Women’s Crash Course for a Healthy Menstrual Cycle

by Holistic Nutrition Coach/Chef Abigail Wiley BCHN, HWP, AAS Culinary Arts

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Hey ladies, let’s talk about our hormones. I often wonder why we aren’t given a crash course on how our hormones work in school. I, like many young ladies, have struggled with all sorts of hormonal imbalance. In fact, from the first time I got by period in high school, my cycle was never regular. It started out as just irregular and over the years I pretty much didn’t have a period at all. I thought, “hm this is weird, I should probably go see someone.” So I went to an OBGYN and she assured me that it’s actually fine to even have only 3-4 periods a year and that if I wanted, I could go on birth control. Being naive I just took her advice and did nothing different. My symptoms continued to get worse and it wasn’t until I started studying Holistic Nutrition that I realized, none of what was happening in my body was normal! Common maybe, but NOT normal. I am still to this day so blown away that a doctor who is supposed to know all this stuff told me I was fine and offered birth control as my remedy. Sadly, this happens every day, clients and friends come to me all the time who were told the same thing and almost all of them are on birth control with all the underlying imbalances sitting in the background! I’m here to tell you, that you can balance your hormones with food and dietary changes. I know, because I DID!

In this post we are going to discuss what a healthy cycle should look like, feel like, and how to eat and exercise and eat in sync with our hormones. You’ll also get four easy recipes to eat at different periods of your cycle! Let’s dive in! 

Menstrual Phase- Week one

Day one is defined as the first day of bleeding and starts the menstrual phase which lasts for about five days on average. Every woman is different but a healthy cycle should last between 28-32 days. The body has realized it’s not pregnant and estrogen and progesterone levels have dropped to their lowest. Bleeding occurs from the uterine lining shedding to reset itself. This hormonal dip can cause energy to be lower and is a great time to focus more inward and not expend a lot of energy on exercising or social activities. Women may find themselves overthinking, second guessing themselves, or really getting in tune with themselves. Activities such as yoga, stretching, walks, journaling, and diaphragmatic breathing are all great options at this time. This is not the time to schedule important meetings, social events, big projects etc if possible since these activities will be very draining. We’ll get to the optimal time for that! It’s also very important to focus on lots of clean water (I suggest starting with half your body weight in ounces of filtered or water from a well), minimizing caffeine (see a yummy caffeine-free drink below), and making time for rest. Another note on water, it is very important for your hormones to drink clean, remineralized water. Tap water is one of the WORST things you can do for your hormones. It’s full of chemicals, chlorine (which kills good gut bacteria), pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, even birth control! Do yourself a favor and invest in a good water filter (I like Berkey or Kangen) or at the minimum refill water jugs at the store with reverse osmosis water. It is also important to remineralize your water. Filtering takes out a lot of the trace minerals our bodies were designed to operate with when it filters out the bad too. Remineralizing is easy! I use the Trace Minerals Drops by Trace Minerals Research. Click here to order through me at a discount (you will have to make a user and password since this is a private service I offer). You can also find Trace Minerals on Thrive Market and some health food stores. If you have well water, this is great and usually full of minerals from the earth!

Like I said, the menstrual phase can last for about five days or so and ends when bleeding stops.

Follicular Phase- Week 2

Days six through about 13 is defined as the follicular phase. Estrogen is steadily increasing while progesterone lays low. The rise in estrogen may provide higher energy. This is a great time to fit in those tougher workouts such as strength training, running, HIIT, etc. During this period a woman may find it easier to lose weight and complete detoxes. At this point in her cycle, a woman may find herself in her creative zone and this is a great time to take advantage of new experiences and form new ideas. While estrogen is increasing, so is luteinizing hormone (LH). LH helps the ovaries to develop follicles which hold the immature eggs that will be released during ovulation. Food-wise, light foods are great as appetite is likely not as high. Fun fact, all sex hormones are derived from cholesterol so cholesterol is especially an important nutrient during this time of hormone increase (but all the time too). Cholesterol is a type of fat in animal products so think egg yolks, pasture-raised beef, chicken, pasture-raised dairy (ideally raw and A2 protein dairy- here’s a great article on A2 dairy), etc. Foods like salads, smoothies, veggie bowls, and meals consisting of protein and vegetables are all great options! This is the time to have fun and have more flexibility with meals!

Ovulatory Stage- usually right in the middle of a woman’s cycle

Ovulation is the halfway point in a woman’s cycle occurring approximately days 14-16. This is when the egg has the opportunity to become fertilized and Estrogen peaks out giving the body feedback that it is time for Progesterone to rise as well. A rise in Progesterone stimulates a surge of FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone). I want to note that without a peak in estrogen, all these other hormones cannot peak either and this can be a big issue for fertility and a healthy cycle. 

During the ovulatory stage, basal body temperature increases and women can measure this first thing before getting out of bed to help determine when ovulation is occurring! The increase in temperature will not be a lot, between just 0.2-0.5 degrees more so testing temperature throughout the cycle is a great way to establish a baseline. Again, the high amount of hormones may leave a woman feeling full of energy and vitality! This is a great time to get things done, plan meetings, take care of phone calls/other communications, and be social. She may also feel more sexy and aroused, just nature’s way of trying to procreate! This is a great time to eat raw and cruciferous foods to help the liver keep up with the surge of hormones and detoxify the excess estrogen. Light exercise is a great option during these couple days and through the third week of the menstrual cycle. 

Luteal Phase- Week 4

This phase occurs when the egg is not fertilized and begins to break down. Estrogen is low during this phase and Progesterone begins to lower as well. A sudden drop in hormones can cause PMS symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, bloating, cravings, tender breasts, etc. If a woman is experiencing PMS symptoms, this is the best time to test hormones to determine what is going on. Proper testing is key! I use at home saliva and urine tests to help my clients get to the bottom of what’s going wrong. A poor ratio of estrogen to progesterone is usually a culprit of PMS symptoms and is called estrogen dominance. Even if estrogen is not elevated or is low but there is a poor ratio of estrogen to progesterone, symptoms can occur. Progesterone is a hormone that makes us feel good and calm. Progesterone is a precursor to our stress hormone cortisol so when a woman is living in a constant state of stress whether it be from emotions, injury, gut dysbiosis, infection, heavy metals, and so much more, the body will use progesterone to be able to handle that stress. During this time, it is best to support the body with tons of vitamins and minerals and avoid acting on cravings for salt, sugar, and alcohol which will deplete the body and aggravate PMS symptoms. Hormone levels continue to decrease until they bottom out and the cycle starts over. During this time, medium intensity workouts are a great option and can help the body with detoxifying excess hormones and increasing energy naturally. Water, fiber, protein, minerals (especially magnesium and zinc), and b vitamins are all beneficial for aiding liver detox, boosting energy, and supporting PMS symptoms. 

I want to repeat this, women who struggle with PMS, infertility, thyroid imbalance, etc do not have to! There is an underlying stressor affecting the body and these symptoms are it’s way of showing that. I work with women to get to the root cause and rebalance the body through simple steps starting with food and lifestyle changes. If you are ready to not feel like the version of you with fill in the blank symptoms, don’t wait any longer, you deserve better! Book a FREE 15 minute consult with me to get started on your path to wellness.

Let’s talk about some recipes to use for each phase! Check out my recipe subscription for more hormone supportive recipes!

Menstrual Phase- Week one

Golden Milk 

Serves 1

This recipe is full of anti-inflammatory herbs to help ease some discomfort during menstruation. Cinnamon and cardamom are carminative herbs which are helpful for easing digestion and gas. And the black pepper is helpful to help the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric get absorbed in the body! Lastly, I love adding collagen which is high in amino acids that support the gut and healing. If the gut is not healthy, there is definitely going to be hormonal issues eventually since toxins and unwanted proteins from food will seep into the blood and trigger a stress response which we talked about steals progesterone from a woman’s cycle! Remember, this is a period where the body needs rest and this is the perfect cozy drink to relax with! 

  • 1/2 c (4 oz) coconut milk or any clean non-dairy milk beverage
  • 1/2 c canned full-fat coconut milk (I like Native Forest Simple)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon, organic
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric, organic
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom, organic
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper, organic
  • ½-1tsp raw, local, unfiltered honey (to taste)
  • 1 scoop of collagen powder (use code ABBY10 for 10% off)*

Steam the coconut milk with a steam wand until hot then add a little to a mug. Stir in the rest of the ingredients then the rest of the milk. 

OR

Warm all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium- low heat. Stir occasionally and heat until warmed through. Pour into a mug and stir some more then enjoy. 

* Collagen is full of amazing gut-supportive amino acids that us women need for healthy hormones!

Follicular Phase- Week two

All sex hormones originate from cholesterol. During this stage, hormones are on the rise, so fitting in healthy sources of cholesterol is a great choice to support hormone production! 

Eggs and Tzatziki

  • 2 over easy eggs, pasture raised, organic
  • 3-4 T Tzatziki (recipe follows)
  • Roasted sweet potato yams or toast
  • Arugula
  • Feta, optional
  • nitrate free, pasture-raised ham, optional

On a plate place the arugula, yams, eggs, feta, and ham. Drizzle the tzatziki over top and enjoy! 

Tzatziki recipe: 

  • 1c non-dairy yogurt- I like foragers cashew yogurt or grass-fed goat yogurt if you are tolerate dairy. Authentic tzatziki is made with goat yogurt.
  • 1c cucumber, grated
  • ¼ c fresh mint and/or dill chopped (I like a mixture of both)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Olive oil as needed to thin

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Grate the cucumber either using a food processor grating attachment or with a cheese grater. Salt heavily with some sea salt and allow to sit so the cucumbers can release their moisture. 
  2. Working with one big handful at a time, squeeze the grated cucumber between your palms over the sink to remove excess moisture. Transfer the squeezed cucumber to a small serving bowl, and repeat with the remaining cucumber.
  3. Add the yogurt, olive oil, herbs, lemon juice, and garlic to the bowl, and stir to blend. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Taste and add additional chopped fresh herbs, lemon juice, and/or salt, if necessary. I don’t add salt until the very end because the cucumbers are salted in the beginning step. 
  4. Serve tzatziki immediately or chill for later. Leftover tzatziki keeps well, chilled, for about 4 days and the flavor improves after it has sat in the fridge so it is great to make ahead. 

Ovulatory Phase- Week three

Asian Chopped Salad

Makes about 8-10 servings- feel free to half

During this phase hormones are peaking. The liver is working on overdrive to properly process all these hormones and needs sulfur to do so! This salad is full of sulfurous vegetables and fiber to help with liver detox and elimination via stool.

For the Salad

  • 1  small cabbage- or ½ purple and green
  • 4 carrots, shredded
  • 1 bunch of chopped green onion
  • Lightly toasted almonds
  • 1 Red bell pepper, diced, optional
  • 1c Chopped green snap peas, optional
  • 1 bunch of radishes, chopped, optional
  • Cooked chicken or chickpeas
  • Toasted almonds*, chopped or sliced
  • Sesame seeds (I think black are pretty), this is optional
  • Asian dressing (recipe above)
  • Dressing: 
  • 1/2 c avocado oil 
  • 6T  organic raw apple cider vinegar
  • 3T-¼ c  honey or maple syrup
  • ¼ c organic tamari
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp ginger, dried 

    Combine all the dressing ingredients in a blender except the oil. With the blender still running, gradually add the oil. This helps emulsify the dressing better.

OR

In a jar add all the dressing ingredients and shake like crazy! 

Chop/shred all veggies. I like to use the food processor to help and also to further break down some of these vegetables that can be harder to digest. 😉 I also make sure to fully chew each bite of this salad to help with digestion. Toss all the veggies together and store in a large container for the week. Once you are ready to eat, pull out the amount of salad you want, top with chicken, toasted almonds, sesame seeds, and the dressing. Enjoy! 

To make this into salad jars: 

In mason jars add 1 T of dressing for a pint and 2T of dressing for a quart jar. Add the salad mix, then the chicken, then the nuts/seeds on top. When you are ready to eat, dump everything out onto a plate and toss together with your fork. 

* To toast your own almonds, place almonds on a baking sheet and dry roast at 325℉ until fragrant and lightly toasted 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye on them and stir as necessary. 

Luteal Phase- Week four 

Sesame Crusted Salmon w/Chinese Five Spice and Broccoli Rice

Serves 2

 It is extremely important to support blood sugar during this phase and continue to support liver detox so that excess hormones can exit the body! Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that helps with detox. Remember this is the phase where women commonly see PMS symptoms. Focusing on quality protein and fat to stay satiated and stave off cravings is a great idea and salmon is full of both! Salmon is also high in anti-inflammatory omega three fatty acids which may help with discomfort during this stage! 

  • 2 (5oz) Wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon filets, boneless, skin on 
  • 3T white sesame seeds
  • 1 T black sesame seeds 
  • 1 tsp mustard (any will do this is just to bind the sesame seeds to the salmon) 
  • 1T + 2tsp extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil 
  • ½ tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • ½ tsp sea salt 
  • 1 head of broccoli 
  • ½ an organic lemon 
     

Trim the broccoli to just the florets and the tender inner stem. Pulse in a food processor until it resembles the shape of rice. 

Heat 1 T of oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once the oil slides easy across the pan, add the broccoli rice. Cook undisturbed for four minutes then stir and cook another minute or two. Add salt and lemon juice to taste. 

To a wide, shallow bowl or a plate add the sesame seeds, five spice, and sea salt. Mix to combine. 

Pat the salmon filets dry with a paper towel then smear mustard on the skinless side. Dredge in the sesame seed mixture to coat. 

Heat a medium cast iron skillet over medium heat and add about 2 tsp of oil to coat the bottom. Once the oil is hot and slides easily across the pan, carefully slide one salmon filet skin down across the oil to coat all of the skin, then lay down on one side of the pan. Repeat. Sliding it across the pan in the oil helps prevent sticking. Reduce the heat slightly and cook for about 4 minutes per side or until it flakes easy. 

Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the salmon. Serve with broccoli rice. 

Thank you so much for reading! I love helping women rebalance their hormones through simple dietary and lifestyle changes. Health is too complicated these days, What helped my hormones was simplicity and balance and I believe that to be true for other women struggling with PMS, infertility, absent periods, heavy periods, thyroid conditions, you name it! If you’d like support getting your body back to feeling it’s best, check out my coaching packages or recipe club! I can help you! 

In Health, 
Abigail Wiley, HWP, BCHN, AAS Culinary Arts
Holistic Health Coach and Chef

chefabbalina.com
@abigaileholistic

Hi! I’m Abigail! I’m a huge food and nutrition geek! When I’m not coaching clients 1:1, you’ll find me playing with my sweet almost 1 year old son, spending time with my husband, or making a huge mess in the kitchen developing recipes for my recipe club! I am so amazed by what our bodies are capable of when in balance and the power of simple recipes and lifestyle practices. Symptoms are just our bodies’ way of telling us something is off and needs corrected. I want to offer to you that you don’t have to live with your symptoms of low energy, hormone imbalances, autoimmunity, digestive problems, behavior issues, fill in the blank, anymore! I can help you! Click here to learn more about my 1:1 coaching offerings! Thanks for being in this space with me! Be well!

Published by Abigail E. Holistic

Holistic Health Coach and Private Chef

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