For years, I dreaded getting my period. The moodiness and fatigue were so confusing, and I was so tempted to go on birth control pills just so that I wouldn't have to deal with the cyclic nature of my mood and weight.
As I learned more about this, I was shocked to discover how much of our behavior, mood, and choices depend on our hormones. It made me realize that we have to listen to our bodies and tune in to the signals.
Here is my very best attempt to break it down simply for you. To keep it simple, I'll just focus on progesterone and estrogen. (Please know that you can get into much more detail with the nuances of female hormones. This is why in my medical school, the female hormone unit was one of the most hated subjects—It's so complicated!)
The first two weeks of your cycle (starting with Day 1 of your period) are dominated by estrogen. Estrogen can make you energetic, outgoing, social and enthusiastic. It increases the serotonin (the "feel good" hormone) in your brain. It also suppresses appetite. Some people may even feel hyper.
Ovulation happens approximately 12 to 16 days before your period. Usually, you just count backwards two weeks from your expected period.
After ovulation, your hormones switch and progesterone takes over. Progesterone increases your GABA receptors in the brain, calming you and helping you to sleep. Some people may get too demotivated, others love this "mellow" time.
A drop in hormones is when it all gets crazy. Around the time when your period actually starts, both of your hormones plummet for about 1 to 3 days. And it's this sudden drop in progesterone and estrogen that makes us feel the worst.
Are you sad, tired, and irritated, all at the same time? Do you feel your mood and energy at the low point and then get better after a day or two? It's your hormones.
Crying, and feeling that your life is terrible? It's because both of your major hormones left you hanging. Some studies have also revealed that reaction time may be longer (e.g., you may be slower to react when the car in front of you makes a sudden stop), so be extra-careful driving or playing sports.
Exercising may feel more stressful and strenuous than usual. Lastly, your immune system is depressed at this time so you are more likely to get colds/ infections.
How YOU can work with your hormones:
Estrogen. So, the simplified version is this: When estrogen predominates during the first two weeks of your cycle, you naturally eat 15% less. Not only that, but you're more energized to exercise, and you're more sensitive to insulin. This is when I'd advise you to do longer workouts. It's also a good time to tackle difficult tasks at work.
Progesterone. When progesterone dominates, you may automatically eat about 15% more. Your body temperature is higher. This is because your body thinks you might be pregnant. If you didn't get pregnant, the progesterone begins to drop and this is a good time to use meditation or yoga as PMS will start to set in.
So! Our lesson here is this: Work with your body to optimize your nutrition, mental focus, and athletic performance. Start tuning into your own cycles and plan around it NOT against it.
Also, if you are one any kind of hormone therapy, including oral contraceptive pills, just forget everything I just I told you above! Most contraceptive pills and hormones give you steady levels of hormones and don't mimic your natural cycle at all. Therefore, you won't get fluctuations like you do in the natural female hormonal cycle.
We are not the same as men and so we should not be copying men's diets, exercise and lifestyles. I hope you find this helpful and use this as a tool to tune in, look inwards. Working with your own body, is the first step to achieving your ideal self.