Inversions and the menstrual cycle

Today I am on day 9 of my menstrual cycle. I finished bleeding on day 5 so I am now into the follicular phase or “inner spring” of my cycle. For the last few days my yoga practice has included lots of inversions which is an amazing way to rebalance the body after your period.

What exactly are inversions? Inversions are any yoga pose where your hips are lifted higher than your head. This includes bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), downward facing dog (Ardo Mukha Svanasana) and more advanced asana such as plough (halasana), headstand (Sirsasana) and shoulderstand (Savangasana). There are also supported versions of these poses using yoga blocks, bolsters or a wall to make the postures more accessible for beginners or for days when you just need that extra bit of support.

Why are inversions beneficial for the body? Inverting the body boosts blood flow to the head, bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients into the brain. This promotes optimal function of the thyroid, parathyroid, pineal and pituitary glands and helps to balance and strengthen the entire hormonal system. Inversions also counter-act the effects of gravity on the body which can have anti-aging effects and prevent varicose veins forming in the legs by improving flow of blood and lymph. They improve circulation throughout the body, relieving fatigue and improving digestion and elimination. When practiced with presence and focus, inversions can super charge the brain, eliminating fatigue and nervous exhaustion and bringing a sense of stillness and peace. Including inversions as part of an evening yoga practice helps to calm the mind, reducing stress and promote restful sleep.

What are the pre-cautions for inversions?

  • You shouldn’t practice inversions during menstruation (aka the bleeding days of your cycle). This is because it disrupts the natural downwards flow of energy or “apana” in the pelvis and lower abdomen which promotes elimination of blood from the body. Practicing inversions during your period can cause backflow of blood into the uterus which can increase the risk of endometriosis. This is questioned by modern science but in my opinion it is safer to go with the natural flow of your body and not take the risk.
  • Do not practice inversions such as headstand or shoulderstand if you have neck injuries or eye/sinus issues such as a detached retina or ear infection as you are putting excess strain on these areas. You should always listen to your body and if you want to include inversions in your practice you can choose alternatives such as downward facing dog, bridge pose or legs up the wall (I always recommend this one for any severe condition) which still bring most of the benefits of the more advanced postures.
  • I do not recommend inversions if you have a headache, nausea or diarrhoea. These poses can help to balance the body and act as a preventative but if you are actively suffering from any of these issues you should wait until you feel better before practicing any strenuous yoga and particularly inverted poses.
  • Finally, you should always make sure you warm up the body properly and practice preparation poses to allow the body to open up before moving into more advanced postures. Always listen to your body, be kind and work within your limits, challenging your body to improve over time but without forcing and risking injury.

When is the best time in the cycle to practice inversions? Inversions can be practiced any time during the menstrual cycle except during your period. For maximum benefits, your yoga practice in the few days after you finish bleeding should be focused on inverted postures. This will stabilise and rebalance your bodily systems and help the nervous system recover from menstruation. It will boost circulation around your reproductive organs, support relaxation of your womb after it has been working hard, contracting to release blood during your period. Inverting the body during this time will also stimulate the pituitary gland which controls the release of FSH (the hormone responsible for maturing eggs in your ovaries) and after several consecutive cycles can help to regularise your cycle and support fertility. You can then include inversions as part of a balanced yoga practice throughout the month to improve strength and flexibility in the body and mind.

Example sequence including inversions (for intermediate students)

Opening sequence: Warming up and awakening the body

  • Extended child’s pose (30 seconds)
  • Cat cow tilts (explore for 1 minute)
  • Downward facing dog (30-60 seconds)
  • Standing forward fold (1-2 minutes)

Main sequence: Supporting menstrual rhythm

  • Supported headstand using wall (1-5 minutes)
  • Supported headstand – Wide legs variation (10-20 seconds)
  • Supported headstand – Butterfly legs variation (10-20 seconds)
  • Extended child’s pose (30 seconds)

Finishing sequence: Recover and calm the mind

  • Bridge pose with arm variations (1-2 minutes)
  • Plough pose (1-3 minutes)
  • Supported shoulderstand (1-3 minutes)
  • Legs up the wall and wide leg variation (5 minutes)
  • Reclining butterfly pose (1-5 minutes)

In the video below I summarise the information on inversions and the menstrual cycle and demonstrate the sequence above. Let me know if you try out any of these postures or if you are already including inversions in your yoga practice and noticing the benefits. If you are interested in 1-2-1 or group yoga sessions (currently online only) you can send me a message through the “Work with Me” tab at the top of this page ♥️

References
The Women’s Yoga Book by Bobby Clennell (2011)
Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Eric Schiffmann (1996)
Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes by Mark Stephens (2012)

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 ❣

How to reduce stress and balance your hormones

We all know by now that stress plays a major role in our overall health. Stress has been linked to diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and most definitely to hormone related conditions such as PCOS and hypothalamic amenorrhea. Managing stress and calming down your nervous system is so important for healing from any physical condition. Hopefully this post will offer you some tips on how to manage stress in your life and support your healing journey.

1. Reduce the external stressors

With the world we live it today it can feel impossible to reduce stress.. how can we be calm when we have so many demands on our time, high pressure jobs, children to look after, financial worries, family emergencies. The first thing I will say is that you will never be able to reduce all stresses in your life. Even if you disappear to a remote island you will find something to stress and worry about if this is the tendency you have. However, it’s still a good idea to take a good look at your life and see if there are any areas where you can reduce the load.

Practising minimalism can be a really good way to do this. I don’t mean to sell all of your possessions and go couch surfing but by focusing on things that really bring value to your life and forgetting the rest you can really reduce financial and time pressures and in turn reduce the stresses in your life. This can be material possessions.. maybe you have a lot of clothes, products or clutter in your house that could benefit from a good clear out. But it can also relate to non-material things such as activities or habits that don’t bring you joy, obligations that you stick to to keep others happy even if you don’t have the time or the resources, time wasted on social media or other technology. Simplify your life as much as possible and make sure that you are spending time doing things you love every day.

2. Reduce the internal stressors

Much of our worries actually come from beliefs and thoughts that we are constantly running through our minds. Around 95% of our thoughts each day are the same as the day before and too many of them are negative thought loops that we get trapped in without realising. Our brains cycle through all our various worries and it seems like there is no escape. Actually there is a way out and it starts with awareness. Are you conscious of the thoughts you are thinking on a daily basis or have they become so ingrained that you don’t even notice them? This is where a meditation practice an come in really handy.

Many people think that to meditate “properly” you have to be able to empty your mind of all thoughts and give up quickly when this seems like an impossible task. But when you approach meditation from the angle of observing your thoughts and watching where your mind goes when it isn’t distracted, it becomes a tool of self-discovery and you will likely start to see the same repetitive thoughts popping up. Much of it will be mundane stuff such as what you will have for dinner tonight, work tasks or chores that need doing etc. But some will be darker.. maybe some criticism of yourself, anger towards someone in your life, feelings of failure or regrets of decisions you have made in the past.

Get yourself a journal and start to write down thoughts that come up for you. Once you are aware of them you can start to question.. “Does this serve me?”, “Would I feel better without this thought?” This will create space for you to let go of some of your worries and start to ask yourself “What can I replace this thought with?” “What would a more helpful thing to say to myself right now?”. You won’t be able to change your thoughts over night as most of them are habitual and happen without us even realising, but you can make a start and over time things will get better

3. Get yourself into the relaxation state

This is a really important one. Many of us think we are relaxing because we do chilled out activities such as watching TV, reading or writing in a journal. These things might make us feel calm in the moment but if our brains are still active and we are just distracting ourselves, we are often not truly activating the “rest and relaxation” pathways of our nervous system. I really recommend for everyone, especially those on a healing journey, to focus on getting into a deep relaxation state on a daily basis. This means allowing your body and mind to sit back from the stresses of life and melt into pure bliss.

I find guided relaxation tapes really useful for this and relaxing music or delta brainwave frequencies can also work really well Get yourself some headphones, find a comfy space to lie down and block out the world for 20-30 minutes. Focus on letting go of any tension in your body and allow yourself to be held and supported. Notice if your brain feels too “switched on” and try to create some space for you to surrender your stresses for a while. There are hundreds of these available on Youtube but I have shared 3 of my favourites from The Mindful Movement channel below.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post of how to reduce stress and balance your hormones.

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on dealing with stress 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

Emotions in motion

As I am writing this, I am on cycle day 33 and expecting to start my period any day. I can feel it coming in my physical, mental and emotional body. The last few days I have been feeling really lethargic and unmotivated, my body aches and even an hour walk left me in need of a nap. I’ve been feeling everything.. fear and anxiety around COVID19 situation and the future state of the world, uncertainty about how life will look in a years’ time, loneliness from not being able to see my family and boyfriend and the majority of my social connections being through electronic devices, boredom and frustration at not being able to go out and do things in the way I used to.

Not that I haven’t been feeling these things for a while, but at this time of the month they are so much more intense! It’s tempting to just distract from these things with TV or social media (and sometimes I do fall into that trap) but I know it’s also important to sometimes just feel things and let them pass in their own time. So I have been spending time just chilling these last few days, taking slow walks, lying on my bed listening to music and practicing gentle yoga. I realised that emotions aren’t static but they come in waves. If I watch them and make space for them then they move through pretty quickly. If I fight them and try to force myself to be productive or to engage with people when I’m not feeling like it then the mood can stick around all day.

After practicing menstrual cycle awareness for a few years, I know that the pre-menstruum is the time to surrender and let all of these emotions run their course. It can feel like I’m losing it sometimes as I shift from taking everything in my stride to being unsure and doubtful. I think without that knowledge and awareness of my own patterns it would be so much harder to comprehend and accept this. It definitely helps to know that the comfort and bliss of menstruation is waiting on the other side. Even though my period comes with some physical pain, mentally and emotionally I feel so much more stable and certain of myself.

In the last few months, my cycles have been unusually long which I put down to stress and worry as nothing else in my lifestyle has changed. This has meant a loooong pre-menstruum. I wonder if it is my bodies sign that it has more to process and needs to stay a while in that “inner autumn” state? Giving me the “gift” of fatigue to force me to stop and take time out. Unfortunately we can’t control our cycles and just have to let our own experience guide us and trust our bodies know what they are doing. It’s kind of fascinating really when I can take a step back and observe the patterns without getting too tangled up.

I haven’t had much time or energy to write my blog lately as there is so much going on in my life but I can’t wait to get back to posting regularly. I am moving from the UK to Greece in a few weeks time so I have a lot of planning and organising to do but once I arrive and get settled I’ll be back to it!

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).

Learning from my mistakes

I’m on day 6 of my cycle and have just come out of a deep, challenging bleed. I had a lot going on last month. As well as my day job, I had a deadline to submit a nutrition article to a scientific journal which fell on day 23 of my cycle, so for the two weeks prior to that I was pushing myself and working hard. I was relying on a morning coffee to get me going for the day which was a habit that took me a long time to break and I think I am super sensitive to caffeine. I was also sat at my computer for 12 hours a day and some of my other self-care practices fell by the wayside because all my energy was being pumped into my project. I made all the mistakes and really paid the price for it.

On day 24, the morning after I submitted my article, I woke up at 4am feeling sooo crappy. It was the weekend but I was so exhausted and in a bad mood, I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything fun and just sat around feeling sorry for myself. By the time I went back to work on Monday I was feeling so tired and anxious, my whole body was aching and even short walks were leaving me feeling depleted. I ended up taking a few days off work because I just didn’t have the energy and was struggling to concentrate. As my bleed approached, my moods were all over the place too. I was crying over everything. My neighbours cat got hit by a car and I cried for a whole day. I also got angry a few times over tiny things which really isn’t like me.

 

I just felt so sensitive and irritable, I lost all motivation and started questioning everything in my life. I know this sounds extreme but anyone who has suffered severe PMS or PMD will understand this feeling. It’s as if this feeling of doom comes over you, something takes over your brain and you almost feel like you are losing your identity. My period came late too, on day 33, and I had nearly 10 days of PMS symptoms including headaches, insomnia, mood swings, sore breasts, aching muscles and joints. I’ve experienced all of these before but it’s not my “normal” so I know it was due to me not taking good care of myself this cycle. Even though I knew it already, this has really highlighted to me the importance of listening to my body and practising cycle syncing as best as I can.

A tip I learned from Alisa Vitti, the author of “In the Flo”, is to assess your to do list each day and reflect on whether this is in line with the phase of your cycle you are in. Any days that there is a clash (e.g. if you have to do a big presentation at work on day 1 of your cycle) then she recommends to make sure to fit an extra self-care practice into your day to support your body. I think this is a really good idea and I am going to try and put it into practice this month. My absolute favourite self-care ritual is to have an epsom salt bath with essential oils, listening to a feel-good podcast or music then give myself a full body massage with some yummy smelling body lotion. I also love spending time outside in nature although this is a bit tricky with the lockdown right now!

Another good idea is to really pay attention to the “cross-over days” of the cycle. These are the subtle shifts in energies as you transition from one phase to the next. In this case I totally blew past the shift from inner summer (ovulation) to autumn (pre-menstrual phase) which is one of the most important points of the cycle as it’s when the tide turns and we move from the outward facing, masculine, doing energy to the feminine, being energy. The other key one is the transition from inner winter (menstruation) to spring (follicular phase) when the opposite energy shift is happening. It’s key to bring awareness to these points in the cycle and register any signs from the body that its time to shift gears. Otherwise we can end up swimming upstream, living totally out of alignment with our natural rhythm.

It can be very hard to practice this when we have so many distractions and demands from the outer world. But even just observing these energy shifts and bringing awareness to the subtle changes we feel can have a huge impact. I know if I’d listened to my own advice and realised that my deadline was going to fall in the second part of my cycle, I could have taken better care of myself and maybe avoided the crash and burn that I experienced this month. Right now I am hyper-aware that I am in the winter-spring crossover. I have spent the last few days resting and recharging and my energy levels have started to improve, now I am taking care to move gently and not blow my fuse too quickly. It’s really tempting to rush to get out there and do things, catch up on work that  missed when I was off, but I’ve been taking it slowly and trying not to overdo it. 

Listening to our bodies can definitely feel frustrating at times, especially when our mind has its own agenda. But instead of seeing it as a betrayal when my body doesn’t feel like doing the things I had planned, I am trying to lean into my cycle and learn from it’s messages. I know this works as I’ve been in a really good place with cycle syncing before but I have kind of lost my way the last few months because life got in the way. I know that menstruality is a practice, an art even, and it takes a lot of patience and perseverance. But it’s teachings are sooo worth it and I am excited for the months ahead!

Reconnecting with menstruation, rethinking menarche

Do you remember when you got your first period? How did you feel.. empowered? Afraid? Ashamed? Energised? Powerful? Disappointed? Excited?

For me it was a pretty forgettable experience. I don’t even remember the exact age although I know I was around 11-12 years old. I couldn’t tell you whether I was at home or school at the time, whether it shocked me or I was expecting it. I remember telling my Mum and her being very supportive, showing me where she kept her supply of pads and how to use them. At school I think I told my closest girl friends but we never really spoke about it and it wasn’t a big deal. My periods were fairly regular from day 1, I had typical mood swings and pain but I never suffered with heavy bleeding or intense cramps. When I did have pains I was told to use a hot water bottle or take painkillers. I never had to miss school or other activities because I was bleeding I just carried on with my normal life. All in all I’d say for the first few years my cycles were about as uneventful as you can get!

I guess you could say I had a fairly “good” experience of menarche compared to many girls. There was no embarrassing situation, I didn’t feel ashamed to tell my parents and it didn’t really affect my life in a negative way, or in any significant way at all really. But herein lies the problem. Although there was no outright issue, there was always the underlying message that I now carried a secret with me. I was supposed to hide the fact that I was bleeding and not let it affect my life or the lives of others around me. I remember times when I started my bleed in school, quietly bending down under the table to take a pad from my bag and slip it into my jacket pocket so that I could sneak off to the toilet without anyone realising why. I remember being glad when I moved into year 10 as we were allowed to wear black skirts instead of grey and I no longer worried about bleeding onto it without realising. I remember dreading having to do sports lessons when I was exhausted and crampy and just wanted to be curled up in bed.

My dad, although also supportive, did the typical male thing of blaming our female hormones whenever me or my mum were moody, snappy or irritable. He never meant any harm, he was only teasing and making fun of the situation. But I didn’t know about the different phases of my cycle back then and this reduced my experience of menstruation to only two aspects: PMS and blood. I was glad each time my period ended because it meant I could get back to “normal”. The pain went away and my mood would lift again for another month until my next bleed. I rejected this part of me and saw it as a shameful secret rather than something to be proud of. In effect, the monumental milestone of me becoming a woman just faded into the monotony of daily life. I was never taught to acknowledge the significance of my period and saw it more as an annoying inconvenience than anything.

Once I turned 16 and wanted to start exploring my sexuality for the first time, I was terrified of getting pregnant. I asked my mum if I could go onto the contraceptive pill and with her permission I was prescribed it straight away by my doctor. I’m sure you don’t even need parental permission these days and can easily get a prescription from a sexual health clinic. I’m not going to go off on a tangent here about whether this is the right thing or not but the point I want to make is that the decision for me to take medication to disrupt my cycles was so easy for me to make (aside from the embarrassment of having to admit to my mum that I was sexually active). I didn’t have any awareness of the importance of my cycle and what I might lose by pumping my body with artificial hormones on a daily basis.

Although I was made aware of the risks of taking the pill in terms of increased risk of various cancers and blood clots, no one ever told me what the pill would do to my body. As I was taking the pill with a break week each month, I thought I was still getting a period and somehow the pill just stopped me from getting pregnant. Now I know that it was only a fake period from the huge drop in hormones for the week I wasn’t taking the pill. I was so out of touch with my body that I didn’t notice the loss of my natural rhythms and only experienced the negative “side effects” of the medication such as intense mood swings and increased acne. I went back to my doctor and was prescribed a different pill which might “suit my body better”. Eventually after 12 months and 3 different pills I heeded the warning signs  that the pill was harming my body and accepted that I had to come off it.

After I came off the pill, my natural cycles didn’t restart and I struggled with what’s known as Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) for 8 years! For most of this time I didn’t care and was actually quite glad that I didn’t have my period. It relieved me of the inconvenience of having to buy tampons and worry about my periods impacting my plans. I could have sex without worrying about getting pregnant and I didn’t have to deal with annoying hormonal acne, bloating or cramps. But still something didn’t feel quite right. Somehow I felt so disconnected from myself and felt like life was happening to me rather than me living out my purpose. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I didn’t understand it at the time but now I can see that all of this was related to being totally disconnected from my body and especially my womb space.

I think this is something that many women experience through being on the pill but it often goes unacknowledged as we don’t really talk openly about these things. Because most girls are not taught to appreciate and engage with their cycles from a young age, we don’t really know what we are missing when we suppress our natural rhythm either through contraceptives or just by not paying attention to our bodies. The deep knowing of the womb still speaks to us so we have the feeling that something isn’t quite right but we don’t understand it and often feel like there is something wrong with us. I think that this disconnection is also partly responsible for why so many women suffer with conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis as we are so out of touch with our intuition that we end up doing things which disrupt our hormonal balance. I think if girls were taught to celebrate and embrace their bodies and feminine nature, these issues would be much less prevalent.

When I regained my cycle, my second experience of menarche was so so different. I had been actively trying to recover my cycles for years and had been deep in the recovery process for 4 months. In that time I had read so much about female hormones, how they fluctuated throughout the cycle and the different phases. I was aware of the mood changes and physical symptoms I could expect and was on high alert for any positive changes I saw in my body. There was an excitement as I became aware of my body temperature rising, the changes in quantity and texture of my cervical mucus, the subtle shifts in my mood and energy levels and my libido. When I was about to bleed for the first time I just knew it, I could feel the buzz in my womb and the heaviness of my breasts for a whole week before and I couldn’t wait to see if I was right. This is how all girls should be able to feel.. the anticipation and exhilaration of becoming a woman rather than fear and shame.

I was actually on holiday when I started my bleed, something that I would have dreaded when I was younger as I would have thought it would stop me from going in the sea and ruin my trip. But I was so happy I didn’t care. I called my mum to tell her the news and actually cried with joy. Ever since then I have been thankful each time that I get my period and will never take it for granted again. I am still in awe of the power and magic of the female body to create life and I am fully aware of how my hormones are affecting my experience of life from day to day. I can’t ignore the messages and signals my womb sends anymore and although my period doesn’t completely dictate my life I do consider them whether I am working with or against my hormones with every decision I make.

I wish that all girls could have a positive experience of menarche, one that affirms their magnificence as a women and gives them a boost of confidence and self-esteem. Many tribal cultures such as Native Americans have embedded the celebration of menarche in their culture with powerful rituals and coming-of-age ceremonies but it’s something that we have lost in the UK and other Western countries. I think it’s time that we reconnect with menarche and develop our own ways to celebrate this time, not just for girls entering womanhood but also for all the women reconnecting with their cycle after years of ignoring it, hating it or suppressing it with contraceptives. I know the trend of “period parties” is starting to take off with parents celebrating menarche with their daughters and women generally feeling able to speak more openly about all things period related. I hope really it continues and we move into a more period-positive time!