I’ve been back on the health and fitness wagon since Christmas, watching my diet, drinking much more moderately and exercising regularly. Such a difference these things make. I’m not obsessive about weight or diet per se – I’d much rather eat a good healthy range of foods (and being vegetarian, there’s always lots of fruit and vegetables around) but weight and body measurements are a good way to track progress and make sure it’s going the right way.

I usually do a weigh in at home once a week on a Monday morning and then measure some different parts of the body once a month. The measurements in particular are a good way to track fitness rather than just the loss of fat.

So far it has been satisfying to see the measurements at least going the right way

The last three weeks though, my weight loss has plateaued. This usually happens when I need to focus a little more on what I’m eating, being a little more dogmatic about the nutritional value of the food I’m eating and so forth. Today is a good day for that and I have been reflecting a bit on why things have been a little harder, in terms of being a little more healthy with eating and getting out the house to  exercise lately.

Actually, after last week – with work travel, little to none of my usual exercise (cycling around town) and far too much good french food and wine, I’m happy to have not gained anything. It was also a hard week from a hormonal point of view – I was exhausted though whether from travel or otherwise is hard to say.

In any case, I have noted a strong relationship between how I feel about food and exercise and my general outlook on life and my menstrual cycle. The first few days of the cycle I’m full of energy and I don’t feel nearly as hungry as usual.

That’s the frame of mind that signs up a person for a marathon at 6 weeks notice (with no pre-training ), that overpromises at work due to a healthy (over-)optimism on the art of the possible (tick). This is the right time in the cycle to GET STUFF DONE (yup!).  In fact I’ve seen women who I would consider mentors and role models seriously suggesting that we plan our work around our menstrual cycles.

By the third week of the cycle (and I have a very regular 28 day one), I feel constantly hungry and graze when I can.  I retain water and start to bloat a little and I need to really sleep as much as possible. I can only put these differences down to hormonal changes in the body.

Pregnancy made me exhausted, especially at the start, the run up to the start of menstruation seems to do the same – it’s probably not an accident that  progesterone is the hormone that prepares the body for the early stages of pregnancy and is at it’s highest in the body when I am feeling at my lowest (see below from wikipedia).

I didn’t particularly enjoy pregnancy much either.

Now it’s important to acknowledge at this point that not every woman seems to suffer to the same extent, neither is it a reason to tar all women with the same “irrational” or “hysterical” label that has traditionally (and in my opinion rather mysogynistically) been attached to women. Wikipedia tells me around 20-30%% of women suffer from a medically diagnosed premenstrual syndrome at some point in their lives, with around 80% of women reporting some kind of symptoms.

In the US about the same proportion of over 65 year olds will suffer from (the lifestyle related) type 2 diabetes and that’s hardly a reason to stigmatise pensioners. I recognise that even by mentioning hormones and menstrual cycles I may be opening myself up to negative comments. Nonetheless, menstruation and fertility has a huge impact on women’s lives and should be considered when looking at lifestyle changes.

Thanks to science and technology and education, we at least now know (some of) the reasons why we sometimes feel differently at different times. I think we are wise to use this knowledge to help in the journey to better health and fitness.

I am not going to feel down and depressed about my inability to eat healthily if I can put it down to the way hormones that I cannot control are washing around my bloodstream.

Similarly, I know that in another week I’ll be bursting with energy and that will be the day to kick start further efforts, so just keep ticking over for now. Likewise, let’s get some good habits and coping mechanisms for the bad days in place now while we’re feeling good, that will make the harder days easier to bear…

It’s all just a matter of knowing your cycle.


What happens during the typical 28 day menstrual cycle (Illustration from Anatomy and Physiology  on the Connexions website shared under a Creative Commons license from the  Connexions website )