A question popped up in one of my recent IGTVs around self-sabotage and women. Especially around how it is not uncommon to struggle with fluctuating hormones, associated cravings and emotional eating. All factors that negatively affect how we feel about ourselves and stand in the way of us achieving our health goals.
I thought I would explore this often confusing pattern that many women find themselves in, and how to work within a healthy menstrual cycle to change our responses and behaviour to our body’s ever-changing needs.
Understanding the female cycle
The ebb and flow of our female biological monthly cycle can profoundly influence our health and wellness routine.
Dr Stephanie Estima says that women can transform their menstrual cycle from holding them back to making it work for them to leverage what they want to nourish their health.
“There is an element of loving and forgiving and allowing your body to go through these different permutations in the month that I think is incredibly empowering as a woman, and it allows us to make better decisions for our health.” says Dr Estima.
She goes on to make week-by-week recommendations on diet, fasting and exercise based on the principle that when you understand and work with your body’s rhythm, you won’t beat yourself up should you fall off the bandwagon.
Week 1 – The Bleed Week
- Diet: Follow a ketogenic diet of higher fat (70%), protein (20%) and low carbs (10%).
- Fasting: The body is more resilient to aggressive fasting. Look at a water-only fast and see what works for you in terms of frequency.
- Exercise: Weight training is important for muscle mass which is better for disposing of glucose. Dr Estima recommends moderate weight training of 8-10 repetitions. She also recommends 1-2 HIIT training sessions a week but abstaining in week 2.
Week 2 – Finishing Bleed
- Diet: Move away from keto to increased protein (40%), lowered fat (40%) and increased carbs (20%).
- Fasting: Try time-restricted or intermittent fasting. Eat every day, but hold hours in between meals.
- Exercise: Resist HIIT exercise. This is when ligaments are relaxed and tendons are stiffer. Rather focus on building lean muscle with resistance training. Think muscle protein synthesis, lift weights.
Week 3 – Ovulating
The hormonal landscape changes and with this comes sleep disturbances, water retention and a slowed metabolism.
- Diet: Follow a ketogenic diet again of higher fat (70%), protein (20%) and low carbs (10%).
- Fasting: Look at liquid fasting of bone broth to help reduce inflammation and support achy joints and muscle relief.
- Exercise: Moderate weight training of 8-10 repetitions to support muscle mass.
Week 4 – Pre-Bleed
This is when you have cravings and your appetite increases. This is normal.
- Diet: Fuel your body with food, don’t restrict calories.
- Increase healthy carbs, fruit, vegetables and greens. Load up on healthy nutrients to reduce inflammation and support a healthy bowel movement.
- Fasting: Following time-restricted eating between meals, but don’t limit calories at meal-times.
- Exercise: This is a hard week for exercise and that’s okay. Try light-weight training, yoga, Pilates – but mostly view it as a “recovery week”.
The mental game of self-sabotage
We more than often look to the external world, to other people, to create our sense of worth and justification, rather than looking within.
As Dr Will Cole, Functional Healthcare Practitioner, says, ‘You can’t heal the body you hate.’
He says there is such a strong mental component to good health, that if you can unblock the spiritual and personal relationship to understanding your wellness, then all other health-promoting efforts will fall into place.
I am so aligned with this thinking. I firmly believe that self-love and gratitude are imperative to building the foundation of health. Love your body and its rewarding work. When you start feeding your mind with positive thoughts, you are going to start seeing opportunities.
While most of us have moments of self-sabotage, repetition is what makes it problematic. And so I encourage you to work and listen to your body – and the rewards will follow. Try out the weekly guide above if you are still in a healthy menstrual cycle. But most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself. You are worthy of your love.