Understanding your Hormonal Cycle

Words: Robyn Paterson

If you have female hormones, you’ve probably experienced symptoms of hormonal imbalance in your life. PMS, cramps, bloating, breakouts and cravings are symptoms we’ve just come to accept as normal and par for the course. Just like any other medical symptoms, these point to an imbalance in your body, and in this case, an imbalance in your endocrine system. Understanding how your hormonal cycle works and what your body requires during each phase is an important step when it comes to rebalancing your hormones and eliminating discomfort.

hormones

Imagine a world without the crazy period mood swings or days where you can’t fit into your jeans? It’s possible! We’ve done some research on small changes you can make to help improve your hormonal balance.

Understanding Your Cycle

We all need to understand how our hormone system functions, before we can understand how we can best work with it. All bodies are governed by rhythms, but bodies with female physiology are governed by more than one and it is because of this second internal rhythm, that we have a menstrual cycle.

Time Keepers

The body has two internal timekeepers, the circadian rhythm and the infradian rhythm. If you are a person with female physiology, then you have both of these time keepers — lucky you! The infradian rhythm affects six different systems in the body — the brain, metabolism, immune system, microbiome, stress response system and the reproductive system — so it’s pretty important to pay attention to it.

Four Phases

The female hormonal cycle is divided into four phases that roughly span over 28 days, but everyone’s cycle is different — yours could be longer or shorter. Your body’s physical and psychological needs change as it moves through these four phases and if you’re aware of these needs and fluctuations, it can help you manage your symptoms and respond to your body’s needs better.

Menstrual Phase

The menstrual phase is phase one of your hormonal cycle, and it starts on the first day of your period. This can be seen as Day 1 of (roughly) 28. Your body is in an intense process during menstruation and will require more nutrients and calories to function properly — you’re not craving more food for no reason, your body actually needs it! As for moods, your hormonal levels are at their lowest concentration during your period, which allows for clarity of thought. Your period week is actually a great time to plan ahead.

What to Eat: Try to eat foods that are rich in iron, such as seafood, red meat and seaweed, or nori. It’s important to prioritise fibre, protein and low-glycaemic fruits and veg during your period, as this keeps your blood sugar stable.

hormonal cycle

Follicular Phase

The follicular phase begins as soon as your period ends. Your hormones (follicle stimulating hormone, luteinising hormone, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone) are slowly starting to increase in concentration again. Energy is high during this phase, so try engaging in some cardio-based workouts that will make you sweat.

What to Eat: This is an important time to eat gut-healing foods, like kimchi and sauerkraut, as well as light, fresh foods that will complement your increased energy levels

hormonal health
hormonal cycle

Ovulation

The rise in hormones during the follicular phase stimulates the release of an egg. The increase in estrogen thickens the uterine lining in preparation for a possible fertilised egg. During ovulation, your body has excess energy so this is a good time to try HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts, fast runs and high-impact sessions.

What to Eat: Make sure you are prioritising fibre, so stock up on fruits and veggies. The body needs to be able to metabolise and digest food well during this time, so that it can eliminate any estrogen surplus. A surplus of estrogen leads to bloating and constipation, so eating fibre and gut-healing foods should help.

hormonal health

Luteal Phase

During the luteal phase, your hormones reach their highest concentrations. Just before your period starts, they will drop down again to restart the cycle. So, expect to experience a stark contrast between the beginning of this phase and the end. This is usually when one would experience PMS, as a result of too much estrogen in relation to progesterone. You may experience mood swings and your hormones will drastically fluctuate from their peak. Your energy levels will also start to drop towards the end of this phase as you start your period. Don’t push yourself to do intense workouts, keep it slow and strong. Pilates, walking and stretch classes are great options.

What to Eat: Try and eat foods rich in magnesium to help stave off chocolate cravings. Vitamin B enriched foods will also help with sugar cravings. If you are craving more food during this time, then satisfy those cravings. Your body is preparing for menstruation, which requires a lot of nutrients and energy.

Still struggling with the dreaded bloat? Here are some foods you should be prioritising.

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