Did you know that your hormones cycle every month? The hormones that dominate the two main phases of your cycle offer different hormonal advantages that impact your ability to gain or lose body fat.
One of the things that we teach many of our female clients is how to support their hormones and live in tune with their menstrual cycle. It’s much easier than it sounds. With some simple lifestyle tweaks, you can optimize the ebb and flow of your hormones to biohack your way to better health and fitness.
It really boils down to two main approaches: Eat More & Exercise More (EMEM) & Eat Less & Exercise Less (ELEL). You’ll notice that neither of these approaches is “Eat Less & Exercise More”. That’s an important point because that approach is part of the problem with yo-yo dieting. It is unsustainable and wreaks havoc on your mental and physical health. Your metabolism is highly tuned to stress in your environment and this a MAJOR stressor. That is why a balanced approach can help break that dieting stress.
So let’s dive into EMEM vs ELEL and what that might look like for you.
During the first two weeks of your cycle, estrogen is the hormone that dominates, which gives you the hormonal advantage to “eat more and exercise more”. You might be wondering why, and that’s a great question!
Estrogen is a hormone that supports growth and stimulates mood. Higher estrogen levels stimulate mood (and libido) because it boosts serotonin and dopamine – chemical messengers in your brain that are responsible for making you feel good. This is a time when females feel motivated, energized, and happy. Given the boost in mood, energy and motivation, this is a great time to increase exercise frequency or intensity while also eating more to support that extra activity. Estrogen makes the body more insulin-sensitive, allowing you to tolerate food better (especially carbohydrates). In other words, this is a time when extra calories are more likely to support muscle growth instead of being stored as fat – in the context of extra movement, hence the “eat more, exercise more” approach. If you overeat and don’t exercise, excess calories still get stored as body fat.
EMEM Tip: More carbohydrates during this phase can support and buffer the effects of stress from exercising more; however, this is not an excuse to eat more junk food. This is the optimal time to add in some of your favourite nutrient dense, high starch & complex carbohydrates and grains, like sweet potatoes and quinoa.
Taken together, you have the hormonal advantage to “eat more and exercise more” during the first two weeks of your cycle.
Approach: EMEM during the first two weeks of your cycle (days 1-14 in a 28-day cycle)
The opposite is true for the second half of your cycle. During the last two weeks of your cycle, progesterone dominates. Progesterone calms the nervous system and blunts the effects of stress on the metabolism. The calming effects of progesterone pair best with restorative activities. This is a time to focus on rest, recovery, and relaxation. In the context of chronic stress, progesterone levels may not be sufficient to buffer the effects of estrogen or cortisol, making the body a little more insulin-resistant and stress reactive. Pushing too hard with diet and exercise during this phase may result in feelings of burnout and exhaustion.
Estrogen is anabolic, so it helps you build. Progesterone doesn’t have that same effect. It calms the nervous system because it converts to a neurosteroid called allopregnanolone (ALLO) that acts like GABA in the brain.
Be cognizant of your need for rest and recovery. Pay attention to how you eat, think, feel, and move. This isn’t the best time to push hard. You can still exercise, but don’t exercise to a “burn out” point. You shouldn’t feel exhausted for the rest of the day. You want to train and work in a way that recharges you and doesn’t break you down.
In this phase of your cycle, you may benefit from an “eat less, exercise less” approach.
Approach: ELEL during the last two weeks of your cycle (days 15-28 in a 28-day cycle)
Recap: During the first two weeks of your cycle, you have the hormonal advantage to eat more and exercise more (EMEM). During the last two weeks of your cycle, you have the hormonal advantage to eat less and exercise less (ELEL). By cycling your approach, you can learn to optimize yo
Both estrogen and progesterone work together to maintain a robust and healthy metabolism. Understanding the effect of these hormones on your SHMEC has practical implications for your dietary and lifestyle choices at different times in your cycle.
Stefania Tiveron, Metabolic Living Optimization Coach
After graduating from McMaster University with an Honours Bachelor degree, Stefania began her health education journey with 5 years of study at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine where she received a Doctorate of Naturopathy.
Stefania’s passion is helping women understand their reproductive cycle and the hormonal advantages of their cycle in order to optimize their weight, sleep, energy, mood, sex drive and productivity. She teaches her clients how to support their hormones, and how to live in tune with their natural biological rhythm rather than against it.
Stefania stays up to date on the latest evidence in women’s health conditions, thyroid and autoimmune diseases, weight loss resistance, and digestive disorders. Using a holistic and biopsychosocial approach, Stefania integrates the science of nutritional and lifestyle interventions with the personal preferences and goals of her clients.