The benefits of tracking and understanding the phases of the female hormone cycle

Illustration by Sydney Smith

Throughout a woman’s monthly hormone cycle, there are predictable fluctuations in many aspects of the body and mind. Throughout each phase of the menstrual cycle, women experience drastic changes in their body’s function, productivity and cognitive state. 

There is a clear gap in education about women’s health and the menstrual cycle. Kimra Luna, the founder of Idaho Abortion Rights, discussed why many women know very little about their own bodies.

“There’s a lack of sex education in schools, which means a lack of education about periods and cycles,” Luna said. “Girls don’t learn about things like when they’re fertile, about menstruation or their cycle as a whole. There are many people who don’t want to talk about those things or think of it as a ‘dirty’ time of the month.”

Largely due to a lack of education and the stigma surrounding the topic, many women have no idea how to best react to each phase of their hormone cycle. Mallori Bjerke, executive director of the Boise Period Project, discussed the importance of learning about the entirety of the female hormone cycle. 

“The female hormone and menstrual cycle is more than just the actual bleeding,” said Bjerke. “Information about the entire cycle from start to finish needs to be taught and discussed.”

If women want to improve their mood, productivity and overall well-being throughout each month, a concept called “cycle syncing” can be incredibly beneficial. 

Cycle syncing is based on scheduling your month around the different phases of your hormonal cycle. To utilize cycle syncing, women can base what they are eating, what exercise they do and what tasks they need to get done around the different phases of their hormone cycle. 

Menstrual Phase

The menstrual phase is the part of the hormone cycle that people are most familiar with. This is the bleeding phase where the uterine lining sheds and hormones are at their lowest. This phase of the hormone cycle is an ideal time for evaluation and intuitive reasoning. 

Forbes Health tells readers that since iron levels are low during this phase, women should try to consume iron-rich foods such as meat, legumes, nuts and seeds. Avoiding alcohol and caffeine can also aid in minimizing menstrual cramps. According to Healthline, light exercise and movement are the most beneficial during this phase. 

Follicular phase

The next phase of the hormone cycle, the follicular phase, takes place as the follicle develops in the ovary. Hormones are still low, but estrogen and progesterone levels begin to rise. Since energy and mood are high during this phase, this is a good time to utilize creative energy. 

Forbes Health says that this phase can best be supported by “prioritizing fiber, fermented foods and foods high in zinc, such as eggs and whole grains.” Because hormones are still low during the follicular phase, Healthline recommends activities such as light cardio during this stage. 

Ovulatory phase

The third phase of the female hormone cycle is the ovulatory phase, in which the egg is released from the ovaries. This can be an ideal time for communication and collaboration with peers. 

Since energy is at its highest during this phase, Healthline recommends utilizing this time for high-intensity exercise, such as HIIT workouts and lifting weights. During this phase of heightened energy, it is important to prioritize high-quality, nutrient-rich foods with healthy fats and carbohydrates. 

Luteal phase

The final phase of the hormone cycle is the luteal phase, wherein the body prepares for the next menstrual phase. This is the phase where many women don’t feel their best, and often experience anxiety, brain fog and a variety of PMS symptoms. This is a good time to focus on specific tasks and completing projects.

Energy is often low during this phase, so according to Forbes Health, this is an ideal time for activities like “yoga, pilates or even meditation”. This phase often leads to strong food cravings and increased appetite. Healthline recommends magnesium-rich foods and foods that boost serotonin, such as leafy greens and quinoa. 

Phoebe Urichhio, a nurse practitioner at Boise State Health Services, discussed the benefits of learning about and tracking each phase of the hormone cycle so menstruators can better understand what they experience every month. 

“If you get a bird’s eye view of the month, there is a road map to what we can expect from our hormone changes and what those might make us feel like. You can gain so much valuable information about your own shifts and phases, whatever that may look like for you, through tracking that data.”

Many apps allow users to track menstruation and other aspects of their hormone cycles, such Cycles, Flo, and Stardust. Utilizing these apps offers users the ability to better understand their own bodies and what they experience every month. All these apps tell users that they will never sell their data, but for people who are still concerned, Planned Parenthood offers a guide to self-track their menstrual cycle. 

During every phase of the hormone cycle, women have the power to increase their mood, health and productivity by being intentional with what they eat, what exercise they engage in and how they complete their to-do list. 

By connecting with their bodies women can have a better understanding of what they are experiencing through each phase of their hormone cycles, as well as what they can be doing to best respond to each of the four phases.

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