Tracking your menstrual cycle can help you listen to & understand your body SO MUCH! Trust me, this is for so, so, so much more than preventing pregnancy or trying to conceive.
Tracking your menstrual cycle can help you achieve your nutrition & fitness goals as well as dial in your productivity & improve your mental health.
Listening to, understanding, and beginning to trust your body cues are all crucial parts of the Intuitive Eating journey. When you observe your body, you can identify when it’s hungry, when it’s full, when it’s tired and needs rest, when it’s antsy and needs to move, and when it’s lonely and needs human interaction.
Hormones & processes in our bodies change throughout the menstrual cycle (Day 1 all the way up to Day 28ish). It is not true that the 3-5 days of bleeding is the ONLY time that anything should feel different in our bodies. Unfortunately, it’s often the only time women give themselves permission to act or feel any differently. Guess what? Your cycle affects so many things, including: hunger, cravings, emotions, body image thoughts, productivity, strength & endurance, digestion, motivation, and more! These things can all change with changing hormones, and I believe it is important to bring some self-compassion & understanding for how our bodies & our minds act slightly differently at various phases of your cycle.
Men, don’t think you can just scroll by this one. This knowledge applies to you too! Please know that it’s not as simple as bleeding from “down there” means an irritable female. (Insert a big eye roll from me on how Hollywood & ahem, certain politicians have gotten this wrong… but I still love that cupcake scene from No Strings Attached). In fact, irritability often happens during PMS, pre-menstruation, aka before the period. Being aware and open to learning about this can help you better understand & be a loving, caring, respectful human being to your female partners, friends, and family members.
So, how to track, and what to track?
I use an app called Flo… and I really like it for convenience. But truthfully, the things they track are not quite comprehensive enough for me & my clients. I encourage my clients who can or should expect to get periods to be aware of how things change in their minds and bodies throughout the month, based on their cycle.
When it comes to tracking your menstrual cycle for nutrition & fitness goals as well as your productivity & mental health, it is important to observe without judgement. I’ve created some general categories with bulleted lists. You can pick and choose some things that you might want to track each day, or every few days alongside your menstrual cycle days & phases — menstruation, follicular, ovulation, and luteal phases. You can rate your responses on a scale of 1-5… or you can just simply note that some of these symptoms are present for you on certain days. It could be as simple as writing in a notebook: “Day 5 of my cycle, and I noticed X, Y, Z symptoms were really present for me today.” I encourage you to use this list and create your own way of tracking that works best for you.
Sensitivity & Pain
- Tender breasts
- Vaginal or ovary pain
- Sensitivity to any pain
- Headaches / migraines
- Frequency of bowel movements (#/day)
- Frequency of urination (#/day or avg every X hrs)
- Consistency of bowel movements (use the Bristol stool chart)
- Reduced endurance
- Reduced strength
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Waking up in the middle of the night
- Waking up feeling unrested
Food, hydration, & appetite
- Increased/decreased appetite
- Cravings for carbohydrates/sugar
- Cravings for alcohol
- Ounces of water consumed daily
- Sex drive
- Masturbation or sex (protected or unprotected)
Mood & focus
- Sensitivity to criticism
- Inability to focus
- Tendency to speak your mind
- Negative thoughts (such as poor body image)
- Desire to body check (weighing, looking in the mirror)
- Feeling lonely
- Increased use of phone: social media, texting, calling, or other
- Increased desire to make plans with friends or go on dates
Once you begin tracking even just a few of these symptoms over the course of a month or two, you may notice some patterns. As an Intuitive Eater, you can use some of these observations to take care of your body.
adjust your expectations for exercise and modify your workouts
You might notice that you tend to feel really fatigued during or after ovulation, and your endurance or strength in your workouts is not quite what it was. Feel free to adjust the weights you are lifting, or the duration or intensity of your workouts. Let yourself rest more, if needed. Remind yourself that this does not mean you are “lazy” and this reduced intensity won’t be forever. You’ll likely bounce back after a few days, especially if you give yourself the rest you need.
I am not a fan of recommendations that say things like “do yoga during this week of your cycle, and strength train during this week of your cycle.” Completely changing your physical activity from week to week sounds like a recipe for confusion. To see progressive improvements in your strength/skill, you do need to be relatively consistent with your physical activity. Stick to what you like to do, and modify your workouts accordingly. Don’t feel like you have to swing on a pendulum from slow yoga classes to sweaty HIIT classes throughout your cycle… unless of course that IS what you like to do.
prepare for and rationalize any negative body image thoughts
Maybe you tend to have negative thoughts about your body that get really loud when you are feeling bloated right before your period. Just remind yourself that it’s normal to have changes in digestion and bloating at certain times in your cycle. Continue to hydrate and eat regular meals. If you find it helpful, ask for support and comfort from friends, family, or your partners during this time. Wear looser, comfortable clothing, not to hide… but out of kindness to your body and to aid in digestion.
allow yourself to eat more in response to increased hunger, without questioning your body
Sometimes, your hunger and cravings for carbs amps up when you are PMSing (right before your period), and also your digestion slows down (constipation), and then speeds up (looser stools) with menstruation. These symptoms may vary for you, so just observe and take note! If your hunger is increased during a certain time in your menstrual cycle, that likely indicates a need for food and a slightly higher metabolism. So, listen to your body and give it more frequent meals and/or some more carbs! Also, practice being mindful of your stress & emotions and how those impact your food cravings. Try to identify the subtle differences between emotional and physical hunger.
These are all useful insights to pair with data about your menstrual cycle. Tracking these symptoms can help you understand why your hunger, cravings, digestion, fatigue, exercise, mood & focus are all sometimes different from one day to the next. This is just one more tool you can use to stop questioning your body and start listening to and responding to it!
Curious about how you can integrate these insights and become an Intuitive Eater? Book an initial consult with me!