Why we love it:
Ever wondered why you feel good as hell some weeks and why you feel moody and hangry 24/7 other weeks? Well, it's all to do with your menstrual cycle. There is so much learn about your cycle that isn't to do with your period! In this episode of The Flow Down, Jess and Stephanie go through the different phases of the menstrual cycle and how to make the most of each phase of your cycle. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of the menstrual cycle to get to know your body better then this is the episode for you.
We're sure you'll love this episode just as much as we do so make sure to give it a lesson below and subscribe to The Flow Down on your favourite podcast app.
Listen & Learn:
Welcome to The Flow Down.
A podcast all about periods. I'm Stephanie, a women's health coach.
And I'm Jess, a journalist. Today, we are diving deeper into the menstrual cycle.
We'll talk about the four seasons we experience as menstruators each cycle and how to own it.
Hi, Steph. How are you?
I'm good. It's just you and me today.
I know. I love it. It's been a while. We've just been having so many incredible guests on the show.
Yeah, we really have. How are you doing? I know you just got your period a few days ago.
Yep. I am at day five, so at the tail end of my period.
Nice. How are you feeling?
Yeah. Well, this period kind of took a lot out of me. I felt like it was pretty heavy and I just needed to sleep a little bit extra, took a good nap yesterday. I've kind have been feeling very, very low key. So finally, now, I'm starting to come out of it and feel the energy creeping back in.
Good for you, for taking care of yourself and taking a nap. That sounds really good.
It was. It was. How about you? How are you feeling?
I'm good. I'm on day 28, so any second now.
Oh gosh, how's it going?
I'm feeling good. I've been back on my exercise routine. I've been working out with our friend, Carolyn, who's a fitness coach. I've been drinking my green smoothies. It's also spring up here. But yeah, I'm also noticing some of those typical PMS feelings. For me, I tend to get in my head a lot, so just that self-doubt. I'm a little bit less patient, that's for sure, and yeah, I tend to get really nostalgic. Actually, I had this really funny dream last night that I wanted to tell you about.
I had a dream that you and I and the rest of our book club girls lived in the same house.
Yeah. I just really miss you all extra during this time of the month.
Aw, Steph. Yeah, I feel you, the emotional rollercoaster of pre-period.
Yep, but these different feelings are all just part for the course when you have a menstrual cycle.
It's all part of it, right? And that's what we're going to be talking about today. So excited.
Yeah, me too. We're going be talking about how our hormones change throughout the month and how that affects how we feel physically, mentally, emotionally, and how we can learn to support ourselves through it all.
So back in one of our earlier episodes, episode four, Steph, you walked us through a detailed overview of what's happening in our body on a hormonal level throughout the month.
Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. I loved doing that, and I think everyone should make a point of listening. In this conversation today, I think what's relevant is just knowing that there are these four distinct hormonal shifts that happen throughout the menstrual cycle and that we can actually break the cycle down based on those shifts, and that's what we call the four phases of the menstrual cycle.
Okay. So that's the follicular phase, the beginning of the cycle when eggs are being stimulated. Then ovulation, when we actually release an egg. Then comes the luteal phase. That's the two weeks, more or less, before our period arrives, and then lastly, menstruation.
Yep, yeah. And so we have these phases that we go through during the menstrual cycle, just like the moon has its phases, just like the seasons change, and during each of these phases or seasons, we tend to feel certain ways.
Well, I personally love learning about each of these seasons. I find it to be really helpful as I navigate what's going on in my body and just learning how to align with that. And I think many of our listeners are going to really love this information too, so I'm excited to dig into it.
We do want to briefly acknowledge though that we know that the menstrual cycle can be more complicated for some menstruaters. For trans people with periods, for those who are struggling to get a period, for anyone suffering from PMDD, we see you and we love you.
Hey, real quick before we continue, I just wanted to let everyone know that Steph will be sharing some really awesome news at the end of today's episode about a new programme she's offering for women to learn more about their cycles, called Know Your Cycle. Plus, there will be a special bonus for listeners of The Flow Down. You don't want to miss this. Now, back to the show.
So the follicular phase is like spring, right? It's the beginning of the cycle. It comes right after menstruation and lasts until ovulation. Hormones are building in this phase, right? Hormones like FSH and estrogen and also testosterone are all increasing, and you'll usually notice that you feel refreshed, that you have more energy, that you feel positive, that you're more upbeat and outgoing. You might also notice that your sex drive is ramping up. Even our brains function better at this point in the cycle. So, in general, we tend to feel more focused and more productive, and this seems to be just about how you're feeling now I think, Jess.
It totally does. I think about this as sort of emerging out of some of the heaviness of winter, feeling light and springy, and yeah, starting things on sort of a new note with kind of a fresh attitude. It's like, who doesn't love spring when things feel possible?
Yeah. Aligning with those phases, usually a little bit of an easy sell. It does feel good, and it is. It's a time of new beginnings. It's like planting seeds. New habits, it's good to start new habits during this phase. It's a great time to get some good exercise in, plan meetings, get together with your teammates, make progress on new projects.
Yeah. It's funny thinking about new beginnings and new projects right now. So my husband and I are preparing to move to Washington, D.C., and we have a huge list of things that we need to get done before we move, and a lot of them are sort of boring. We have to call the gas company and the internet company, and we have to take care of our bills and closing up shop, and I've just had no motivation to do any of it in the last week or two, and I just keep thinking, "Oh, let me just get through my period. Let me wait till I'm follicular because I know that I am going to be excited to do this at that phase."
I love that. Yeah, everything has its season. It's such a good reminder not to have to always force it, or at least when we don't have to.
Yeah. And when we think about food, we really want to think about eating foods and eating in a way that's going to support how we feel in our bodies. Right? So we're feeling energised. We want to eat light foods, we want to eat raw, we want to eat foods that are lightly steamed, both because those foods tend to have a lot of good nutrients and we want to really build up our body's store of nutrients after bleeding, and also we don't want to weigh ourselves down with really heavy food. So that might look like having a salad with lots of raw colourful veggies and maybe some quinoa and/or a side of salmon, for example, and some good dressing, like olive oil and lemon juice and salt and pepper.
Mm, making me hungry. Okay, so that's springtime. Now, moving into summer, the next phase.
Yeah, so after the follicular phase comes ovulation. Ovulation, this phase is really only a few days. It tends to happen about mid-cycle, and we can call it summer. It's the point in our cycle when our hormones, FSH, LH, estrogen, testosterone, they all peak, and we tend to feel at our peak too. It's a time of energy. We tend to feel really confident, creative. We like to be around others, we like to be out and about.
Yeah, right? It's that feeling of sort of being in the zone when things are flowing. I find that it's a great time to be social, to make plans with friends, to expect to be chatty and just want to get out there. And I know we even physically look our best during this phase, right?
Yeah, super interesting. Studies actually show that men find women more attractive when they're ovulating, and you might even notice things yourself too, like your lips might be more full, your skin might be softer. I really like this phase, because I feel like we typically tend to see our natural beauty at this point in our cycle.
Yeah. I always feel like it's a good time to like put on a new lipstick shade that you might not otherwise in other times of the cycle, or yeah, just try something fresh and sexy.
Yeah, yeah. I have this pair of pants. They're kind of like a little bit crazy, and I always find myself picking them out when I'm ovulating. I would never pick them out or put them on when I was on my period, so it's just really interesting when you start to pay attention.
Yeah. And just, in general, it's a good time to put yourself out there. Whether that be dating, whether that be launching a big project or giving a presentation or a speech, now is the time. And it's worth mentioning too that, just like anything, this is all individual, and sometimes when we're obviating, we can also feel PMS-y. So it's always about bringing it back to you and being in your body and your experience.
When it comes to food, we want to continue to think about raw or lightly cooked foods. Things like vegetable-based smoothies are really great here. We just shared a recipe over on Instagram the other day. I also like sprouts a lot in this phase. I'll make my own mung bean sprouts, or you can also buy them at the store. Broccoli sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, all good. And I also like to really focus on getting healthy fats in during this phase, which are important for cervical fluid, which also reaches a peak at this time in the cycle.
Okay. So ovulation passes, and then we begin to go into fall.
Welcome to fall, yeah. After ovulation comes the luteal phase. Right? This is the pre-menstrual phase, I guess we can call it too. It lasts about two weeks, more or less, and at this point in the cycle, the uterine lining is building up and progesterone takes the lead. So progesterone is the dominant hormone. Progesterone, in and of itself, is a relaxing hormone. It can help you feel calm and grounded. It can be helpful for sleep, which is why we really want ample amounts of it.
But saying all that, you'll really start to notice that your energy does start to wane, that you crave slowing down, and kind of want to be on your own and just feel more reflective and more in touch with your feelings, which can all be hard. Right? This is probably one of the hardest phases to embrace, luteal phase in menstruation, for sure, just given how much pressure we're up against in our society to be on all the time, but there's definitely some beauty in it.
Yep. And in addition to wanting to slow down and have waning energy, we do tend to get some of those premenstrual symptoms that many of us know. We might feel more sensitive, more irritable, have those cravings that we've talked about, sort of feeling bloated. Your energy tends to be kind of all over the place.
Yes. This is definitely that phase, and I think it's really worth honouring our needs in this one, which can be really tricky, but the better that we do it, the better we feel during this phase. So that can look like taking it down a notch with exercise, when you start to feel like you're forcing yourself a little bit, to get out there, go to the gym or exercise in whichever way you've been doing. It can be just being really mindful about saying no, saying no to commitments that you have flexibility with, that aren't feeling good. It can be a good time to just kind of get organised in your life.
And most importantly, we want to be gentle with ourselves as much as possible, kind of just acknowledge, "Okay, this is where I'm at in my cycle. This is how I'm going to feel. What can I do to take care of myself?" And just really have this like, "I'm doing the best I can," attitude, and maybe even find and embrace the beauty in this part of the cycle, and I think it's there if we really allow it to be. So really paying attention to what emotions are coming up, now do I feel, what's bothering me, and just digging deeper into that as a way to really feel what I'm being true to and what I'm not in my life.
Mm, yes. I try as much as possible during this phase to remember that having these strong emotions is not a bad thing. It's often a way to shed new light on a situation or come to some sort of new conclusion about something going on in your life, and I really try to sort of hold my tongue a bit during this phase, just remembering that just because I have an urge to bring up a serious conversation, such as with my partner or maybe in a work situation, that I don't have to. I can wait until after this phase is done and let my emotion simmer, and that's okay.
That is it. That is beautiful, yeah. And when it comes to food, we want to think about warm, nourishing foods. Right? So shifting away from the raw or the steamed foods, we want to think more about foods and vegetables that are baked, that are roasted, even soups and stews. Right?
Really creating warmth in our body and nourishing our body with food. And we talked a good bit about what to eat during this phase in one of our previous episodes, but getting plenty of green leafy vegetables and getting in those root vegetables can be so helpful at this time of the month for keeping our blood sugar stable, as we talked about, for the nutrients. For helping boost serotonin levels, which can dip at this point, foods could really go a long way.
The things that you naturally find at the farmer's market in the fall, a lot of those same foods, I think really work in this time of the cycle.
Yeah, exactly. I love that.
And then finally, we've got wintertime.
Mm-hmm (affirmative), yep. The comes menstruation, winter. At this point, our hormones are at an all-time low and the body is shedding the uterine lining. And I think the feelings of this phase can vary, for sure, and I think we've captured come of that in our episodes. For some people, periods can be really painful, but again, just kind of looking at it in the broad way, we typically tend to feel tired and want to rest and be cosy and keep to ourselves. You might notice and remember your dreams a little bit more, and there can also be a sense of relief that we feel when we get our period too.
Oh my goodness, I totally relate to that. Sometimes it feels like a balloon is just being blown up, and then aw, it deflates, and just feel like a sense of total relief.
Steph, I think that this phase, a lot of thanks due to you, I think this phase is where I've really experienced some of the biggest shifts in my life, just really learning that it's okay to pause and sort of honour where I am during menstruation, and that, that's really natural. So I try to really like things about this phase now. Rather than feeling frustrated that I'm not sort of moving at the pace that I might be in other times in my cycle, I'll just really like revel in the opportunity to take a nap or cosy up at home and cuddle, take a light walk, and yeah, just really nourish myself. I think that's something that I've learned to embrace.
Yeah. I really love this phase too, and it's been a lot of progress for me as well. I can't help but think back on that time in my life when I was training for a triathlon and I would force myself to go out for my long runs and run as fast as I could or go swimming during this phase, and it was like I couldn't. I could never, ever, ever live up to my expectations. I was always too slow, it always felt too hard, and I'd always just come home really mad at myself. And so I just think there's so much power too in just knowing how we're going to feel and that it's okay to adjust and kind of tweak and just show up in the way that we want to show up.
So yeah, so at this time of the month, walks are great. Restorative yoga, stretching, maybe you feel up to that. Maybe you really just want to kind of put your feet up and rest on the couch. That's okay too. I think we should always just listen to our bodies, but all of those are great and taking time to reflect on the month and write in our journals, or just take care of projects that we can kind of chip away at on our own. Those are all good things.
And to keep that with food, just to keep it really warm and nourishing. We really want to focus on nutrient-dense foods, since we're literally bleeding at this point in the month. So warm foods are things like stews and soups, foods that are roasted and baked, and then great foods that are nutrient-dense are things like nuts and seeds, also beans, particularly black beans, and lentils. If you do fish or meat, those are also great things like fatty fish, like salmon or sardines, and in terms of red meat, grass-fed or organic, lamb, liver, steak are all great options to really make sure that you've got your iron stores where you want them. If not, we can really run the risk of feeling super depleted after our periods.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). As we talked about in an earlier episode, I think it's also a nice time of the month to indulge, whether that's a really nutrient-dense sweet, or something that's non-food related, so some sort of face mask or pedicure or something to just really give yourself some of that really, really good stuff, whether food or otherwise.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's so great. And of course, as we're talking about all this, I think it's important to acknowledge that there are outside factors. Things like being stressed over a big deadline at work, getting sick, travelling, the weather outside, these can all affect how we feel on any given day or at any time in our cycle.
And of course, sometimes there are things that you just have to do when you're on your period. I mean, this past weekend, I had a huge project that I had to do in my garden that involved some serious heavy lifting and I was on the middle of my period and I did it anyways. I mean, sometimes there are things that you just have to do, and we're not in any way saying that you can't do those things or shouldn't do those things. We're just giving some general guidelines.
Yeah. I think it really all comes down to the more we can tune in to these different feelings, the more we can start to understand our needs, and from there, there are places where we can really change things up, like what we're eating and our lifestyle, and then there are places where we can't change things up, but even just knowing how we're going to feel can go a long way and going into any of these phases with the mindset and just the ability to be more gentle with ourselves.
So one easy practice, which could be a great way to get started, and this works no matter where you're at in your cycle or what your cycle is like right now, is spending an extra minute in bed each morning and placing your hands over your lower abdomen and just asking yourself, "How do I feel? What do I need today?" This can really help you start to tune into your needs as they change throughout the month and hopefully find little ways to meet them.
And because it's easy to get busy, I also use an app to track when I get my period and what day of my cycle I'm on.
But anyone who's interested in really going deep, really getting in tune and learning more should know that Steph is currently offering a 28 day programme called Know Your Cycle. Last year, I did the programme as part of a group and it was really, really transformational.
Thank you. Yes. If you're feeling called to take a deeper dive into learning about your menstrual cycle, in the Know Your Cycle masterclass, you'll learn how to tune into your body's fertility signs, so that you know what phase of the menstrual cycle you're in. You'll get recipes and learn what foods to eat during each phase in order to support your hormones and have regular feel good periods. Plus you'll learn how to align your life, everything from exercise to work, self-care, sex, throughout the phases, in order to really tap into your power all month long.
Everyone should definitely check it out, and if you're anything like me and you love doing things as a group for the accountability and just to be with others in that shared space, Steph, you're leading a group through the programme soon too. Right?
I am. Starting on June 1st, I'll be leading a live group through the Know Your Cycle masterclass. You can find all of the details and sign up at a special link created exclusively for Flow Down listeners. You can find that link in the episode notes.
We'll also be sharing more about the Know Your Cycle masterclass over on Instagram.
Yep. And as a thank you for being part of The Flow Down community, I'm offering a free hour-long coaching session to anyone who signs up for the masterclass using that link. That way, you'll get some extra support and one-on-one coaching throughout the program around your goals.
Awesome. June 1st, I will definitely be there.
Yay. Thanks so much for joining us today. Our theme song is Crimson Wave performed by Tacocat, courtesy of Harley Art Records, and The Flow Down is edited and produced by Jessica Weiss.
And thank you so much, Steph, for sharing all of this information with us while you have PMS.
Love you, Jess.
Love you, Steph.
The menstrual cycle is a lot more than just a period. Just like the moon, the cycle can be broken down into phases, or seasons, that affect how we feel. And each one has its own special rhythm. Learn how you can adjust your food, exercise, to-dos, dating, work, self-care and more to align with your cycle. And, we share a special invitation to dive deeper in Stef’s Know Your Cycle Masterclass.
Resources + links
Join Stef’s Know Your Cycle Masterclass kicking off on June 1st (+ get your Flow Down Pod listener bonus).
An overview of hormones & the menstrual cycle in Episode 4 .
Study results strongly suggest a pattern of increased attractiveness during peak fertility in the menstrual cycle.
Stef’s been working out with Carolyn Banner.
A green smoothie recipe for you, on Instagram.