This Is Exactly What's Happening to Your Body During Each Phase of Your Period

Updated 05/15/19

Here at Byrdie HQ, our health—mental, sexual, reproductive, and the like—is always top of mind. That said, women’s health has historically been a topic either buried in controversy or ignored altogether. So, this year, we’re taking Women’s Health Week as an opportunity to serve up helpful information, product recommendations, and science-backed tips to better understand the inner-workings of our bodies. Find anything from what to eat when you have your period to exactly what happens when you take the morning after pill (and much, much more).

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It's rarely completely clear what's going on in our bodies—and the lack of education around women's health doesn't make things any less murky. As such, I've never entirely understood what goes on during my period, or my entire cycle as a whole. There's also been a lot of confusing around what foods can help, and which can make things worse during each phase. To get a better understanding, I reached out to Moody Month co-founder and nutritionist, Lola Ross. Moody Month is an app that helps you with the fluctuations of your hormone cycle and changes in your daily well-being.

All you have to do is log the way you're feeling, when you start your period, and other details about what's going on withy your body throughout the month. I figured her knowledge of both food and menstruation was a perfect match for my line of questioning.

"It is really important to listen to your body," Ross tells me, first and foremost. "But, there are ways to understand what is at the root of your cravings, symptoms, and feelings before, during, and after your period." Below, she goes into great detail about the whole thing. She explains each phase of your cycle, what you'll like feel during that time, and what food will help. Keep scrolling for her thoughts and advice.

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Menstruation: The Bleed Phase 

What's happening: "Day one of our cycle is the first day of menstruation. At the start of the cycle, our hormones are at their lowest as they work to shed the uterine lining. Because of this hormonal dip, energy levels are likely to be low," explains Ross. According to her, lower hormone levels can make you feel fatigued and zapped of energy, coupled with possible heavy bleeding and cramps. During this time, try to add nutrients into your diet with a focus on warmth and comfort.

What to eat: "Support your body with plenty of filtered water and unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods that keep energy and blood sugar levels steady," suggests Ross. She continues, "A good mix of lean proteins, healthy fats, and low GI complex carbohydrates such as root vegetables, wholegrain and legume-packed stews, can support the energy-intensive process of menstruation." Ross also recommends including cooked, fermented, sprouted or activated foods, if possible, as they may be easier to digest (because as some of the breaking down process has already begun).

Include plenty of iron-rich foods such as lentils, kelp, pumpkin seeds, dried prunes and spinach and, if you eat animal products, grass-fed beef, eggs, and fish are also a good source of heme iron, which help to replenish iron levels that can be lost during our bleed.

The grocery list:

  • Sea vegetables (i.e. kelp)
  • Sweet potato
  • Activated brown rice
  • Kefir or probiotic yogurts
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Millet-based cereals
  • Wheat germ
  • Protein of choice; beef, chicken, lentils, fish, eggs, tofu
  • Nuts

The supplements and herbs to try:

  • Magnesium oil spray (for cramps and migraines)
  • Methylated B vitamins (for breast tenderness)
  • Agnus Castus: (for many PMS symptoms)
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Follicular: The Rise Phase

What's happening: "Hormone levels, while still low, are beginning to rise as your egg follicles mature in preparation for ovulation," says Ross. "Estrogen and progesterone are at high levels during phase two of your cycle. Estrogen is responsible for a wide range of functions in the body, including increasing our metabolic rate, plumping skin, and sharpening cognitive function. Progesterone balances estrogen, supports healthy sleep, and helps to regulate mood," Ross adds. With both hormones at a high during this time, it can often give rise to feelings of optimism, energy, and motivation—making this phase of your cycle a great time to take on new challenges or complete tricky tasks.

What to do: "You may start to feel more energized, so this is a good time to incorporate light, fresh, and vibrant foods into your diet (including salads and fermented foods like kefir, probiotic yogurt, and sauerkraut, as they support gut health and detoxification)," suggests Ross. According to her, with rising estrogen, some women find that they have more energy, focus, and willpower at this time, so it may also be an optimal time to begin your healthy eating plan or get some exercise.

The grocery list:

  • Salad vegetables
  • Flaxseeds
  • Avocado
  • Broccoli
  • Nuts/seed mix
  • Probiotic yogurt
  • Zucchini/courgettes
  • Buckwheat
  • Salmon
  • Kefir

The supplements and herbs to try:

  • Probiotics (for digestion, detoxification, immunity, and mood)
  • Shatavari root: (for sexual vitality support and increased arousal)
  • L theanine and lemon balm (for feelings of restlessness)
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Ovulatory: The Shifting Phase

What's happening: "Once the egg has matured, we move into the ovulatory phase," Ross says. She explains, "Hormone levels are rising, particularly estrogen as it aids in the ovulation process, and our basal body temperature increases—which can impact energy levels. Many women describe this time as 'goddess days,' where they feel their best." That said, according to Ross, others may experience an increase in anxiety or insomnia that can make it a difficult few days. During this shifting phase listening to your body is key.

What to do: "Excess estrogen can have a negative impact on our cycle, including breast tenderness and increased spotting," Ross says. So, fibrous and light nutrients that support your liver are good to stock up on (this includes kale, broccoli, onions, garlic, and radishes).

The grocery list:

  • Quinoa
  • Eggs
  • Kale
  • Radishes
  • Wholegrain breads, pasta, and rice
  • Berries, citrus, papaya

The supplements and herbs to try:

  • Vitamin B6 (for energy production and mood and hormone regulation)
  • Valerian/fennel tea blend (for deeper sleep)
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Luteal: The Reflect Phase

What's happening: "Hormone levels begin to drop as we approach menstruation and many women experience PMS symptoms around this time," says Ross. Some of us experience water retention (like swollen breasts and bloating), and, because estrogen levels are reaching their lowest point, your mood and sleep will likely be affected. Though, she says, it is possible to help manage pre-period moods and discomforts through food choices. "Focusing on your diet and planning a healthy sleep routine around this time is important," Ross shares.

What to do: "Avoid foods high in salt because it can have an anti-diuretic effect on your body," says Ross. She recommends using this time of the month to cut down on caffeine and alcohol, as they can stimulate and aggravate PMS-triggered anxiety and mood shifts. "Coffee and alcohol can also interfere with the absorption of essential vitamins and minerals required for optimal menstrual health," Ross adds. Instead, try some alternatives like sparkling fruit water, herbal teas, chicory root, or swap your morning latte for a caffeine-free one and look for healthy foods that will curb cravings.

The grocery list:

  • Cauliflower
  • Cucumber
  • Squash
  • Caffeine-free herbal teas
  • Sesame seeds
  • Spinach
  • Brown rice
  • Protein of choice: tofu, chicken, lean meats, fish, and seafood
  • Berries
  • Turmeric latte blend
  • Dark chocolate

The supplements and herbs to try:

  • Viridian (for curbing sugar cravings)
  • Ashwagandha (for keeping stress at bay)
  • Viridian with B6 (for anxiety, tension and sleep)
  • Magnesium bath salts (for water retention and anxiety)

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