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Episode 116: Go with the 'Flow': Following Your Cycle for Better Health and Weight Loss

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This is probably the most embarrassing story I could tell you, and believe me I never thought I would tell a soul, let alone put it out into the world in a podcast episode. But I really think we need to talk about it. 

Warning: if you're squeamish (especially about period stories), skip to the 'advice' section of the blog. 

It was about a month ago, it was day one of my cycle and I was hurting... bad. I've had cramps that have made me yack before, but nothing came close to what I was experiencing in this moment. 

Now before I continue with the story, I should tell you a few years ago my girl friend turned me onto something called a Diva Cup. Far more sanitary, environmentally-friendly, and convenient than a tampon, it's a little silicone cup that you insert during menstruation. 

Well there I am, naked in my bathroom desperately trying to run myself a hot bath for some relief since past experience tells me I won't be able to keep aspirin down, but unable to get in because I feel the nausea hit, the hot saliva fill my mouth. I know it's coming. 

I lunge towards the porcelain thrown, and wretch so hard my diva cup flies out of my body. 

Needless to say, the rest of my day was cancelled. And this is just one of the many ways our cycle can bring us to a dead stop. 

I'm sure you've experienced it before... you're doing great with your daily workouts and then your period smacks you with debilitating fatigue that no hype-up playlist can snap you out of. 

Or you're crushing it with your food choices, and then the PMS monster comes out and force-feeds you a box of chocolates you had done fine ignoring until now. 

We can't pretend that our period doesn't affect us and our ability to stay on track with our goals. 

But we can understand the 4 phases of our cycle so we can roll with the flow, instead of fighting against it. 

Week 1: First day of period-Day 7

  • Estrogen starts out low but steadily rises.
  • Early in the week: energy will be low so you may want to stay in and do more restorative workouts like yoga and pilates.
  • Because this is the week you're losing blood, you'll want to prioritize iron-rich foods like red meat, sea food, beans, and dark leafy greens to help lift the fatigue.
    • Note: because estrogen has a slight appetite suppressing effect, you may reach for smaller portions. 
  • As estrogen rises throughout the week, your mood, energy, and motivation will increase making you more interested in adventure. It's easier to learn new skills this week, so this would be a good time to try some fun fitness activities like rock climbing or taking a dance class, or even trying some new cooking techniques!
  • You build more muscle, faster during this time so engaging in resistance training, heavy lifting, or trying something new like cross fit is also a good idea. 

Week 2: Day 8 to ovulation (day 14)

  • Estrogen and testosterone rise until they peak.
  • As estrogen continues to climb, the positive benefits you experienced in week 1 will continue as well.
  • You'll be social, energized, brave, competitive, and have more coordination and faster reaction times making group sports or fitness classes a stellar choice.
    • You also will likely feel less sore because you have more endorphins which act as a pain suppressant. 
  • Higher estrogen also increases will power which means if you're going to do any sort of elimination diet that requires saying no to your favorite foods, this would be the time to do it. 
  • Because of boosts in estrogen and testosterone, you are still going to be building higher amounts of lean muscle during this time, so keep up the resistance training to score the metabolic boosting effects of added muscle.
  • This is when libido tends to spike as well, so there's nothing wrong with a good romp session to burn some extra calories.
  • The one downside of all this increased energy and mental stimulus is it can trigger anxiety. So stay mindful of that, and consider including meditation, yoga, and calming teas in your routine.

Week 3: Day 15-22

  • Progesterone rises, estrogen and testosterone drop during the first half of the week, then estrogen spikes once more.
  • Because of the drop in estrogen at the beginning of the week, you may experience some mild PMS-type symptoms (fatigue, irritability, depression).
  • As progesterone rises and estrogen declines, you'll feel a bit slower, calmer, and more reserved
  • This is a good week to slow your workout routine down, focusing on more relaxing and solo varieties like yoga, long walks, pilates, and tai chi. 
    • You do burn 30% more fat when you engage in aerobic exercise during this time, so if you have the energy, take advantage.
  • Because you're just past ovulation and your body is preparing to potentially be pregnant, you'll tend to crave fattier, more calorie-dense comfort foods and have a stronger desire to eat larger portions
    • To mitigate this, maintain steady blood sugar levels by eating well-balanced meals throughout the day, and for the love of God, do not ignore hunger cues.
    • Get healthy fats from things like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olives, and it'll help give your body what it's craving without turning to less healthy options.

Week 4: Day 23-28

  • Estrogen and progesterone plunge.
  • Hello PMS! As your hormones drop off, so will your mood, energy, and patience. 
    • However this is not a forgone conclusion. If you get good sleep, eat well, exercise, and de-stress, you can strongly effect how bad these symptoms get, if they show up at all.
  • This is not the time to try new things as you're more cynical and negative during this time. So reach for workouts and meals you already know you enjoy.
  • Serotonin levels also drop during this time which makes you crave more carb and sugar-laden foods for their serotonin-boosting effects. 
    • Instead try walking in nature, running, catching some rays, swimming, and cycling which all have been shown to naturally boost serotonin.
  • You're still burning 30% more fat during aerobic exercise this week, but because progesterone is dropping you'll have more energy to hit it hard in the gym. Take advantage of this with some great cardio workouts and HIIT. 



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