Most of us were taught that when you reach a certain age, you bleed once a month. We learned to use a pad or tampon, to take an Advil if you get cramps, and that this is just the unfortunate price we all pay for being a woman. We learn to adapt the best we can to this monthly inconvenience, and once it’s over, we think very little about it.
What we aren’t taught is that the menstrual cycle involves much more than the few days that you bleed each month. Apart from the menstrual phase, there are three other phases in your cycle, each involving unique processes that work to keep you balanced and healthy overall.
As you learn to work in harmony with these four phases (menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, luteal), your month will be more productive and less frustrating, even less painful.
Today we’ll focus on the beginning of the cycle with the first phase: menstruation.
The Menstrual Phase
The menstrual phase begins the first day of your bleed and can last from 3 to 7 days, 5 days being the most common.
What’s Happening in Your Body?
Even though we track our cycles by calling that first day “day 1” of our cycle, it’s really a sign that your body is starting over with baby-making preparedness.
So what exactly is going on during the menstrual phase? All month long, your body is preparing itself to make and keep a baby. Here’s a little recap of what your body went through to get you to the menstrual phase.
Your ovaries produce estrogen, which helps build up your uterine lining to support a pregnancy if you conceive. Once your body releases an egg (ovulation), it produces progesterone that further nourishes the lining or endometrium, so the egg has a place to call home if it’s lucky enough to get fertilized.
When the egg isn’t fertilized, your hormone levels begin to drop, and your uterine lining says “sayonara” and exits through your vagina, aka your period starts. You bleed and maybe notice mucus and tissue as well.
Your hormone levels are at an all-time low during the menstrual phase, and you might feel tired and irritable, especially the first few days. If you find yourself crying at cat food commercials, don’t beat yourself up about it. You can use these low hormone levels to your advantage!
See the image below:
Menstrual Phase Superpowers
You might be thinking, “how is weeping on the couch with a tub of ice cream a superpower?” Well, your superpower during menstruation is that you’re actually better in touch with your inner feelings.
Our hormone levels change how our brain works throughout the menstrual cycle. Your low hormone levels encourage the left analytical side of your brain to communicate with the right feeling side, making the menstrual phase a great time to reflect on what’s working in your life and what’s not.
Menstruation helps you see the big picture, and it gives you great insight into how you’re doing with your career, relationships, and personal goals. Use this time to reflect on the month and on where you’re at in your life in general. I highly recommend journaling daily during this phase.
Ideally, you’ll want to spend time at work analyzing projects and data during the menstrual phase. Look at results and see where you need to make changes to stay on track with your goals. Make a list of what’s working and what’s not.
Menstrual Phase Superfoods
Think about how you feel during menstruation and the foods that you crave. Likely your energy levels are low, and carb and sugar cravings are high. Unfortunately, the food you crave during your period, like mac ‘n cheese or chocolate lava cake, can leave you feeling even more fatigued and increase symptoms like cramps or acne.
It’s better to focus on satisfying, nutrient-dense foods that balance blood sugar, energize you, and support your body’s detox process.
Stick to complex carbohydrates like root vegetables, whole grains, and legumes to help you keep up your energy and satisfy those carb and sugar cravings.
Many women tend to be iron deficient during their bleed, so it’s essential to eat plenty of iron-rich foods. You might also lose zinc during this phase, so including seafood or kelp in your diet can help replenish it.
How you prepare your food can also make a difference in your menstrual cycle. Eating cooked veggies and hot meals such as soups and stews will give you that comfort food effect and make digestion easier.
Foods to include during the menstrual phase:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
- Pumpkin seeds
- Grass-fed beef
- Organ meats
- Pumpkin seeds
- Kelp and nori
- Dark chocolate
How to Exercise During the Menstrual Phase
It’s essential to move your body every day of the menstrual phase. It will improve your mood and is shown to improve physical period symptoms as well.
However, how you move your body is equally important. You need to listen to your body, and if HIIT workouts or your daily run aren’t feeling, right there’s a scientific reason for it.
Studies show that adapting your workout to your menstrual phase produces better results than doing the same intense workout all month long. Plus, you’ll enjoy it more.
Since estrogen and progesterone are super low during your period, more strenuous workouts can be uncomfortable, and you might completely lack motivation (cue swapping your routine for a Netflix binge).
Instead of trying to power through the fatigue or discomfort, find a workout that supports this phase of your body. Focus on therapeutic and low-intensity movements. Stretching, yoga, Pilates, ballet, and walking are all beneficial and achievable ways to move during your period.
The time of day can also influence the effectiveness of your workout. Evenings are the best time to engage in these slow, therapeutic movements during the menstrual phase.
How the Menstrual Phase Affects Your Relationships
It’s not true for everyone, but many women notice that their relationships feel a little strained during menstruation. They might feel extra tense, even annoyed with partners, parents, co-workers, and children. If that describes you, know that you can use your menstrual phase to your advantage to strengthen your relationships.
As mentioned, menstruation is a time for self-reflection. We tend to turn inward and might find social interactions more exhausting than usual.
Use this knowledge and set aside time each month to be alone. Don’t overbook social events. Instead, schedule some self-care time. Get a massage, take a bath, or read a book. You’ll find that when you take a little extra time for yourself, you’ll better enjoy the time you spend with your partner or children.
Intimacy During the Menstrual Phase
Some women prefer to take a break from sex during this week. A little break can be restorative, especially if it makes cramps or other physical symptoms worse.
Other women enjoy sex during menstruation. They even find that orgasms during their period reduce cramping and shorten the length of their bleed. Menstrual discs are great for mess-free period sex.
These are the discs I use (and check out this blog post I recently wrote on why I like them so much)!
If you decide to take a break from sex during your bleed, replace it with extra cuddle time. Studies show that physical intimacy releases oxytocin, promoting a closer bond between you and your partner and improving your mood.
Communication During the Menstrual Phase
Whatever you decide during the menstrual phase, make sure you communicate it to your partner. The menstrual phase is often when we need to communicate the most with our partner about our emotional and physical needs and limitations.
During this time of reflection, recognize the need for some important conversations with your partner, write them down and schedule a time to talk about it during your ovulatory phase when the verbal center of your brain is the best functioning.
Embracing the Menstrual Phase
Your period doesn’t have to be a miserable week of pain and mood swings. When you support your body with the right food and restorative exercise, plan self-care and reflection, and communicate your needs to those around you, menstruation can give you powerful insight into your life.
Above all, it will give you time to rest, renew, and refocus before taking on the rest of the month. Try some of these biohacking tips to embrace your menstrual phase superpowers!
If you struggle with overwhelming emotions or painful or irregular periods, I can help. Together will make a plan to balance your hormones and tackle the root cause of your period problems. Book a call today!