Sorry guys, this blog is more for the ladies among us, although, do read on if you have women in your life as this may help you understand what on earth is happening to them!
So ladies, you know that feeling when you just wanna eat everything in sight? You're not even that hungry, you just want to eat junk food? It's even more annoying because last week you were SO good and managed to avoid all junk and eat super healthily and you were even beginning to see your body changing because of it?
Well, don't panic, you are certainly not alone, and it is not a lack of willpower that is causing this, it is your hormones.
Yes, those pesky hormones have a lot to answer for! Every month our bodies experience huge hormonal changes and it affects so many aspects of our lives. So don't go beating yourself up next time you are stuffing the popcorn into your mouth as you wipe the last of the ice cream off your chops, there isn't much we can do about it. BUT having an awareness and understanding of these hormonal changes and when they happen may help us prepare for these cravings and our irratic behaviours. So let's have a look at the cycle and how this effects our eating, training and emotions.
Stage One - Menstruation
We all know this phase, our period. Pregnancy hasn't occurred so the uterus sheds it's lining and the unfertilized egg. Two hormones - oestrogen and progesterone drop because there is no fertilized egg to protect and grow so these hormones are now at their lowest level. This hormonal shift results in our energy levels dropping substantially too.
It is important to allow your body to rest during this phase so you don't end up causing injuries. Iron levels can drop during this phase too as your body loses blood making you feel more tired and weak too. Low - moderate intensity exercise is ideal during the menstruation phase as you will still get the benefits of the endorphin release and gentle movements can assist with the easing of cramps and bloating.
This low energy could be a trigger for you to start snacking on sugary foods and drinks as you want the energy spikes though. This, ultimately, will make you feel worse as your blood sugar levels fluctuate all over the place. Caffeine is also worth avoiding at this stage because it restricts blood vessels and can increase tension.
What should you focus on during the menstruation phase?
Iron rich foods such as beans, dark leafy greens, lentils, chickpeas
Stage Two - Follicular
This phase lasts slightly longer than stage one and actually overlaps the menstruation phase too.
As oestrogen and testosterone levels increase you will start to feel rather fabulous again, in fact some women report feeling their best at this stage. Energy levels rise, senses are heightened, creativity is flowing and higher sex drive too. This is when you can really go for it with your training and your motivation and determination is super charged so the chances are those junk food cravings are a distant memory and you are a new woman again.
Stage Three - Ovulation
This is the stage in which an egg is released from your ovary and makes its way to the uterus in search for a sperm to fertilize it. Generally speaking this happens on the 14th day of your cycle (if you have a 28 day cycle) it lasts about 24 hours and if there is no sperm for that egg then it simply dissolves.
This stage is short, so it is very unlikely that you will notice any difference in your energy levels, your eating habits or training abilities. It does kick start the final phase though, the luteal phase.
Stage Four - Luteal
This is the final phase of our cycles and it runs from just after ovulation to the first day of your period. This is where the biggest hormonal changes occur and is when we lose control over our eating habits and just want to demolish everything in sight! Progesterone levels increase, this can make you feel hotter and bloated. This cheeky hormone acts as a temperature regulator in the brain and can actually crank up our heating levels slightly. It also relaxes the smooth muscles of the uterus, sphincter, gallbladder and intestines which is what causes all that bloating. If no pregnancy occurs though, the progesterone levels drop again, as does the levels of oestrogen. This fluctuation leads to an imbalance of oestrogen and progesterone hormones which can impact our serotonin levels giving us all those wonderful PMS symptoms we experience, such as anxiety, irritability, mood swings, depression.
You may begin to feel more tired during your workouts, but try not to sack them off altogether, focus on lower intensity exercises, such as walking, running, swimming, yoga.
So what to try and avoid during this phase?
If you're anything like me, you crave sugar. Try as best you can to avoid it though, the spikes in your blood sugar levels are going to make you feel even worse and your mood will be all over the place. Try to avoid really salty foods too as this can lead to water retention and increase your bloating even more.
So there you have it. I hope that helps. Having an awareness will help you prepare for these changes and in return you may find it easier to avoid the cravings.
Herbal teas are always good. Drink plenty of water too. Stay active, even if it is just a walk around the block and finally, don't beat yourself up!