When you got your first period, did you understand what was happening to your body on a hormonal and physiological level? Was your knowledge a combination of facts from your mother, best friends and an inefficient sex ed class? As women, we are really only educated on the menstrual phase, the week or so out of the month where we feel like our bodies have turned against us. For many, menstration is a hindrance and a burden. It’s a few days that we have to fight symptoms like cramps with medications and forewarn our friends and coworkers of mood shifts. But that’s just one phase. What about the other three phases that make up the menstrual cycle?
Throughout the month, as we shift from one phase to the next, our hormones are in constant flux. These hormones affect everything from our energy levels to our emotional state. If they are out of balance, issues likes irregular periods, increased PMS symptoms, weight gain, adrenal fatigue and depression may ensue. And that’s just a short list of examples.
One of the best ways to balance hormones through the phases is with diet. Fueling yourself with the right types of foods has you working with you body and its natural rhythm versus against it. Let’s take a look at the four different phases and the food that will best support your hormones and help you feel your best.
Phase 1- Follicular phase, lasts 7-10 days (before you ovulate, after your period)
During this phase, an egg follicle on an ovary gets ready to release an egg. Typically one egg is released each cycle. Several follicles start to swell in preparation and estrogen increases to thicken the uterine lining to prepare for pregnancy.
*What to eat:
Choose fresh, vibrant veggies like broccoli, zucchini, artichoke and string beans and dense-energy sustaining grains like barley and oat. These foods will help you feel most energized when hormone levels are at their lowest.
Phase 2 - Ovulatory phase, lasts 3-4 days (when you’re ovulating)
During ovulation, the pituitary gland secretes a hormone that causes the ovary to release a mature egg cell. It travels into the fallopian tube where it will stay for 24 hours. If a sperm does not impregnate the egg, the egg cell disintegrates.
What to eat:
The focus for this phase is eating to create a healthy egg. Vegetables including; asparagus, brussels sprouts, swiss chard, scallion, and spinach will help eliminate increased estrogen. And stick to easy to digest carbohydrates like amaranth and quinoa.
Phase 3- Luteal phase, lasts 10-14 days (before you have your period)
This is the premenstrual phase that occurs after ovulation and before your period starts. Progesterone helps thicken the lining of the uterus to prepare for a possible pregnancy. If no egg implants (no pregnancy), progesterone stops producing and the uterine lining begins to shed. Physical energy typically declines and PMS symptoms like irritability, headache and mood swings may appear.
What to eat:
Foods rich in Vitamin B, calcium, magnesium and fiber. Roast or bake a mix of vegetables like cauliflower, onion, squash, and sweet potato. The natural sugars of the veggies will help fend off sugar cravings. The calcium-magnesium mix in leafy greens like collard will help the effects of fluid retention. For a delicious source of magnesium, try ALOHA’s protein powder, made from real whole foods, such as pumpkin seeds, hemp, and coconut, to provide you 20-25% of your daily value.
Phase 4- Menstrual phase, lasts anywhere from 3-7 days (your period)
This is the phase we all know and expect. Our period. The thickened lining of the uterus begins to shed. Cramping in the pelvis and back are typical during the first few days Estrogen peaks and then drops, which stimulates your hypothalamus to prepare for another cycle of ovulation.
What to eat:
As the body is going through this process, it’s important to eat foods high in nutrients to replace what is being lost. Water-rich fruits like grapes and watermelon as well as veggies like beet, kale and mushrooms are great choices to support this phase.