Eating with your cycle
It's interesting how many of us are welcomed into womanhood. Maybe a quick chat about periods and being given a box of tampons...or maybe not even that.
For the most part, the modern woman has a negative relationship with her menstrual cycle. It has been labeled "the curse". This could be due to the fact that it is inconvenient for the busy modern woman or that it causes unpleasant symptoms such as cramping or PMS (which are worth discussing at a later date because both are a sign of hormonal imbalance).
Very few, if any, women are actually educated on how to live harmoniously with their menstrual cycle. One of the biggest ways that we can do this is to actually eat in rhythm with the cycle.
This is a practice that I teach most of my clients and I wanted to share it with you so that you could start tapping into the power and wisdom of your femininity.
Because many women don't know much about their cycle, other than it happens every month, I am going to give you the full run down.
Basics of your cycle
Most women have a 28 day cycle. Normal is considered 26-35 days. Ideally your cycle is linked to the moon cycle. Menstruation period lasts 3-7 days with normal blood loss being 30ml-80ml.
In Oriental medicine, there are 4 phases to the menstrual cycle: menstrual, post menstrual, ovulation, and premenstrual. Each of these phases lasting approximately 7 days. The first day of your cycle is the first day you start bleeding.
It is important to honor each of these phases and adjust both your nutrition and lifestyle accordingly.
The uterine lining (endometrium) discharges from the body, and the pituitary begins making FSH and LH hormones to stimulate growth of new follicles (eggs).
The menstrual phase is the time when you are bleeding. According to Oriental medicine, our energy turns inward and goes through a natural cleanse. You want to decrease strenuous activities and allow the body to rest. If you opt to exercise please go for a walk or practice gentle yoga. If you are tired, rest. Refrain from eating difficult to digest foods such as dairy or hydrogenated fats. And steer clear of stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, sugar, or tobacco. Remember your body is detoxing, so try not to make it harder.
Foods that you should focus on should be easy to digest foods such as soups, congee/kichari, root veggies or casseroles. Adjust your diet to the season. So if it's winter time, don't eat a lot of raw foods.
Because you are losing blood, it's a good time to focus on iron rich foods such as grass fed red meat, tuna, salmon, eggs or veggies such as beets, greens (kale, spinach, bok choi), lentils or black beans. You can increase iron absorption by eating foods rich in vitamin C as well.
Post Menstrual Phase
One of the follicles becomes dominant and begins to produce more and more estrogen. This causes the uterine lining to thicken and cervical fluid to increase.
During the post menstrual phase your body starts to grow another egg. If you enjoy a hard workout....this is the time to do that. You will notice that energetically you will be more drawn to socialize and have sex as well. In Oriental medicine, the focus is on nourishing the blood and yin because this responds to the tissue in the uterine lining.
Because your body already went through a natural detox while menstruating, it's a good time to continue that process by eating foods that are natural detoxers such as: millet, mung beans, adzuki beans, black soybeans, figs. Also, increasing chlorophyll rich foods to balance residual toxins in the body, build new blood and support cell renewal: kale, chard, bok choy, micro-algae, seaweeds.
Other foods to increase would be: black sesame seeds; sweet fruits: especially berries such as mulberries, goji berries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, dark grapes, avocado, dates, figs, and apricots; sweet vegetables such as beets, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro; whole-grains such as oats, quinoa, buckwheat, barley (pan-roast before cooking), oats, rice; legumes like black beans and kidney beans.
LH hormone surges, triggering the release of the egg from the dominant follicle. Fertile cervical mucus (sometimes having an “egg-white” consistency) increases, and the cervix is open.
At ovulation, your yin energy is at it's peak and will soon be declining as yang energy increases. During this period, your libido is at it's peak. In Oriental medicine, we believe that during this time women are the most creative and able to verbalize their thoughts and feelings easily. You will feel the most attractive as well! This is a time to nourish the kidneys, which are the source of your jing and prenatal qi.
Focusing on warming spices is a good idea such as cloves, fenugreek, fennel seed, black peppercorn, ginger, and cinnamon. This will help expel cold from the uterus.
The corpus luteum (the “shell” of the dominant follicle from which the egg was released) begins to secrete progesterone, further changing the uterine lining and causing your body temperature to be consistently higher. The egg travels down the fallopian tube into the uterus. If the egg has been fertilized, implantation occurs.
This is the time of the cycle that gets a bad rap. If your hormones are imbalanced you may suffer from breast tenderness, mood swings, or low energy. In Oriental medicine, this is when your yang energy is about to peak. So if you are already deficient, then this will be draining for you. The major sign of yang energy is warmth, which is shown by the higher basal body temperature. This is a great time for inner reflection and release. You may start to feel more introverted and reserved. This is a great time to get a massage.
Increase your protein intake again and start eating more easily digested foods.