Let’s talk periods. Known amongst my girl friends as ‘the eagle landing’ which I quite like as a turn of phrase as perhaps the eagle was circling beforehand and then after it is landed and after a while takes off again but you know it will return.
The analogy works for me in relation to depicting a cycle and a cycle with key phases and with these phases physical and emotional changes.
Plus I like birds (no link there just I like them!)
The more connected to my body I become, the more mindful of my body and welcoming the depths of its sensations, possibilities and limitations, the more I can understand and continue to be my most effective.
Simply, knowledge is power, understanding is compassion and embracing my feminine energy makes me a more loving and caring human being.
And for me, that’s cool.
My motivation to study more about our moontime cycles came from being asked time and again about what to eat during PMS or your periods and what exercise to do but also from having physical and emotional challenges of my own during my cycles. And study I did! Reading books and books on the subject and even going back into biology lessons and quizzing my local wellness practitioners about the subject. All of which is now summarised in my book The Warrior Goddess Body.
So, let’s get into it.
Why do you feel fat, exhausted and overwhelmed during your period?
Hormones are a tricky thing. They play havoc with your emotional state from making you more grumpy, angry to crying at the drop of a hat to actually messing with your body in a physical way too.
Bloating, water retention and belly fat some of the symptoms you can relate to during your moontime cycle.
But are you actually FATTER? Or do you actually FEEL fatter?
During my period, I find myself choosing darker clothes, floatier and flowing tops and stretchier leggings. Well, that is if I can decide what to wear after trying on 3 different outfits and leaving the discarded choices all over the bed and floor before rushing off to your destination in a fluster, sound familiar?
So am I actually FATTER?
The Effects of Estrogen
A woman’s ovaries produce the female sex hormones progesterone and estrogen, after getting certain cues from the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. Estrogen helps build the cushiony uterine lining, known as the endometrium, that will nourish a fertilized egg. If fertilization doesn’t take place, a woman’s body naturally sheds that lining through the process commonly called having a period, or menstruation. Every woman’s menstrual cycle is slightly different, but over time, most women’s cycles follow fall somewhere between 21 and 35 days.
The Weighty Side of the Menstrual Cycle
The biology is simple: Basic cholesterol compounds in fat cells can get changed into a type of weak estrogen called estrone. Overweight or obese women carrying extra fat cells have “little estrone-making factories, which have an estrogenic effect on glands,” explains Maria Arias, MD, a gynecologist at Atlanta Women’s Specialists in Georgia.
This added estrogen can cause bleeding or menstrual disorders. A woman may go months without ovulating, for example, but the uterine lining is still accumulating — to the point that it becomes unstable. Eventually, says Dr. Arias, a woman can have a period that “lets loose like a flood gate,” with prolonged or very heavy bleeding.
Overweight women aren’t the only ones who may have problems with their periods.
Underweight women and women with eating disorders, like anorexia nervosa, that result in extreme weight loss may also be unintentionally impacting their menstrual cycles. Women without much fat on their bodies may have fewer periods or go longer without ovulating.
Starvation, as well as extreme exercise and stress, can trigger an effect that suppresses the hypothalamus. These women may be so underweight that their bodies simply stop making estrogen. Additionally, the lack of fat doesn’t allow cells to convert cholesterol into extra estrogen.
Can Your Period Cause Weight Gain?
Weight loss or gain can trigger changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle, but can it ever go the other way? It often seems like that time of the month moves the needle on your scale a few notches in the direction of weight gain.
“The menstrual cycle isn’t the cause of weight changes, it’s just a bystander,” explains Arias.
The menstrual cycle does not directly impact weight loss or gain, but there may be some secondary connections.
On the list of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms are changes in appetite and food cravings, and that can affect weight. Studies show that women tend to crave foods high in fat and carbohydrates during specific phases of the menstrual cycle; women also tend to take in more calories during these phases.
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Bloating, another uncomfortable yet temporary PMS symptom, leaves some women feeling heavy. Because salty foods can cause the body to retain water, which will show up on the scale as a temporary weight gain, it’s best to watch your salt intake and focus on eating a healthy, balanced diet, full of fruits and vegetables, before, during, and after menstruation. Drinking lots of water may help reduce that bloated feeling as well.
Your menstrual cycle maintains a delicate balance, so it’s good to be aware that gaining a large amount of weight or exercising excessively and losing a significant number of pounds, can impact your production of hormones, specifically estrogen, and hypothalamic functioning, potentially changing the regularity and length of your menstrual periods.
And when cortisol levels are high enough, the body turns on its fight-or-flight response, a woman becomes more metabolically charged, and her appetite is stimulated. This, in turn, causes a woman to seek out carbs and fat, “the actual fuels of the fight-and-flight response,” Peeke says.
Whether a woman will crave sweets or croissants, though, depends on yet another player: the brain chemical serotonin, she says. Most women with PMS experience a drop in serotonin levels, which triggers cravings for carbs because the body uses carbs to make serotonin.
“If cortisol is high and serotonin is low, you’ll seek carbs and fats, but really heavy duty on the simple carbs — sugar-based sweets like chocolate bars,” Peeke says. The reason: Simple sugars are metabolized more quickly than complex carbs, so they offer a quick serotonin fix.
If cortisol is way up but serotonin is relatively normal, a woman is more likely to crave a fat-carb combo without a huge sweet component, such as a bagel laden with cream cheese, Peeke says.
The Blood-Sugar Connection
Other research has linked PMS to a state of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, in the second half of the menstrual cycle, says Susan M. Lark, MD, a clinician in Los Altos, Calif., and author of Premenstrual Syndrome Self-Help Book: A Woman’s Guide to Feeling Good All Month.
“Women in these studies experienced a significant drop in blood sugar after eating, accompanied by edginess and irritability,” Lark says. “Then within an hour or two, they are hungry again and craving more food.”
Whether it’s blood sugar, cortisol, or serotonin levels that are out of whack, experts say, eating huge servings of ice cream, chocolate, and chips are not the only way to bring levels backs into check — in fact, they are the worst way. Proper nutrition and lifestyle habits will achieve the same thing, with long-lasting results.
 Susan Lark, Premenstrual Syndrome Self Help Book https://www.amazon.co.uk/Premenstrual-Syndrome-Self-help-Book-Feeling/dp/0890875871
It seems that it is our hormones that mess with us during different phases during our cycle and this in turn stimulates us to eat in a certain way which can increase our feelings of fat, frustration and fatigue.
So this is where the ‘knowledge is power’ thing comes in. If you are aware of your body sensations you can make CHOICES to avoid these pitfalls and short circuit potential destructive patterns at this time.
- Noticing and noting cravings and instead having a plan of eating that factors in your cycle
- Have different meals of what to eat before, during and after your periods
- Knowing when your energy will ebb and flow and in this way what exercises to do before, during and after your period or whether to exercise at all
- What self care rituals would work best to help you at different times throughout your cycle.
Take Back Control by Accepting Change
Our bodies are in constant, rhythmic change, but because so much of this is happening beneath our waking consciousness, we can feel out of control, or ‘all at sea’.
When we begin to notice the pattern of these cycles, their repetitive nature, their connection to nature beyond us, we can begin to feel not like victims unprepared for the weather, but like adventurers of days gone by, who navigate by nature— the pull of the tides, the placing of the stars and the gathering storm clouds.
Often we can feel overwhelmed and confused by the seeming turbulence of our bodies and unpredictability of our moods. If this is you, then I thoroughly recommend charting your cycle for a few months, to get a deeper understanding of how your body and moods change throughout your cycle.
This will help you to navigate your life from an inner stability, and an awareness of your own unique ebb and flow.
There are many ways to keep track of your cycle:
- marking the expected date of your period in your diary
- using an app on your phone ( I personally use My Moon Time)
- charting symptoms for Fertility Awareness — to aid conception or contraception
- charting symptoms in a journal for healing PMS
- keeping a moon diary— where you chart your symptoms
In my book The Warrior Goddess Body, I detail many chapters about our monthly cycles, PMS, how to overcome weight gain and manage your hormones. Additionally in the accompanying 28 Day programme we have both a menu plan and exercise plan for Heavy Flow Days and additional facilities to manage the emotional sides of it.
For more information and further recommendation on managing and feeling empowered by your cycles, grab the Warrior Goddess Body Book online now for only £12.99.