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Day by day, the secret powers of a woman's cycle: The best time to diet and when to bag a bargain


The belief that a woman’s actions are ruled by her hormones was once thought the height of chauvinism. Yet would we all be happier — and more successful — if we planned our lives around our menstrual cycles?

For the idea that you can forecast ‘good’ and ‘bad’ times each month for every activity, from booking holidays to a dental appointment, is catching on.

Even the U.S. women’s football team plan their training around their periods.

And it’s backed up by science. A study at Heinrich Heine University in Germany found hormone levels in the second half of women’s monthly cycles corresponded to more generous behaviour towards those close to them — thought to be a way to attract reciprocal kindness post-ovulation, when we might have conceived.

Gabrielle Lichterman, author of 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals About Your Moods, Health & Potential, and Hormonology app founder, has championed this way of living for more than two decades.

Here, she and other hormone experts explain, day-by-day, why timing is all. We have based this on a 28-day cycle — yours may be slightly longer or shorter. 

Gabrielle Lichterman, author of 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals About Your Moods, Health & Potential, and Hormonology app founder, has championed this way of living for more than two decades (stock image)

Gabrielle Lichterman, author of 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals About Your Moods, Health & Potential, and Hormonology app founder, has championed this way of living for more than two decades (stock image)

DAY 10: A GOOD TIME... TO BOOK A WAX

DAY 10: A GOOD TIME… TO BOOK A WAX

DAY 1: A GOOD TIME… TO SET AN EARLY ALARM

The first day of your period is the start of the ‘follicular’ phase of your cycle, as your ovary prepares to release an egg in about 14 days. As the egg follicle matures, it releases the oestrogen estradiol, which has a positive impact on mood and strength for the next two weeks.

However, it doesn’t improve your timekeeping — with 8am the danger hour. ‘Japanese researchers found that your hormones make you perceive time as passing a little slower at this hour during weeks one and two of your cycle,’ says Gabrielle. This can make you feel like you have more time than you really do — so you’ll need to make a greater effort not to be late.

DAY 2: A GOOD TIME… TO ORDER SURF ‘N’ TURF

Today you’ll be experiencing some of your heaviest bleeding, so aim to eat more ‘meat, seafood, legumes and leafy greens’ says Ulrike Kuehl, metabolic health expert and dietitian for metabolism and period tracking device, Lumen.

Research suggests inflammation is to blame for cramps, and can be tackled with seafood which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These can reduce period pain and relieve depression. The iron in meat, greens, beans and nuts will boost serotonin levels and tackle anaemia.

DAY 3: A BAD TIME… TO ASK FOR DIRECTIONS

Researchers have found a quirk that during your period, you’re more prone to unconsciously turn right rather than left, possibly due to the impact of low oestrogen on brain pathways.

In the first half of your cycle, hormones mean your brain will get to grips with a route faster with a map rather than by using landmarks. So use a map to ensure you’re going down the correct street rather than relying on spoken directions!

DAY 17: A GOOD DAY… FOR HOME IMPROVEMENTS

DAY 17: A GOOD DAY… FOR HOME IMPROVEMENTS

DAY 4: A BAD TIME… FOR YOUR BANK ACCOUNT

In the first half of your cycle you’re more prone to spending on yourself. ‘As the level of oestrogen rises, it spurs a greater release of brain chemicals that trigger happiness when you buy something you enjoy,’ says Gabrielle.

‘You’re also more focused on making yourself look and feel good, so impulse purchases of non-necessities that elevate your status are likely.’ Researchers suspect this is part of the way women compete for potential mates.

DAY 5: A GOOD TIME… TO START LIFTING WEIGHTS

‘There is growing research supporting the advantages of strength training during the first half of your cycle,’ says Dr Frankie Jackson-Spence, an NHS doctor and personal trainer who advised on a menstrual cycle-based workout for spin studio, Psycle.

‘Oestrogen levels rise so you may feel more energetic and experience less sensitivity and soreness. Oestrogen is a pro-anabolic hormone, making it easier to boost muscle.’

DAY 6: A GOOD TIME… TO TRY A NEW RECIPE

‘Your curiosity and desire to experiment with foods and flavours increases now thanks to rising oestrogen,’ explains Gabrielle. Essentially, you’re more open to risk and excitement — as well as your hormone levels actually improving your tongue’s ability to detect spices and seasonings.

If you’re dieting, oestrogen will also help you stay the course, as it improves your feelings of willpower and optimism.

DAY 7: A GOOD DAY… TO CHECK YOUR BREASTS

‘This is the optimal time to examine your breasts,’ says Dr Jackson-Spence. You have less breast tenderness and breast tissue is more dense, making it easier to feel any lumps or abnormalities.

DAY 8: A GOOD TIME… TO MAKE NEW FRIENDS

Today begins week two of your four-week cycle, when research shows people perceive you as kinder, more considerate and friendlier. ‘Researchers think as you approach ovulation, you may be subconsciously tweaking your personality to make you more attractive to a current or potential partner,’ says Gabrielle.

DAY 9: A BAD TIME… TO DOWN A COFFEE

For those who are sensitive to oestrogen, elevated levels can mean our brains slip from being alert to agitated. ‘High oestrogen can make a certain stress-managing area of the brain — the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis — more reactive, and for some women, this means a more pronounced stress response,’ says Gabrielle. So avoid anything like caffeine, that aggravates the nervous system, if you’re on edge.

DAY 9: A BAD TIME… TO DOWN A COFFEE

DAY 9: A BAD TIME… TO DOWN A COFFEE

DAY 10: A GOOD TIME… TO BOOK A WAX

Your pain threshold is at its highest between now and your ovulation day due to high-and-rising oestrogen blunting pain responses. It’s a good time to book in potentially painful activities such as a leg wax or trip to the dentist.

DAY 11: A BAD TIME… FOR KNEE INJURIES

‘Some studies have reported more muscle and tendon injuries during the late follicular phase [just before ovulation],’ says Dr Jackson-Spence. Research shows there is a greater risk of tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in your knee, as oestrogen loosens tissues.

DAY 12: A GOOD TIME TO… ASK FOR A PAY RISE

‘If you want a bump in pay, to get a better price or to ask a favour, go for it from today through to the end of week two,’ says Gabrielle.

This is when oestrogen is making you more articulate, competitive and confident. You’re also better at reading others during the follicular phase: ‘Researchers speculate rising oestrogen is pushing you to make more social connections, so it makes a certain emotion-processing part of the brain — the amygdala — function better, sharpening face-reading skills.’

DAY 13: A GOOD TIME….TO GET PREGNANT

This is your ovulatory phase: tomorrow, an egg will be released, meaning sex from now and for the next 48-72 hours is best timed to get you pregnant. It’s also the only three days of your cycle when you get a bump in testosterone levels.

This mid-cycle boost, combined with peak oestrogen levels, make you feel your most confident and lively — but don’t throw caution to the wind, as you might be more susceptible to infection and allergies. ‘During ovulation immunity may drop to stop the immune system attacking the newly fertilised egg,’ says Dr Jackson-Spence.

DAY 14: A GOOD TIME… TO HAVE AN ORGASM

‘You’re more likely to wear red or pink during your ovulatory phase than during any other time of your cycle,’ says Gabrielle. ‘Researchers theorise that while in this fertile phase, you’re subconsciously drawn toward these colours because they’re feminine and eye-catching.’

You’ll also find your clitoris is enlarged, due to spiking oestrogen, which prompts more blood flow — making orgasm easier.

DAY 15: A GOOD TIME… TO WORK UP A SWEAT

It’s the last day of your ovulatory phase and it’s worth dragging yourself out of bed for cardio exercise, says Dr Jackson-Spence.’The second half of your cycle, the luteal phase, can be optimised for active recovery, cardiovascular exercise and mobility work,’ she says. In fact, you burn up to 30 per cent more fat during aerobic workouts from today until two days before your period.

‘Researchers explain that the combination of oestrogen and progesterone on these cycle days improves your body’s use of fat as fuel,’ says Gabrielle.

DAY 18: IT’S A GOOD TIME… TO GIVE A GIFT

DAY 18: IT’S A GOOD TIME… TO GIVE A GIFT

DAY 16: A GOOD TIME… TO SPOT DANGER

‘Throughout the luteal phase, research shows that you’re faster at noticing hazards,’ says Gabrielle. It’s a side-effect of elevated progesterone, which makes you more anxious about your safety, so you’re on higher alert for danger.

So it could be a good time to take a driving test, or do anything else that requires you to have your wits about you. This excess of caution also extends to being more careful about catching bugs, ‘in case you got pregnant and now need to be germ-free for two,’ says Gabrielle.

DAY 17: A GOOD DAY… FOR HOME IMPROVEMENTS

Rising progesterone is known to make you more inward-looking and more of a homebody — ‘boosting the urge to nest’, says Gabrielle. Take advantage of this and buy new sheets, do a spring clean or fix up repairs.

DAY 18: IT’S A GOOD TIME… TO GIVE A GIFT

Research show that now, when progesterone is on the up and the version of oestrogen known as estradiol is low, you behave more generously towards those close to you. Experts said women evolved to be more pro-social in the second half of their cycle to bolster their social networks for support during a possible pregnancy.

DAY 19: A BAD TIME… TO FORGET YOUR COAT

A slight rise in your core body temperature during the luteal phase makes you more sensitive to external heat and prone to excess sweating — but it also makes you less resilient to the cold.

DAY 20: A GOOD TIME… TO LOOK AT FINE DETAIL

You’ll be well placed to go through your bank account with a fine-toothed comb at this time. ‘This is a result of your hormones activating the left side of your brain which is responsible for local processing of visual imagery, helping you to notice small details more quickly,’ says Gabrielle.

DAY 21: A GOOD TIME… TO SIGN A CONTRACT

If you have a major financial decision to make, this is an ideal day to decide. Rising oestrogen and progesterone combine to give you a balanced view of the pros and cons, says Gabrielle.

DAY 22: A LAST CHANCE… TO CATCH UP ON SLEEP

Tonight is the perfect time to catch up on sleep, due to oestrogen (which boosts sleep-regulating serotonin) and progesterone (which triggers drowsiness) rising to create the best conditions for sleep you’ll experience all cycle. Take full advantage because in the next couple of days, levels of these two hormones will plunge as you enter the pre-menstrual week, leading to potentially disturbed sleep, says Gabrielle.

DAY 22: A LAST CHANCE… TO CATCH UP ON SLEEP

DAY 22: A LAST CHANCE… TO CATCH UP ON SLEEP

DAY 23: A BAD TIME… TO DIET

‘On average, women tend to consume 238 additional calories during the luteal phase,’ says Dr Jackson-Spence. No wonder, as research has shown that during this time progesterone is making you better at detecting the scent of high-fat foods.

The thinking is that your hormones are pushing you to consume more calories — and safer, ‘beige’ calories rather than potentially risky new or exotic food — in case you are pregnant.

So today, ‘fill up on fibre and make sure half your plate is veg at every meal’, advises Lumen’s Ulrike Kuehl. ‘You’ll feel fuller and more able to resist hormone-driven cravings.’

DAY 24: A BAD TIME… FOR A ROW

Research shows you’re likely to become more critical of yourself and everyone else this week. You’re also more likely to react to other people’s anger. Why?

‘Elevated progesterone makes you more aware of, and react more strongly to, angry people. This is likely to be a way to keep you safe in case you became pregnant during ovulation,’ says Gabrielle. A simultaneous rise in suspicion is due to a drop in oestrogen, which reduces levels of mood-boosting serotonin, dopamine and endorphins.

DAY 25: A GOOD TIME… TO TRY YOGA

Exercise can help manage premenstrual symptoms, says Dr Jackson-Spence. ‘Two recent studies show that the effects of regular exercise help improve PMS symptoms among participants. Some studies have also shown reduced endurance capabilities during the second luteal phase, so this could then be optimised for more active recovery and mobility work.’

Yoga could be the right choice today, as research suggests that the practice reduces pre-period irritability and stress.

DAY 26: A GOOD DAY… FOR CHOCCIES

Some studies indicate that women with pre-menstrual tension lack magnesium. Research has shown that the mineral can help symptoms such as cramping. Experts recommend cherries, chocolate, bananas, pumpkin seeds and spinach.

DAY 27: A BAD DAY… TO SEE THE DENTIST

‘During your premenstrual phase, your mouth has a higher concentration of volatile sulphur compounds — the stinky stuff produced by micro-organisms that gives you bad breath,’ says Gabrielle. Low oestrogen reduces production of saliva, which means it’s less effective at washing away these substances. So brush, floss and use mouthwash rigorously.

DAY 28: A BAD DAY… TO WEAR SCENT

‘Low oestrogen can make your skin sensitive,’ says Gabrielle. Research shows some cosmetics, fragrances, and shaving can result in redness or itching at this stage of your cycle even if you aren’t sensitive to them the rest of the time.

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