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Managing your hormones can be a tricky thing.
They’re extremely sensitive, and can easily be disrupted by stress, lack of sleep, or over-exercising. This sensitivity, though, means that tracking your hormonal function can be a great indicator of overall health—especially for women.
For example, if a woman goes a month or two without her cycle, there are a few factors that could be at play other than pregnancy. It’s possible to miss your period during super stressful times because your body produces too much cortisol, or if you haven’t been eating well it’s also common to miss a period. These are signals from your body informing you that something is a little off—and in order to be a fertile place for life to grow, some things need to change.
So it makes complete sense that during their monthly menstrual cycle, women need different types of nutrients to fuel their bodies.
Here’s what to expect, and what to eat, during a four-week menstrual cycle to promote optimal health:
This phase begins with the first day of menstruation and lasts for two weeks. During this time, the body produces follicle-stimulating hormones, which encourages follicles to grow. As they do, they release the hormone estrogen—estrogen production reaches it’s peak during the last few days of the follicular phase.
During these two weeks, you might notice that you’re experiencing symptoms of PMS and are more hungry than usual. Nope, it’s not just cravings or your imagination! This hunger is normal because your body is burning through more glucose to use it as energy during the growth of follicles. Because your estrogen levels are higher during this time, you’ll notice your body can burn fat more effectively and use carbohydrates more efficiently for energy.
For the follicular phase, consider increasing your complex carbohydrate intake to keep energy levels high. Complex carbohydrates include green vegetables, whole grains and fruits which contain natural sugars.
After you ovulate (a time period that only spans a few hours) you’re officially in the luteal phase. During this phase, the body produces more testosterone to help the endometrium thicken and grow. If an egg isn’t fertilized after 14 days, the body starts over with the follicular phase.
You’ll notice that your appetite might diminish during this time, and seems more willing to hold on to extra body fat. Thank progesterone for that! That means that the luteal phase is a great time to focus on eating more protein and healthy fats like lean meats, beans, nuts and seeds and avocado. Your body won’t need the extra quick energy that it can get from carbohydrates, and eating too many carbohydrates can increase blood sugar levels too sharply and mess with hormonal function.
Isn’t it amazing how our bodies go through so many changes in the span of a month’s time? At Integrative Nutrition, we encourage our students and graduates to listen to their bodies to better understand what they need more of or are lacking. Acknowledging what your body is feeling is the first step towards improving overall health and finding positive ways to both prevent and treat symptoms you may experience.
How do you cope with changes to your physical or emotional health during menstruation? Share in the comments below!