Decode your period with this guide to That Time Of The Month
YOUR MONTHLY MENSTRUATION CAN TELL YOU A LOT ABOUT YOUR HEALTH. READY TO CRACK THE CODE?
Maybe your period usually arrives like clockwork, but one month it’s weirdly longer than usual. Or maybe you’re often surprised by your flow—and have no idea how long it’ll last. Or perhaps it seems like your bleeding has started to get heavier...or lighter...or even nonexistent.
These shifts in your cycle may be hinting at something bigger happening beneath the surface. Figure out how to unpuzzle your period—and treat it with what you eat.
Want to decode your personal period? TAKE OUR QUIZ to learn more!
SHORT AND LIGHT
Build yourself up, buttercup
“Your period is a barometer of your overall wellness, so changes in your menstrual cycle can be an indicator of brewing health issues or ongoing problems,” says Nicole Jardim, aka “The Period Girl,” a certified women’s health coach.
If you’re experiencing a short, light cycle— one that occurs every 24 days or fewer and lasts for only a day or two—it could be a sign of low estrogen or low iron. Or, your cycle is simply still finding its groove (it can take a few years for your flow to get regular).
In the meantime, you may be under tons of stress, working out too hard or skipping meals— all of which can contribute to a long-term hormone imbalance or possible iron deficiency.
HACK YOUR CYCLE: Besides reducing stress and eating three meals a day, Jardim recommends upping your intake of iron-rich foods like beef, turkey, tuna, eggs, lentils, oatmeal, spinach and pumpkin seeds. Fill up on foods rich in vitamin C (like red peppers, strawberries and citrus) to help absorb more iron from the foods you’re eating, too. Sipping red clover tea and adding 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed to oatmeal or smoothies for a natural estrogen boost may help balance things out, too.
LONG AND HEAVY
It's time to take action
If you’re dealing with severe cramping, heavy bleeding (changing your pad/tampon more than once every two hours) and periods lasting longer than eight days, it could be due to estrogen dominance, where estrogen levels are too high in relation to progesterone levels (the two primary female sex hormones), says Jardim.
It also could be a sign of something more intense: Endometriosis is a painful condition where uterine tissue starts to grow outside the uterus and is marked by long cycles, as
is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Your endocrine system (which regulates hormones) is still developing, which could cause your body’s estrogen receptors to be extra sensitive—and result in a high estrogen/progesterone ratio.
HACK YOUR CYCLE: Painful, long cycles (getting your period once every 36 or more days) mean something’s amiss. Get checked for endometriosis, PCOS or estrogen dominance. Because heavy periods zap vitamin A levels, supplement with cod liver oil capsules, says Jardim. Boosting B vitamins also can help your liver remove excess estrogen (try chickpeas, lentils and dark leafy greens or a B-complex like Rainbow Light Complete B-Complex, $25, rainbowlight.com).
Keep calm and carry on
There’s a wide range of “normal” when it comes to your period, but a regular cycle occurs every 28 to 35 days, lasts three to seven days, starts as a moderate flow and tapers off. As a teen, your cycle may not be super consistent over the span of several months. But if you usually can pinpoint the date your cycle will start, and know you’ll need 12 to 18 tampons to make it through, you’re in good shape.
Now’s the time to start tracking your period, which Jardim says is v. important. “If we are
not aware of how our bodies work, or if we are scared of how they work, how can we make the best decisions?” Say your cramps come on with a vengeance: It could be a sign you’re staying up too late, eating too much sugar or drinking too much caffeine—so cortisol (the hormone that’s affected by these elements) is elevated, which may be lowering progesterone levels.
HACK YOUR CYCLE: Add in supplemental magnesium, Jardim says. “I call it the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ mineral.” It’s been shown to reduce PMS symptoms and cramps—and can help make more estrogen or reduce cortisol. Try magnesium glycinate in 400 mg, or nosh on nuts, seeds, chickpeas and dark chocolate.
Stop and smell the roses
A very inconsistent cycle could mean you’re overstressed, overworked and just not getting the rest you need. Be intentional about making your cycle a time for self-care and slowing down. It’s also important to note that every cycle is unique—and that yours probably won’t closely match that of your best friend or sister. But if your period starts and stops and then starts up again, or you get it some months
but not others (a sign that you might not be ovulating, Jardim tells us), it’s best to get your symptoms checked out by a doc.
HACK YOUR CYCLE: Next time you notice your cycle is approaching, scale back your social sched, if possible. This will allow you the space to do something you love, like re-reading a favorite book or doing a puzzle with your mom.
Stock up on plant-based fats like coconut, avocado, nuts and seeds, and up your greens intake, too. “Add in a few cups a day of dark leafy greens like kale, collard greens and spinach as a first step to feeling better,” shares Jardim. To be more mindful of your menstrual changes, start tracking your cycle (try the Clue app). Paying attention will let your body know that you’re really ready to hear what it’s been whispering.
Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that a version of this story originally ran in our April/May 2021 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE.
We want to hear from you! Send us your weirdest body questions here (seriously, we'll answer anything!) and it just might get featured.