We are moving on to the Luteal Phase this week which is probably the most misunderstood and most maligned phase of our cycle. It's when we can experience mood swings, brain fog, PMS and just feel completely unlike ourselves. This phase is so misconstrued that it is frequently mocked by western culture with inconsistent and misunderstood jokes on TV and in movies about how difficult and 'hormonal' women are at this time. It sadly maintains a fractured idea that women are limited, unavailable, inconsistent, and unstable because of our menstrual cycle, which eradicates a woman of her strength and consequence.
The truth is, our menstrual cycle is in fact empowering as we can harness these fluctuating emotions, energies, and rebalance our natural vibe. It’s quite energising and liberating!
The Luteal Phase is my favourite phase, but only since I’ve learned to lean into my cycle in order to balance my hormones and eliminate PMS. Chances are you too will feel more comfortable in one phase or another the more you learn about the phases, and how to care for your mind and body in each phase.
The Luteal Phase
The Science Bit
The Luteal Phase lasts from 10-14 days. It is the longest phase of our cycle. During this time, Oestrogen, Progesterone and Testosterone reach their peak and then fall to their lowest levels just before our period starts. Progesterone is the dominant hormone during this phase. If egg fertilisation doesn't occur, progesterone will start to drop and as it does it produces a calming effect on our body meaning our energy levels will also start to drop. All of this heightens our focus.
Our brain chemistry during this phase is optimised for all of the little tasks. We are interested in exploring the fine details, the small tasks and bringing projects to completion. It’s the perfect time to make those lists!
In the first half of the luteal phase we have more energy to spend with others, but in the second half we naturally turn inwards and focus more on taking care of ourselves. Which is a good thing, as at the end of the luteal phase, we may experience PMS symptoms such as cramping, bloating, headaches, irritability, and so on. During this second half of this phase, we really need to be firm on setting our own boundaries and to be clear on what it is we need. Taking on too much, working against ourselves, and pushing our energies to the limit, may otherwise leave us irritated!
How to Move and Eat with the Luteal Phase
We start to see the incredible balance in our cycle, which I talked about at the beginning of this series once we get to this luteal phase. Remember, nature is extremely efficient and has designed a very elegant system. During the Follicular Phase we were outward and focused on new beginnings. The Ovulatory Phase encouraged us to be outward, focused, and social with high energy. And now, during the Luteal phase, our focus starts moving inwards as we look at completing those tasks we began earlier in our cycle.
The high energy and generous giving of ourselves which we experienced in the Ovulatory Phase starts to reign back in now in order to keep us from overextending, and to keep us in balance. Let’s remember this as we look at leaning into this phase.
Our energy will be at its lowest at the beginning of our period. We need to respect this change in energy levels, so we shouldn’t force ourselves to exercise if it doesn't feel good. It's ok to consider napping a sport right now!
At the beginning of this phase it’s possible we will still have a lot of energy and might be happy to continue with higher energy workouts. But as we move through the phase, our hormone and energy levels will drop. We should consider moving to more gentle flowing exercises such as yoga, swimming, and walking. In essence, do what feels good for you. Lean into these changing energy levels and you will get to know yourself intuitively.
If you ordinarily enjoy high intensity workouts, try not to force yourself to continue your commitment to this energetic regime. During this phase the body is undergoing increased stress as our hormones drop. If we layer on high intensity workouts, therefore adding more stress to our bodies, it can actually turn on fat storing and muscle wasting within our body. This is one reason so many women end up caught in a vicious loop of finding they lose weight doing their high intensity workouts at the beginning of their cycle, only to put it back on during the final phases of their cycle, without realising why!
TOP TIP: Tailor your workouts to your cycle phases and you will see even better results. Instead of forcing yourself to do something you don't want to do, and which may actually have the opposite effect to what you intend, lean into gentler forms of movement, and listen to what your body needs. Keeping your workouts to a maximum of 30 minutes during this phase will be helpful in preventing excess cortisol production and adrenal fatigue. So, if you feel like your energy is high and you want to do HIIT go for it but keep it to a max of 30 mins.
Our body needs extra calories during this phase. Including slow-burning complex carbs and beans into our diet will help provide calories while still stabilising blood sugar. You may find you are craving more comfort foods meaning salads and smoothies might appeal less now than they did during the Follicular and Ovulatory phases. You might find yourself gravitating more towards richer soups and heartier meals like stews, chilli, or lasagne.
Knowing this in advance can be really helpful if you tend to meal plan for the week! Nothing worse than planning lots of light meals like veggie stir fries when you're really craving spaghetti bolognese!
Understanding what our body needs, makes it easier to plan for it. It also helps to avoid our inner critic raising its head to judge us for not sticking to the diet which we enthusiastically wrote up during our Follicular phase! Remember? When we were all about new beginnings and lighter meals!
TOP TIP: Foods rich in B vitamins will stave off sugar cravings during this phase. Eating leafy greens will boost calcium and magnesium and help reduce fluid retention which a lot of us can experience at this point. Roasted or baked root vegetables are great to help the liver and large intestine flush out estrogen more effectively. See what works for you and do your own research.
Caution! Be careful where you get advice on nutrition. A lot of popular wellness trends and diets have been tested only on men or women who are not menstruating. Women are not just smaller than men but are built quite different biologically. Remember to be aware of how to balance food and supplements to make sure you don't disrupt the careful hormonal balance in your body.
How to Work & Mother with the Luteal Phase
During this phase we are heavily focused on those tasks and details meaning we are at our peak to organise. Women often notice a compulsion to clean, tidy, and coordinate life at this time. It reminds me of the end of pregnancy when the nesting hormones kick in!
This is our get-it-done phase! Finishing off projects we planned in the Follicular phase, attending to home and life admin and sorting finances. It's also great for doing deep, concentrated work as our focus is much higher!
How to Work:
It’s all about focus this week so it’s a great time to tie off the loose ends on projects and help your team meet deadlines. It’s actually quite wonderful to get stuck into organising and ticking off which feels quite satisfying. Organise your desk, sort out your paperwork, order supplies and do a good clear out of your computer files and photos on your phone.
How to Mother:
There is nothing like the well organised mother, and this week that is exactly who we are. Tackle those minor projects around the house which otherwise may irritate you. Organise the kid's wardrobes or drawers and as our energy levels lower towards the end of this phase, take a step back. Help the kids manage their chores or get stuck in with supporting them with problem solving skills and encourage them to play independently.
How to do Self-Care:
Remember that we will shift halfway through this phase from having lots of energy to feeling those energy levels taper off. As our progesterone starts to dip, we need to focus more on ourselves and less on everyone else. Self-care is ultimately important in this phase so take those bubble baths and quality alone time which may include meditation, journaling, getting stuck into your latest novel, or enjoying those lower energy work outs.
During the luteal phase our senses are heightened meaning we may feel gradually more sensitive to everything that is going on around us and within us. Everything appears noisier, busier, and more hectic. This heightened sensitivity can create an overwhelming pressure to remain centred and in control. This is one reason why it’s important to take a step back and move more inward to refocus our attention on ourselves. We can become more aware of what we can control and connect to our needs.
If you are feeling sluggish, unproductive or are experiencing brain fog during this phase, this could be a sign that you were too expansive with your energy and giving to others during the ovulatory phase. Remember, you can feel like superwoman during that phase, but it is also quite easy to overdo it, and then have to pay the price a couple of weeks later.
The best solution to counter these feelings is rest, rest, and more rest. Often just taking it easy, relaxing, and giving yourself permission to do nothing can help alleviate these symptoms massively. Our body often uses PMS and cramps to get our attention as it tries to tell us to step back and rest.
We can also find ourselves feeling a little flat, unsure of our emotions, unable to express ourselves fully, and frankly feeling quite low. Our energy is off, both physically and emotionally. Because of the negative diatribe which often surrounds our menstrual cycle, many of us simply try to push through all of these emotions and feelings which really is not for our benefit but for the outer world. This is not good! We must remember that our bodies and our minds are asking us to love them during this phase (and every phase).
This is why having an awareness around our cycle is so incredibly important not only physically, but for our mental health.
Engaging with mindful or creative activities during this phase is also immensely helpful when you are struggling mentally. Drawing or painting is wonderful to do at this time. Or if you play a musical instrument, learning a new piece or song would fully absorb your attention.
Personally, I have found eating foods which help me flush out estrogen, taking magnesium and a probiotic, as well as being mindful of my self-care have helped to massively reduce my PMS and low mood. I also avoid alcohol during this phase as it's a depressant, and I make sure to get out in the daylight every day for a walk. Sometimes it really is the small changes that have the biggest impact.
Unlock Your Cycle Blog Series