From mood swings to cravings, your menstrual cycle is more than just a monthly routine. Discover how aligning your diet with your cycle can unlock a new level of well-being, minus the PMS woes.
As women, we are cyclical beings. This means that as we cycle throughout the month, our sex hormones — estrogen and progesterone — ebb and flow, causing our energy levels, hunger levels, motivation, mood, and even behaviors to fluctuate as the month goes on (enter: PMS stage left).
The more you can be in tune with your menstrual cycle and understand the changes you experience in your body and mind throughout the month, the more you can optimize your cycle and give your body what it needs the most — whether that’s more nourishment, more self-compassion... or more chocolate!
Nutrition can play such a key role in whether you optimize our cycle or not, so here are five things you can do to adapt how you eat and understand yourself at different stages of your cycle.
Eat high-protein, nutritionally balanced meals, because protein helps with satiety as it controls your hunger hormones and also your blood sugar levels. Aim to prioritize protein with every meal. This will especially help when your cravings and hunger levels naturally increase leading up to your menstruation. Team this with healthy fats to support hormones and reduce inflammation (olive oil, avocados, salmon, nuts/seeds), some complex carbohydrates for energy (rice, quinoa, potatoes, pasta, bread, legumes), and loads of veggies for fiber and your vitamins/minerals.
Eating lots magnesium-rich foods coming up to (and whilst on) your menstruation. Your body burns through magnesium while you're on your period and also when you’re stressed, so increasing your intake of magnesium-rich foods is a good idea. Think leafy greens (spinach, kale), salmon, walnuts, and dark chocolate (yes, a great excuse for chocolate!). Also, aim to eat more iron-rich foods as you lose blood on your period — more red meat, liver, leafy greens, and legumes, and add foods rich in vitamin C such as kiwi, oranges, and peppers to enhance the iron absorption in your body.
ANTICIPATE YOUR HUNGER LEVELS
Understand that your calorie requirement increases when you are in the luteal phase of your cycle (from ovulation until menstruation). Your body temperature rises slightly, which means your energy expenditure increases slightly, and in turn, your calorie requirement does — anywhere from 100 to 400 more calories per day. Knowing this and being able to look out for it can help any unexplained feelings of wondering why you’re hungrier than usual.
ALLOW YOURSELF THE CHOCOLATE!
Often, we feel guilty for wanting and craving more chocolate, cookies, or ice cream, but this is so normal. Know that increased cravings are so natural and are due to the changes to our hormones. It’s an inevitable part of the month as a woman, so lean into what your body wants at this time, rather than fighting against it. You’ll likely end up bingeing on the chocolate otherwise, and eating three times as much! A little extra chocolate a few days a month isn’t going to impact your health or nutrition goals. Banning the foods that bring us joy makes for a sad time of the month. Just make sure you’re also getting in your nutrient-dense whole foods.
LIMIT PROCESSED FOOD
Limiting processed and junk food around your period is going to help reduce inflammation. Menstruation is an inflammatory experience for your body, and eating inflammation-inducing foods can encourage PMS symptoms such as cramps, pains, and heavy periods. Caffeine is also best avoided as it contributes to bloating and cramps, so you could switch to decaf coffee and herbal teas during those days.