Get the know-all of the 4 stages of the menstrual cycle and what to eat in each phase
The other day, we did a menstruation pop quiz on our Instagram account @aurabox.co and we were surprised to hear the answers from amongst the other girls. There’s still relatively much confusion about the period and everything related to it–why we bleed; how contraceptives influence us, etc. In fact, there were even doubts about the difference between the menstrual cycle and period in and of itself.
It’s for that reason we love doing what we do: giving you all the available information concerning the period. With more information, we can take more control of our bodies and minds, and understand how to better take care of ourselves.
Today, we’re going to go over all there is to know about the menstrual cycle: the different phases and hormones involved; the effects of each phase on the body and mind, and recommended food for optimal well-being in each part of the cycle.
Continue reading on to discover more about how we can experience a healthier, more regular and pleasant menstrual cycle.
What is the menstrual cycle?
The menstrual cycle is defined as the time elapsed between the first day of a woman’s period until the second-to-last day of her next period. The average duration of the cycle is 28 days: however, the duration can vary between approximately 21 to 35 days for some women.
As a result of female hormones (estrogen, progesterone and many more), we experience changes in our bodies, primarily in the uterus and ovaries. From our first period to menopause, the menstrual cycle helps prepare our body for a possible pregnancy.
The menstrual cycle can be divided into four phases: menstruation, follicular phase ovulation and luteal phase.
What is each phase and what to do to feel better in each one?
MENSTRUATION: The beginning of the menstrual cycle is marked by the actual period, that is, the flow of blood resulting from the uterine lining (aka endometrium) being expelled from the body.
The name may seem a bit weird, but in layman’s term, the endometrium is a mucus lining that runs alongside the uterus and is rejuvenated each month in preparation for a possible pregnancy. In the case that an egg is not fertilised, the endometrium detaches itself. The usual duration of this phase is from 4 to 7 days.
Tip: We want to get the most comfort possible during our period. For that reason, we recommend opting for food that offers healing-like nutrients. Make warm (or cold) soups 🍲 with a bone broth (high in collagen to make up for any hormonal imbalance) or roll out your sushi skills with sea vegetables (cucumbers, noris, scallops) and kale 🍣. Kale is a great source of anti-inflammatory properties 🥬.
FOLLICULAR PHASE: Each of us is born with approximately 500,000 follicles–small fluid sacs containing immature eggs–in our ovaries. (There are so many!) These follicles remain in a state of suspension, waiting to be selected to develop in each menstrual cycle. Our body releases a hormone (FSH) so that these follicles can begin to grow.
Of all the follicles that are developing, only one is capable of reaching full maturity. This particular one will be that which releases the egg during the next phase of the menstrual cycle - ovulation.
By the same token, estrogens appear in this stage, contributing to the creation of an abundant cervical mucus which helps sperm enter into the area. The same hormones also thicken the endometrium to prepare it for the possible arrival of a fertilised egg.
Tip: To give yourself a rush of energy during your down moments, prepare a diet that is rich in iron and vitamin B12. We recommend meals with chicken, salmon or beef 🥩. For those who prefer to keep a vegan diet, opt for salads 🥗mixed with lentils, beans, nuts or seeds 🌰.
OVULATION: Between day 10 and 21 of our menstrual cycle, we begin to enter into the third phase–ovulation–in which the follicle wall breaks and releases a mature egg for fertilisation. It is normal for this phase to occur around day 14 after the period, that is, around the middle of the cycle.
Tip: Since your estrogen levels are at an all-time high, you won’t be craving all that candy or pizza as much. However, we should change the diet a bit to include foods with more protein, fat and lots of fiber in order to detoxify the increase in hormones.
We recommend eating vegetables high in fiber, such as asparagus, brussels sprouts, spinach, chard, etc. 🥦 For those who love fruits, go and buy raspberries, strawberries 🍓, coconuts 🥥 and guava 🍈. These fruits offer up an abundance of antioxidants and help detoxify some hormones in the liver.
LUTEAL PHASE: How this phase develops varies according to whether the egg has been fertilised or not. In the event that fertilisation has not taken place, the luteal phase is primarily characterised by premenstrual syndrome, that is, when we are in a bad mood and experience irritability or abdominal pain, etc. The follicle contracts within the ovary and we have a reduction in estrogen and progesterone levels. This, in turn, causes the endometrium to become detached from the uterus and bring us back to the beginning of the menstrual cycle or our next period.
Tip: Reduce the cravings associated with premenstrual syndrome and eat every 3-4 hours or when you notice you’re a little hungry. We recommend that you prepare meals made with pumpkin, courgette, sweet potatoes or turnip.🍠These yummy vegetables help to mitigate the effects of water retention and the sensation of bloating. Also, eat rice 🍚 or whole wheat bread 🥖 that are high in complex carbohydrates to fill you up for much longer.
When to see a doctor?
Sometimes, we can have an irregular menstrual cycle and not know when we’ll have our next period. The irregular menstrual cycle is defined as that which doesn’t have a specific duration and can vary from one cycle to another.
It is important that if you notice some of the symptoms listed below, do not hesitate to get in contact with your gynecologist:
- You have not had your period in 3 months
- You have the period more often than every 21 days
- You have the period less often than every 35 days
- Your period lasts more than a week
- You bleed between your periods
- You experience a lot of pain
You are not alone. we all live the menstrual cycle. There will be times that we’ll have less energy, but we don’t have to let it limit us to live to the fullest. Let's take advantage of each phase of the menstrual cycle to be free and enjoy more of both ourselves and our surroundings.
Because you deserve better.