Today I want to try to tackle something that women deal with every month - weight & body fluctuations. (Cue commiserative groaning.)
First of all, I want to acknowledge that it took me a long time to come to grips with the reality that my body will always fluctuate throughout the month, even if I take on extra workouts or follow strict dietary rules (read: don't do that). For the longest time, I thought that I could control the way I looked if I just tried hard enough. What I had disguised as "healthy living" wasn't actually healthy at all - it was vanity.
Of course I believe in the importance of proper nutrition and exercise - these are some of the key reasons I started this blog! But I also see the dangerous effects that the diet and fitness industry have had on women like me, and I want to use this platform as a way to combat harmful ideas. Because I had this false "more is more" mentality, I beat myself up relentlessly for being "too fat," for not working hard enough in workouts, and for not being strict enough with my diet. I was uninformed about why my body fluctuated within a week's time - I thought it was something that I did wrong.
It was exhausting for me emotionally and physically. I dealt with it by limiting calories, pushing myself in workouts, and constant negative self-talk. (SPOILER ALERT: Nothing changed.) This exhaustion spilled over into my relationships, and my husband became stressed out and frustrated over my intense, critical behavior.
All of this because I was unhappy with how I looked.
All of this because of vanity.
What I had disguised as "healthy living" wasn't actually healthy at all - it was vanity.
After educating myself on women's health, eating and exercising in ways that fit my body and lifestyle, and cutting off false sources of "information" that were actually harmful to my well-being, I learned how and why women's bodies fluctuate throughout the monthly cycle.
The difference between these two photos is only a couple of weeks. I didn't change my eating or workout patterns - this is just what naturally happens to my body throughout the monthly cycle.
Let's get into the meat of this, shall we? Here's when and why we see fluctuation from one day to the next in a normal 28-day cycle.
Days 1 - 5: Menstrual Period
The length of your period is totally unique to you, but this is considered the beginning of your cycle. Because both estrogen and progesterone levels are low during this phase, you might feel and look bloated. You may experience the typical symptoms of menstruation such as cramps, fatigue, headaches, tender breasts, and mood swings - so it's normal to want to comfort yourself with rest days and chocolate! If your eating patterns change due to cravings, it's no wonder that your body weight fluctuates a little.
Days 6-14: Follicular Phase
Your period is over, and due to a rise in estrogen, you're probably feeling back to "normal." Signs of bloating and cramping subside, your mood and energy begin to improve, and you might feel extra-motivated to eat well and exercise with greater intensity. It's normal to look and feel the most confident during this phase, as estrogen is also related to an increase in confidence and self-assurance. (Can you tell? Estrogen is kind of awesome.)
Days 15-28: Luteal Phase
During this phase, estrogen begins to decrease as progesterone spikes. This is when you may notice your mood begin to worsen and fatigue may set in. Your skin may break out, your hair can become dull and greasy, and you may experience bloating and constipation - typical premenstrual symptoms (PMS). The rise in progesterone may also cause an increase in appetite, so adhering to a rigid diet could be difficult and unrealistic. Estrogen rises again briefly to harmonize with progesterone, and the two decrease together in the final week of the cycle. In general, this may be the phase when you experience the most fluctuation due to a shift in hormones, as your body prepares for menstruation.
What This Means for You
Knowledge is power. Understanding what is happening within our hormonal structures can shed light on why our bodies fluctuate and why we feel either positively or negatively about ourselves. It can inform us as to which exercises and dietary choices will be most beneficial, and it can help us cope with the drastic changes we go through from week to week.
Our bodies are intricately designed, and every dip and surge in our hormones that cause the fluctuations we experience are vital in the reproductive cycle. Ladies, this is a beautiful thing, not something to disparage! These fluctuations in appearance and self-confidence are a reminder that your body is working exactly the way it should be. The next time you feel frustrated that the changes in your body are outside of your control, remember that everything will work together to normalize - just focus on treating your body with respect.
To be transparent, I still care about how I look, as I think most women do. I'm learning to do so in a positive way by appreciating my body for all that it does for me and eating good food that keeps me happy and healthy. I've grown to believe that my appearance isn't what makes me worthy of love and respect, and anything that opposes this reality is vanity. The way I portray myself on the outside is reflective of who I am and what I value inside - and that will remain constant.