Impact of the Menstrual Cycle on the Female Body
When it comes to being a woman, weight loss and fitness goals can be quite the frustrating challenge. You may stick to eating a healthy diet while working out regularly and still the scale doesn’t change. This really can be upsetting and cause a lot of people to give up on their health journey, but there are factors out of your control and if you know more about them, you can better navigate your wellness journey. One of the biggest factors impacting weight loss for women is their menstrual cycle. While we know that the week of our period could cause some changes, most people don’t realize there are multiple cycles of a period and goes well beyond the time you are actively menstruating.
The general breakdown of your cycle includes 2 phases as described below. This is a brief overview of what you may be experiencing.
1st Half of the Cycle!
The first half of your cycle includes the first and second week after your period ends. During this time you will often find that you have more energy, a better memory and even a higher pain threshold.
2nd Half of the Cycle!
This includes the third and fourth weeks of the cycle and this is when you can feel more tired, your preexisting health conditions may be worsened during this time. Stomach issues are a main problem during this time. You also have a drop in serotonin and will find that you crave more sugar and starchy foods! This is why we all have intense cravings during our periods!
To dive deeper into the impact of the period on the body, you can look at the 4 phases of the cycle. These phases include: Menstruation, Follicular Phase, Ovulation and Luteal phase. Of these 4 phases, you’ve most likely only heard of Menstruation and Ovulation. It’s important to know that during each of these phases your body is experiencing change. We often think that unless we are actively on our menstrual cycle that our body is back to a “normal” state, but there’s so much more to it.
This is the part of your cycle where you are actively losing your uterine lining and it can take 3-7 days.
During this time, you will often have the lowest energy levels. You may find it hard to stay focused and your days could feel rather hazy. This is a good time to rest up when you can and allow your body to work through this draining cycle. Gentle stretching, yoga and pilates could help at this time to relax the body.
This occurs from the first day of your period until ovulation happens. During this time your body is releasing hormones that produce more follicles. These follicles are where immature eggs are housed and typically only one will mature to an egg.
During the follicular phase the estrogen and testosterone levels both rise. You’ll find you have the most energy during this phase. Testosterone will increase your libido and estrogen helps you to feel more extroverted and have a suppressed appetite. This is a great time to brainstorm and schedule!
This is when the egg is released to the ovary. This is caused by additional hormones being released into the body like estrogen and hormones from the pituitary glands. Without these raised hormone levels the body will not know to release that egg for possible fertilization.
Ovulation is when estrogen and testosterone are the highest and you’ll feel more confident and have the highest sex drive! This is a good time to verbalize emotions and talk through problems, as you’ll be clear headed and focused during this time.
After the egg is released from the follicle it stays on the ovary and the follicle transforms into something called a corpus luteum. This structure releases the hormones progesterone and estrogen. This helps to thicken the ovary wall for the egg to implant. If pregnancy doesn’t happen, the corpus luteum will die off, and progesterone levels drop causing the uterine lining to shed (menstruation).
The production of progesterone during this phase causes a major shift in a woman’s mindset. This is when most women experience traditional PMS symptoms like cravings, bloating, headaches, moodiness and anxiety. This can be a hard time to take on new tasks and challenges. This is a good time for rest and relaxation. It’s also good to prioritize a balanced take on nutrition despite those cravings. This will help you to recover faster!
Just when you’d think there couldn’t be any other concerns, there’s also a ton of syndromes that can come along with having a period. If you’re noticing changes or abnormalities, please also talk to your doctor! One of the most common syndromes is Premenstrual Syndrome.
You may not have heard of this syndrome before, but the symptoms go beyond the standard PMS symptoms you may experience. This includes: depression, anxiety, anger, mood swings and difficulty concentrating. If you are experiencing these symptoms, please contact your doctor immediately.
All in all it’s so important to have an understanding of how the body changes throughout the month. It can be hard to feel like you are exhausted some days and can’t meet your goals, but understanding how your hormones play into this, will allow you to maximize your time. When you can, prioritize planning schedules, setting goals and tackling difficult tasks during that Luteal phase. Try to set up your schedule so that you have some extra rest during your menstrual cycle.
Some other helpful tips to reducing the impact of these phases on your day-to-day life include:
Getting adequate rest (7-9 hours!)
Hydration! Women should be aiming for at least 2 liters a day. Dehydration can worsen symptoms like cramps and headaches especially.
Eat a balanced diet. While we may have those cravings for sugar and starchy foods, if you can try to plan ahead to eat well, you’ll probably notice less of the extreme highs and lows. Major spikes in blood sugar leads to those energy crashes which can worsen headaches, anxiety and make it harder to complete tasks.
Exercise! This may change week to week, but exercise can help reduce the impact of period related symptoms.
Talk to a doctor! If you notice you have severe symptoms and it’s impacting your life, you should always talk to your GYN. Sometimes vitamin supplementation can really help, but should be prescribed by your doctor. There’s a multitude of vitamins that have been linked to lessening the impact of your cycle.
Unfortunately we can’t control how our body functions and the highs and lows we feel from our periods, but we can be informed and work around those changes. So be informed. Don’t beat yourself up for not being as productive at times as you’d like to be. Remember this is out of your control, but you can try to lessen the impact! You’ve got this!!
Until next time… and remember you are amazing!