Shark week. Surfing the crimson wave. A visit from Aunt Flo. Riding the cotton pony.
No matter how many cute euphemisms we assign to our menstrual cycle, it doesn’t take away the bloating, cramps, fatigue or heightened emotions.
Some use these discomforts as a reason to binge on unhealthy comfort foods or hit the snooze button and skip morning workouts. But why raise a white flag when you have a sack full of unused weapons to combat these symptoms
Consider taking advantage of the arsenal below, so that next month, you can go into battle fully prepared!
No matter how much I sleep, day two of my cycle always leaves me more fatigued than usual, and all I want is to binge an entire season of Lucifer. Exercising used to seem so counterintuitive when in this state of mind. Why would I want to expend precious energy when I had a job to do and a family to tend to? Well, because even low-intensity exercise reduces fatigue symptoms by 65 percent!
While it’s tempting to be more lax during this time, it’s actually crucial to keep a fitness routine, even if you do fewer reps, opt for modifications, or choose a different physical activity entirely like yoga or bike riding.
Those ice cream binges don’t help, either. Sugar spikes our blood glucose level, causing our pancreas to create more insulin, which causes our blood sugar to drop, making us feel tired and foggy.
Don’t think I’m going to ask you to ditch the sweets, though. Instead of reaching for the processed stuff, turn to fruit. Fruit sugar processes much slower in the body because the fiber is kept intact, which allows time for proper digestion.
Regulate Your Emotions
If Elle Woods taught us anything (aside from how to be a kick-butt lady boss), it’s that the endorphins from exercise make us happy. As someone who used fitness as one of my core tools for overcoming clinical depression, I can attest, but you don’t have to trust us dynamic blond babes. Studies consistently show that moderate exercise reduces anxiety, depression and negative mood and improves our self-esteem and cognitive function.
I don’t know about you, but I’ll do just about anything that time of the month to feel less like a crazy, water-retaining sea cow and more like myself.
You might be laughing, but I had a breakdown once in my mid-20s on the second day of my period about a chicken from my childhood. The emotional struggle is real, and I’m pretty sure that anyone within a 20-foot radius of me during “lady time” is grateful that I take the time to manage the barrage of complicated emotions. This makes me a lot less likely to yell at them for not understanding why I’m bawling over a Subaru commercial.
Emotions are also exacerbated by processed foods thanks to the gut-brain connection of our vagus nerve. These foods cause inflammation along our vagal pathways, which sends electric impulses to the brain, alerting it that something is wrong. This can heighten feelings of anxiety, stress and depression.
One of the best things you can reach for is kale, which is packed with phytonutrients (which help our brains), folate and omega-3 fatty acids (which can help manage depression) and a variety of B vitamins (which promote optimal cognitive function). Plus, kale is 89 percent water, so it helps keep potassium levels balanced and reduces water retention (aka, bloating.)
Back Pain, Bloating and Cramps
As if the wonky emotions and exhaustion aren’t enough, nature has also thrown in a whole host of other lovely nuisances to keep us squirming and reaching for medicine bottles. Fortunately, exercise also can alleviate these.
Think about it: When you get a leg cramp, what is the first thing you do? You stretch or massage it. Yet with abdominal cramps, we immediately recluse to the nearest heating pad and cling to our ibuprofen. A muscle cramp is an involuntary contraction of a muscle. Stretching lengthens the muscle and stops the contraction.
Back pain is typically connected to these cramps. An excess of prostaglandins, hormones released during our cycle, can cause heavy uterine contractions. High levels of prostaglandins can cause more intense cramps, which can radiate to the lower back.
To tackle these common PMS ailments, stay hydrated and follow a nutrition regime low in sugar and sodium and eat foods rich in B vitamins, potassium and plant protein.
Crimson Wave Circuit
Though any low- to moderate-impact exercise will be beneficial during this time, I created a signature circuit that specifically targets the discomforts we just discussed. Do it twice through not only to alleviate period pains but also to give your core and glutes a workout!
Bridge Pulse (lower-back pain)
Lie on your back. Bend your knees and plant your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Rest your arms alongside you, palms down. Your fingertips should brush against your heels. Press your hips up, squeezing your glutes, engaging your core and drawing your bellybutton toward your spine. Drop your hips a few inches, then press them back up, really squeezing at the top. Repeat for 30 seconds. To come down, lower one vertebra at a time until your back is flat on the ground.
Reverse Crunch (bloating)
Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and palms facing down. Bend your knees 90 degrees and lift your feet so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor. Pressing into your palms and engaging your core, lift your hips as you bring your knees toward your chest. Hold for a breath, then lower your hips with control, keeping your back pressed into the floor. Repeat as many times as you can in 30 seconds without compromising your form.
Modified Toe Tap (cramps)
From a seated position, recline back onto your forearms. Your palms should be by your hips. Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Lift one leg at a time so that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor. Make sure that your spine remains straight. Begin by lowering your right foot and tapping just your toes on the floor while your left leg remains in the tabletop position. Return your right leg to tabletop and repeat with your left leg. Continue alternatingfor 30 seconds.
Bicycle Legs (fatigue)
From the same seated position on your forearms, ensure that your spine is straight. Bring your knees toward your chest. Straighten your right leg out to about a 45-degree angle from the ground. Only go as low as you can without rounding your spine. Inhale, returning that leg to center and switching sides. Go as fast as you can while maintaining the integrity of the position, boosting your heart rate and breaking a sweat. Continue for one minute.
Shark Week Smoothie
This is my favorite treat when I have my period. It’s packed with potassium, omega-3, protein, B vitamins, iron and a small dose of caffeine, which will have you feeling like a boss babe again in no time.
- 2 cups fresh kale
- ¾ cup vegan milk (I prefer flax for the omega 3’s.)
- ½ banana
- ½ oz dark chocolate bar
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- Blend kale and vegan milk in a blender or bullet until well-mixed.
- Add other ingredients and blend until smooth.
- Add water by the tablespoon if too thick until you reach desired consistency.
As women, we expect ourselves to run at full capacity every single day. If we aren’t endlessly productive and brimming with energy, we burn out, feel overwhelmed and wind up spiraling into a state of self-judgment and self-sabotage.
You deserve this time every month to self-reflect, take it down a notch and indulge in that Netflix show, but it doesn’t have to involve throwing your goals and health to the wind and wallowing in self-pity while eating a week’s worth of calories.
Combat the symptoms so you can enjoy slowing down a bit. Stick with your goals so you can dismount the cotton pony each month still feeling powerful and confident like the warrior you are.
If you would like to learn more about Amanda Webster, her story and her offering, please visit her website.