IWD 21: How to Eat, Think and Move Around Your Cycle

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Menstruation is a weird thing. It is experienced by so many, yet affects everyone differently. For some, it’s just a minor inconvenience for a few days each month, for others, it’s an overwhelming, overbearing, and downright painful experience. Some can go about their menstruating days without a second thought, others are left unable to move due to debilitating pain. 

It is, unfortunately, just the luck of the draw.

What is a ‘Normal’ Cycle?

As menstruation is a tightly regulated, hormonal process, changes in mood, appearance and body are common, hence the infamous term ‘Premenstrual Syndrome’.

As somewhat established already, everyone’s periods are different. A ‘regular’ cycle can range from 24-38 days, meaning that the time from the first day of your bleed, to the day before your next bleed, is at least 24 days, but not more than 38 days.

With that, the symptoms and side effects experienced will also range within this span. 

Learning what your body needs around your cycle can be a long process. But this process can be helped along by tracking your period via an app such as FitrWoman and Clue. This way, you can log any and all symptoms or changes that occur to your body through your cycle, and the period itself.

Why do I feel ‘bloated’ around menstruation?

One of the most complained about side-effects of periods is weight ‘gain’. It is common to feel that you have ‘gained’ weight, around a week before your period. This is known as the Luteal Phase, which begins after ovulation, and can last up to until the first day of your next period.

During this phase, progesterone is the dominant hormone. Progesterone’s role in the menstrual cycle is to prepare the endometrium for the potential of pregnancy after ovulation, triggering it to thicken to accept a fertilised egg. Not only does progesterone initiate this process, but it can also stimulate appetite and increase the production of aldosterone. This causes kidneys to retain water and salt, increasing water and salt retention in the body and causing a feeling of ‘fluffiness’. 

This feeling can be uncomfortable, but rest assured, the weight change is not permanent.

Should I exercise on my period?

Feeling bloated can also lead to an increased desire to exercise, to counteract the weight ‘gain’. 

“Serotonin depletion (in conjunction with an increased appetite) is thought to be responsible for the cravings that some experience during their period.”

If you are not someone whose life is affected by their period, then by all means carry on your exercise routine as normal! But if you are someone who suffers from cramps, nausea, or any other symptom that makes it hard to exercise as normal, this is a sign to take it easy for a few days.

Exercise is supposed to make you feel good! So why battle through a workout if it will make you feel worse? Or perhaps try something more relaxing, such as a walk, yoga or pilates. 

Changes in Mood

Along with weight ‘gain’, PMS can also present in more emotional ways, such as mood swings. While many perceive mood swings to be switching between happiness and sadness, other emotions can also come into the mix. Swinging between irritability, anxiety and anger, are also very common emotional symptoms of PMS. A contributing factor to these feelings may be a decrease in serotonin experienced with the drop in oestrogen.

Tracking apps have already been mentioned, but they can also be extremely useful in identifying if there are perhaps days where you are more emotional than others. Keeping tabs on yourself can help you get to know your body a lot better too, and also help you rationalise your thoughts.

It can be hugely comforting to know there is a reason as to why you are feeling a certain way, so try to track any changes in mood throughout your cycle! 

“Serotonin is known as the ‘happy chemical’, as it has a vital role in your emotional well-being.”

Feeling more emotional around your period is likely just PMS, but if your emotions seem to be severe and intense it is possible you are suffering from one of two conditions:

  1. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) – similar to PMS, but the symptoms are more severe and tend to be more emotional. It can cause intense mood swings that interfere with daily life.
  2. Premenstrual exacerbation – as may be implied by the name, this refers to the worsening of an existing condition before your period. This includes anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression, which can all worsen in the days or weeks before your period.

If you are worried about any symptoms you experience around your cycle, speak to your GP or a specialist!

What should I eat during my period?

What to eat around your period can be a source of anxiety – you’re craving chocolate and ice cream, but feel like you need to be following a healthy meal plan. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to nutrition around your period. Once again, it will depend on your individual symptoms.

Periods can change your stool patterns too – if you experience looser stools around your time of the month, eating a high fibre diet, realistically, is not going to be the best option. On the other hand, if things tend to slow down around your period, a high fibre diet would be a great option.

As mentioned, the increase in progesterone in the body before your bleed can also increase appetite and serotonin levels can drop with oestrogen levels in those with PMS.

Serotonin depletion (in conjunction with an increased appetite) is thought to be responsible for the cravings that some experience during their period. Serotonin is known as the ‘happy chemical’, as it has a vital role in your emotional well-being. The precursor for serotonin is tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid sourced from food. And guess what chocolate contains lots of? Tryptophan! Meaning that chocolate can be great if you are on your period. 

Giving advice around periods is difficult, as everyone’s experience is completely unique. Getting to know how your body and mind work around your period can be extremely useful in managing any symptoms that you experience, whether that be weight ‘gain’, changes in mood, or changes in appetite. If you take anything away from this, start tracking your cycle with an app! And if you are worried about anything, consult a medical professional.

FFF Meghan Nutritionist

References

1 Fraser, I.S., Critchley, H., Broder, M., Munro, M.G. (2011). The FIGO Recommendations on Terminologies and Definitions for Normal and Abnormal Uterine Bleeding. The Seminars in Reproductive Medicine; 29(5): 383-390.

2 Guillén-Casla V, Rosales-Conrado N, León-González ME, Pérez-Arribas LV, Polo-Díez LM. Determination of serotonin and its precursors in chocolate samples by capillary liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry detection. J Chromatogr A. 2012;1232:158-165. doi:10.1016/j.chroma.2011.11.037

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