The Lasso Of Truth-Understanding The Power Of A Woman’s Menstrual Cycle (Part 1)

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By Amanda Mittleman MS 

Understanding how our menstrual cycle affects our overall health, emotions and even our decisions is vital to live empowered.

No one can take our personal power away except us.  This is great news because having the power to choose our outcomes is freedom. 

Ladies, we really do have our own innate lasso of truth.  It’s called the menstrual cycle.   Before you call me a crazy lady and move on, read more!  

Our reproductive hormones are powerful molecules that have a compelling impact on who we are, who we are becoming and the outcomes in our lives.  

Understanding and honoring your menstrual cycle is an incredibly empowering step you can take today in your own self-care.   Honoring your cycle is not about giving in to it; instead, it’s about allowing the wisdom of your body to communicate with you and guide you. The more we understand how our hormones influence us, the more we can take steps to maximize the hormonal benefits of each stage of our cycle.  

The cool thing is, when you understand your menstrual cycle, you’ll be able to predict your future.  You’ll know what to expect in terms of your energy and mood because your sex hormones are cyclic in nature.  

Finally, understanding your cycle will empower you to take the right steps to overcome hormonal challenges by modifying your everyday actions and lifestyle including recovery, relaxation techniques, mindset, and sleeping, eating, and exercise habits.

It’s also important to understand that our reproductive hormones (estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) are powerfully influential. Intense, acute or long-term stressors (good or bad) can knock your hormones and your menstrual cycle out of balance.  For example, planning your wedding and then getting married, or moving out of state to a new home and life, getting over a bad flu, living with a chronic illness, taking certain medications, taking care of a terminally ill family member, and more, can all impact your hormones and your cycle.  

To simplify what happens during the “phases” of your menstrual cycle, I’m going to break each phase of your cycle into a week.  In case you’re wondering, some of the “phases” are not always 7 days long, some shorter and some longer.  But since we think in weeks, it’ll be easier to understand in what’s going on in your menstrual cycle by breaking it down into week one, week two, week three and week four. 

(picture from: Britannica Encyclopedia)

 

What’s Happening During Week 1 Through 4 Of A Your Cycle

Week OneThe Bleed Week

Day one of your cycle is the day you start bleeding.  You’re on the rag? Aunt Flo came to visit? The Crimson Tide came in?  There are lots of loving terms for this week. 

The bleeding we experience is the shedding of our endometrial lining, the lining inside of our uterus.  Each month your body builds a lining of cells (supportive baby-making supplies) on the inside of your uterus in anticipation for a fertilized egg to implant itself and become a baby.  When an egg doesn’t implant, a few days after you ovulate, all of your hormones decide to take a vacation to prepare for the next possible pregnancy.  

Around day two or three of your cycle, estrogen begins to rise, bringing your mood and energy up with it.  

For the first two weeks of your cycle, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) will nudge the development of the follicle (think sack with a developing egg inside of it) for the developing eggs big release into the pelvic cavity.  Ovulation is somewhere between days twelve and fourteen.  

One of the biggest mistakes we’re making today is thinking that ovulation, the releasing of a mature viable egg to be fertilized, is the only focus of our menstrual cycle.  While releasing a viable egg is a primary focus of our cycle, the hormones released because of our cycles are our primary life forceAll of the cells in your body have receptors for these hormones whether you’re making a baby or not.  And let’s be real, for most of our lives, in today’s world, we’re NOT trying to make a baby.  

Week 1:  What’s Happening

  • Week 1: Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone have all plummeted to their lowest levels, which causes bleeding, “sluffing off” of the endometrium (inside layer of uterus).  
  • Day 1 is the first day of bleeding. 
  • Estrogen begins to rise steadily on day 2 or 3.  As estrogen rises so does your energy, mood, and patience.  As estrogen rises you’ll likely begin to feel more optimistic and motivated, and your desire for adventure and to socialize will increase as well. 
  • You get smarter. It becomes easier to absorb new information and learn new skills and your memory and verbal skills tend to be sharper. 
  • Rising hormones. For some, rising hormones happens faster than for others.  Each of us has our own personal sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations, which can be influenced by your lifestyle and habits. 
  • Eat iron-rich foods. This week, make sure to eat enough iron-rich foods to make up for any iron loss resulting from your bleeding during menstruation. (Dipping iron levels can trigger fatigue, fogginess, and a resulting bad mood.  If you’re not getting enough iron in your diet, change that (or ask your healthcare provider about options for iron supplements.)
  • Sometimes libido rises on day one or two after bleeding starts (party trivia-this rise in libido is not due to hormones but instead the nerves in your vagina.) 
  • Training/Exercise and Nutrition This week (and week 2) as your estrogen levels continue to rise–
    • your body is ready to build more muscle more efficiently. 
    • these next two weeks are a great time to lean into your resistance training like lifting weights or using resistance bands. 
    • this week (and next) is a great time to eat smaller portions and try new food plans because estrogen tends to have appetite-suppressing effects.
  • Your hormone levels start out very low on day one of your cycle.  You may find that chronic or recurring health issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, and asthma may be worse at the beginning of week one.  As estrogen continues to climb throughout this week, symptoms will generally lighten up. 

 

Week Two—Your Awesome Week! 

Week two is your extroverted, sexy, risk-taking, courageous, flirty, attractive week.  This is the week you’ll feel very interested in sex and you may find yourself  chasing your husband or boyfriend around the house!

Estrogen is reaching its first peak and the highest level in your 28-day cycle.  This rising estrogen has beautifying effects, making our cheeks and lips plumper, and our eyes bigger and brighter so we’ll be more attractive to a potential mate, kind of like animals in the wild.  Just saying.  Mother nature wants us to feel and be sexy to make a baby.  

Testosterone is another key hormone that rises in week two.  This drives egg maturation.  Rising testosterone also it serves to make us feel flirty, sexy, and wanting more sex. 

In week 2 of your cycle (between day 10-16-ish) although not necessarily a scientific measurement of healthy testosterone levels, an easy way to know your testosterone levels are healthy is the noticeable rise in your interest in sex and having orgasms.  Mother nature knows what she’s doing.  In a few days, a viable egg will be looking for a little swimmer to make a baby.  Nature makes sure your libido plays along with the plan, so you’ll have sex and bring in the swimmers!    

Party trivia (or birth control advice)…Mother nature wants to make babies! She doesn’t really care about what you want.  To increase the likelihood of making a baby, sperm can live up to 6 days waiting around for a viable egg to fertilize.  If you’re looking to get pregnant this works in your favor.  If you’re not…. this is a time to use your wisdom muscles.  If you know when you ovulate, there’s a six to seven-day (not a one to the two-day window) in which you’re “prone” to getting pregnant if you’re ovulating.  You’re fertile and feeling frisky, making it harder to just say “No.” 

Week 2 ends with the release of an egg looking to be fertilized.  

Week 2: What’s Happening?

  • Estrogen continues to rise throughout Week two.  As estrogen rises it makes all the positive effects you experienced during your Week 1 even better!  Your mood, energy and patience continue to increase.  This is your AWESOME WEEK! 
  • Higher levels of estrogen and testosterone also make you a bit more courageous, confident and ready to take on challenges. This is NOT to say that you won’t be courageous during the other weeks.  Instead, it’ll be more natural and easier to make big moves for your life during these first 14 days of your cycle.  
  • Your thinking is quicker, memory sharper, verbal skills are on point, and learning new facts and skills are easier in week two.
  • Week 2 is your optimal week to compete for athletes and the optimal week to push your strength gains.  Your coordination will feel effortless, and you’ll have faster reaction times.  
  • Higher estrogen levels in week two elicit a greater output of pain-decreasing endorphins in the brain, which means uncomfortable activities like heavy lifting, getting sugared or waxed, racing, and competing will hurt less.   
  • High estrogen levels this week make you feel more confident in your abilities and your appearance.  In fact, estrogen helps to boost your attractiveness by promoting subtle shifts in soft tissue.  Your lips will be plumper, your cheeks will be pinker, and your skin will be more vibrant.   
  • Estrogen has a slight appetite-suppressing effect so hunger tends to remain lower this week. During ovulation, your appetite may drop even more.  
  • Weeks one and two are your best bet for trying new food plans and eating very clean to transform your body and health.   We tend to call this “willpower,” but it’s more like hormonal help
  • Higher testosterone levels tend to make you more competitive, daring and even impulsive.  
  • Your libido is high all during week two of your cycle.   When testosterone hits its highest level in week 2, you’ll know it and so will your partner.  

 

Week Three—Your Intuitive Week  

Week three is the week after ovulation.  

In case you were wondering…weeks 1 and 2 are called the follicular phase.  During the follicular phase your egg is maturing inside of the “follicle” (think of a satchel with a beautiful golden egg developing inside.)  During the first half of you’re producing estrogen in response to follicle-stimulating hormone.  The second half of your cycle is called the luteal phase.  After you ovulate (release your viable egg from the follicle/satchel), the follicle transforms into a corpus luteum (used satchel ready for Goodwill) and it begins to secrete progesterone, in anticipation of a pregnancy.  

Most women notice a subtle shift in their energy in week three.  We don’t feel as flirty and sexy and we tend to draw inward.  After you ovulate, your testosterone levels drop.  Estrogen drops too and progesterone levels begin to rise.   

Progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone affect every cell in your body.  The first thing progesterone does when she enters the scene is to stop the ovulation process to prepare your endometrium (inner lining of the uterus) for a fertilized egg.  

This week is the most misunderstood of all the weeks (phases) of our cycle.  Week 3 is your lasso of truth week.  If you’re like me, this week is not your favorite.  We tend to “feel” a bit negative but if we look deeper into our “negative” feelings they are usually alarms for areas of our lives that are not aligned with our values.  

We are definitely more sensitive to everything and if used wisely, we can learn a lot about ourselves and our lives during week 3 of our cycle.  Our feelings of negativity towards certain areas in our lives can serve to bring our attention to those areas needing reevaluation.   For example, if your job is driving you crazy, you may need to reevaluate.  I’m NOT telling you to quit, simply reevaluate.  

Are you putting in the effort that aligns with your values?  

Do you need to look into moving ahead, as in, look into areas for promotion? 

Maybe you need to slow down at work?  

Do you need to clarify your vision for your life? Maybe you’re in a job that isn’t in alignment with the direction you want to move your life? 

Do you need to ask for help to perform better at work, or in your life? 

Do you need to reevaluate a relationship in your life? 

If certain areas of your life are bothering you they are most likely worthy of your attention.  Take time, while you are feeling less social and reevaluate them and then move forward by making small tweaks where it’s necessary.   

Week 3: What’s Happening? 

  • The last two weeks of our cycle is a time when many women experience a worsening of pre-existing symptoms and conditions. Conditions like diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease, bloating, and poor sleep quality, can all seem worse during this time, we call this premenstrual syndrome (PMS). 
  • The “follicle” (satchel carrying the golden egg) transforms into a corpus luteum (used satchel) which secretes progesterone in anticipation of pregnancy,
  • Progesterone (estrogen and testosterone too) affects every cell in our body and brain.  While her first job is to prepare the endometrium for a fertilized egg, here are some more progesterone effects you might relate to: 
    • Enhancing memory 
    • Slowing down bowel movements (increased gas too)  
    • Water retention
    • Feeling like you’re moving slower and a little hungrier

A few IMPORTANT words about your appetite changes during weeks 3 and 4 of your cycle….

  • After ovulation, your metabolism changes, because it’s preparing for a possible pregnancy, and this hormonal shift leads to alterations in your metabolism of proteins, fats, vitamins, and circulating antioxidant levels. 
  • We tend to have an increased appetite, with the intensified food cravings and often we end up eating more during this time if we don’t have a plan set up. Progesterone makes us a bit hungrier because she’s planning on growing the endometrial lining for a baby. 
  •  The good news is, you’ll be using more nutrients (calories).  So instead of beating yourself up, practice honoring your body and your hunger.   This could look like having a bit more complex carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and maybe a little dark chocolate if you’re feeling truly hungry.  

Take a second to read that last part again.  Your increased cravings in weeks 3 and 4 don’t mean you’re a bad person!  You’re hungrier because your body is preparing to build a baby, even if you’re not trying to get pregnant. 

  • Understanding that our caloric needs tend to increase this week is important because we can plan for it.  This also means it’s probably a bad idea to try out a new food plan or cut way back on your calories this week.  You’ll likely end up very frustrated and hangry.   
  •  I know from experience and coaching women for more than 25 years, and being a woman, that trying to force your way through weeks 3 and 4 of your cycle with extreme dieting isn’t practical or realistic.  That said, it’s important to understand that being kinder to yourself and giving yourself a little leeway, is not the same as going “off the rails” and eating ALL the comfort foods you can dream of.  Completely letting go, is more abusive to your mindset and body than giving yourself a little leeway for eating a bit more.     
  • Women are simply not designed to stick to one way of eating every day of the month.   If you’ve been feeling guilty about feeling hungrier and craving more carbs during weeks 3 and 4, I hope this helps you to let go of the guilt and shame you may have felt in the past when your dietary habits seemed “out of control.”  The more we try to cut, the worse you will feel.  The answer is to take your food in moderation.  Listen to your body.  Don’t allow yourself to get too hungry or tired.  
  • Even though you’re likely to be hungrier this week, your metabolism is needing a bit more carbohydrates, proteins, and fats to build up your endometrial lining for a potential fertilized egg.  Again, this doesn’t mean eating whatever you want (if you’re trying to maintain or even lose fat overall). 
  • Cut toxic energy-sucking behaviors this week.  What if this third week of your cycle you focused on being gentle with yourself and forgiving yourself instead of beating yourself up. 

 

Week 4—Progesterone Peaks and Then Your Hormones Take a Vacay  

Around day 21 to 23-ish, your progesterone peaks.  Aside from your hormones taking a Hawaiian vacay in the middle of your life, it’s kind of cool what happens next.  This week your body asks, “Are we pregnant or not?” If an egg implants itself into your endometrial lining, you’re moving on immediately to making a baby.  

If an egg has not implanted itself into your endometrial lining (which is most of the time in our lives) your body throws the baby-making materials out, and your hormones take a break, like Santa’s elves after Christmas, to do it all again next month.  

The first day or two, maybe three, of this week you may feel crampy and tired.  This is okay.  However, if your cramps are so bad, you can’t function, if you experience migraines or terrible headaches, and other extreme PMS symptoms that make your miserable, this is an indication that your hormones are out of balance.  

Doctors are trained to put you on the pill if you have rough periods.  But our medical system has been unfortunately designed to mask symptoms and not get to the source of the problem.  You are NOT just unlucky and have bad PMS every month.  Our menstrual cycle is the ultimate gauge of our overall health and hormonal balance.  Listen to the signals your body is sending you and find a doctor that works WITH you to find the source of your miserable PMS.  

Week 4: What’s Happening?

  • Estrogen (estradiol) makes a small comeback.  It rises a little bit at the beginning of this week and then plunges to its lowest levels towards the end of your cycle. 
  • One of estrogen’s roles is to build your endometrial lining and stimulate your fat cells to store more fat (in case you’re making a baby.) 
  • We see the biggest drop in serotonin (a hormone involved in happiness) this week when estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone take their Hawaiian vacation. 
  • Midway through week four, the corpus luteum (you used follicle satchel) stops secreting progesterone. This stops blood and oxygen supply to the endometrium, and the blood vessels developing in the endometrium contract and die.  With progesterone’s sudden drop, the endometrial shed begins, and we get our period.

 

This blog is focused on what a “healthy” menstrual cycle looks like.  The next blog I will write will be about various signs that your hormones are out of balance and some things you can do to remedy hormonal imbalances.  I am not a doctor and nothing I suggest should override the decisions you and your doctor make together.  Remember, we are each responsible for our own health outcomes.  Doctors are HUMAN guides, not Gods, it’s called “medical practice” for a reason.  My goal is simply to provide the information I have found (and continue sharing information about female health) that will help us to advocate for the best options for our health and vibrancy today and for your lifelong health.  

If you haven’t done so, you may want to download an app that will help you track your period.  I started tracking mine many years ago in the notes section of my phone!  Tracking your cycle is much simpler with the cool apps available.  

You’ll want to look for an app that helps you track your symptoms, moods, sleep, details about your period blood flow, and even the mucus discharge.  You may notice patterns in your cycle that correspond with your life.  

Our menstrual cycles, like our lives, are unique to each of us.  Part of living our healthiest, most extraordinary lives is to connect with our bodies, to accept ourselves how we are today, and constantly learn to do better for ourselves one day at a time. 

 

References: 

Collins, A.,  Eneroth, P., Landgren, B., Psychoneuroendocrine stress responses and mood as related to the menstrual cycle” Psychosomatic Medicine, 47 (1985): 512-527.

Gracia, C.R. et al., Predictors of De-creased Libido in Women during the Late Reproductive Years, Menopause 25, no. 11 (November 2018): 1238-43, https://doi.org/10.1097/gme.0000000000001225

Varlamov, O., Bethea, C. L., and Roberts, C.T., Sex-Specific Differences in Lipid and Glucose Metabolism, Frontiers in Endocrinology 5 (January 19, 2015), https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2014.00241.

Wallace et al., Effects of Menstrual Cycle Phase on Metabolomic Profiles in Premenopausal Women, Human Reproduction 25, no. 4 (February 10, 2010): 949-56, https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deq011

F. Draper et al., Menstrual Cycle Rhythmicity: Metabolic Patterns in Healthy Women, Scientific Reports 8, no. 1 (October1, 2018), https://doi.org/10.1038/541598-018-32647-0.  

Amanda Mittleman

Amanda Mittleman

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