You’re not imagining it, my friend.
Some days it’s easier to be confident or fall asleep or manage your cravings.
Some days are better than others for going bikini shopping or taking a photo you like.
Some days are perfect for making plans while other days (I learned the hard way) work out best when you make no plans at all.
I discovered all of this and heaps more from tracking my period for 9 months.
Yes, it is a weird thing to do. I surprised myself!
Yet, I’d do it all again because what I’ve learned has transformed how I live – and my health.
Here’s how it all started…
Nine months ago I was on holiday in the South of Spain (amazing, right?)
I should have been feeling fabulous, but instead, my mood and confidence was low.
I felt bloated and emotional. I felt fat, and keen to ‘fix’ my body. It stopped me from being able to have fun or enjoy or feel confident in a swimsuit.
But just two weeks earlier, I had been feeling wonderful, sexy and energetic!
So I checked the date, and sure enough; Yup. My period was days away.
Could my period be having such big impact on my life – and I’d just never realised?
You see, I’d spent the previous 17 years (ever since I first got my period at 11) thinking my period was a burden.
In fact, I tried not to think about my period at all!
Except at times when it embarrassed me.
Like when I had to shove tampons down my sleeve to go to the bathroom at work.
Or when my period caught me unaware (as has happened to all of us). Bugger!
Here I was. At 28 years old. Finally realising that maybe my period was worth paying attention to.
Could understanding my period better help me take better care of my body?
I read it. Curiously. Furiously. There was a lot to learn.
Claire encourages us to rethink our periods and come to adore our cycle. The idea is that there are “four phases of the menstrual cycle”.
Learning how you can work with these shifts, rather than against them, can empower you.
And so with a healthy dose of scepticism – and curiosity for the science behind it all…
I began tracking my cycle. Daily.
I’d tried to use apps before (like Clue) but found the habit never stuck. So this time, I just started tracking my cycle in iCal app on my mac computer.
Here’s an example of what that looks like. It only takes 1 minute to do each day. Which is probably why I kept doing it.
Every day, I’d track which day of my cycle I was on (e.g. Day 1-28) and then I’d record how I felt about my:
And lovely reader. I admit. I really didn’t know If I would/could share such personal information.
Talking about my period is new to me, as it’s still seen as taboo.
But honestly, I hate that women are made to feel ashamed of something our bodies do naturally.
So because I don’t want to be part of keeping women small or keep us hating our bodies, I wanted to be brave and share with you so that maybe it can help you too.
So, with an open heart:
Here is what I learned when I tracked my period daily for 9 months.
For me, my mood is seriously affected by my cycle. I have clinical anxiety but I never realised that it was so tied to my period.
I’m a happy, easy person for three weeks of the month. But like clockwork, my mood seems to dip dramatically once a month – the week before my period (days 21-28).
During these days, I tend to record things like: “Feeling irritable, moody”, “sad and anxious”, “unmotivated” or “sensitive today”.
My strategy? Simply knowing “Oh, it’s day 24, no wonder I feel this way” has helped a lot.
This helps me have compassion for myself! And to stop blaming myself for being short-tempered.
I’ve also started trying not to make social plans or taking on work projects (such as doing a presentation).
I now write DO NOT MAKE PLANS in my calendar for that week every month. This isn’t always possible but even cutting down on my commitments really helps me manage my PMS anxiety.
I haven’t seen anyone else talk explicitly about the link between body confidence and periods before.
So when I started to notice a huge connection, for me… I was blown away.
Yes, I’ve learned to love my body!
But even still, without fail, from days 21-28, I feel a lot more body aware and conscious.
The temptation to diet is STRONG at this time (even starting from day 18).
I feel more bloated and I look softer. I’m lower in energy.
If you weigh yourself (which I personally don’t recommend), know that your weight can increase by a 0.3-1kg during this time depending on how much water your retain.
For me, simply realising: “It’s OK, Lyndi – you tend to feel unhappy with your body around this week. It’s not your body, it’s your hormones. Wait until next week and see how you feel” has prevented me from attempting many quick fixes and is another way how I am actively kind to myself.
From the follicular phase onward, my body confidence flourishes again. And I’m back to my normal body accepting self.
Due to the incredible shift in hormones (progesterone, oestrogen, and testosterone) that happens during the month, your skin can be really affected by your cycle.
Breakouts tend to happen just before and during your period. And I found, regardless of my skin care routine!
By day 21, I will consistently get small breakouts around my chin that linger until day 2-3.
You may notice your skin is very dry (due to low oestrogen) just before and when you first get your period so I like to up my moisturiser here.
As oestrogen and testosterone increases, so does the production of oil. Your skin tends to look it’s best during the follicular stage (Day 1-14).
I try to cut back on foundation when I ovulate and just use concealer on my spots. By working with my skin and cycle, my skin has never looked better.
(Psst. You might like to read: The best foods for glowing skin)
Symptoms like pain, cramps, discharge
For me, by day 21 my ‘other’ PMS symptoms start like swollen breasts, stomach cramps…
My glands often get swollen at the end of the Luteal phase, around day 24-28 (apparently due to changes in progesterone).
This symptom prompts me to try to get more sleep and be gentle with myself.
Your discharge (colour, smell, consistency) can also hint to your vaginal health so it’s a handy one to be curious about.
The amount and colour of discharge changes during your cycle due to changing hormones like progesterone. It can also hint that you’re about to ovulate!
Hunger and cravings
“WHERE IS THE CHOCOLATE?!”… is pretty much me the week before my period.
Cravings are high but what I notice the most is how I am noticeably hungrier from days 21-28. So I don’t fight it. I try to make healthier choices but if I am hungry, I trust my body needs more food. So I respond, feeding it without judgement.
So if that means I eat my homemade muesli for lunch one day, I don’t hate on myself. I know this is not my usual diet so it’s OK.
During ovulation from days 11-18, my hunger decreases and I can easily forget to eat! During this time, I consciously ask myself: Do you really feel like that? I notice I don’t really feel like dessert at this time. I roll with it!
What this teaches me is that there is no need to fight my body. My body is guiding me – sometimes it’s more hungry, sometimes it’s less. I simply need to practice listening to it. It’s divine.
As you might already expect, the best workouts tend to happen from day 8-21. I find that’s when I have the most energy and motivation. What about you?
During ovulation, that’s when I’m keen to do high intensity like going for a run or a circuit. I might even put on some music and dance. I’m generally feeling really good and energised around this time!
On the lower energy days toward the end of the cycle, I might go for a walk, stretch, go to pilates or yoga.
Exercise should always feel good.
I have no guilt for lighter exercise days. They are just as important!
By working with my cycle, I feel most in sync with my body.
On top of the crappy skin, poor body confidence, swollen boobs and glands — you may also notice your bowels change just before your period.
Perhaps you notice constipation before your period and then once you hit day 1 (when your period starts) it can go to diarrhoea.
This seems to be common but maybe it’s the opposite for you?
Sometimes, you might think these bowel changes are related to your diet but your hormones can majorly impact your gut. Something to think about…
The week before my period, because my anxiety is high and so sleep is really tricky for me. I can lie in bed for 1-3 hours toward the end of my cycle.
It’s pretty crazy! I’m yet to work out a solution, though I am practicing meditation and not scheduling so much is helping.
To improve my sleep, I also sleep with my phone in another room and try not to use social media at night (but damn, it’s hard)!
Is your sleep connected to your cycle?
I’m not going to dive into this too much as Claire Baker does a good job of this.
But obviously, as your hormones shift, so does your sex drive.
Working with your hormones can help you get the best intimate experiences and feel connected with your partner (or your own body).
And here’s my wrap up…
I’ve never felt this connected to my body.
Working with my period has helped me have so much for self compassion too.
I find it’s so much easier to forgive myself for not being perfect…for being moody, or for disliking my body or wanting to eat the entire kitchen!
I’m still trying to work out how to best manage my symptoms, but maybe the trick is also to just accept them?
…To trust this lovely body and know it’s got my back.
I don’t know yet.
But I do know that owning and embracing my cycle has helped me reach the next level in my health journey.
And I wonder… what would you learn about yourself if you tracked your cycle, too?