Let it shine: Embracing inner summer aka the ovulatory phase

It’s been a while since I shared my experiences with menstrual cycle awareness practice and part of the reason is that it has become such a habit for me to live this way that I don’t consciously think about it as much as I used to. Menstrual cycle awareness is exactly that, living with a conscious awareness of your menstrual cycle. I’m not sure I really like the term but at least it does what it says on the tin. In their book Wild Power, Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Wurlizter use the term “Menstruality” which I also love as it brings in the elements of spirituality and mysticism which are directly tied to this practice.

Today I want to share about my experience with inner summer aka the ovulatory phase. Usually the second half of our cycle gets the most attention because PMS and difficult periods can be the most disruptive to our lives and therefore the luteal and menstrual phases are the ones we tend to focus on. Ovulation is usually forgotten about, until we decide we want to get pregnant and then it becomes the holy grail and something to be measured, analysed and hunted down. However, I think there is such a beauty in the ovulatory phase even for women like me who are not ready to have children yet, or those who have already passed this phase of life.

To begin with the science, ovulation is the process of releasing an egg from one of our ovaries. Ovulation itself can be considered as the main event of the menstrual cycle because if we do not ovulate, we do not menstruate. Yes, you can still experience a bleed during an an-ovulatory cycle but you will not be fertile and it is not considered to be a true period. To me, ovulation is the creative miracle of feminine energy and something to be celebrated. Ensuring healthy ovulation is an important part of my holistic health coaching practice as it brings so many benefits on all levels of our being: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

The ovulatory phase begins a few days before ovulation and lasts until a few days after. It can also be considered the “fertile window” for women practicing fertility awareness method as these are the days when we are most likely to get pregnant if we aren’t using contraception. At the beginning of the ovulatory phase, we are dominated by the hormone estrogen but we also experience spikes in Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinising Hormone (LH) which cause a mature egg to be released. Progesterone levels remain low until after ovulation as this hormone is released from the ovary at the site the egg was released.

Image credit: Hello Clue app

For me ovulation brings with it this sense of expansion and super-human capacities. In a good month, I can feel energised and radiant and like I can handle anything life throws at me. There is this almost fizzing creative energy where I feel inspired and have many ideas for creative projects, my business and life in general. It’s also a time when I feel most social which as an introvert I embrace whole-heartedly. Often I find being around other people exhausting and I need time to recharge afterwards but around ovulation my social capacity increases a lot! I feel like I have more energy for my close relationships and a greater capacity to put myself out there in challenging social situations.

It’s also a time when I feel my most physically attractive and confident. At this time of my cycle I love wearing clothes which feel feminine and taking the time for self-care routines which make me feel beautiful like taking time to style my hair or painting my nails. At other times in my cycle my self-care is more focused on the emotional level like meditation, journalling and relaxation. During ovulation I feel more liberated and comfortable in my body but there is also this sense of magnetism which I think runs even deeper than the physical level. I think as women we just have this energy during ovulation that attracts others, whether that is sexual partners, friends, work connections or even children.

Before I started to practice menstrual cycle awareness, I did notice these subtle differences but I didn’t understand what I was experiencing. I distinctly remember one week feeling on top of the world and the next feeling it come crashing down around me. I would wonder what was going wrong and point the finger of blame towards others or towards my own body. In reality the shifts we experience are perfectly natural and more gradual like a tide moving in and out throughout each month, the waxing and waning of the moon or the changing of the seasons. When we have present awareness and consciously go with this flow rather than fighting against it, life can be a truly beautiful experience.

Although awareness is always the best place to start, actually making lifestyle changes can be tough. One of the ongoing problems I have with this phase of my cycle is that I think that I can do it all. I start multiple projects at once and then either don’t finish them or burn myself out trying to finish what I started. I struggle to decide how to spend my energy, whether to focus on work or play. I fill up my diary for the next few weeks without realising that once my inner autumn aka pre-menstrual phase arrives I am more likely to want to chill at home with a book or spend time writing rather than going out dancing or hosting workshops. This is why using a period tracker app or calendar can be a useful tool because it helps you to think ahead and plan accordingly!

I find that channeling the increased energy of the ovulation phase into one or a few projects is the best way to feel fulfilled rather than overwhelmed by the end of the cycle. It can be extremely satisfying to see a creative project or a specific task through from start to finish over the course of the month. If we germinate ideas and set goals after our period and focus our energy throughout the cycle, we really can achieve great things. Just like we have this sense of closure and preparation for hibernation at the end of summer, it brings us a sense of fulfillment to tie up lose ends as we approach our next bleed and we can surrender to relaxation knowing that we have put our creative energy to good use.

If you are interested in learning more about living in sync with your menstrual cycle, take a look at my other posts in the menstrual cycle awareness category and definitely consider reading the book Wild Power which I recommend to all of my female health coaching clients. Discovering and syncing with this inner rhythm has helped me so much to understand and connect with my body, my feminine energy and nature itself. It’s something that is rarely talked about and we are not taught in school but yet it is a current that runs under the river of our lives and affects everything we do. Living in a female body comes with many challenges but I would never change it for the world.

Over to you…

Do you currently track your menstrual cycle? What is your experience of ovulation aka inner summer? Is it a time you are consciously aware of or would like to be in the future? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on nutrition and yoga for healthy, balanced hormones!

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

hypothalamic amenorrhea

Real health #20 Why your period is so important for your health

It’s been a while since I talked about my favourite topic.. the menstrual cycle aka your period. Specifically why your period is important for your overall health and the problems associated with not having a regular menstrual cycle. Any guys out there, maybe this isn’t the article for you but feel free to read on and you could just learn something to help the ladies in your life!

We usually think of our menstrual cycle as two phases: bleeding and not bleeding. In reality it is a menstrual cycle with levels of several reproductive hormones shifting throughout the month. The amount of these hormones your body produces is sensitive to stress, including both physical stress from under-eating and over-exercising and mental and emotional stress. When you lose your period because something is off in your lifestyle is it called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). I wrote all about this in a previous post so you can check that out if you are interested in learning more. But here I want to focus on the problems that come with not having your period.

The problems with not having a period

The most obvious reason to have a regular, healthy period is of course your fertility. The whole point of your menstrual cycle is to prepare your body for pregnancy and allow you to have a baby. If you don’t have your period, it’s very unlikely you are going to be able to get pregnant. But what if you have decided you don’t want children or you’ve already had children? It’s still important for you to have your period too! I spent many years believing it was “fine” that I didn’t have my period and it was actually pretty convenient to be honest, not to have to buy tampons, worry about getting pregnant or have my period ruining my plans but once I found out what it means to not have a period and how unhealthy it is for your body I was shocked and I wished I’d been told sooner.

One of the key hormones that drives your menstrual cycle is estrogen. Apart from it’s role in your menstrual cycle, did you know that estrogen also helps to build your bones? When women enter the menopause and stop producing estrogen they start to lose bone mineral density and are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis or brittle bones. Not having a regular period is a sign that your hormone balance is off and estrogen levels could be low. Girls who don’t have their period due to hypothalamic amenorrhea during their teenage years are at risk of developing early onset osteopenia which can lead to osteoporosis if not treated. This might not mean much when you are young but trust me, you want to make sure you are building strong bones while you can! And don’t forget that your if your bones are losing minerals then it’s highly likely that your teeth are suffering too putting you at increased risk of cavities and teeth sensitivity. Who thought that periods and teeth were related??

Another surprising link is between hypothalamic amenorrhea and heart disease. Estrogen has an anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory effect in the body and also acts as a vasodilator meaning it causes your blood vessels to expand and low levels of estrogen have been linked with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Even though most of the research is in post-menopausal women, there have also been studies linking low estrogen levels in younger women with build up of plaque in the arteries and increased risk of heart disease in later life. And yes this is even for those who exercise! You might think you are being super healthy and boosting your cardio-vascular system but if you are exercising excessively and you have lost your period then you are undoing all of that hard work. Another thing I wish I’d known about sooner..

Other problems with hypothalamic amenorrhea

Not only does hypothalamic amenorrhea put you at risk for issues later in life, it can also cause problems in the here and now. Low estrogen can also be the explanation for fatigue, headaches, low sex drive, vaginal dryness, anxiety, depression and insomnia just to name a few. And as well as your reproductive hormones, not having your period could be a sign that other things are off in your body. We often think of our body systems acting in isolation but in reality, all of these things are connected and if one falls down it can have a domino effect throughout your body.

Often women with hypothalamic amenorrhea have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol which also has been associated with bone loss as well as anxiety, insomnia and lower thyroid hormones. In hypothalamic amenorrhea, your metabolism is suppressed which could explain symptoms of hypo-thyroidism such as feeling cold all of the time, hair loss and low energy levels. Many women who develop hypothalamic amenorrhea due to restricting their food intake also experience digestive problems like bloating, stomach pain, constipation and food intolerances. If you don’t have your period and you feel like you are constantly struggling with digestive issues, then maybe the two could be related.

What should you do if you’ve lost your period?

So if you have made it to the end of this post, well done and I hope I didn’t scare you too much. If this is you, don’t worry, now you know you can do something about it! First you can read my blog posts about hypothalamic amenorrhea, how to recover and my recovery story. I’d also recommend buying the book No Period Now What by Nicola Rinaldi if you want an in depth explanation of all things hypothalamic amenorrhea related. If you need that final push to commit to getting your period back, definitely buy her book. If you think you have hypothalamic amenorrhea, visit your GP to get your hormone levels checked and Nicola also offers blood test results analysis through her website if you’re unsure. Three steps you can take right now:

  1. Eat more food and let go of any dietary rules and restrictions
  2. Take a break from intense exercise for at least a month
  3. Reduce the stress in your life and add more stress relieving activities

Easier said than done I know, but I believe in you! It’s never too late to recover your period and undo at least some of the damage to your body from hypothalamic amenorrhea. Recovery is challenging but so worth it.

References

Emma O’Donnell, Jack M. Goodman, Paula J. Harvey, Cardiovascular Consequences of Ovarian Disruption: A Focus on Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea in Physically Active Women, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 96, Issue 12, 1 December 2011, Pages 3638–3648, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-1223

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on why it’s important to have your period and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

Shufelt, C. L., Torbati, T., & Dutra, E. (2017). Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and the Long-Term Health Consequences. Seminars in reproductive medicine35(3), 256–262. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0037-1603581

How I got my period back after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

I shared a story a while ago about how I “lost” my period and got it back (see my posts here) but I finally decided to make a video about this topic as I realised just how important it is to spread this message. I don’t know whether it is just the online circles I hang around in but I feel like hormonal issues are becoming much more prevalent, especially in young women. Menstrual disorders such as Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) which is the absence of menstrual cycles due to stress or negative energy balancing in the body, are affecting more and more women as we strive to achieve the perfect body through restrictive diets and punishing exercise regimes.

I don’t think social media is helping as we now are faced with images of attractive women and messages of how to eat and exercise to stay skinny, youthful and beautiful whenever we open up our phones or computers. Often this is packaged up as health but is this truly the message being sent? I don’t think so. More like we are being shown an ideal which is unhealthy for most and unattainable for many. I’m sure that a good proportion of the women in the fitness industry are suffering inside, over exercising and restricting their diet to the point of physical deprivation and mental anxiety. Of course there are the exceptions but on the whole I think the fitness industry these days is pretty toxic.

Getting my period back after not menstruating for 8 years (!!) was a huge turning point in my life and is what sparked my passion for nutrition and yoga that I love sharing to this day. I am still interested in health, including eating well and moving my body but nowadays this is from a much more relaxed, intuitive place. I’m not fighting my body at every turn I’m just going with the flow. I am able to maintain a healthy body without depriving myself or running myself into the ground and my mind is sooo much calmer and happier for it. If you know anyone who could benefit from this message please feel free to share this video. Or if you are interested in working with me to rebalance your hormones and get healthy in a holistic, intuitive way then send me a message through the Work With Me page.

Riding the wave of inner spring

This week I have been feeling really good. After a couple of weeks of feeling tired, unmotivated and confused about everything going on in the world, I was able to rest deeply for a few days during my period and I emerged on the other side feeling fresh and ready for life again. I am on day 10 of my cycle now, so well into the follicular phase, and I am definitely feeling those inner spring vibes. If you aren’t familiar with the seasons of the cycle then watch this video and you will get the idea but I do plan to write a post about that soon (I can’t believe I haven’t already!).

I did hit a stumbling block around day 4 – I felt energised and ready to go out into the world, accidentally overdid it and had a min crash. This is the hardest part of the cycle for me.. I am definitely a “masculine energy” type of girl which is pretty common in your 20s as we just want to go out and do all the things and make our mark on the world. But the cross-over from menstruation into the follicular phase (inner winter to inner spring) needs to be navigated gently and slowly to protect and preserve our energy for the rest of the cycle. We don’t want to go from 0 to 100 in a day and totally fry our system.

Luckily this time I was able to catch it early and went back into my cave the next day to rest. After that things have been plain sailing, my energy levels and motivation have been climbing higher and higher, I have been feeling light and free, I have ticked a lot of things off my to-do list and spent time with friends and my boyfriend too without becoming overwhelmed. I even had the energy to go to the gym for the first time in months! We are moving to Greece in less than two weeks so I have been busy packing up the house, finishing off work tasks and trying to catch up with friends before I go. It’s been intense but right now I am enjoying the challenge.

Something else I have been working with this season is uncovering some old, deeply held emotions. I had my first somatic experiencing therapy session last week which was really interesting and I have had a lot to process since then. I feel like my journal has been my right arm which is unusual for me as usually I get reflective during my inner autumn and winter and neglect my journal the rest of the cycle. It’s been painful to go back and relive some old memories and actually feel the emotions rather than squash them down but I know it’s something I need to do. I have been listening to guided meditations from The Mindful Movement every day too on letting go of emotions, developing self-love and compassion and nurturing your inner child.

Inner spring is actually a great time for inner child work as we are at our most innocent and fragile at this time of our cycle and can more easily connect with the maiden archetype and our younger self. I feel at my most playful and childlike during this phase and can more easily let go of some of the seriousness of life and take things more lightly. But old childhood wounds can definitely come up too and I can be easily triggered into feeling guilt, shame or inadequacy. When I notice my inner critic rearing it’s head in my inner spring, I can question it and go into the feeling rather than beating my self up for not being good enough.

Since I have been working with my cycle in this way I have so much more acceptance and understanding of why these things come up and how to soothe myself. Not to say I don’t ever fall into the trap but I am strengthening that self-compassion muscle with every cycle that passes and feeling more confident in myself and my abilities. In Wild Power one of the tasks of the inner spring is to cherish and nurture yourself like a newly hatched chick. I love this image of a fresh new self being born out of the cosy cave of menstruation and us needing to care for it and protect it from the real world until it’s protective shield is fully formed and able to defend itself. This starts with the way we speak to ourselves so this is the time to use kind words and not beat yourself up or pressure yourself too much.

I feel like I am rambling a bit here, my energy is pretty high right now and I have lots to say! But I hope you get the idea and can relate in someway. Leave a comment if you want to share your experiences of your inner spring ❣

menstrual cycle awareness cycle tracking

My number one self-care tip for women

With my health coaching clients we look at many things that can contribute to a healthy lifestyle including nutrition, movement and stress-management. But the most important self-care tip that I recommend from day one is to start to become familiar with your menstrual cycle. This can be either through a cycle tracking app or using a regular journal.. how you do it doesn’t matter but becoming aware of your own unique hormonal cycle and how it affects you can be the key to getting your health on track.

Why? Because our hormonal fluctuations affect how we feel, think and act on a daily basis. Many of the “random” changes we see in our moods, energy levels and desires are actually related to the varying levels of hormones in our body. Our hormones affect our appetite, metabolism, social needs, sexual desires, creativity and motivation to work. Simply paying attention to these things is a mindfulness practice in itself which can help you to develop a greater awareness and connection with yourself. Understanding these fluctuations helps us to understand and work with them rather than against them and allows us to get into a healthy flow in all areas of life. You can learn to tune into what your body needs as you move through your cycles which in turn can help you to make changes in other areas of your lifestyle.

For example with nutrition, you might be wondering why you do great on your new diet for a couple of weeks and then “fall off the wagon” and want to eat everything in sight.  This often occurs when we ignore our natural appetite and try to force ourselves to eat a certain amount or certain types of foods which go against our cravings. When we can learn to listen to what our body is asking for at different times of the month we can develop a more flexible approach to our diet and naturally lose weight if that is our goal. Or you might notice that some days your digestion is perfect after eating all the veg and other days you feel bloated and gassy after a few pieces of broccoli.

Trying to adopt a fixed diet plan of eating the same number of calories and types of foods day in day out just doesn’t suit our feminine nature. And if we don’t allow ourselves the freedom to “go with the flow” we can end up working against rather than with our bodies and always wonder where we are going wrong. Menstrual cycle awareness can help us to understand what we need and to be kinder to ourselves when our cravings don’t match what we think is the “perfect diet”.

It’s the same with moving our bodies. Ever wondered why some days you can’t wait to get outside to walk or run or feel exhilarated after hours of dancing and other days you want to curl up on the sofa or just need a good stretch? Obviously there are lots of things that impact your energy levels and motivation to move your body but your hormonal cycle also plays a role here too. We are naturally more energetic in the first half of our cycle and higher intensity exercise might be exactly what we need but this doesn’t mean we have to push ourselves all month long.

Using your journal to track how you feel throughout your cycle: what your energy levels are like, what activities you feel like doing and how you feel after any exercise you do is the first step in developing an exercise program that works for you and your body. Despite the adverts that show women can “do it all whilst bleeding”, you aren’t lazy if you choose to take a rest day (or 3) while you are on your period. It’s perfectly natural to want to rest and recover during this time. On the other hand, you might find that you love gentle yoga or some other type of exercise as it helps ease period pains. There is no one size fits all approach here!

So grab yourself a journal or download one of the many apps and have a go at tracking your menstrual cycle for a few months. If nothing else it will give  you a few minutes each day to check in with yourself, ask how you are feeling and what you need.. at best it could be the key to developing a personalised self care plan for yourself and taking your health and wellness to the next level!

 

 

 

journalling menstrual cycle awareness self care practice

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post on my number one self-care tip for women. Let me know in the comments if you try it out or if you already track your cycle.

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on holistic health, menstrual cycle awareness and hormone balancing
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

Other posts you might like

what to eat during the ovulatory phase - fresh fruit berries

What to eat during the ovulatory phase

Final post in the how to eat to support your menstrual cycle series! This time we are looking at the ovulatory phase aka the “inner summer”. 

What is ovulation? When is the ovulatory phase?

For those who enjoy being active and productive, ovulation can be the phase of the cycle where you feel most at home. For others, the high energy can be overwhelming and unsteadying and hormone imbalances may cause symptoms such as acne or anxiety. But whatever your experience, nourishing your body with the right foods can bring balance and harmony.

Once we finish bleeding, our hormones and energy levels steadily rise during the follicular phase and peak around ovulation. At this time we experience a surge in estrogen as well as luteinizing hormone which causes our ovary to release an egg. For a 28 day cycle, ovulation typically occurs at the mid point of the cycle, around day 14. Depending on your unique cycle, the ovulatory phase itself can begin a couple of days before ovulation and last for 4-7 days.

What is the ovulatory phase diet?

The ovulatory phase diet is designed to:

  • Help you to feel fresh and light in your body
  • Support your natural detoxification processes
  • Flush out excess estrogen from your system
  • Cool your body during this “hot” phase of the cycle

How much should I eat during the ovulatory phase? What to eat during the ovulatory phase?

Similar to the follicular phase, around ovulation we usually have more energy and need less support from heavier calorie dense foods. What we want here is nutrient dense foods like fruits and veggies, lighter grains and proteins. Up until ovulation, we are still in the “yin energy” part of our cycle meaning that cooling, water rich foods will help to support our body. Juicy fruits, fresh salad greens and herbs are all great at this time. The fibre in these foods will also help to keep your digestive system moving and flush out any excess estrogen which can lead to symptoms such as acne showing up at this time. Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and kale are the best for clearing out estrogen.

Now is a time to choose lighter ways to prepare your food such as steaming and include more raw foods. Think about the types of foods you might crave in actual summer! Big rainbow salads and smoothies are great at this time to provide our bodies with all the nutrients it needs and to help with detox and cleansing of the system. If you live in a cold climate, your digestion can’t handle too many raw foods or you just don’t enjoy them, go for lighter soups or salads with lightly cooked veggies instead and you will still get all of the health benefits. Raw fruits are amazing as snacks just check whatever is in season locally to save money and maximise health benefits.

We need less of the density from fats and proteins during this time but it is still important to include them in your diet. Think cold pressed oils on a salad or seeds sprinkled on a soup during the winter. If you want to experiment with a plant-based or vegan diet, ovulation is a good time to give it a go or for a mini-cleanse each month to give your system a break from animal products. You could get your protein from the veggies you are eating plus beans and seeds such as pumpkin and flax seeds. Otherwise, white meat and yoghurt are good sources of protein for the ovulatory phase.

What are the best foods to support ovulation?

My top recommendations:

  • Fruits – berries, citrus
  • Veggies – salads, tomatoes, spinach, asparagus, peppers, courgette
  • Carbs – quinoa, sweetcorn, wheat (small amounts)
  • Proteins – white meat, yogurt, beans, pumpkin/flax seeds
  • Fats – nuts and seeds especially pumpkin and flax seeds

Meal ideas for the ovulatory phase

Any finally some examples of some easy meals for inspiration. Some of these are repeated from my last post and that’s because there are no fixed phases of the cycle.. in reality they flow from one to the next and aren’t clearly defined. The most important thing is to learn to tune into your body and see what it needs each day.

  • Fresh fruit salad – strawberries are great during this phase. Add ground seeds for some healthy fats and proteins
  • Zuccini noodles aka “zoodles” with creamy or tomato based sauce
  • Pasta salad with peas and green beans

Foods to avoid during ovulation

In the same way as during the follicular phase, we can also consume less fatty foods during this time to give our digestive system a break and choose healthy plant fats such as avocado, seeds and olive oil. Save the roasted foods or higher fat animal products for later in the cycle when you might need that comfort and warmth. Experiment with cooking styles that feel light and fresh in your body and keep it simple! Enjoy the natural tastes of plant foods without too many added condiments and spices and this can be a great time to connect with nature and re-sensitise your taste buds each month.

Over to you…

I hope this article gave you some inspiration on how to eat to feel fresh and light during the ovulatory phase! If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below. Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on how to eat to support your menstrual cycle.

  • Tell me in the comments below what are your favourite foods or meals to eat during this part of your cycle?
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

Other posts you might like

What to eat during the follicular phase

Next in the nutrition for healthy hormones series is the follicular phase or the “inner spring” of your cycle. Learn how to eat during this phase to support your body and to feel light and fresh as you move into a new cycle.

What is the follicular phase?

The follicular phase is the part of the cycle after you finish bleeding and lasts till ovulation, usually around 7-10 days depending on your individual cycle. Women’s experience of this part of the cycle can be really different. For some women who have a rough time during the luteal and menstrual phases with a lot of PMS symptoms, heavy bleeding or intense cramps can find the follicular phase a relief and like they are “back to normal”. For women who don’t or can’t allow themselves to rest during their bleed, they might come into this phase feeling drained and exhausted. For me, the follicular phase changes a lot each month but often feels kind of like I am ungrounded and I can’t feel into my cycle like I can in other phases. The book Wild Power explains this really well and the reasons it can happen.

What is the follicular phase diet?

After our period we can change up the way we eat to help us to:

  • Boost estrogen production
  • Support egg maturation and healthy ovulation
  • Feel light, fresh and vibrant
  • Promote gut health and detoxification

How much should I eat during the follicular phase?

Physically, this is a time when our energy is rising again along with all of our sex hormones.  After menstruation when warming, comforting foods support us really well, we naturally crave fresher, lighter foods like we tend to do in spring season! So think lots of fruits and vegetables either raw, lightly steamed or stir fried. Salads and smoothies are great (unless you live in a super cold climate that is). Our metabolism is lowered slightly which I know sounds counter-intuitive when we feel more energetic but actually our body is doing less work than in the later parts of the cycle and so we don’t need as much of a boost from heavier grains and can go for lighter carbs such as quinoa or corn.

On the other hand, this natural energy boost might mean you feel like exercising more than usual and in that case make sure you are listening to your body and fueling yourself properly. Cycle syncing your diet should feel natural so if it feels like you are forcing yourself to eat less during this time, take a step back and listen to what your body needs. By eating less energy-dense foods and using lighter cooking methods, you will already be lowering your calorie intake so you might need to eat a larger volume of food to feel satisfied. Trust that your body knows what it needs and you can go with the flow.

What to eat during follicular phase of your cycle?

Estrogen starts to gradually rise during the follicular phase, bringing with it higher energy levels, positive mood and rising libido. So the follicular phase is a good time to boost it with some natural sources of phytoestrogens such as such as soy milk and tofu. Phyto-estrogens are plant-based compounds which mimic estrogen within the body and are found in small quantities in many plant-based foods such as vegetables and legumes. You don’t want to overeat them all throughout your cycle as this could disrupt hormonal balance but consuming them during the follicular phase works well with your natural rhythms.

Fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut are another source of phytoestrogens which are also a good source of healthy pro-biotics. It is a good idea to take care of your gut health during the follicular phase to help to eliminate waste, toxins and excess hormones hanging around in the system. Include pro-biotic “good bacteria” foods such as yogurt or kefir or supplement with pro-biotics. Then make sure you’re feeding those bacteria by eating plenty of pre-biotic foods such as asparagus, artichoke, banana and flax seeds and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy, happy gut. Having a good balance of bacteria in the gut helps you to digest and absorb more nutrients from the food that you eat and also to flush out excess hormones from the body.

Spring is seen as a time of cleansing and renewal. During the follicular phase or our “inner spring” our bodies are also ready to cleanse and detox. In traditional Chinese medicine, the follicular phase is a “yin” energy part of the cycle meaning light, cooling, water-like. After a week or more of focusing on heavier foods and higher fat and protein during menstruation, you can now start to really support the liver by eating lots of detoxifying fruits, veggies, lighter leafy greens and fresh herbs rather than spices. Citrus is also great for detoxifying the body and flushing out the system so enjoy lemon water, oranges or grapefruits, especially first thing in the morning after your body has been cleansing and processing over night.

During the follicular phase you can experiment with eating lighter protein sources such as chicken or white fish rather than red meat or oily fish. Eggs are also an excellent vegetarian source of protein and vitamin D which supports healthy ovulation and fertility, especially in women with PCOS. For vegans, tofu and soy-products are a great option at this time as well as peas and sprouts.

My top recommendations:

  • Fruits – lemons, oranges, grapefruits, limes, avocado
  • Greens – lettuce (romaine, cos), baby spinach, fresh herbs such as parsley, coriander, dill
  • Veggies – courgette, peppers, green beans, broccoli, carrots
  • Grains – corn, quinoa, cous cous
  • Proteins – tofu, eggs, white fish, chicken, peas, sprouts

Meals for the follicular phase

As always I recommend keeping it simple and making a plate or bowl by combining foods from each of these categories but if you love cooking and trying new recipes then go for it! The only thing I would recommend is to go light when cooking with oil here. If you do want to use oil for stir frying etc. go for a small amount of coconut or sesame oil or for salads a small drizzle of olive oil is perfect. But save the heavier roasted foods for later in the cycle when your body will thank you for it. And finally some examples of meals for the follicular phase:

  • Fresh fruit salad with yoghurt – whatever is in season is best
  • Lentil salad with yellow peppers and pumpkin seeds with balsamic olive oil dressing
  • Tofu or egg stir fry with peppers, broccoli, mung bean sprouts

Over to you…

I hope this article gave you some inspiration on how to eat to feel fresh and light during the follicular phase! If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below. Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on how to eat to support your menstrual cycle.

  • Tell me in the comments below what are your favourite foods or meals to eat during this part of your cycle?
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

Other posts you might like

Sources

Abuzeid Y. 2020. Impact of Vitamin D Deficiency on Reproductive Outcome in Infertile Anovulatory Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Literature Review. Current Developments in Nutrition. 4

In the Flo by Alissa Vitti 2020

what to eat on your period - chocolate smoothie hemp seeds

What to eat during your period/menstrual phase

I got a lot of positive feedback on my last post about how to eat to optimise the pre-menstrual phase so I thought I’d carry on to the other phases of the cycle. Next up is the bleed itself.. the menstrual phase.

What is the menstrual phase?

Your period represents the start of a new cycle and it’s usually around 5-7 days.  At this point all of our sex hormones are at their lowest point and our core body temperature drops again. We often have low energy during this part of our cycle, we might have physical symptoms such as pain, bloating and fatigue as well as psychological symptoms such as feeling low or anxious. This is unique to YOU though! Some women actually really enjoy this phase as it can be extremely nurturing and a time to relax and reflect.

What is the period diet plan?

The period diet plan is designed to:

  • Support the blood building process with minerals
  • Provide enough energy and nutrients whilst being easy on digestion
  • Reduce inflammation to minimise painful cramps
  • Keep your body warm during this “cold” phase of the cycle

Why do you eat more on your period?

It’s not actually clear if women do get hungrier during menstruation, it really depends on the woman! Some women find they are extremely hungry in the days before their period and once they start to bleed their appetite drops off a cliff. Those who experience bloating or digestive issues might find they feel very full around this time of the month and don’t get as hungry. Others have more cravings during this time and tend to eat more, especially sweet stuff.

Scientifically, our metabolism drops slightly after being higher for the last couple of weeks. Often we are less active but we still need to eat to make sure we are supporting our body and restocking our nutrient stores for the cycle ahead. The best thing to do is to listen to your body and if you are hungrier than usual, try to nourish your body with healthy foods as much as you can. If you aren’t hungry, don’t worry you will make up for it sometime in your next cycle – this is the beauty of cycle syncing your diet!

What should you eat on your period? Carbs, fats, proteins?

The way I recommend to eat during your period is slightly different as our bodies go through a huge shift at this time. The key macro-nutrients we need at this times are fats and proteins which are the building blocks for repair of our tissues. Now is the time to get those omega-3 fats in as these are anti-inflammatory and have been shown to reduce menstrual pain. Think eggs and oily fish such as sardines and salmon for non-vegans or seeds such as chia and hemp for anyone on a plant based diet. These foods will also provide complete proteins which supports healthy hormone production – win, win! Other great sources of plant-based proteins are lentils, kidney and black beans. A cup of black beans contains 14g of protein, 22% of your daily iron and 10% of your daily calcium needs.

As well as oily fish, other seafoods such as mussels, squid and oysters are great to eat during menstruation as they If you don’t consume seafood, I recommend adding some sea vegetables or seaweed into your diet during this phase to boost your iodine and zinc levels, nutrients are used up during menstruation and they are more difficult to get in on a plant-based diet. You can try nori sheets in sushi rolls or add kelp or dulse flakes to any savory dish. If you have access to an Asian supermarket you will find lots of other sea vegetables to experiment with.

We still need a good source of carbs in our diet although maybe not as much as in the pre-menstrual phase as we are more in the rebuilding phase, turning our energy inwards rather than outwards. Dried fruits such as prunes, figs, apricots and dates can be really good as they provide a source of potassium and other minerals to help with muscle cramps and support building of the blood. A 100g serving of dried apricots can provide 15% of your daily iron needs too! Dried fruits are also more dense and less water rich than other fruits which means you can take in more calories with a smaller volume of food, great if you have little appetite and are struggling to meet your daily energy needs

I still recommend including grains and complex carbs in your diet but going for lighter options such as sweet potatoes or buckwheat and leaning more towards the proteins and fats during this phase. If you struggle with digestion during this time, choosing more processed grains such as white rice and pasta might feel better than wholegrain options during the menstrual phase (bet you never thought you’d hear a nutritionist say that!)

What foods should you eat on your period?

My recommendations for the best foods to eat during your period:

  • Proteins – lentils, kidney/black beans, red meat, eggs, oily fish
  • Seeds – pumpkin, flax, hemp or chia seeds
  • Veggies – sea vegetables, dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, chard, beetroot and mushrooms
  • Fruit – dense fruits such as bananas, dates and antioxidant rich dark fruits such as blueberries, blackberries and cherries
  • Chocolate or cacao!

Making soups or stews with veggies, carbs and proteins is a really good way to eat during your period as these are super warming and nourishing and easier on the digestion. Especially if you feel bloated or have slower digestion during your menstrual phase, this can be a really nice way to eat. You can also include warming spices such as chili, cinnamon and cloves. Menstruation is the “inner winter” of our cycle so think about the ways you eat during the outer season of winter and you’ll be on the right track.

Why do you crave chocolate on your period?

We need minerals such as iron, magnesium and calcium to rebuild the blood and reduce muscle cramping which causes period pains. My favourite source of magnesium and iron is chocolate! Go for good quality dark chocolate or add cacao/cocoa powder to oats, smoothies or hot chocolate to satisfy chocolate cravings and get a boost of feel good neurotransmitters. I love treating myself with chocolate based meals during my period as it just cheers me up and makes me feel like a queeeen.

We can get also iron from plant-based sources such as beans/lentils, blackstrap molasses and vegetables such as beetroot or from red meat including as beef and lamb. When we think of calcium most people think of milk, cheese and yogurt but I actually don’t recommend dairy products for women with hormonal imbalances. Other sources of calcium are green veggies such as kale, broccoli and spinach as well as fortified non-dairy milks, tofu and sesame seeds or tahini.

What foods should you avoid during your period?

Another question is what should you not eat on your period? Even though its tempting to give in to cravings for sweet and fatty foods during this time (especially when we feel low and need a boost!) try to nourish your body with healthy foods first and have these small treats on the side. There is no such thing as good and bad foods but some foods will support you more than others and help to reduce symptoms and help you to feel better if you are struggling during this phase.

Same goes for stimulants and relaxants such as caffeine and alcohol. They can help you to feel better in the short term but they can leave you feeling worse afterwards. Using coffee to power through when our bodies are crying out for rest will only dig us deeper into that energy deficit. It’s much better to give your body the rest it needs, even if its only a 10 minute nap, than carry on regardless and end up crashing later. I am speaking from experience here and its a hard lesson to learn! I recommend not to drink coffee during your period, or to switch to decaf

Over to you…

I hope you found this article helpful to learn how to nourish your body and feel better during your menstrual phase! If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below. Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on how to eat to support your menstrual cycle.

  • Tell me in the comments below what are your favourite foods or meals to eat during this part of your cycle? I’d love to know what is your best way to eat chocolate on your period?
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

Other posts you might like

Sources

Skolmowska, D., & Głąbska, D., (2019). Analysis of the possibility to compensate menstrual blood loss in young Polish women by the dietary iron intake. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 78

Rahbar N., Asgharzadeh N. & Ghorbani R., (2012). Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on intensity of primary dysmenorrhea. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics. 117(1)

Mahmoud, A. Makhdoom A. et al. 2014. Association between menstrual disturbances and habitual use of caffeine. Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences. 9(4).

Why have my periods stopped and how do fix it?

If you haven’t read my “Why am I so interested in hormones?” series (linked at the bottom of this post), see here for my story on how I lost my period and my journey to getting healthy again. Here I will share what  learned about why our periods can stop and how to get it back for those of you who want to know exactly what to do.

For those who don’t have PCOS or any physical or structural issue with their reproductive system, it is often a condition called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) that leads to absent menstrual cycles and missing periods. What I have found from working with and speaking to other women is that everybody’s situation is different but it is 99% of the time a combination of the points below. If you have already recovered your period and it has gone awry again, come back to these basics and I’m sure you will find somewhere you can realign.

Can diet cause missing periods?

Food and nutrition play a major role in our hormonal (and general) health. If we are not eating enough to fuel our bodies over a period of time, our brain registers that there isn’t enough energy coming in and decides to shut down some unnecessary functions in order to preserve energy.  This includes our menstrual cycle but can also lead to other symptoms which come along with HA such as feeling tired and cold all of the time, hair thinning, digestive issues and poor muscle recovery.

If you have been trying to lose weight for many months or years and notice any of the above symptoms it is a good idea for you to reconsider your diet. You are likely in “starvation mode” which is a state of reduced metabolism and limited bodily functions. If this is you, what should you do? EAT THE FOOD! Eat as much as your body is asking for with no restrictions. Eat carbs, fats and proteins. Eat both “healthy foods” and “fun foods”. I know this is easier said than done and I will go into the mental and emotional aspects of this in another post but for now I will just say that you need to nourish your body with good food and lots of it.

diet and hypothalamic amenorrhea

 Can exercise cause missing periods?

Simply put, yes too much exercise can stop periods. It is fairly common for female athletes or very active women to lose their period. This can be due to an energy deficit if she is not eating enough to fuel the exercise she is doing. Or it can be due to stress on the body from too high frequency or intensity of exercise. The fitness industry is huge these days and it is not unusual for women to be running or doing HIIT workouts on a daily basis. Social media these days is full of images of lean women with abs and defined muscles but this is far from the ideal fertile body for many women. Exercise supports our cardiovascular and muscular systems but like anything, too much can be unhelpful. As women, we need a certain amount of body fat to maintain our reproductive systems and therefore a healthy period.

If this sounds like you, what can you do? If you are serious about recovering your hormonal health I would strongly recommend taking a break from intense exercise for a few months. Keep movement to a minimum only light walking and stretching, yoga or any other gentle activity you enjoy. Not only will this help to balance your hormones but it will give your body a chance to repair any muscle and tissue damage caused by over-exercising and help you to come back stronger than ever.

walk

Can being under weight cause missing periods? Can weight loss cause skipped periods?

This one really goes with the above two points but I will say it as a separate point just to be clear. Our bodies have a “set point weight” at which they are happy and healthy. However many women today are pursuing an unhealthy ideal due to images in the media of skinny, sexy women. The truth is, we don’t know the full story and many of these women are harming their body to look this way, despite looking healthy on the outside. The majority of women need to be at the “fertile BMI” of 22-23 to have a healthy period but of course some women will menstruate at a lower weight than this and others will need to reach a BMI of 25+. This all depends on your genetic tendencies and history of dieting and over-exercising.

So if you don’t get a regular period and you are not already in the healthy BMI range of 20-25, considering gaining weight is an absolute must. Follow the above diet and exercise recommendations and allow your body to reach what it considers to be a healthy weight. It may be that your body needs to sit slightly above this range to feel safe and you will need to learn to be ok with that. Really start to reflect on your beliefs around body image and reprogram your brain to disassociate health and weight loss. Of course, this is easier said than done and may take some time but it will be totally worth it when you have a natural, regular cycle again.

low body weight and hypothalamic amenorrhea

Can stress cause missing periods?

Finally, but no less important, is stress! Some women are not dieting or over-exercising but lose their period anyway due to an extremely stressful event in their life or to a lifestyle which leads to chronic low level stress on a daily basis. This doesn’t have to be anything extreme but can be a typical busy lifestyle of having a full time job, active social life and looking after a family. Again, the hypothalamus, detects stress as a threat which can cause it to shut down our fertility system until it feels safe again. Unfortunately, many of us live our lives in this chronically stressed fight-or-flight state which means that our bodies never truly feel safe.

yoga

Of course it’s not always possible to drop everything and walk off into the sunset to recover our cycles! So what can you do to reduce stress? Start by reflecting on your lifestyle and eliminate any unnecessary sources of stress. This could include saying yes to things when you mean no, worrying excessively over things that are not important in the grand scheme of life or being perfectionistic or over-critical of yourself. It can also include over-use of stimulants such as caffeine which fire up your nervous system and can lead to to spending all day in a state of urgency. The second thing is to allow yourself to get into a calm state every day. Mindful breathing, meditation, baths, calming music can all help to drop out of “fight or flight” and into “rest and digest” mode allowing your body to enter a state of deep relaxation.

This is a huge topic so that’s all I will say for now. Spend some time reflecting on these four areas of your life and see if you can identify what may be preventing your hormones functioning as they should. I understand you completely if you feel like your body is broken and this can’t work for you but if I managed to recover my cycles after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and have maintained healthy cycles for over 3 years then anyone can do it!

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and you now understand some of the factors which can cause your periods to go missing. Like this post and follow my blog for more on HA recovery, healthy hormones and holistic health. Please share your experience below I’d love to hear from you!

  • Let me know in the comments, which of the above factors do you think is the most important for you?
  • If you are looking for support, guidance and accountability on your period recovery journey, please contact me for further information on the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer. Together we will set you up with a plan to get your hormones balanced and you feeing your best mentally and physically.

Other posts you might like

Why am I so interested in hormones? Part 3 – recovery, relapse, repeat

Continuing from my last post.. I started working with an online coach to heal my PCOS. Through working with her I started to uncover all sorts of ideas around my relationship to food and exercise and how it had impacted my body. Even though I was still very restrictive in my food choices I was eating a lot more and really cut down on my exercise routine. Over time, I started to doubt my diagnosis. I didn’t have any of the symptoms of high “male hormones” and just didn’t seem to fit the profile for PCOS. Eventually, I had the confidence to go and see another doctor and ask for further tests. I had some blood tests which confirmed my testosterone levels were normal and a second ultrasound scan which showed my ovaries were totally normal too. So I was “undiagnosed” from PCOS!

But I still didn’t have a period..

I continued researching trying to figure out what was going on and eventually I came across something called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). This is basically the loss of menstrual cycle due to physical or emotional stress. Finally something that seemed to make sense! It pointed at 4 basic causes:

  1. Under-eating
  2. Over- exercising
  3. Maintaining a low body weight
  4. Stress/anxiety

Over the next few months I found various people speaking about this online who I can’t thank enough for opening up this world to me. Especially Nicola Rinaldi and This Girl Audra whose books No Period Now What and Get Your Period Handbook really helped me to figure out a path out of this mess i’d got myself into. And this is where my relationship with my hormones started to shift from one of fear, panic and confusion to a softer, kinder understanding. I finally accepted that I needed a complete lifestyle overhaul if I wanted to heal and that my idea of healthy was totally warped and influenced by the diet and fitness industry.

I took an “all in” approach to healing my hormones where for a few months I did zero exercise, ate as much as I wanted (which was a lot!) and tried to reduce stress as much as possible. And in March 2016, at age 23, I finally got my period back. It wasn’t an easy journey, I had to gain weight which was something that terrified me and I had to totally rewire my brain and tackle disordered eating thoughts that had become so automatic that I didn’t even notice them anymore and just thought they were part of me. I had many fear foods and food rules to overcome and constantly doubted that what I was doing.

But I continued and since then I have been so aware of my cycle and grateful each month that I get my period. I was so amazed by the female body that I continued to read and learn about how to maintain balance and work with my hormonal cycle. I read Woman Code by Alicia Vritti and Wild Power by Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Wurlizter and these became my handbooks for life. I started to experiment with cycle tracking and cycle syncing and I have been doing this now for a couple of years. I am still learning but honestly I am completely fascinated and in awe by the magic of our hormones. I realised just how powerful they are in affecting the way we feel and show up in the world and the importance of working with our cyclic rhythm rather than against it.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing, I have relapsed several times in the last 3 years. Stressful periods at work and in life have triggered my “eating disorder brain” and resulted in me restricting food groups, creating food rules, tracking my calories and falling back into obsessive exercise in an attempt to change my body. These things help me feel in control and give me something to focus on when life gets too much to handle. But now I have my period as my “fifth vital sign” and any time it goes awry I know I need to re-evaluate and get myself back on track. I think it is something that I will always have to be mindful of, like many others who have struggled with disordered eating. However, I will never go back to the destructive habits that used to be my life.

During this time cycle tracking and syncing has been a key spiritual practice for me, helping me to learn more about my self and get closer to nature. I am still working on putting things I am learning into practice, especially as cycle syncing is not easy in the world we live in. But I keep going and I am excited to share my experiences on this blog. I hope this answers the question of why I am so interested in hormones, after the last 10 years I feel like its impossible for me not to be!