs, hiking, and climbing.
With your hormones peaking, ovulation is a great time to get into intense workouts like running, strength training, and high intensity intervals.
At this time, your hormones begin to take a dip. You can still go for high-intensity workouts. Maybe try for pilates, spin, and intense yoga.
Throughout your menstrual cycle, it’s important to maintain a healthy, whole-food diet. You want to eat foods that make you feel good, and that will supply you with enough nutrients to get you comfortably from one phase to the next.
During this phase, your body needs to be soothed, calm and nourished. Opt for lots of soothing teas, and get appetising foods. Warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nettles are great during this phase. Foods like hot, brothy soups–like a chicken or vegetable soup–are great during this phase. Iron rich foods like spinach are important to replenish lost blood.
In this phase, you can focus on eating foods that metabolise oestrogen and promote follicular growth. Try green vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish, and legumes.
During ovulation, go for foods rich in B6, Vitamin B12, and Folic Acid. Go for fortified cereals (grains), fish, and dark-leafy greens like kale, chick-peas and oranges.
Focus on magnesium-rich foods that might fatigue like spinach, dark-chocolate, and seeds. Foods that produce serotonin are also good (another excuse to eat chocolate), spinach, wheats, and so on.
A note on mental health during the menstrual cycle:
Your hormones are, of course, tied directly to your mental health. When your hormones are fluctuating wildly, it can be hard to stay in control of your mental state and emotions. Be patient with yourself, and listen to your body. If you need a break from people–take a break. If you need some alone time–get some alone time! The best way to improve your mental health is to take care of your emotional needs. Do little things that make you happy, and avoid situations you don’t want to be in.
Hopefully, this piece was able to help you understand the menstrual process a little better. It’s complex, mysterious, and hard to handle sometimes. With these notes on exercise, diet, and mental health, hopefully you can learn to live in harmony with your menstrual cycle a little bit better.