How To Eat For Your Menstrual CycleJan 25, 2022
Your menstrual cycle is your monthly report card on how your body is responding to your environment on a cycle by cycle basis.
Did you know your body has different nutritional needs at different phases of your menstrual cycle?
In this episode you will discover:
- The key hormones and how they prepare your body for pregnancy every single cycle
- The key phases of your menstrual cycle
- How to master your internal rhythms by eating for each week of your cycle
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Please Note: The contents of this podcast are for educational and informational purposes only. The information is not to be interpreted as, or mistaken for, clinical advice. Please consult a medical professional or healthcare provider for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment.
Hello my friends!
Today I’m so excited to share one of my favorite topics, how to harness the power of your menstrual cycle with food.
Learning how to eat for your cycle will not only help balance your hormones to optimize fertility, but will also be a game changer for your overall being.
We women work hard to stay on top of everything we do, and we expect to have the same energy level every single day of every single month. However, the cyclical nature of our bodies makes that impossible.
Our hormones are meant to ebb and flow throughout the four phases of our menstrual cycle.
As it does this, our body changes nearly every week - someones every day. Just as each season brings its own distinct characteristics, such as the cold quiet of winter or the light filled days of spring, the hormonal shifts occurring in each phase of our cycle create different physical and emotional responses in the body and mind.
I believe it is every woman's birthright to understand the basics of how our hormones work.
And Im going to review that first before we dive into each week.
A healthy, regular menstrual cycle is a roughly four-week span of time when three key hormones—estrogen, testosterone and progesterone—rise and fall in a specific pattern.
Depending on how high or low these hormones go, and how they correspond to one another, they impact your mood, sleep quality, our decisions, our social preferences, our food cravings, libido, pretty much all aspects of your life, in a wide variety of ways.
Our hormones follow a predictable pattern every single cycle. This means the effects they have on you are the same, cycle after cycle—and this allows you to know ahead of time what your moods, health and motivating behaviours will be.
This will not only help you mentally and energetically to improve the quality of your life, but also by optimizing your hormones which then has a domino affect for your fertility as you try to conceive.
Hormone #1 Estrogens are a group of steroid hormones that control the development and maintenance of our female characteristics. Natural estrogens are also found in men, but and are found in higher amounts in women, especially in our reproductive age.
Estrogen is responsible for building up the uterine lining so that when the egg is fertilized it has a nice cushy space to call home.
Babies aside, this hormone is also responsible for keeping your lips full and your skin looking plump.
Natural estrogens also help keep your brain firing, your heart in tip top shape and your bones healthy and strong. Estrogen moves throughout your body, affecting nearly every single tissue, including your brain, bones, heart and skin
I want to be clear that when I talk about how amazing estrogen is, I am not talking about the synthetic stuff they package up in a pill. I’m talking about what your body naturally makes from your ovaries, adrenal glands, fat cells, brain and other tissue.
Hormone #2 Progesterone is another key team player in fertility, with a big role in maintaining a healthy pregnancy. This hormone helps to regulate your cycle. But its main job is to get your uterus ready for pregnancy. After you ovulate each month, progesterone helps thicken the lining of the uterus to prepare for a fertilized egg. If there is no fertilized egg, progesterone levels drop and menstruation begins.
If you feel anxious, sleepless, irritable or weepy before your period, That’s usually a sign that you aren’t getting adequate progesterone. When progesterone is just right, it keeps you feeling chilled out, calm and in love with your life.
Progesterone counters the effect of estrogen, and has a calming effect, reducing anxiety and increasing sleepiness in your body.
Hormone #3 Testosterone has a reputation of being a male hormone, kind of like estrogen is the female hormone. but women need testosterone too. Without it, our bones get weak, our brain slows down and our mood and motivation goes out the window.
This hormone also boosts our confidence and our energy. If you’re always feeling fatigued, you could have low testosterone.
Now that we have a basic understanding of these 3 key hormones involved in the menstrual cycle, let’s break down 1 more step and look at the 2 phases of the menstrual cycle.
Because our female bodies are cyclical by nature,
Now that we have a basic understanding of the 3 key hormones involved in the menstrual cycle, let's break it down one step further.
Our menstrual cycle has 2 distinct phases.
The first is the follicular phase, which is the first half your cycle, starting from day of your period until you ovulate and this is marked by rising estrogen
The second phase is known as the luteal phase. This starts from the day after you ovulate until the day before you get your next period. This is marked by rising progesterone.
Essentially, your cycle is divided by ovulation. Please know that ovulation does not happen on day 14 of your cycle every single month, as a matter of fact, this is a complete myth. Your cycle is always changing according to your environment, and is slightly different every single month.
By mastering your internal rhythms within each phase is the key to feeling more connected to your body and one of the first steps to solving a lot of physical and emotional complaints associated with your cycle. And a natural consequence of doing this, is improved fertility.
I have 1 disclaimer before we get into each week.
My general philosophy with nutrition is to always choose whole, nutrient dense real foods, while staying away from refined and processed foods as much as possible. Staying on top of a clean eating routine can be challenging enough, so please take the remainder of what I’m about to share and begin to implement it slowly. The goal here is to understand your body's needs first in each week of your cycle so you can start to make better choices on how to nourish it based on what it's lacking and what its going through hormonally. And bonus for you, I’ve actually created this for you in a 1-page guide that you can download, print and keep on your fridge for easy reference. And once you download the PDF you’ll automatically get access to specific recipes that I recommend you use as you move through each week of your cycle. Ill let you know at the end of the episode where you can grab it.
Let’s begin with week 1.
Day 1 of your period marks week 1 of your cycle.
During your period all 3 of your key hormones are almost flatlined. There is a sharp decline in estrogen, progesterone and testosterone and that’s part of the reason why you feel so fatigued, withdrawn and introspective this week.
All those disruptive symptoms such as bloating, cramping, lower back pain and headache are often a message from your body to slow down or just stop.
The focus this week with nutrition should be on replacing the minerals (especially iron) you lose while bleeding. Its also a time to focus on decreasing inflammation (menstruation is an inflammatory process). You also want to make sure you’re supporting your energy levels by getting plenty of B vitamins.
Some great foods to eat during week 1 are grass fed beef, wild caught salmon, sardines and bone broth. It’s also a great time to add scallions, seaweed and mushrooms into these meals because they will replenish the iron, zinc and other key minerals that you will be losing while bleeding.
When you download my eat to get pregnant guide, I share my Homemade Chicken Bone Broth for week 1 of your cycle, which is made with seaweed, onions and mushrooms, so you get to kill 3 birds with 1 stone.
Because inflammation is higher this week due to bleeding, Antioxidant rich fruits and veggies such as berries and leafy greens will help lower your inflammation and they are also filled with vitamin C which is needed to help your body absorb iron.
Great dishes to make are comfort foods like chili, soupes, broth, stews and stir frys with spices like turmeric, cinnamon and cayenne as they help encourage blood flow and lower inflammation.
Hydration is also crucial during week 1, so drink enough water and ramp up those hydrating veggies and fruits like cucumber, celery and watermelon. If you suffer from cramps during your period, be mindful of cold smoothies and ice water, as they may intensify your cramps.
As you approach week 2 of your cycle, bleeding stops and you move into the second half of your follicular phase.
Estrogen and testosterone levels start to rise, boosting your energy, mood and brain skills.
This week you will feel more creative, stronger connections with people and a sense of renewed energy.
Self care during week 2 should focus on providing all the nutrients and emotional support you need to keep your energy levels high and your mood upbeat.
A lot of estrogen, also means a lot of dopamine - that ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter that improves your focus, concentration, and motivation, making you feel confident and at your best.
Your appetite and nutrient needs will likely fluctuate during this week. Higher estrogen levels mean increased sensitivity to insulin and because estrogen also regulates hunger, your appetite may decrease and you may notice that you feel fuller on less food.
During this week eat more light, fresh, vibrant coloured foods such as salads with a base of greens like arugula and baby kale, lean protein and variety of baked veggies and other healthy toppings. This is a great time to increase your healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, butter, nuts and seeds - especially pumpkin and flax - to support your rising estrogen.
As you approach ovulation, towards the tail end of your week 2, you’ll notice your appetite increasing. Your ovaries are running a marathon and that requires quite a bit of energy. This is a great time to ramp up your healthy carb intake such as gluten free whole grains, sweet potatoes and squashes are also excellent choices to support ovulation.
To prevent any ovulatory bloating, add more gut friendly foods to your plate, such as 2 large forkfuls of sauerkraut or kimchi to your main meals. You could also do coconut kefir with some berries for a light snack.
After you ovulate, this marks the beginning of your luteal phase where estrogen begins to drop and progesterone slowly begins to rise.
Since progesterone dominates in this phase, it tends to bring with it a higher chance of blood sugar crashes. Our bodies in the luteal phase are more prone to blood sugar and insulin imbalances and these can worsen any PMS or PMDD symptoms.
For that reason, you’ll want to stick to lots of fiber rich foods including complex carbs like soaked beans and legumes, gluten free oats, dates and organic apples. Roasted veggies such as sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips and onions will help support your mood and help you avoid food cravings. This is a great time to pack in those overnight oats and roasted veggies.
Now the final week, for some, the most dreaded week of your cycle especially if you suffer from PMS or PMDD
Naturally, You’ll feel quieter, more withdrawn, less social and articulate and in week 4 of your cycle.
This is the week that PMS symptoms appear. These can look different for everyone, but some include cravings for carb-heavy comfort foods, anxiety and moodiness, insomnia, brain fog, poor memory and irritable bowels.
These symptoms are NOT all in your head, but they aren’t something we should suffer through. You can help ease the intensity of these symptoms by focusing on eating for your cycle.
Since progesterone dominates in this phase, it brings with it a higher chance of blood sugar crashes. For that reason, you will want to stick to higher protein, higher fat and lower carbohydrate meals in the luteal phase of your cycle.
In addition to those roasted veggies you’ve included since week 3, I also recommend to start your day with a high protein and fat breakfast. For instance, pack your morning with 2-3 scrambled eggs cooked in avocado oil, with a side of ½ avocado + gluten free toast with butter. This concept holds true for your snacks as well. Make a large batch of power balls, you could even do avocado wrapped in sliced turkey or have a handful of raw nuts/seeds.
In the luteal phase of your cycle you want to stick to sunflower and sesame seeds.
Your body is highly sensitive this week, so be kind to yourself and give yourself the permission to rest, stay in and not make too many social plans in case your just not in the mood.
So that brings us to the end of the menstrual cycle.
If you get pregnant, your body will continue to produce progesterone, or you get your period, all your hormones flatline and the process starts all over again. This is why I say mastering your internal rhythms are key to feeling more connected to your body and a great step to help you improve your fertility.
By having this knowledge, you will be able to prepare for your own natural ebbs and flows and know how to nourish yourself properly along the way.
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Optimize your fertility by learning how to eat for your menstrual cycle.
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