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How to: Stay healthy when you’re on your cycle

Katie Horrell, MS, RDN

When “Aunt Flo” pays a visit, we jump for joy, embrace her company, and have 3-7 days of pure bliss…right?  Okay, okay. I’m guessing you caught on to the sarcasm there. This might be a pretty unrealistic expectation for your monthly menstrual cycle, but how can you survive the cramps, bloating, cravings, and other pains of being a woman? The good news is you’re not alone – and we’ve got some evidenced based tips and tricks to help you!

1. The importance of Vitamin B6

Some of us might be tempted to go low-carb during our cycle. However, whole grains and other carbohydrates have TONS of important vitamins that our body needs, especially during this time of the month. Whole grains are high in B6, which has shown in research to help improve common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), including: cramping, food cravings, and mood swings.  You can get B6 from meat, fish, eggs, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, and fortified breakfast cereals. Embrace those carbs and protein, girl!

2. Light movement – yoga, walking, weights arm workouts are great!

Being on your period doesn’t mean you can’t do any activity at all. However, you might need to change up your routine. Focus on stretching, use lighter weights, or take a walk! If you’re not feeling up for exercise, use it as a rest day and re-assess the next day. Your body is going through some important processes, so show it the love it needs.

3. Eat smaller, more frequent meals to avoid excess hunger.

Cravings are a common problem during a woman’s cycle, so plan to eat regularly to avoid this issue! Instead of 2-3 large meals, try eating 5-6 smaller meals throughout the day and space them out at least 3 hours apart. This will keep your blood sugar steady so you’re not ravenous during your next meal or snack.

4. Reduce excess caffeine and alcohol.

Excessive alcohol intake has been linked with an increased risk of PMS. Additionally, it can inhibit the proper absorption of certain nutrients, including those important B-vitamins (see tip #1)!  Although caffeine has not been found to be the cause of PMS symptoms, it may potentially heighten the intensity of physical symptoms like cramping. Listen to your body! You may normally do well with caffeine but feel sensitive to its effects during your cycle. If so, back off caffeine and alcohol for the next few days. You can cut your intake in half, or cut it out entirely!  Herbal teas, green tea, and herbal coffee alternatives tend to be more gentle.

5. Don’t be afraid to treat yourself

It may sound counterintuitive to a healthy diet, but don’t be afraid to indulge! Have you ever been craving chocolate so much but told yourself you couldn’t have it? Add hormones to that mix, and you’re much more likely to go all out when you eat that food next! If you choose to indulge, decide on what a reasonable portion looks like before your cycle starts. Then, when the craving hits, stick to that portion. It’s much easier to make that decision beforehand than in the midst of a chocolate craving.

Remember to take care of your body during this time of the month! It may not always be the most fun, but after nourishing your body, giving it proper rest, and light activity, your body will thank you! In the meantime, why not share some of these tips with a girlfriend?

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4962155/
https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/8/3/e019490

Author: Katie Horrell, MS, RDN