Isn't it perplexing how, month after month, our menstruating bodies go through (somewhat) predictable cyclical and colorful changes, yet they often seem to surprise us?
"Ugh, why am I so irritable/ravenous/tired/bloated/sad/low/nauseous/all of the above?
Oooof! It's that time of the month—it's my cycle’s fault."
Sound familiar? Do you wonder if our resistance to the more unwanted shifts in our cycles makes it all the more difficult to accept them? Maybe the habit of focusing on the negative side effects of menstruation and blaming the body for X, Y, and Z also results in forgetting to acknowledge and bask in the highs and beauty that also come with it. These are the days when you feel on top of the world, bursting with energy, when your libido is high, your jeans fit perfectly, or your breasts look fantastic. Do we thank and reward our complex and hard-working insides for those lovely peaks, or are we consumed with focusing on the lows of our physiology as a weakness?
As the co-founder of a menstrual health and wellness company, I often feel pressure to accept myself just the way I am, particularly given our messaging and values at Looni. The truth is, loving who I am, in all my entirety, all the time, does not come easily. Although I've made a conscious effort to be more gentle with myself over the past couple of years, it's easier said than done. Despite trying to have compassion for the critical demon that lives inside my head, which most likely stems from years of social conditioning and patriarchal systems, it too often gets the better of me.
Do you ever catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror a day or two before your period, or glance down at your naked body in the shower and wonder, "Who the hell does this body belong to? What happened to ME?" I know I experience it all the time. Due to having endometriosis, my menstrual symptoms can be more severe than others. I experience extreme endo belly, water retention, etc. Without exaggeration, my breasts can easily increase two cup sizes before my period, and I also seem to carry some extra weight around my middle area. This has been a recurring theme for long enough, yet, I'm still utterly dumbfounded at how drastic the shift is from my menstrual phase body to that in my follicular phase, the stage of your cycle when your body is preparing to release an egg. I like to joke that it looks like I've had breast implants during that time of the month. Once, while on vacation in Barbados, a very nice man who I used to buy my fruit from in the morning asked me when my baby was due. The fact that I was not pregnant but rather awfully bloated resulted in quite the awkward interaction.
I want to acknowledge that my complaint might seem superficial, but how we feel about ourselves, both physically and energetically, really does matter. Regardless of our weight, size, shape, style, or career, low self-esteem can affect us on many levels. I believe that the lows that commonly accompany PMS can exacerbate these feelings around our physical selves.
The hormonal fluctuations that occur at different phases of the month are fundamentally different and cannot be compared. It's like comparing apples and oranges.
I kid you not; I wake up on day five of my period and feel as though a huge, heavy weight has been lifted—literally and figuratively.
I look down at my breasts, which have reverted to their normal C-cup size (see you next month DDs), and I'm actually able to see my lady parts again 👋 because the belly that once was has now vanished. Oh, did I mention the heavenly surge of oomph that is suddenly running through me? "Hello, summer cycle phase. How u doin'?"
While finding the optimal balance in our hormone levels and their evolution throughout our monthly cycles is the ultimate goal, we shouldn't disregard accepting and honoring our bodies' reactions on the journey to equilibrium. As tempting as it can be to resent the largely negative symptoms of PMS—telling ourselves that we are flawed, that we are gross, that we are broken—only hurts us further. I wonder if we did less of this and more nurturing of ourselves as if we were our own children—talking to ourselves kindly, being patient with the difficult stages, paying attention to the wonder that it means to be a human, a human with periods, showering our accomplishments with praise—if the ride might be an easier burden to bear.
During those moments of frustration, when it's your best friend's big birthday or wedding, an anticipated date, or an important work event, and your period is bringing that out-of-whack physical energy in, I try to remember "there is nothing permanent except change."
We are beings designed to ebb and flow; it's important to remember it is not a weakness to experience and acknowledge fluctuations in how we feel and look.
Everything around us is constantly evolving—be it the seasons, nature, our lives, or our dreams—and avoiding getting attached to any one state is a helpful tool when it comes to riding the crimson wave that we know to be menstruation.
Until next time,
🩺 SCIENCE AND SPIRIT 👁️
🧑⚕️ from Looni’s medical adviser, Dr Stephanie Colantonio
Our hormones play a crucial role in directing the intricate functions of our body. While we often discuss how estrogen and progesterone affect ovulation, menstruation, and fertility, we sometimes overlook their contributions to digestion, metabolism, cognitive function, and more. Mild cyclical changes in weight or breast size and sensation are normal, but when discomfort affects quality of life, it's time to investigate the root cause.
Bloating before menstruation is a complex issue with several contributing factors that we're still learning about. During the luteal phase, progesterone levels rise after ovulation. While this hormone prepares the uterine lining for potential embryo implantation and does wonders for our sleep and metabolism, it also slows down digestion, leading to symptoms like constipation, gas, and bloating. To support your digestive fire, it's helpful to focus on gut-friendly foods.
One study found that inflammation, as measured by the blood marker c-reactive protein, was associated with premenstrual mood changes, abdominal cramping, weight gain/bloating, and breast tenderness. Lowering inflammation in the body requires a holistic approach that considers the whole person, including body-mind-spirit.
Heightened physical or emotional stress can increase cortisol levels, leading to fluid retention. Research has also shown that premenstrual fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone can affect hormones in the kidneys that regulate water and salt retention, resulting in puffiness. Hopefully, further research will shed more light on this observation.
Cyclical tender, swollen breasts are hypothesized to result from excess circulating estrogen. Balancing estrogen with a holistic approach that includes nutrition, environmental toxins, and stress management is crucial.
It's essential to accept the ebbs and flows of our body changes. Just as we gain weight in the fall and winter, it's okay to do the same during our inner menstrual seasons. When clothes feel tighter before our period, we can wear loose, flowy dresses or skirts that allow our bellies to breathe and expand. Some days, it takes active practice to love our bodies exactly as they are, regardless of the season. In those moments, mindfulness practices that focus on acceptance, loving-kindness, and compassion can be the medicine we need..
When dealing with symptoms like premenstrual bloating, it's important to remember that what works for one person may not be as effective for another. Here are some starting points to consider:
- Check hormone levels. Identifying a hormone imbalance can help target a treatment plan.
- Stay hydrated by drinking about 2L of water per day for adults. Add lemon and a dash of salt or trace mineral drops for added electrolytes.
- Eat potassium-rich foods such as bananas, green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, avocados, and beets.
- Supplement with magnesium.
- Stick to nutrient-dense whole foods and avoid processed foods, especially those with added sugars.
- Drink nourishing, cleansing, and digestive-supportive herbs such as Nettles, Burdock, and Dandelion. These help eliminate excess water weight.
- Rest when your body asks you to slow down.
- Engage in gentle exercise.
- There are many approaches to breast tenderness, but gentle massage and castor oil packs are a good starting point.
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