If you were blessed to be born with a uterus, then you will experience roughly 450 periods or 3,000 days of bleeding in your lifetime. Despite the fact that vulva-owning humans go through over four hundred menstrual cycles, we’re rarely educated about the particular waxes and wanes of this cycle with it’s four distinct cycles. We rarely understand the complexity and holistic process of our bodies, and thus feel personally attacked at the first sign of a cramp or persistent hormonal acne. When we actually begin to grasp the intelligent design of our bodies, it becomes something you cannot help but marvel at. So, let’s start at the beginning with the Menstrual Phase —
When does this phase occur?
The beginning of your menstrual cycle begins with your period, during the aptly named Menstrual Phase. This phase occurs concurrently with the beginning of the Follicular Phase which is the pre-ovulatory phase including menstruation and proliferation. Typically your period will last between 3–7 days.
What happens during this phase?
During the Menstrual Phase, your body releases the broken-down uterine lining, the egg your body doesn’t need anymore, mucus, and of course, blood. During the Follicular Phase and Ovulation Phase, the lining of your uterus thickens to prepare for the possibility of pregnancy. If you do not become pregnant, then the endometrium, or uterine lining sheds.
What hormones change during this phase?
Your period is a time of low hormones all around — estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
What should the food focus be during this phase?
When you begin your Menstrual Phase, it’s important that you focus on adding nutrients to your system. During this phase focus your attention on warmth and comfort. The foods you eat should be blood-building, restoring, and re-mineralizing the body and kidneys. You can do this by boosting water-rich fruits and vegetables. Think about your diet during this phase as something to nourish and heal.
Focus on the following food items during this phase —
- Veggies: Kale, wakame, mushrooms, water chestnuts, beets, veggie broth, sweet potatoes, broccoli
- Fruit: Watermelon, berries, mangoes, oranges, bananas
- Carbs: Brown rice, cauliflower rice
- Protein: Eggs, kelp, halibut
- Seeds: Flax and pumpkin
- Supplement: Flaxseed, kefir, magnesium, dark chocolate
During your period, the body needs rest and release. It is best to avoid foods that will magnify PMS symptoms such as carbonated drinks, processed foods, fried foods, and refined grains (white bread, pasta, or cereal). Additionally, consider avoiding legumes, (beans, chickpeas) which will increase bloating and gas. The Menstrual Phase is a great time to splurge on some nutrient-rich sushi with fresh first and brown rice. To relieve cramps and general inflammation, consider trying this anti-inflammatory juice —
What’s the best way to exercise during this phase?
Somehow, I have never thought that I may want to plan my workouts around my cycle. One of my to-do-list-making tendencies is to schedule workouts weeks in advance and had never considered my hormonal changes. Just because I feel great sweating buckets during a 60-minutes HIIT workout one Monday, doesn’t mean the next Monday I’ll feel the same.
Perhaps you’ve started your period and you’ve given in to those sugar cravings and you’re berating yourself for not running a 5k, or dragging your feet to workout. Well, I’m here to say — It’s OK. Just remember, studies have shown that exercising during your period can boost your mood and curtail PMS symptoms. It will also increase blood flow and therefore ease menstrual cramps. If you’re looking to boost your endorphins during your period focus on slower, more mindful movement. The most important thing to do is listen to YOUR body — if you want to run a 5k, get after it!
The Menstrual Phase typically calls on you to slow down and release. It's important to focus on gentle movement during this time, such as walking and restorative yoga. Maybe consider trying some of these restorative practices —
What kind of discharge should I expect during this phase?
Surprise surprise, the discharge you’ll experience during this phase is blood as your uterus sheds the endometrium.
What’s the focus of sex during this phase?
So, let’s talk about getting it on during your period. If you are a vagina-owner, you have undoubtedly had all sorts of experiences when it comes to periods and sex. Men being disgusted by menstruation is perhaps one of the most emblematic traits of the patriarchy. The answer for whether or not you can/should have sex on your period is — whatever you’re comfortable with is perfect. Or as my friend says — if you like it, I love it. If the thought of getting it on while you bleed makes you anxious or queasy, by all means, don’t do it. But if you are chomping at the bit to get it on and your partner is grossed out by the natural functions of your body…well…maybe reconsider some things. I’ve always found that the most grown-ass men will not only be okay with period sex, but they might be really into it. In my book, being disgusted by my body’s natural process — be it bleeding or pubic hair — makes you a boy, not a man.
Due to hormonal changes, you may experience a surge in your libido during the Menstrual Phase. Having sex (and yes, orgasms!) during your period will trigger endorphins, which make you feel good. Sex during this phase has many other benefits, such as relieving cramps, shorter periods, natural lubrication, and relieving headaches. Although the risks for pregnancy are lower during this time, it is always important to use protection both for pregnancy and STIs.