Cycle. By definition a cycle is “a complete round of occurrences that is repeated.” Cycles occur all around us. A day is a 24 hour cycle. A week, month, and year all have specific days in the cycle and you can expect certain things to happen throughout each cycle.
Cycles occur in nature all around us also. The moon and your menstrual cycle are two common examples. With any cycle you can expected a repeated pattern. This will help you make sense of your cravings, mood, and menstrual cycle.
For females we start our menstrual cycle at a young age with minimal education beyond having a monthly period. We are not taught the details of how it will impact our thoughts, energy, appetite and cravings, weight, and emotions. And like any cycle it is a pattern that repeats itself with each cycle – thus each month.
The more you understand what is going on with your cycle the better you can honor how you feel and support yourself during this time.
Basic understanding of your cycle
Hormones are fluctuating throughout the entire menstrual cycle, specifically estrogen, progesterone, testosterone are the key ones, but additionally follicle stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone are others that fluctuate throughout the month. With the rise and fall of hormones will also be adjustments in how you feel.
A typical menstrual cycle is 28 days, give or take a few. Fluctuations in your cycle days are completely normal. The first day of your cycle is the first day of your period. There are three phases of your cycle, each impacting you in a different way:
- Menstruation also known as follicular phase
- Luteal phase
Let us walk through each one and how it will impact your food cravings, energy, and sleep.
Menstruation is the beginning of the cycle. It is when your period begins. A period averages three to seven days. Typically estrogen is lower at this time. At the beginning of these days, you may want to slow down, however toward the end you may gain renewed energy.
Cravings: During this phase with lower estrogen you may crave comfort foods. Additionally, you may experience some blood sugar fluctuations during this time which will enhance the desire for comfort foods, specifically carbohydrates, and the feeling of being “hangry,” hungry + angry. During this time, nourishing yourself with healthy foods is important. You may include higher carb foods such as whole grains (rice, anyone?), beans, and starch vegetables. Dark chocolate also works during this time.
Energy: At the beginning of these days, you may want to slow down. Give yourself permission to listen to your body and pause. Take a long, hot bath. Watch a movie. Find something good, yet short to read. This desire to slow down will last for a few days, toward the end you may feel an energy burst.
Sleep: Both progesterone and estrogen are lower during this time, which can impact your sleep. It is important to allow for enough time to sleep and practice good sleep hygiene. This is a good time for relaxing music at bedtime.
Ovulation is the release of an egg for fertilization. It usually happens around the middle of your cycle, thus day 14 if you have a typical 28 day cycle.
Cravings: During ovulation you tend to have less cravings and more willpower. This is when you will generally eat less and feel more compelled to exercise.
Energy: This is the time when you are at the top of your game – mentally sharp with peak energy. You may be more social, think up great ideas, and be more creative. Learning new things will be easier during ovulation.
Sleep: Your estrogen has peaked which can help you sleep like a baby. However, if your progesterone has not yet started its rise you may have trouble sleeping. When you hit the spot where estrogen is high and progesterone is rising sleep will come easy and you will feel rejuvenating.
If egg fertilization does not happen during ovulation, the body prepares to get rid of the egg, preparing you for your period. This whole phase lasts approximately 14 days. This is when progesterone increases at the beginning of the phase, then starts to decrease if pregnancy does not occur.
Cravings: The neurotransmitter serotonin is low during the luteal phase. Serotonin is responsible for mood stabilization, happiness, and feeling well. Carbohydrates increase serotonin, which is why you to have increased cravings for higher carb foods such as pasta, potatoes, and sweets. Additionally, this is a time when chocolate cravings are often increased. This is possibly due to a decrease in magnesium throughout the body, as chocolate is an excellent magnesium source. Again, dark chocolate is a good balance to getting a nutrient dense food that can serve both purposes.
Energy: There are two separate levels of energy through this phase. You may start feeling feisty and have a hard time “holding your tongue.” Once you know this you can take the time to think before you speak. Then toward the end of the luteal phase you may go inward, desiring quiet time. Remember to give yourself permission to honor what your body desires.
Sleep: In the beginning you may be able to get deep sleep and wake up feeling rested, as progesterone is at its peak. Then as time moves toward the start of your cycle your sleep may be more restless and you may have vivid dreams.
As with any cycle, the cravings, energy, and mood will fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle, and it repeats every month. While women are depicted as being “crazy” because of our hormones it is in fact what separates us from our male counterparts. Knowing what to expect and being able to honor yourself during each part of the phase will help you feel like you are in your body and help you support yourself throughout each part of the month.