I've made it an initiative in the last 12 months plus to understand female hormones and hormone imbalances better than ever. As someone with type 1 diabetes, and coaching many with diabetes, we have to consider over 50 things that are non-food related that can affect our blood sugar control, and one of the most common moving variables include the female cycle.
In fact, I have to change my daily basal weekly, if not more, to coincide with my cycle and insulin sensitivity. Through my learning, I have been collecting data and savvy tips in a notebook and have organized the insights below.
Wellness for a female is different and is achieved differently than for a male. There needs to much a bigger component on emotional health and support, which is why it's important to understand our moving hormones.
The benefit of being a female (among many!) is we have a period. Wait, how is that a benefit? Well, our cycle is termed as a 5th vital sign per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Committee Opinion and this vital sign offers insight into our health, each month. First and foremost, when assessing your period, understand our body will always choose survival over making babies. In fact, the period you have this month reflects your life 2-3 months ago. As well, if you are taking savvy hormone balancing supplements like chaste tree, vitex, evening primrose oil, to name a few, give it months to take effect.
Balanced/Balancing Hormones Involves the Combo of:
- Daily bowel movements. If you don’t poop every day - you can’t remove the digested estrogen out of your system. Gut health is super important.
- Modulating toxins in our life. Most environmental toxins will come from the practices women take within hours of waking up - deodorant, makeup, toiletries.
- Sleep. If you are not sleeping 7 hours a night, you are not going to have balanced hormones. Research even shows that the liver can’t detox with sleep deprivation and liver needs to be optimal to metabolize our hormones as well.
- Diet. Eat regular and balanced meals, emphasizing the importance to eat healthy fats. Avocado, olive oil, and organic animal fat are great sources, to name a few. The research on broccoli is so strong for detoxing estrogen and this is crucial for hormone balance. If a female is not having a bowel movement daily, the estrogen is sitting in the intestines and can be reabsorbed. We want it to move along as it should daily, and if this is not happening, consider tweaking the diet to include more vegetable fiber, remove grains in the diet and add a magnesium supplement to get things moving. Overall, lots of leafy green vegetables are key to a nourished body and healthy, fertile hormones.
- Blood sugar stability. This is one of the most crucial things for hormone balance. Do the best you can to reduce blood sugar swings and variability. If blood sugars are too high they can structurally change the ovaries.
- Movement. Most of our hormones won’t work unless we are moving. This is especially true with inactive thyroid to active thyroid.
- Happiness: Plan a girls night and go have some fun. Or find a good book. Whatever helps you live a little and un(wine)d.
While PMS is not normal it is natural to feel a shift in energy throughout the month, and that’s why it’s important to vary exercises and food throughout the month.
Week 1 (on period): MENSTRUAL
Day 1-12 females are most like males. Progesterone and estrogen are the lowest, and the first half of the cycle is called the follicular phase.
Diet - Aim to eat higher fat and protein-rich meals, which means to ease up on carbs (fruit, legumes, grains, starchy veg).
Protein helps to replenish lost iron. If a period is heavy - eat iron-rich foods with a focus on vitamin C. A citrus, spinach salad with some steak? Other good foods to source: seafood or seaweed, and low carb vegetables.
Exercise - slow movement pilates or yoga, stretching, walking or light hiking. A few days after the onset of your period you may feel energized and ready to pick back up your exercise routine.
Agenda - This is a good week to ground yourself, relax more physically and construct or address personal goals. Pull out a journal and reap the benefits of writing out your thoughts.
Week 2: FOLLICULAR
Diet - highest carb week, lowest calorie.
Persist including protein and fat in each meal, but bring down the total fat, and increase carbs. Typically, meals will be smaller than the last 2 weeks. Females are most insulin sensitive around this time of their cycle and they can tolerate more carbs without blood sugar spikes. Since the onset of your period, your estrogen will gradually rise until ovulation (which starts at the end of this week). Keep in mind estrogen has an inverse relationship to appetite. When estrogen is highest, you may notice less hunger.
Exercise - a great time to do HIIT training, challenging and longer workouts.
Agenda - it’s common to be restless and able to tackle projects and goals, including batch cooking for the week ahead when willpower is less. Right before ovulation, you may notice you feel your best, sexiest and most social. Make the most of it.
Week 3: OVULATORY
Diet - Wind down the carbs, and begin increasing the fat and fiber.
It’s not uncommon to have constipation post ovulation. Find use of flax meal, chia seeds, and high fiber veggies. Focus on hydration aggressively until end of week 4.
Agenda - Ovulation is a great time to enjoy raw foods, raw salads, high-quality protein, and foods high in zinc. During ovulation, you may notice slight cramps. Your body is preparing to release 1 of 500 eggs (which is a fraction of the eggs you were born with). Ovulation is on average 10-16 days before a period. After Ovulation, this is when progesterone and estrogen increase and progesterone releases a lot of sodium and holds onto a lot of water. This can lead to bloating. Your body temperature may be a degree higher as well. You want to salt (NOT table salt, sea salt please) your food here. Listen to your body needs.
The second half of a female cycle is called the Luteal phase.
Week 4: (right before period) LUTEAL
Diet - Lowest carb. Eat more cruciferous vegetables, more root vegetables. Limit booze AND caffeine. Start increasing fats and lowering carbs or being more strategic with carbs (aka plan out your meals). Roasted foods are really good right now as they bring out the sweetness of vegetables. Note, however, this is a good time to eat more food period. If you limit food to amounts from prior weeks, you will indeed crave more sweets, as your body merely needs more calories. Many females deny themselves of this and end up with larger cravings. Days leading up to a female’s period, serotonin production is less. Eat high tryptophan foods (turkey, bananas, buckwheat, oily fish, flaxseed).
Studies have shown women who have a high intake of oily-fish (omega 3 fatty acids) including sardines, salmon, and mackerel, tend to have milder PMS. EFAs are also hormone regulators.
Leafy greens right before your period is helpful in calming your nervous system (due to calcium, magnesium and potassium). Even consider a green powder here, such as those sold by Organifi.
Overall understand your desires for food when it’s this time of the month. Just understanding what is going on with your body can help resolve overeating or poorer food choices. “This too shall pass.”
Exercise - step back and understand what your body needs. It could be stretching or it could be a long hard workout. This week is often a wild card.
Agenda - This is the best week to have pre-planned meals as your energy and interest in making meals will be low.
Supplements - Magnesium supplementation is important for cravings, energy, mood and blood sugar control, especially 7 days before the period. Additionally, fish oil, B vitamins, and tryptophan are recommended to help with PMS and can be used starting with ovulation (if not all month).