I’ve been tracking my period for over three years now. And, whilst everyone jokes about PMS increasing cravings and crying, I’ve noticed genuine patterns in my moods, needs and abilities throughout my cycle. Since this realisation I decided to do some reading. And, as it turns out – your menstrual cycle actually affects your body, mind and spirit all month round, not just during your period.
Whilst it might sound obvious that the hormones during your cycle affect more than just your period. The knowledge that harnessing different foods, exercises and self-care throughout your menstrual cycle is not. Understanding my cycle and its effects on my body has improved everything from my skin to libido.
So, what actually happens at each stage of your menstrual cycle?
What’s happening: The actual period (Aunt Flow). Shedding of the uterine lining (owwee). Estrogen and Progesterone are low.
What to eat: When you’re losing blood you’re losing iron, so it’s important to ensure you have enough iron and its best buddy Vitamin C in your system (Vitamin C supports iron absorbency).
Practicing Self-Care: This phase can be the hardest, especially if you have difficult or painful periods. Self-care in this stage is all about dealing with the symptoms of your period. That means hot water bottles, pain relief, warm baths, sleeping – and of course a trusty menstrual cup (or whatever you prefer)!
It’s all about you during this part of the month, so don’t over-schedule yourself; if you don’t feel up to your commitments be honest with yourself and rest. This phase is all about inward reflection and time-outs, so, grab your blanket, journal or meditation mat and rest up!
Phase: Follicular Phase
What’s happening: The in-between phase. Your body is preparing for releasing that egg, so your estrogen levels rise to support this.
What to eat: All this preparation for egg release day, means your body needs a lot of fuel. Healthy carbs and protein will support your body through this phase by giving it the support it needs, and deserves.
Practicing Self-Care: During this phase your brain is sharp and sociable, plus you’ll have a lot of energy thanks to that estrogen peak. Use it to your advantage, embrace yourself and your positive attitude. Try new things, plan for the future and envision your goals and dreams.
What’s happening: The baby making phase. Estrogen and testosterone levels peak.
What to eat: You may feel less hungry in this stage due to rising hormone levels. Eating less but fresh, protein rich foods will keep your energy levels up.Fibre rich foods will also help you to rid yourself of toxins and support the increase in hormone levels.
Practicing Self-Care: Stable-moods and good levels of energy mean this is the easiest stage for self-care. This phase is all about energy. Estrogen levels rising means you feel energised and sociable, whilst testosterone gives us the kick of confidence (and libido) we need. Embrace this!
This phase is all about pleasure and enjoyment, whether that’s eating at a favourite restaurant, going on a getaway, or meeting up with friends. You’ve got the power and positivity to take on the world!
What’s happening: Pregnancy prep-stage. Progesterone is produced, peaks and then drops.
What to eat: You’re probably going to feel sluggish and crave junk food. Magnesium will help you prepare for painful period symptoms whilst B Vitamins will increase serotonin to lift your mood.
Practicing Self-Care: Your energy levels will decrease tenfold during this phase and PMS will start to rear its irritable head. Don’t fight it – this is the time for recovery and self-care.
Listen to your body. Practice yoga, pilates and other mindful exercises – but don’t push yourself. Surround yourself with friends, and do things that don’t require a lot of energy. You’ve got this!
Understanding your cycle in this way, rather than focusing on period pains and PMS means understanding when your body needs extra care and attention. I’ve provided here a very basic outline of your cycle, and of course, we are all unique as menstruators, so getting to know your own pattern is incredibly important. However, acknowledging each phase of your cycle and asking what your body needs at that moment, is incredible, and important to tailoring your self-care routine.
Please note that this should not be taken as medical advice and if you have any concerns about your menstrual cycle you should speak to a doctor or medical practitioner.
References: Nicole Jardim
Terri Harris is a London based feminist activist, researcher, blogger and programme specialist focusing on sexual and reproductive health rights. Her expertise lie in menstrual health within religious and cultural norms, which has led her to train women on reusable menstrual products across East Africa and the Middle East.