Menstruating women are complex creatures.
How your body digests food, how you feel, what you can accomplish, how well you fight off a cold, how you look, how you perceive yourself changes from week to week—sometimes drastically—depending where you are in your cycle.
It’s taken me years, but I have finally learned that I feel like Kate Winslet on the Titanic during my ovulation week (pre-shipwreck, post-Leonardo).
I have energy (hey, that’s saying something for a mom with a 15-month-old), I want to be around people, I feel charismatic, I am motivated, I giddily cross things off my To Do List like I just drank 10 cups of coffee, and I may even be up for dancing a jig in the underbelly of a ship with jubilant scallywags.
When I’m menstruating, doing the dishes is a huge victory. I’m in more of a floating-on-a-door-in-the-middle-of-the-cold-ocean state of mind.
I used to expect the same of myself no matter where I was in my cycle, which led to lots of disappointment, frustration and judgment. Not to mention fertility and digestive issues.
Now I know I can’t eat sushi or a big raw salad the week before my period without an upset stomach. (Or take a joke, my husband says.) And I try not to commit to high energy tasks, projects or events the week after my period, when my body needs to recover from blood loss.
As an acupuncturist, I see this fluctuation clearly in my patients as well. Women’s pulses change from week to week, and I always adjust my treatment plan accordingly.
One of the most effective ways to support this natural ebb and flow is through your diet. In Chinese medicine, we treat food as medicine. You have tremendous influencing power on your hormones simply through the food you choose to put in your body.
Whether you’re trying to get pregnant or just want to regulate your menstrual cycle and minimize PMS, follow these dietary recommendations for a more harmonious feminine existence.
During menstruation week, the focus is on replenishing blood loss. Be sure to eat blood nourishing foods like meat, fish, eggs, black beans, lentils, kelp, beets, dark leafy greens, broccoli, cherries, red grapes, raspberries, soups, stews, and warm food in general.
Make an effort to increase your vitamin C intake during this week, which helps your body absorb the iron from your food. Foods rich in vitamin C include citrus, mangos, cherries, potatoes, tomatoes, cantaloupe, strawberries, peas, and watercress.
I also recommend cooking with an iron skillet, especially if you know you are iron deficient. Cooking foods that are high in vitamin C, like tomato sauce, in an iron skillet is a wonderful trick to nourish your blood.
You have probably heard of Yin and Yang, nature’s opposing and symbiotic forces in Chinese medicine. During pre-ovulation week you approach the peak Yin of your cycle, before your progesterone level rises and you transition to Yang energy.
It is especially important to eat Yin nourishing foods during this time to support that crucial transition, and also to nourish the developing follicle, which will be released as an egg next week.
Yin nourishing foods include lean meats, fish, some shellfish, eggs, moderate intake of dairy products (I recommend organic goat dairy, because it is easier to digest than cow), soups, stews, and warm food in general. Avoid alcohol and spicy food this week, which both weaken the Yin.
If you are trying to get pregnant, get plenty of protein and foods rich in vitamin E like nuts, seeds, whole grains, sweet potatoes, cold-pressed oils, leafy greens, and avocados that are particularly important to nourish the developing follicle.
This is a big week! Yin energy transitions to Yang energy as your egg is released, and your body temperature starts to rise as progesterone levels increase to support a possible pregnancy.
Make sure to eat plenty of B vitamins in order to assist the release of your egg and implantation (if pregnancy is your goal). Foods high in vitamin B include leafy greens, whole grains, eggs, and meat.
Also be sure to include foods rich in zinc, such as meat, fish, poultry, wheat germ, eggs, whole grains, and figs, which help with cell division and progesterone production. Vitamin C also helps with progesterone production.
Implantation week or Premenstrual week
Whether you are preparing for a menstrual flow or pregnancy, the goal is to keep your lower body warm this week. Eat cooked food likes soups, and avoid cold raw food like salads.
If you have PMS, avoid processed foods, refined sugar, coffee and alcohol. Also be sure to increase your water and fiber intake to help the liver metabolize estrogen, which is one of the main causes of premenstrual symptoms like cramps, bloating, and moodiness.
If you are trying to get pregnant, this is a great week to go tropical and break open a pineapple. Pineapple contains bromelain, which thickens the uterine lining to help egg implantation.
Now go be complex. You beautiful creature, you.
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