When we think about our menstrual cycle, most of us qualify its phases as period, PMS, and normal days. In reality, each cycle is formed of four phases. Why should you care? Because each phase has its characteristics, and understanding them can help you have better cycles, be more productive at work and at the gym and be healthier and happier.
The Menstrual Phase
The phase everyone knows, it starts on the first day of your period and ends on the first day without a bleed. Spotting is not considered part of the menstrual phase, so if you spot before or after, don’t count those days. Many women hate this phase because modern times have led us to believe we have to act in exactly the same way regardless of the time of the cycle. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to quit your job or use all your vacation time for your period. But there are ways to take advantage of this phase, while still living your normal life.
A useful approach is to see the four phases of your menstrual cycle as the four seasons. In that analogy, the menstrual phase is winter. So, how would we define winter, how would we act during winter? It is definitely a time when we retreat more inwards, spend more time inside, maybe even sleep more. From a dietary point of view, in the winter we usually eat warm foods, soups, and more fatty things. Maybe there’s a reason why all the holidays in that period are so heavily focused on foods.
Why does this matter?
How do you incorporate that your busy lifestyle? And how does this analogy help? It’s easy, really. The menstrual phase is by definition a time when you should take it slower. Thousands of years ago, in times when families were ruled by matriarchy, women would withdraw into a sacred space during this phase. It is a time of release. While you may not be able to completely get away from social obligations, take more time for self-care and relaxation.
It is a great time for meditation, yin yoga, long baths in candlelight. Eat warmer foods, with an emphasis on healthy fats. In the summer, you can switch the heavier foods, with things like avocados, egg yolks or nuts. In terms of work, it is a great time to analyze what you have done so far, draw conclusions, try not to judge yourself, see what you need to let go of.
The follicular phase
The next phase is the follicular one. It starts on the first day your bleeding stops, even if you still spot a little. Going forward with the seasons analogy, the follicular phase is spring. Spring is a time of renewal, the nature blooms, is reborn, the weather gets warmer, days get longer. You will start doing more outside activities and eating more greens and lighter meals in general.
And this is exactly how the follicular phase should feel in your life. The hormones slowly start shifting, estrogen is rising, you become more outgoing, you don’t feel the need to stay indoors on your own as much. You have more energy, so you can start working out a bit more vigorously – light cardio, dancing, and swimming are perfect activities for this phase. Your diet should become more plant-based. In terms of work, this is the perfect time to plan ahead.
This is also the phase that can vary most in length. Normally, it will last from 7-10 days. However, if your cycles are shorter, the follicular phase will also be shorter. Likewise, if for some reason ovulation is delayed, this phase will be longer. We are used to thinking that period is delayed, but it is actually ovulation that can be delayed. Without pregnancy, the period will follow 10-14 days after ovulation.
The ovulation phase
This is the most dynamic of the four phases of the menstrual cycle. It is equivalent to summer, a time full of energy, time spent out in nature, with others. In your life, this is the perfect time to be a social butterfly. Even the most introverted women will find it easier to interact with others in this period. Foods should be lighter and workouts can get slightly more intense. You will also find you are more creative and it’s a great time to start new projects. It is a short phase, only 3-5 days. This is also referred to as your fertile window and it is made up of the days leading to ovulation and the O day itself.
The luteal phase
The final phase, equivalent to autumn, is usually the longest, last for 10-14 days. Progesterone rises and you might start to feel some changes in your body. For the first part of this phase, you will still have plenty of energy. It is a great time for intense workouts like HIIT and strength training. As you approach the menstrual phase, you will probably have a decline in energy and you should slowly shift towards easier workouts, like pilates and vinyasa yoga. Attention should be great in this phase and work should go smoothly.
Imbalances that can alter the luteal phase
This phase and how you live it is highly dependent upon your levels of progesterone. If progesterone is very low your luteal phase will be shorter than 10 days. This is a problem if you want to conceive because your body might not be able to sustain a pregnancy and miscarriages are likely. This is where using the fertility awareness method can be very useful as it will help you see exactly when you ovulate and how long your luteal phase is.
If your progesterone is slightly out of balance you might experience some spotting during your luteal phase. This is not as bad as the previous case, but it should still be addressed, especially if you’re trying to conceive. You might also experience more severe symptoms of PMS. Don’t get me wrong, the fluctuations in your hormones might come with small PMS symptoms. But when they disrupt your life, it’s a clear sign you have an imbalance.
To sum up
Knowing the phases of your menstrual cycle can be of immense help in living a well-balanced life and making the most of your work, social interactions, diet, and workouts. If you are on the pill, or another form of hormonal birth control, these phases, of course, do not apply to you. However, if you know you want to get off the pill soon and want to help your body function properly, you can start syncing your life with these phases.
If you are currently experiencing amenorrhea, cycle syncing can be a good method to help your body find its rhythm again. It will not be a quick fix for sure, and you need to address the underlying causes but it is a very powerful tool nonetheless. How to do it if you don’t menstruate at all? A very simple way is to cycle with the moon. The full moon is usually considered ovulation and the new moon is considered the start of the menstrual phase. So you can either start where you are, in whichever phase the moon is, or wait for the first new moon.