There’s a significant different in men and women in the way our hormones function – obviously. Male hormones reset on a 24 hour cycle, whereas female hormones work on a 28 day cycle. What what? No wonder our bodies fluctuate and change so much through the month! Here’s how to hack your monthly cycle to get the most from your body.
Week 1: From Day 1 of Your Period Week
1. Recommit to your fitness goals – This is a great time to recommit to your fitness goals. It might sound counterintuitive, but as estrogen begins to rise, you get a great boost in energy and mood. Personally I know the release of finally starting a period, the cloud lifts, and usually by Day 2 or 3 I’m ready to go.
2. Strength train – The rise in estrogen also helps build muscle, so focus your training on lifting.
3. Practice smaller, healthier meals – Estrogen acts as a slight appetite suppressant. The sugar cravings have typically passed, so use this time to focus on nutrient dense foods, practicing portions and think quality over quantity
4. The Flip Side – This can also be the time where you get hyper-focused on controlling your food. Through our periods we can feel imbalanced, like we’re holding more weight (nope, it’s just swelling, it’ll pass), but the negative side of this natural lower appetite is that some people can zero in on what’s wrong with them, and start trying to fix it. Just something to keep in mind, it’s fine to use this as a motivational time, but if that starts to become dysregulated thought patterns, reach out to someone to step out of your head for a moment.
Week 2: Post-Period, Feelin’ Balanced
1. Keep stress levels low – The peak in estrogen and the energy you get through your first week make it easier to work out moving in to the second week but they can also tweak your stress response. Utilise your self-care practices, like following your meditation practice, giving yourself some time to yourself, and focus on your sleep.
2. Use the energy swing to work smart & hard – The energy boost can push you through some more high intensity or HIIT focused workouts. Be careful not to over-extend yourself, as this is a time when women are more prone to injuries too.
Week 3: Move It, Move It
1. Cardio ain’t so hardio – As progesterone rises, fat-blasting also increases. The combination of estrogen and progesterone peaking can burn up to 30% more fat during aerobic exercise for the last two weeks of your cycle.
2. Eat more fibre – This is when digestive issues can kick in, resulting in constipation, bloating, and water retention. Combat it with focusing on whole foods with plenty of fibre, followed by plenty of water.
3. Be nicer to yourself – As the bloating and constipation kicks in, the Mean Girl can step in and start to tell you all the things that are “wrong” with you. Shush, Mean Girl. Be sure to take care of yourself, move mindfully, eat mindfully, and be kind to yourself.
Week 4: The Slow Down
1. Make space for treats – The rise in progesterone gives you an appetite boost, so bringing in mindfully-consumed delights to the senses. Eat the things you want without going overboard, and focus on higher fat and protein foods to feel satisfied and indulgent for your cells.
2. Be nice to yourself – As estrogen takes a nose-dive, so too can your mood. Treat yo’self to nice times, like a movie by yourself or a soothing massage. Choose less intense forms of exercise, and maybe hang around with a buddy and take more chill walks.
3. Get your slow flow – Hatha and Yin yoga are your jam now. Your body is more relaxed, you could find yourself having an easier time getting in to gentler poses and relax in to your mind more. Find yourself a sweet candlelit class and get internal and gentle.
Plus: How To Incorporate Seed Cycling
Seed cycling is a technique to eat to support your hormonal balance. I use it in clinical practice even with people who haven’t had a period in some time, and even in people who are yet to get their periods. If you haven’t had one in a while or your period is dysregulated, continue to follow along the cycle where you think Day 1 might be, and continue until ovulation. Some signs of ovulation can be things like being super hungry, or if you’re feeling yourself – literally, ovulation is when your body wants you to get busy, so if you’re feeling leaner or like you look like a million bucks, you might be ovulating. Some people who don’t have a cycle can also have phases when they feel what might be PMS or like a period, with symptoms like cramps, teariness, swollen or painful breasts, or moodiness. This can also be why it’s important to track your periods and your symptoms. After some time you’ll start to see some patterns, and your apps will be able to indicate when it might be coming on.
· The first two weeks of your cycle (Day 1 = the first day of your period), estrogen is rising, and we want to support it with foods that help. This is your menstrual and follicular phase. Add 1 tbsp of flaxseed and pumpkin seeds each day in the first two weeks to increase estrogen through this part of the cycle. Plus, often the symptoms associated with PMS and feeling low at the start of your period, like period headaches, are often because of the drop in estrogen. Eating this way can help you move past this phase.
· The next two weeks, or after ovulation, progesterone starts to rise through your ovulation and luteal phases. Progesterone is what we call the “foot off the gas pedal” hormone – it allows your body to relax and release. Mix it up by adding 1 tbsp of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds from here on until your period starts, or for the next 14 days.
What about menopause? So long, cycle! Moving through menopause is still super important for your health, your bones, and your mood. Here are some ways to keep it moving when your hormones are on a new program.
· Get your strength on – Building muscle is the key to keeping your metabolism trucking, plus supports bone density and continues healthy movement patterns through life.
· Prioritise sleep and stress management – Stress and sleep loss can wreak havoc on your hormones. Stay ahead of the game by taking care of your levels, feel free to say no to things, and keep doing you!
Cover image by the wonderful Gemma Correll