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!

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Can you get your period back following a vegan diet?

One of the questions I am often asked by women who are trying to heal from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and recover their period is whether it’s possible to heal your hormones and regain a healthy menstrual cycle whilst still following a vegan diet. If you haven’t read my previous posts on the HA recovery diet and how I got my period back, I’d recommend to check those out first before going ahead with this one because I explain all about the factors that can cause your period to disappear or become irregular and the strategy to recover. This is a topic I have researched extensively over the years and I have personal experience with so I wanted to share my advice from a public health nutrition perspective.

So to return to the initial question: can you get your period back whilst following a vegan diet? The short answer is yes, it’s absolutely possible and I did it myself. After watching documentaries about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the health benefits of a vegan diet I was committed and I chose to maintain my vegan diet whilst trying to recover my period. I did manage to get my period back after 4 months of going “all-in” with my diet and no exercise so it is definitely possible! However does this mean I recommend a vegan diet to my clients or that I believe a vegan diet is optimal when try to get your period back? Definitely not! In fact I am no longer vegan and although I have no regrets, if I could go back in time with the information I have now I would definitely choose differently. Here are a few reasons why…

1. Calories

One of the important factors for many women with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is eating enough calories. When you lose your period due to an energy imbalance, i.e. not eating enough to support your activities, increasing your energy intake is very important. You can definitely do this on a vegan diet simply by eating more food but as many plant-based foods are more calorie dilute this can be a struggle! Especially if you eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, starchy carbs and legumes which all have a high amount of water and fiber, you might find that you get full before you consume the amount of calories that your body really needs. This makes a plant-based diet great for weight loss but not so much when boosting your energy intake is your goal.

Of course, you can add in more energy dense vegan foods such as nuts and seeds, nut butters, oil and processed foods which take up less space in your stomach and are easier on your digestive system, but in my experience, bloating and other digestive issues are likely even when consuming the minimum calorie intake for healing your hormones. Actually I had forgotten how it felt not to be bloated until I finally reduced the amount of fibre I was consuming from beans, vegetables and nut butters. If you are extremely committed to recovering your period on a vegan diet, you can opt for easy to digest foods such as bread or crackers with jam, processed cereals and plant-based milk. However, as I will come to in the next point, these are not the most nutritious foods and you might find that your body needs ALOT of them to satisfy your nutrient needs for healing.

2. Nutrients

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is an issue primarily of energy imbalance, but as all foods contain both macro and micronutrients, not eating enough food can easily lead to nutritional deficiencies. Part of recovering your menstrual cycle is nutritional rehabilitation which means flooding the body with as many building blocks for repair as possible. Nutrients that can be difficult to obtain and absorb in a vegan diet include iron, calcium, vitamin A (retinol) and vitamin D. Under stress our bodies also use some nutrients at a much faster rate than usual. Yes, it is theoretically possible to eat a well planned vegan diet which meets all of the recommended daily amounts. However, we don’t have control of our internal processes and if digestion is compromised, which is often the case with hormonal imbalance, then we can’t be sure we are really absorbing and benefitting from all of these nutrients.

It’s important to reflect on your history with dieting and if your past experience with restricting your food intake or the types of foods you eat could put you at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Or if you are unsure and you have the budget you can also ask your doctor to run a blood test for the key nutrients. The problem with this is that, there may also be additional compounds present in animal products which we don’t yet fully understand and for that reason, I think it’s just not worth the risk. Personally, I would suggest that if you are determined to follow a vegan diet, it’s better to heal the body with a high nutrient, omnivorous diet then, once the body is healthy and functioning optimally, consider adopting a more plant-based diet.

3. Fat and cholesterol

In general, the vegan diet tends to be higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat compared to diets including animal-based products. In addition, the fats available in plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds and avocados are generally poly-unsaturated fats and there is some research to suggest that these fats are actually less supportive to metabolic health compared with saturated fats which are found in meat and dairy. Losing your period is commonly a sign of being in a lower metabolic state and so you really want to be eating a metabolism supporting diet to get your period back. I am by no means saying nuts and seeds are unhealthy and that we should avoid them, but when we want to send the body the signal that the famine is over and its safe to rev up the metabolism and reproductive system, we want to make sure we are consuming enough saturated fat.

Adding in more fat from coconut is a good step towards a more metabolically supportive vegan diet but getting more variety of fats and nutrients from animal based sources will take your diet to the next level. Animal fats also contain cholesterol which is another nutrient you want to be consuming when you are trying to get your period back. Often cholesterol is demonised and we are told to avoid high-cholesterol foods if we want to be healthy. But when it comes to hormone balancing and especially recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea when hormone production is lower than it should be, having some cholesterol in your diet can actually be beneficial and speed up the healing process. Cholesterol is a building block for reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone which are necessary for a healthy menstrual cycle and regular period. Cholesterol cannot be synthesised by plants and is only found in animal-based foods such as meat and eggs, therefore consuming even a small amount of these foods on a regular basis can support your hormone healing process.

4. Mental restriction

This is a tricky one because personally, adopting a vegan diet was what finally enabled me to let go of restrictive dieting and allow myself to eat an abundance of food. Because I was no longer focusing on choosing food to maintain a low body weight but rather on sourcing ethical food, it took the focus away from calories and allowed me to eat more. That said, once I finally decided to let go of veganism and re-introduce animal products, whilst still allowing myself to eat the amounts of food my body asked for, I experienced a whole new level of food freedom which I didn’t know I was missing, especially in social situations where I had always felt isolated being the only vegan. I think you have to be very honest with yourself about the reason you want to follow a vegan diet and whether there is a chance that a desire to restrict your food is influencing your decision.

Unfortunately, there are also many rabbit holes to fall down when it comes to the vegan diet which can lead to some pretty extreme dietary restriction: raw vegan, starch solution, high carb low fat, 80 10 10, vegan keto just to name a few! So while it is possible to regain your period on a vegan diet, I’d say that for a full mental recovery following a balanced diet that includes all foods is optimal. Coming back to the idea of safety, you want to create an environment of abundance to really allow your body to relax and heal and this means abundance both in terms of quantity and variety of foods. If you are 100% sure that you are choosing a vegan diet for ethical reasons only, you can support your body better by eating a varied and balanced vegan diet and not being seduced by the health claims of these more restricted diets.

Over to you…

So those are my thoughts on why a vegan diet is not optimal when trying to recover your period. I understand that for some, eating animal products is simply not an option so I hope the few tips for how you can modify your vegan diet to be more hormonally supportive were also helpful. Please like and share this post to support my channel and share with anyone who might benefit from this article.

If you are interested in this topic and would like me to talk more about my experience with getting my period back on a vegan diet or the process of reintroducing animal products back into your diet after long-term veganism, leave me a comment or drop me an email and I will do my best to help! 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.

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cycle tracking day 1 menstrual phase

Stress and the menstrual cycle: Self-care tips for the menstrual phase

Today is the first day of my period and day 1 of a new menstrual cycle – yay! I love the menstrual phase or “inner winter”, not only because it brings a relief of the tension of the pre-menstrual phase but because it is the time of the month when I honour myself with rest and self-care. The last couple of cycles have been pretty messed up for me with all of the craziness going on in the world. Being stuck in lockdown working super hard then quitting my job and moving abroad then going into lockdown again here in Greece.. it’s been pretty stressful to say the least and it showed in my cycles. I had 3 cycles which were 35-37 days long, intense period pains and stagnant blood (this shows up as brown colour with the texture of dirt). So I’m happy that this month things seem to be back to normal with a 30 day cycle and a healthy red flow.

This is one thing I love about menstrual cycle awareness practice. When something isn’t quite right in our lifestyle, often our menstrual cycles are the first place it shows and if we’re not paying attention we can totally miss it. Tracking your cycle length, flow quality and any symptoms showing up throughout the month is a great way to get to know your cycle and tune into the state of your health. Intense pain, excessive PMS symptoms or irregular cycles can all be a sign that something isn’t quite right internally or in your environment. If you notice something strange or unusual, that is a red flag and a hint for you to get quiet for a moment and ask yourself what is going on.

Stress alone can be enough to throw a spanner in the works when it comes to our cycles. This doesn’t have to be a traumatic event but it can be the build up of small stresses due to living in the fast-paced high pressure society that we do. If we don’t have an outlet or a way to manage these stresses, this can lead to chronic tension in the mind and body which affects our overall health, including our hormones. In this post I explain how you can reduce stress and balance your hormones using minimalism, journalling and meditation. Using these techniques, or anything else that helps you to unwind and relax are important all throughout your cycle but even more so during your period. Yin yoga sequences are perfect and I am planning to share more here soon so watch out for that if you’re interested!

Today I was lucky to have the space for a slow morning. I made one of my favourite menstrual phase breakfast recipes, banana oat pancakes and swapped out my morning coffee for a warming chai herbal tea. I’ve been trying to get into the habit of dry body brushing for the last month after reading about the benefits but I’m not always good at remembering to do it. This morning though I decided to pamper myself a bit and took the time to dry body brush, have a long relaxing shower and moisturise from head to toe. I even straightened my hair and put on a bit of make up even though I have no intention of going anywhere today! This afternoon I was teaching a yoga class so I had to prepare for that and do a bit of house work but I did my best to move at my bodies’ pace and take it easy. I made the class a really relaxing and grounding hatha flow and I put on some calming music while I worked.

Now I am feeling peaceful and comfortable in my body – a welcome change from the agony of the last couple of months! I was feeling inspired to share a bit about my experience of the menstrual phase and a few of my tips for looking after yourself during this time. I’m aware everyone’s experience is different when it comes to periods and that conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS can make menstruation a difficult time. However, I’m sure that taking as much time as you have available, whether that’s ten minutes or three hours, will help you to make your period as comfortable as possible. A few months of practicing this and you never know, you might even start to love this phase too.

My top 5 tips for self-care during your period

  1. Wipe 3 things off your to do list – delegate them to a day in the cycle when you have more energy

2. Slow down – even if you have tasks you can’t avoid, try to do them at your bodies’ pace

3. Pamper yourself – whether that’s a luxurious shower (try to avoid hot baths while you are bleeding) or wearing your favourite body lotion, do something to nourish your body

4. Nourish your body – make yourself some nutrient dense, yummy foods. See here for my tips on nutrition for the menstrual phase

5. Rest – take a break from intense exercise and focus instead on light stretching, walking or yin yoga. Your body will thank you for it!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this short post on stress and self-care during the menstrual phase. Please like this post and follow my blog for more on healthy hormones and holistic health.

  • Let me know in the comments below if you try out any of these tips or any other self-care you practice to feel better during your period
  • If you are looking for support and guidance in balancing your hormones and looking and feeling great, contact me for further information on the 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.

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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.

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)

Yoga and the menstrual cycle / Yoga for women

Today I decided to post my first video on Youtube – eek! I really wanted to share how yoga can benefit women and how we can modify our practice to align with our hormonal cycles. I’m not very confident with speaking in front of a camera but I’m sure that will improve with time and I hope you enjoy the video anyway. I have summarised the main points underneath the video too for anyone who wants the short version.

There are so many benefits of yoga on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. For example yoga:

  • Increases strength and flexibility of muscles and joints
  • Strengthens bones to reduce risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduces tension from the physical, mental and emotional bodies
  • Calms the nervous system and the mind
  • Boosts mood and reduces anxiety and depression
  • Helps to connect with something larger than yourself through meditation

Practicing specific yoga asana and pranayama throughout the different phases of the menstrual cycle can also help women specifically by:

  • Regulating cycles or bringing back a missing cycle
  • Normalising menstrual blood flow
  • Reducing pain in the pelvis, lower back and thighs during menstruation
  • Creating emotional and mental stability especially during the pre-menstrual phase
  • Reconnecting with feminine nature and yin energy
  • Boosting creative and sexual energies

There are 4 main phases of the hormonal cycle to be aware of which can be referred to as the “inner seasons”.

Menstruation (inner winter) – A time to rest and recharge. Focus on gentle yin and restorative postures and meditation rather than intense standing poses or dynamic sequences. Use props to support the body and conserve energy. Avoid standing backbends and inversions (where the hips are raised higher than the head) as well as intense pranayama. Focus on abdominal or yogic breathing instead

Follicular (inner spring) – Time to rebalance the body. Bring in some inversions in the days following your period. Pay attention to your energy levels and start to increase the intensity of your practice as you move through this phase. Include flowing vinyasa sequences if you have this in your practice and enjoy moving your body more dynamically.

Ovulation (inner summer) – Focus on building strength in the body. Now is the time to experiment with more challenges asana to find your edge and increase fitness and flexibility. Use pranayama breathing exercises to calm down the nervous system if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or frazzled by this high intensity phases.

Pre-menstrual (inner autumn) – Time to slow down again. Notice when your body sends the signal that it needs more rest and adjust your practice accordingly. Towards the end of this phase start to shift the balance of your practice towards more seated and lying postures, in particular the few days before you start your period. Make sure to reconnect with your meditation and pranayama practice if you have been distracted during the busier first half of the cycle

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).

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!