(See a blog version of this episode below the show notes.)
Yes, changing your diet can change your period! In this episode, Kristen answers a listener question about hormone-related causes for sleep issues, then dives into how dietary changes can impact the menstrual cycle. But first, an acknowledgment of the death of Daunte Wright and the need for police abolition.
Resources from this episode:
- The Marshall Project collection of police abolition articles
- Critical Resistance Resources on Policing
- “Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish the Police” by Mariame Kaba
- Call Your Girlfriend episode with Mariame Kaba
- Project NIA Presents: Defund the Police
- Building a Police-Free Future: Frequently-Asked Questions via MPD150
- Abolition for the People
- Support Daunte Wright’s family
- Daunte Wright Memorial Fund
- Brooklyn Center Mutual Aid
- Healing Justice Foundation
- Mental health resources
- Subdial — app for finding police alternatives in your area
- Waking Up Tired After 8 Hours of Sleep
- Workshop: Sleeping Your Way to Less Stress
- Study: Birth control and nutrient deficiencies
- Herbs for Period Pain (studies for vitex, ginger, etc. can be found in this post)
- Workshop: Finding Relief From PMS & Period Pain
- Free guide: Syncing With the Moon for a Better Flow
Can changing your diet change your period? YES!
I think you already knew the answer to that, though!
Diet culture and your cycle
I want to go back to the concept of diet culture. The diet industry and the fitness industry and the routines that they convince us to do, aren’t always beneficial for us.
Some people can do high-intensity exercise six times a week and function totally fine. Others simply cannot. We’re all built differently.
If you’re a person who finds that you can’t keep up with a strict routine, you’re probably familiar with feelings of guilt, shame, frustration. Maybe you are down on yourself because you can’t keep up with the BBG workouts. Maybe you get bored easily, you haven’t found a workout you really like.
But these 30-day shreds, or whatever rigid plans that have you doing the same level of intensity each day — they’re simply not made for how lunar bodies function.
Cycling people have natural fluctuations in their energy levels, stamina, endurance, motivation, all the things you kinda need to keep up a strict fitness routine. Not to mention the state of our mental health right now, and the highs and lows that add another layer to our baseline energy levels and motivation each day.
While it’s good to push yourself through exercise, you don’t want to overdo it. Challenge is good, going past your limit is not.
But we’re not educated about these natural changes in our cycles, nor are we taught how working against them can impact us. Forcing yourself to go beyond your energy capacity causes physical stress to the body, and mental stress, too, when you aren’t thinking about why you might not be able to do the same exercise you were able to do the week before. You get frustrated with yourself when it’s not you that’s the problem, it’s that the plan wasn’t designed for you or your lunar body.
Overtraining and underfueling
What can also happen when you overtrain, is that you can underfuel. Whether on purpose or inadvertently.
On purpose, I’m talking about disordered eating. Purposely restricting in order to shrink your body.
Inadvertently, it might just be that you’re not eating enough to support the level of activity that you’re putting your body through. Maybe you’re eating what you think an acceptable portion should be, or following a meal plan that wasn’t designed for your unique needs. You’re looking outside yourself for guidance instead of learning how to listen to your body and what it needs.
Regardless of how you end up underfueling, it can all impact your cycle. This can lead to hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is the absence of a normal menstrual cycle.
It can happen from chronic stress as well, with other sources of stress impacting your cycle, but overtraining, underfueling, and being chronically underweight are all stressors to the body.
To cope with that stress, your body releases cortisol, and cortisol inhibits the body’s main sex hormone — gonadotropin releasing hormone, or GnRH. This is produced in the brain, controlled by the hypothalamus, hence the term hypothalamic amenorrhea. GnRh basically kick starts your menstrual cycle. So if you’re mentally or physically very stressed, this may be a reason why your cycle is off.
Mindfulness with food and exercise
This doesn’t mean you can’t set up a workout or meal plan for yourself, but I highly advise exercising your flexibility muscles. You can create a plan and still listen to your body. I recommend checking in with yourself each morning and ask what it is you need that day. Look at your schedule, look at your fitness or food plan and check in with yourself on whether you’re still up for it.
And if you’re not, it’s okay. You’ll see more results, performance-wise and energy-wise, if you listen to your body and rest when rest is needed, or eat more food if you’re still hungry. Or eat at different times of the day than what’s considered socially acceptable. If you want to eat lunch at 10:30 in the morning, go ahead and eat lunch. Call it brunch.
Time is a construct, baby. Follow your hunger signals.
Meal planning for intuitive support
Having a meal plan might sound counterintuitive to following your body’s signals, but it’s not. First, it’s just what I said, planning ahead and planning to be flexible.
The idea with a plan, if you want to make one, is that it’s helping you meet your needs throughout the day, so you aren’t left wondering what to eat and where to get it, becoming ravenous the longer it takes to figure it out. Instead, once you start experiencing the early hunger signals, you can go get the food that you prepped or ordered.
If you hate the sound of meal prep, try making it into a ritual. Get your kitchen witch on. Choose foods for specific intentions. Use herbs and spices that bring you further towards your goals, whether they’re energetic or health-focused goals. Listen to music that embodies the vibes you’re looking for as you cook. Stir your intentions into a pot of soup.
There are many ways that you can make this into a more meaningful practice, and that focused ritual work helps you be more present and feel more satisfied, which is going to help you bring your stress levels down.
Nutritional changes can have an effect on PMS and other period problems
Deficiencies of certain nutrients can cause or exacerbate symptoms. This is emphasized if you’re transitioning off the pill after a long time being on it, because it’s widely known to be associated with deficiencies in B vitamins, Vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium, among others.
These vitamins support our adrenal health, immune system, energy production, and more — all things that keep our bodies healthy and in balance so that we aren’t experiencing stress that ultimately impacts our period. These vitamins also support the liver in doing its job of detoxifying excess hormones, and a sluggish liver is related to hormone imbalance.
To support your health with pill-related nutrient deficiencies, I recommend eating foods like leafy greens, nuts and seeds, vibrantly colored foods like berries and bell peppers, proteins like meat, eggs, and seafood, or protein like beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
Having a variety of these things in your diet on a regular basis will give you important nutrients that support your body in healing from various period problems and reducing symptoms, and can help you get back up to optimal ranges.
If food alone isn’t helping, you may want to explore supplements with your doctor.
Herbal support for period problems
As for some herbal support, always check with a trained practitioner who knows your individual health situation, but you may want to discuss Vitex with them. This is also known as chaste tree berry, and it’s a very commonly used herb for menstrual health because it aids in the normal functioning of the pituitary gland, which produces and releases thyroid hormones, which are necessary for the proper functioning of the menstrual cycle.
Something that’s more accessible at the grocery store is ginger. You probably already know all about ginger’s anti-inflammatory action, but it’s also actually been found to be as effective as ibuprofen.
Ginger helps relieve cramps by decreasing prostaglandins, which constrict blood vessels and cause the uterus to contract. It’s also helpful for lower back pain associated with menstruation, as well as nausea, so if your period pain is bad enough to get you feeling woozy, this will be great to try.
Cinnamon is another accessible anti-inflammatory for period pain, especially when taken the first few days of your cycle.
Cinnamon can also improve insulin sensitivity, this means that your body is more responsive to the insulin that it produces — the ability for the insulin to take blood sugar, or glucose, out of the blood and store it in your cells. The opposite is insulin resistance, which keeps your blood sugar high, and chronic dysregulated blood sugar can wreak havoc on your hormones.
This has a cascade effect. It can cause poor thyroid function, and your adrenals release more cortisol because your body isn’t getting enough glucose, and eventually the pituitary and adrenals develop dysfunctional communication.
So blood sugar balance is really important for your hormones. This and stress reduction are the two main things you want to tackle before anything else. They’re the basics like sleep and water.
Diets and their role in menstrual issues
Listen to the episode for my thoughts on intermittent fasting, the ketogenic diet, and vegan/vegetarian diets and how they fit into menstruators’ lifestyles.
Ultimately, you know what I always recommend, and that’s using your intuition around food. I find it to be the most sustainable, the most satisfying, and the most fulfilling physically, mentally, and spiritually, because developing your intuition around food also helps its development elsewhere, and vice versa. It’s the most supportive option in my book, but I know not everyone is ready to make that leap yet.
I know it’s nice to have a plan, some support, and some guidelines to follow. But you can use your intuition to create guidelines for yourself. It starts with awareness, taking in that information because intuition is just information.