hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

Hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

As a Nutritionist and Women’s Wellness Coach, I often work with women who want to balance their hormones. Hormone imbalances are actually very common and there are actually over 50 hormones at work in your body! But what are the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women that you should look out for?

10 hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

1. Missing or irregular periods

The most obvious of the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women is missing or irregular periods. A healthy woman will typically have a regular menstrual cycle lasting between 21 and 35 days. Anything outside of this is considered irregular (NHS). Irregular periods are normal during puberty, after pregnancy or after coming off hormonal contraception. However, irregular or missing periods can also be a sign of hormonal imbalance. Missing or irregular periods can be due to Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA), Hypothyroidism or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Irregular periods can also be a sign of early menopause in women under the age of 45. If you have not had a period for more than 3 months, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor to find out what is going on.

2. Excessive mood swings or PMS

One of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women is severe mood swings during the pre-menstrual phase. It is normal to feel slightly irritable, moody or fatigued in the days before your period. However, if you are experiencing extreme mood swings or excessively low mood during the pre-menstruum this could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. The endocrine system is complex and your hormones have systemic effects throughout the body. Imbalances in estrogen, progesterone, serotonin, thyroid hormones and cortisol can all have a negative impact on your mood and emotional regulation. It is important to check your hormone levels to understand what might be causing your symptoms.

3. Extreme period pain

Another of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women is extreme period pain. Again, it is normal to experience some level of pelvic pain during menstruation. The muscles of your uterus contract to shed the outer layers of it’s lining which is the blood you release during your period. This can cause a mild warmth and cramping sensation around the area of your womb and lower back. However, if you are experiencing intense pain, this is not normal. There are several reasons for painful periods including Endometriosis, cysts or fibroids and tension in the muscles of the pelvis. Hormonal imbalance, in particular high levels of estrogen, is associated with severe period pain.

4. Hormonal acne

Hormonal acne is something that most of us women deal with at some point in our lives. Whether is it having a face full of spots as a teenager or breakouts before your period each month, it is something you are likely familiar with. But what if your hormonal acne is excessive or chronic lasting way past your teenage years? This is one of the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women to look out for! Hormonal acne is usually found around the jaw and chin area but also on the cheeks and forehead. It can be a sign of hyper-androgenism (male hormones) as in PCOS. Hormonal acne can also arise with low progesterone. To understand the cause, you need to take a look at your symptoms holistically. You can also consider checking your hormone levels to identify any imbalances.

5. Trouble sleeping

A surprising hormonal imbalance symptom in women is insomnia. Most women wouldn’t associate their sleep troubles with their hormonal health. However, not sleeping well can also be a sign of an imbalance. Low levels of progesterone can lead to insomnia and poor sleep during the pre-menstrual phase. Imbalances in cortisol can also have a cascade effect throughout the body and cause disruption to sleep-wake cycles. In particular, sleep maintenance insomnia and early morning waking can be related to cortisol imbalances. Both progesterone and cortisol imbalance can be related to high levels of stress, whether than it physical, mental or emotional.

6. Low sex drive or sexual dysfunction

Perhaps a lesser talked about subject amongst women, or an overly normalised one depending who you ask! Low sex drive or low libido is another of the common hormonal imbalance symptoms in women. In addition, vaginal dryness and pain during sex can also be caused by hormonal imbalance. It is normal to experience fluctations in sex drive throughout your cycle with a peak during your fertile phase. Despite what we are made to believe, we are not expected to be ready to go at all times! But experiencing low libido for months on end may be a sign that something more is going on. Your reproductive hormones, especially estrogen and testosterone regulate your sex drive and your ability to be aroused. Low levels of these hormones can lead to disinterest in sex or pain during sex.

7. Changes to hair

Losing hair can be very distressing and is a sign that something is not right with your body. There are many reasons for hair loss in women including stress, anemia and dermatitis. However, hair loss is also one of the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women. Reduced levels of estrogen and progesterone, for example during menopause, can lead to hair shedding and thinning. Hypothyroidism, that is low levels of thyroid hormones, can also be an explanation for hair loss in women. When hair loss is in a male-pattern of balding this can be a sign of hyper-androgenism and PCOS. In this case, you might also experience hair growth on your face and body. Again, it is important to assess your symptoms holistically to understand the hormonal imbalance responsible for your hair loss.

8. Migraine or headaches

Many women experience headaches and migraines, especially during the pre-menstrual or menstruation phase of their cycle. This can sometimes be accompanied by nausea, dizziness and increased sensitivity to light. Rapid changes in hormones can trigger headaches, which is why they are more common around your period when your hormones levels drop suddenly. Studies show that it is likely in fluctuations estrogen which can trigger migraine headaches. This is why some women experience them more frequently during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. It may be that more women are more sensitive to headaches than others. However, adopting a healthy lifestyle to support hormonal balance may help to reduced the quantity and severity of headaches.

9. Unexplained infertility

A hormonal imbalance symptoms in women which might not be discovered until later is unexplained infertility. I recently wrote a post about infertility discussing some of the causes, risk factors and natural treatments. Infertility is not always caused by a hormonal imbalance. But having balanced hormones and regular ovulation increases fertility and chances of conception. Hormonal imbalances which can lead to infertility include high testosterone, low progesterone and low thyroid which can all affect ovulation. To check whether you are ovulating you can measure your basal body temperature and look for a sustained 0.5°C rise around the mid-point of your cycle. You can also look out for “egg white” consistency fertile mucus around the same time as a sign of healthy ovulation.

10. Weight gain and cravings

Finally, unexplained weight gain and cravings can both be hormonal imbalance symptoms in women. We all experience cravings from time to time. But if you feel like you are experiencing an insatiable hunger or desire for sweets, perhaps your hormones are to blame. Insulin and glucagon are hormones released from your pancreas which are involved in managing your blood sugar. Imbalances in these hormones can affect your appetite and cravings. Cortisol imbalances can also play a role in unexplained weight gain. When your body is stuck in fight or flight stress state, it may hang onto extra weight as a survival mechanism. If you are struggling to lose weight, despite reducing your calorie intake, you might want to focus on balancing your hormones first.

Summary of hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

Over to you…

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Follicular phase recipes: Berry smoothie bowl

I know it’s so stereotypical for a health blogger to share a smoothie bowl recipe. At this moment there are over 2 million posts on Instagram with the hashtag #smoothiebowl. But hey.. they taste good and they can be a great healthy breakfast so why not! This recipe is great for the follicular phase (i.e. the week or so after your period) as it is light and hydrating and supports your natural fresh and vibrant energy during this time. It’s more of a summer recipe, especially if you live in a cold climate, but here in Greece the winters aren’t too harsh so I’m still enjoying cold breakfasts when I feel like it.

Ingredients

  • 200g frozen bananas (make sure they are ripe before you freeze for the best taste and texture)
  • 100g frozen raspberries
  • 1 cup milk or non-dairy alternative
  • 10g protein powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1-2 tbsp pumpkin seeds to top

Instructions

Simply place all ingredients, except the pumpkin seeds, in a high speed blender until you get a thick creamy texture then serve in a bowl with the seeds sprinkled on top.

For any of you health nerds out there, I plugged the recipe into Chronometer so that you can see the nutritional value of the recipe. It has a good balance of carbs, protein and fat to keep your energy levels supported throughout the morning. Smoothies with only fruit can cause a blood sugar spike followed by a crash leaving you starving and irritable an hour or 2 later so it’s much better to add in some nuts or seeds and a milk which contains protein to slow down the release of the natural fruit sugars. The recipe does have 40g sugar but these are natural sugars from the fruit and milk, it’s much better to satisfy your sweet tooth in this way than over-doing it on processed sweet treats later in the day.

This recipe also provides half of your recommended daily intake of fibre, great for keeping your digestive system moving and flushing out any excess hormones such as estrogen during the follicular phase. Other highlights are the B vitamins which support a healthy metabolism and energy levels, vitamin C to support your immune system and detoxification processes. The milk and seeds also provide plenty of minerals including phosphorous and calcium to keep your bones and teeth strong and zinc and selenium to support healthy hormone production, ovulation and fertility.

The protein powder is optional but can be a good addition, especially if you are working out to help with performance and muscle recovery. I like the Sevenhills vanilla flavoured vegan protein powder but you can experiment and find one that you like. You can top your bowl with any seeds that you like. I chose pumpkin seeds for this recipe but flaxseeds or hemp seeds are also especially good for the follicular phase of your cycle. A method called “seed cycling” involves eating flax and pumpkin seeds in the first half of your cycle, from day 1 of your period until ovulation, and switching to sesame and sunflower seeds during the luteal phase. It’s not scientifically proven but it is an old remedy to help with hormone balance and if nothing else it is a fun way to mix things up and get a range of healthy fatty acids and nutrients throughout the month.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this recipe, let me know in the comments below if you try it out!

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health to support your menstrual cycle.
  • If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below.
  • 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.

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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

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.

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Emotions in motion (when PMS hits hard!)

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!

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).

what to eat before your period - whole grains

What to eat during the luteal phase (pre-menstrual phase)

The pre-menstrual phase, the days before our period, is often the most tricky for us women. It’s when we are more likely to have symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, mood swings and definitely.. CRAVINGS. Choosing the right diet to support your body during the pre-menstrual phase can go a long way to reducing annoying PMS symptoms and helping you to sail through these dreaded days with ease.

What is the luteal phase?

The luteal or pre-menstrual phase is the after ovulation and before your period starts. During this time progesterone is the dominant hormone which is important to maintain the thick lining of your womb and support a potential pregnancy. Progesterone has a calming affect on the brain which is why you might notice lower energy and a more chilled out mood during this phase compared to earlier in your cycle. If you don’t get pregnant, progesterone production falls rapidly towards the end of the luteal phase and this is what triggers shedding of your womb lining (i.e. your period) and can also lead to those dreaded PMS symptoms such as irritability, anxiety and cravings.

What is the PMS diet? The pre-menstrual phase diet

The pre-menstrual phase diet is designed to help you:

  • Stabilise your blood sugar to maintain healthy hormone balance
  • Reduce cravings, especially for sweet foods
  • Provide your body with minerals to build the blood
  • Reduce bloating and water retention
  • Support a calm, relaxed mental state

So how can we eat to satisfy our hunger and support our body with the energy and nutrients it needs during this time? I’ll start by saying there is no perfect one-size-fits-all diet for anyone. We all have different needs, health history, culture, tastes and ethics. But there are certain principles to apply which can help us hugely with maintaining our health during this part of our cycle which I will explain throughout this article.

How much should I eat during the luteal phase? Why am I more hungry before my period?

Our metabolism naturally raises slightly after ovulation During the pre-menstrual phase of our cycle we burn up to 10% more calories therefore we need to fuel ourselves properly. If we don’t eat enough, our bodies can start to crave sweet or fatty processed foods as a way to get us to eat more and give it the calories it needs – sneaky! The pre-menstrual phase is not the best time to start a new restrictive diet. Maybe we can get away with this during the early phases of our cycle (although I never recommend it) but it’s especially important to provide our bodies with enough energy and nutrients at this time.

If you are trying to lose weight, I recommend cycling your calories throughout the month by eating less during the follicular and ovulatory phases and increasing your calories during the pre-menstrual phase. You mind find that you are less hungry in the start of your cycle and that it feels natural to eat this way. Even if you are eating the same amount of food throughout your cycle, focusing on the foods and cooking methods I recommend for each phase of the cycle will automatically have this calorie cycling effect as we focus on lighter foods during the follicular and ovulatory phases of your cycle and more energy dense foods in the luteal and menstrual phases. Working with your body in this way, rather than against it, can help to avoid binge eating and “falling off the diet wagon”.

What should you eat during the luteal phase? Carbs, fats, proteins?

During the pre-menstrual phase it is important to include sources of complex carbohydrates in your diet. Getting plenty of foods such as wholegrains, root vegetables and legumes can help to sustain our blood sugar and energy levels and reduce cravings for sweets. We want to try to stabilize our blood sugar as much as possible during this phase and combining complex carbs with fibre from veggies is a great way to do this. Unstable blood sugar sets off a cascade in the body leading to hormonal chaos – think acne, mood swings and fatigue!

When we are craving something sweet, fruit is a great option. Especially sweet fruits such as apples, pears, dates and raisins. You can also pair fruits with vegetables or nuts/seeds to slow down the release of these natural sugars into the bloodstream even further. Even some proponents of extremely low-carb diets such as keto recommend that women need to make adjustments to avoid hormonal imbalances by carb-cycling and consuming more carbohydrates at this time of the month.

Fats and proteins are also important during this time, to provide additional minerals and to build the blood. If you eat animal products, the days before your period are a good time to eat a bit of red meat, especially beef. Oily fish like salmon or sardines are also great to provide a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3s. For veggies and vegans, chickpeas with tahini such as in hummus is a perfect combo to add protein and fat to your meals.

Dark leafy greens are another great way to boost your iron, magnesium and calcium which can help to reduce cramps and bloating towards the end of the luteal phase. These vegetables also provide B vitamins which support a healthy metabolism and fertility. Especially vitamin B6 which helps to support healthy progesterone levels, great if you are trying to lengthen your luteal phase. Just 100g or a half cup cooked dark leafy greens provides 10% of your daily B6 requirements!

What foods should you eat during the luteal phase? Best foods for PMS?

  • Root veggies – potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, squash
  • Grains – whole grains such as oats, rice, bread, pasta
  • Proteins – red meat, oily fish, chickpeas, navy beans
  • Sweet fruits – apples, pears, dates, raisins
  • Veggies – cooked dark leafy greens e.g. kale, collard greens, spinach, chard
  • Seeds and nuts – sesame (tahini), sunflower, hemp, walnuts

You can create super satisfying and healthy meals by combining these with a variety of veggies of your choice, a source of animal or plant-based protein such as meat, fish or beans and a small amount of fat from high quality olive/coconut oil, nuts or seeds.

How should I cook during the luteal phase of my cycle?

Depending on your system, you might find it better to eat less raw food during this time and opt for more comforting cooking methods such as baking or roasting. This can be especially useful for anyone who struggles with digestive issues such as gas and bloating during the luteal phase. It’s quite common as progesterone can lead to slowing down of the digestive process leading to constipation and in some case heartburn. You might find that a grazing style eating i.e. little and often feels better in your body than big meals. Watching your salt intake can also help to reduce symptoms of fluid retention such as bloating and swollen breasts, although there is no need to cut it out altogether. Drinking peppermint tea is also a great option to reduce bloating and digestive discomfort.

Foods to avoid in the pre-menstrual phase?

In the days before our period, it’s better to avoid alcohol and caffeine such as black tea and coffee wherever possible as they can stress out our system and affect our sleep at a time when rest and relaxation is most needed. For anyone prone to PMS this is especially important as both alcohol and caffeine can worsen symptoms such as headaches, anxiety and mood swings. Same goes for sugar, eating some chocolate or sweets now and again is unlikely to do much harm but indulging our sugar cravings too much can send us on a blood sugar roller coaster. It might seem harmless but if you struggle with severe PMS, irregular periods or any other hormonal imbalance I’d strongly recommend to make sure you are eating plenty of fruit and starches, especially during the pre-menstrual phase of your cycle.

If you do consume these things, try keeping a journal to see how they affect you at different parts of your cycle and you might be surprised. I know sometimes I am caught off guard with this if I’m not paying attention to my cycle day and end up completely frazzled after 1 coffee.. eek! Switching to green tea is a great option during the pre-menstrual phase. Or if you crave chocolate during this time, a warming hot chocolate can be a good way to satisfy your cravings and get a little caffeine boost without over doing it.

Summary of nutrition tips for the pre-menstrual phase

  • Make sure you are eating enough to meet your bodies energy needs
  • Consume plenty of complex carbs e.g. root veggies and whole grains
  • Replace sugary snacks with sweet fruits such as bananas, apples and dates
  • Consume more cooked vegetables to help with digestion
  • Reduce salt intake if you struggle with bloating or water retention
  • Cut down or avoid alcohol and caffeine

Over to you…

I hope you found this article helpful in learning how to eat to minimise PMS and feel better during your pre-menstrual phase.

I hope you found this article helpful to learn how to nourish your body and feel better during your pre-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?
  • 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

Krishnan S., Tryon R., et al. 2016. Estradiol, SHBG and leptin interplay with food craving and intake across the menstrual cycle. Physiology & Behavior. 165

Soheila S.,  Faezeh K, et al. 2016. Effects of vitamin B6 on premenstrual syndrome: A systematic review and meta-Analysis. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 9 (3).

Behboudi-Gandevani S., Hariri F. & Moghaddam-Banaem, M. 2018. The effect of omega 3 fatty acid supplementation on premenstrual syndrome and health-related quality of life: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology. 39:4, 

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!