Cravings, cramps, bloating, bleeding— having your period is not fun, and it can affect your attempts to exercise and maintain a healthy diet. If you habitually overindulge on junk food or avoid exercise during this time, consider some better ways to take care of your body during your monthly cycle. I’ve got a few suggestions for how to stay healthy on your period.
Control the Cravings
Have you noticed that you tend to crave sugary foods or carbs just before your cycle or shortly after it begins? There’s a medical reason for that.
Right before you have your period, your hormones fluctuate a bit. The hormone serotonin, which makes you feel good and happy, is in short supply; and instead, you get bigger doses of the hormone cortisol.
Did you know that cortisol is typically released in reaction to low blood-glucose concentration or stress? High levels of cortisol are associated with reduced libido and carbohydrate cravings— which explains those appetite changes around that time of the month.
If you’re suffering from extreme cravings, you don’t have to deprive yourself completely. In fact, if you ignore a specific craving, you may end up overindulging in other foods in order to feel satisfied. You’ll eat more calories than you intended, and then you may feel worse about yourself. Instead of fighting the craving, just eat a little bit of whatever food you desire. A small serving won’t sabotage your diet, and it will make you feel a little better!
Engage in Light Exercise
Light exercise during your menstrual cycle can help you feel better, emotionally and physically. Exercise improves insulin levels and hormone stability, curbing those cravings you feel for carbs and sugars. Take a 30-minute walk each day for the first few days of your cycle, or engage in yoga, stretches, or a swim. Later in the cycle, you can get back to your regular exercise routine.
Some women experience very heavy periods after they have had a baby, especially after a couple of pregnancies. Others suffer from severe menstrual cramping. If you have either of those issues, you may not even feel like walking. Listen to what your body is telling you— exercise lightly if you can, and if not, take a couple days off until the cramps subside or the heaviest flow is over.
Tend to the Cramps
For severe cramps, lie down for a while and use a heating pad to soothe the affected muscles. If you have debilitating cramps that last for hours and leave you sweating, weak, and nauseated, ask your doctor about pain relief medication that you can use as needed.
Eat Your Iron
You can also support your body during this time by eating foods that are rich in iron. Good news for your pre-menstrual cravings— there are 3.3 milligrams of iron in an ounce of high-quality dark chocolate!
According to nutritionists, other iron-rich foods include beef, chicken, turkey, ham, and veal, as well as certain seafoods like salmon, tuna, haddock, perch, clams, mollusks, oysters, and mussels.
Plant-based sources of iron include broccoli, spinach, lentils, quinoa, black beans, pumpkin seeds, figs, tofu, potatoes, and eggs. Try to work these foods into your diet before, during, and right after your period.
Monitor the Blood Loss
If you do suffer from extremely heavy bleeding around that time of the month, keep an eye on how much blood you’re losing. Call your doctor or a nurse if you’re concerned about the amount of blood loss you’re sustaining.
In most cases, all you can do is rest and wait; but if the flow is too dramatic and continues to be so each month, you may need to see the doctor to rule out any complications.
Don’t let yourself get dehydrated! It will make cramps and cravings worse. Drink plenty of water, about 10 8-ounce glasses (2L) of water throughout the day.
Avoid caffeine, since it can have a diuretic effect, making you need to urinate more often and causing extra fluid loss.
Be Kind to Your Body
Remember, your body’s cycle isn’t just a monthly annoyance— it’s part of the natural life cycle, a sign of fertility. A woman’s body is capable of amazing things, and it deserves to be treated well.
Be kind to your body by eating healthy, whole foods that support your hormones and immune system, and be sure that you’re tending to your physical health by doing some light exercise.
Get plenty of sleep, and soon you’ll be past the most uncomfortable part of your period, and back to your regular exercise routine and healthy diet!