Your hormones are responsible for how you feel, think and look. A woman with balanced hormones feels happy and motivated. She feels energetic without caffeine during the day and falls asleep easily at night. She loves being active and her workouts help her feel toned and fit. She has a healthy metabolism and maintains her desired weight with a good diet and without restriction or deprivation. Her hair is thick and shiny, and her skin is clear and glowing. She has a healthy libido and an active sex life. Her period comes regularly without uncomfortable symptoms. She feels confident in her ability to conceive and maintain a full-term pregnancy.
If this describes you, that’s fantastic – keep doing what you’re doing, girl! Crushing it! If not, imbalanced hormones may be what’s holding you back from living your best life. Through working with hundreds of women in my practice, I’ve realized how important it is for women to learn the art of living in harmony with their menstrual cycles.
I feel so passionate about this concept that I wrote a book about it! It’s a Hormone Balancing Guide and Cookbook which teaches you how to align your diet, lifestyle and physical activity with the ebbs and flows of your hormones throughout each of the four phases of your menstrual cycle.
Understanding the natural hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout the month helps you embrace the fact that your energy, mood, thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and dietary preferences will not be the same every day. Instead of fighting against these changes, learning how to honor this pattern allows you the grace to be more gentle with and accepting of yourself. By aligning your lifestyle in a way that nourishes your hormonal system, you can be free from the symptoms of hormone imbalances that make loving your body and being at peace with your cycle so challenging!
Eating in harmony with your menstrual cycle
Let’s take a look at what’s happening during each of the four phases of your menstrual cycle, along with suggestions for what to eat during each, so you can start balancing your hormones, optimizing your health and enhancing your life.
Menstrual Phase (Days 1-5 of the Follicular Phase)
The first day of your period is considered day 1 of your menstrual cycle. Physiologically, estrogen and progesterone levels drop which stimulates your uterus to shed its lining. If your hormones are imbalanced (i.e. low progesterone and high estrogen) during the few weeks before your period begins, you are much more likely to experience disruptive symptoms with the onset of your period. Think: premenstrual spotting, cramps, etc. By supporting your hormones throughout the cycle with diet and lifestyle, it is 100% possible to have a period that just “shows up” without any of those awful symptoms.
What to eat
As you are losing blood while menstruating, you may be at risk for losing too much iron. I recommend eating mineral-rich foods during your period, especially if you know you have low iron levels to begin with. Emphasize dark leafy greens, beets, sea vegetables, legumes, red meat and seafood.
Since shedding the uterine lining is an energy-intensive process, give your digestive system a rest by eating warm, cooked and easy-to-digest meals, such as porridge, soups and stews, etc. The red velvet cake oatmeal is the perfect period breakfast as it’s warm, cooked, and rich in iron, magnesium, potassium, calcium and zinc.
Red Velvet Cake “Oatmeal” with Vegan Almond-Coconut Icing
For the icing:
- ¼ cup of Kite Hill almond milk cream cheese
- 2 Tbsp CoYo coconut milk yogurt
- 1 ½ to 2 Tbsp powdered sugar or powdered monk fruit sweetener
- Add grated beet, cauliflower rice, coconut milk and a pinch of salt to a saucepan.
- Bring to a soft boil. Reduce to simmer, cover and let cook for about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make icing, if using. Add cream cheese, yogurt and powdered sugar to a bowl. Use an electric hand mixer to whisk together icing ingredients until smooth and creamy.
- Add remaining “oatmeal” ingredients to the saucepan and stir. Cook until thickened to your liking.
- Divide the oatmeal between two bowls and top each with a dollop of icing.
Follicular Phase (Days 1-14)
This phase starts with menstruation. It’s called the follicular phase because your pituitary gland releases a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the follicles in your ovaries to mature. These contain your eggs. These follicles are making estradiol, a specific form of estrogen, whose main job is to stimulate your uterine lining to grow and thicken. The follicular phase is when women generally feel their best – energized, confident, sexy and strong. The follicular phase ends right before ovulation
What to eat
Since you’re feeling like a superwoman this week, you’ll likely be more physically active and be too busy for food cravings. I recommend loading up on protein- and complex carb-rich foods that are light and fresh to keep you going and going.
Water-dense vegetables (cucumbers, celery, fennel), fruits, whole grains, legumes and lean proteins (eggs, chicken, cod) are great during the follicular phase. If you want to add in some detoxifying green juices and fermented veggies, your body will love you for it!
Ovulatory Phase (Days 13-15 are part of the Luteal Phase)
As the ovarian follicles enter the final stages of maturation during the follicular phase, one of your follicles will become dominant. Stimulated by a surge of luteinizing hormone (LH), the follicle ruptures to release its egg. This is the point of ovulation. The average day of ovulation is day 14 in a 28-day cycle. If you’re trying to get pregnant, now is the time. If you’re not, use barrier methods! Ovulation is essential for baby-making but also for making progesterone in the luteal phase.
What to eat
As estrogen and testosterone levels peak right around ovulation, you still have loads of energy and likely aren’t super hungry. I recommend filling up on leafy greens and brassica veggies (cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) during this phase to support your liver and gut with estrogen metabolism.
Smoothies, salads and broth-based veggie soups are also wonderful choices during the ovulatory phase. Broccoli sprouts are a worthwhile addition for their estrogen-detoxifying superpowers.
Luteal Phase (Days 14-28)
After ovulation, the ruptured follicle restructures into a gland called the corpus luteum which secretes progesterone during the luteal phase. Your luteal phase is the phase between ovulation and the start of your period. The length is determined by the lifespan of the corpus luteum (roughly 10-14 days). With proper amounts of progesterone in the luteal phase, you should feel calm, relaxed and have awesome sleep.
I think of progesterone like our natural Valium. If progesterone is too low during this phase (often due to excess estrogen), you may experience PMS, premenstrual spotting, heavy periods, cramps, anxiety and poor sleep. None of those things are any fun so supporting progesterone production with your diet and lifestyle is key! Ultimately, both estrogen and progesterone drop in the last half of the luteal phase triggering menstruation.
What to eat
It’s probably no surprise when I say you’ll feel more fatigued and hungrier in the days leading up to your period. This is the time that women notoriously struggle with cravings for unhealthy foods, namely carbs, sugar and fatty foods like cheese, French fries, etc.
During this time, I recommend emphasizing foods that are rich in magnesium, B vitamins and essential fatty acids. Not only will upping these nutrients support progesterone production and reduce symptoms such as painful cramps, breast tenderness and mood swings, but also they’ll assist with helping you feel more in control of your cravings.
Because your metabolic rate is elevated during the second half of your cycle, it is natural to feel hungrier. Instead of eating dessert after every meal, bulk out your plate with healthy fats, like avocado, nuts, seeds and coconut. I also recommend ditching the juices, smoothies and salads in favor of more grounding and comforting meal preparations, such as roasted vegetables and slow cooker meals.
If you want to learn more about living in harmony with your cycle, the Hormone Balancing Guide and Cookbook has more information on what to eat for your cycle AND get 32 simple and delicious hormone-balancing recipes (8 per phase) to start applying the knowledge bombs right away!
Additionally, you’ll learn that it’s not just your diet which can be customized to your cycle. You can also align your exercise plan and lifestyle to achieve the best results in the gym and in your day-to-day life.