I have a couple of areas of speciality when it comes to working with clients. A woman’s cycle and fertility is one of them.
It’s amazing how many women struggle in this area. Their monthly cycle is a rollercoaster of pain, emotions, water retention and a whole host of other symptoms.
Often they suffer with problems relating to cycle length. For some it is coming every two-and-half weeks; for others it is every five or six weeks and they are constantly worried that it’s going to stop all together (or that they are pregnant!)
Many women unknowingly suffer with anovulatory cycles. These are cycles in which no ovulation occurs. If someone is on the pill, this is normal, as this is the way the pill works in preventing pregnancy.
What I’m referring to is women who aren’t on the pill but are getting anovulatory cycles. They will still be getting their period, but they don’t actually ovulate. This is a silent epidemic because it is so common and women will have no idea it is happening. It also has a whole host of implications for health totally outside of reproduction, which you can read about here.
And then there are those women whose periods have stopped completely. Maybe they were on the pill, came off and it didn’t start up naturally again. Or maybe they weren’t on the pill but for some reason it just stopped. Now it’s been two years and they are still without their period.
The clients that I see are health conscious. They aren’t women who spend their days eating “fast food” and “processed food”. They are living off green smoothies, salads, steamed vegetables, skinless chicken breasts, salmon and oily fish, and quinoa. They are doing the things they’ve been told to do to be healthy.
The common feature that I see among these women in their pursuit of health is that they under eat.
The common feature that I see among these women in their pursuit of health is that they under eat.
This could be intentionally, with someone keeping calories low to try and lose weight. Or it could be happening unintentionally, they are just eating lots of low calorie foods like steamed vegetables and salads and don’t realise they need to eat more.
They can be on and off diets. They’ve gone paleo or vegan or are doing the zone diet. Or they might not be on any official diet, they just decide to cut out or keep low certain foods, like fat or carbohydrates or “sugar”.
Despite their good intentions, it’s normally their pursuit of health that is causing the problems with their cycle. (Under eating isn’t the only reason for issues with a woman’s cycle, this shows covers the 13 most common reasons.)
So using this as a framework, let’s look at some suggestions for how a woman can best support her cycle.
The days leading up to a woman’s period are a real demand on her body. At this stage, hormones like progesterone and oestrogen are starting to drop away. These hormones need to be broken down by the body and excreted, which is a burden on your detoxification system.
I tell clients that for the 4-7 days before their period they should be eating the most of any time in the month.
I tell clients that for the 4-7 days before their period they should be eating the most of any time in the month. But it is not just about calories, they want to be consuming nutrient dense foods.
When I work with a client we work out what foods they do best on. Just because something is good on paper, doesn’t mean it will work for them. Despite this, there are foods that clients typically do better or worse on.
So when I’m trying to provide good calorie and/or nutrient dense foods these are the things I go for:
Carbohydrates: root vegetables, fruit (particularly tropical fruit) and rice (my preference is white rice due to being easier on digestion)
Protein: meat, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy (if people tolerate it). I’m also ok with vegetarian proteins as long as people can digest them (I find for lots of people beans, pulses, nuts and seeds can cause digestive upset, so test this out for yourself).
Fat: Coconut oil, butter, ghee, olive oil, olives, macadamia nuts, macadamia nut oil
*See the full list at the bottom of this article
There are certain foods that I think can be especially helpful because of the nutrients they contain. These are: oysters, scallops, miso, liver, blackstrap molasses, raw carrots, eggs, broth and beetroot.
There are also some activities that you can be doing that help with a range of symptoms:
- Epsom salt baths
- Dry skin brushing
- Walking in nature
- Castor oil packs.
A lot of the same practices can be kept up during a woman’s period, but the calorie needs will probably drop down after a couple of days (but this will depend on the individual). And once it is over you can go back to what you normally do.
How to make a castor oil pack:
- Wear old Clothes.
- Place a flannel in a bowl and pour castor oil over it.
- Have a hot water bottle or heating pad at the ready.
- Place a towel underneath you.
- Lie down and put the saturated flannel over the affected area of your body.
- Cover the pack with plastic or something to separate the oil-soaked flannel from your hot water bottle.
- Place your hot water bottle or heat pack over the pack and time it for around 45-60 minutes. During this time you can rest, meditate, read a book or listen to a Podcast.
- When time is up remove the pack and clean the area with warm water and some baking soda to get rid of the oil.
- Keep your pack in a plastic bag – in a cool place or the fridge.
- Next time just add one tbsp of castor oil and repeat the process.
Some of the most common questions I get around a woman’s cycle are things like, “How do I keep my energy up”, “Why do I get cravings”, and “Should I give into my cravings”.
These typically relate to the same issue, which is insufficient energy being provided to the body.
While I think some tiredness should probably be expected leading up to or during your period, this should be slight. If you are being totally wiped out, then things aren’t working properly and the first thing I would be looking at is how much you are providing your body with.
And again, it is not just about calories, but also about quality. And when you think about quality, it should relate to your body. Quality foods are those that work and support you in reality. Not because you read it once on a blog that said it was good for you or that it is supposed to be high in nutrients, but because when you eat it, that food works for you.
Quality foods are those that work and support you in reality. Not because you read it once on a blog that said it was good for you or that it is supposed to be high in nutrients, but because when you eat it, that food works for you.
This means that there can be “junk” foods that actually make it onto your “quality” list and “healthy” foods that you should avoid because they don’t work for you.
In terms of cravings, they often relate to a need for energy. What are the things people normally crave? Chocolate, biscuits, ice cream, cakes, chips, burgers, pizza. Calorie dense foods that you barely have to chew that get converted into energy pretty quickly.
The reason people typically crave these things is because they haven’t eaten enough to sustain themselves and so their body gives them cravings to bring in needed energy.
Cravings can also be for emotional reasons. They can be used to comfort or self-soothe. And if someone is in pain with cramps and a feels all puffy it is probably no wonder they want something that tastes nice to cheer them up.
In these situations I would suggest that people allow themselves to succumb to their craving, to eat it in a slow way so they enjoy it and then move on. No guilt, no shame.
If cravings are something that you experience, whether related to your cycle or not, I would also suggest listening to this. It goes into the topic in much greater detail.
Like nearly everything to do with health, repairing a woman’s cycle comes down to listening to the body and what it needs. Pain, cramping, headaches, poor skin – these are all just signs to let you know that you need to make some changes to better support your body. And when you can do this, the body takes care of the rest.
- Root vegetables – Carrot, celeriac, sweet potato, potato, yam, parsnip, radish, salsify, cassava, Jerusalem artichoke, gem squash, spaghetti squash, onion squash, festival squash, acorn squash, banana squash, butternut squash, delicate squash, hubbard squash, turban squash, pumpkin, marrow, beetroot, turnip, swede, onion, garlic, shallots
- Fruit – apricot, peach, plum, blueberry, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, cranberry, gooseberry, prunes, cherry, raisin, sultana, grape, apple, pear, kiwi fruit, fig, lemon, lime, quince, kumquat
- Tropical fruit – orange, mango, pineapple, watermelon, coconut, banana, papaya, tangerine, mandarin, satsuma, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, pomegranate, passion fruit, dates, guava, pomelo, star fruit, Sharon fruit, lychees, durian, jackfruit
- White rice
- Meat – beef, lamb, goat, turkey, chicken, duck, pork, bacon, buffalo, venison, partridge, pheasant, pigeon, guineafowl, quail, rabbit, grouse, veal
- Offal – bone broth, gelatine, oxtail, liver, sweetbread, kidney, heart, haggis
- White fish – cod, haddock, dab, dover sole, lemon sole, flounder, grey mullet, gurnard, hake, ling, monkfish, plaice, pollock, whiting, sea bass, coley, halibut, John Dory, turbot, tilapia, skate, kalabusa, parrot fish, orange roughy
- Seafood – scallop, lobster, prawn, clam, crab, oyster, mussels, cockles, squid, octopus, crayfish, langoustine, abalone, cuttlefish, razor clams, seaweed, kelp, fish roe
- Dairy – milk, yoghurt, cheese, cream, ice cream
Coconut oil, butter, ghee, olive oil, olives, goose fat, macadamia nuts, macadamia nut oil, bone marrow
He also lectures for the School of Natural Therapies in London.
The Health Trap (Create Space, £4.91)