Is It Harder To Lose Weight On Your Period? How Your Menstrual Cycle Affects Weight Loss.
You're probably here because you want to lose weight, get in shape, and feel more comfortable in your own skin. But there's a monthly spanner in the works. So you're wondering if it really is harder to lose weight on your period. Or are you doing something wrong?
You're not alone.
But you're in luck. Because this article is going to answer all your questions.
Here's what you're going to find out.
- How hormones change during the menstrual cycle and what that means for weight loss.
- The point(s) in your monthly cycle where hunger is likely to increase.
- Practical tips to navigate your period and still lose weight.
So, is it harder to lose weight on your period? It's time to find out...
Is It Harder To Lose Weight On Your Period? The Menstrual Cycle
Understanding more about the hormonal changes across your cycle helps to interpret those dreaded scale weight fluctuations. Because I'm sure you've been frustrated at seemingly doing everything right, only to have your weight spike from one day to the next. It's a real mindfuck, right?
So let's start back at the beginning.
Your menstrual cycle can be split into 4 phases, typically lasting 28 days in total. The 4 phases are:
- Follicular: Days 1-4
- Late Follicular: Days 5-11
- Peri-Ovulation: Days 12-15
- Luteal: Days 16-28
Across these phases a number of hormonal changes take place. The two to focus on are Estrogen and Progesterone. Because it's these hormones that peak in the 'Late Follicular' and 'Luteal' phases respectively and cause the strange goings on with the scales.
So let's dive into this a little more.
Estrogen And Progesterone: Hormones In More Detail
So what makes Estrogen and Progesterone an important factor in weight loss during your period?
While there are broad commonalities, your experience may be very different to the next person. Essentially, this means it's difficult to give 'one size fits all' recommendations. So you're going to have to do some thinking of your own here.
As you can see from the chart above, as Estrogen falls post-ovulation, Progesterone increases along with body temperature. These changes bring a rise in energy expenditure (ie your Basal Metabolic Rate [BMR] goes up). Potentially, leading to elevated hunger and a subsequent increase in how many calories you consume (if calories are uncontrolled).
So what does this mean in practical terms?
Well, post-ovulation you're likely to be at your most vulnerable when it comes to cravings. This is the time when your calorie deficit is at risk (along with the lives of the innocent people around you). So let's look at why your hunger levels are changing.
Delving Into Hunger In More Detail
There's conflicting opinion as to what specifically causes your hunger to spiral in the Luteal phase. Some believe it's related to rising levels of Progesterone. Others believe it's due to falling Estrogen. And there's a further argument to suggest it could be a mix of the two.
Overall, it hints that variability is very person specific. Therefore, the logical advice would be to assess your own individual experiences, learn from them, and adapt accordingly.
How The Luteal Phase Makes It Even Harder To Lose Weight On Your Period
As you've learned already, the Luteal phase is the time during which losing weight is going to be most tricky.
During the Luteal phase both hunger and your metabolic rate are likely to increase. Typically, this causes cravings to go through the roof. No doubt, you've been scrambling for chocolate and other sugary / fatty treats once or twice, right?
And this is perfectly normal. Most women experience heightened cravings for high carb and high fat foods. Hence the call for chocolate, ice cream, and other such delights. Basically, you want all the food which has a high probability of torpedoing your fat loss dreams.
But here's the thing. Your increase in metabolic rate isn't going to be that great. And certainly not enough to warrant eating your bodyweight in pizza and ice cream...sadly.
In fact, the average increase in BMR is between 2.5-11.5%. This translates to c.90-280 calories for the average female. And you don't need me to tell you that's not a lot.
The issue gets further compounded when you look at the average increase in calories consumed during this period. The uplift is anywhere between 90-500 calories. So where calories are not tracked, there's a high risk of over-consumption.
So does this mean you should change how you manage your diet? That's a question I'll be giving you the answer to at the end of the article. So sit tight.
Is Estrogen Beneficial For Weight And Fat Loss?
In an article by Lyle McDonald, Estrogen is highlighted as potentially have more positives than negatives when it comes to weight and fat loss. He indicates rising Estrogen levels may blunt hunger to some degree, leading to reduce calorie intake. And the higher likelihood of achieving a calorie deficit. Woo hoo for fat loss.
In addition, Lyle further details Estrogen may in fact help mobilise fat during aerobic workouts. Again, this could assist in the process of weight and fat loss.
So changing hormone levels could provide some additional fat loss benefits.
What About Low Blood Sugar?
Some women are also susceptible to low blood sugar during certain periods of the menstrual cycle. Ultimately, this can have a negative impact on hunger. So maintaining stable blood sugar during these times can certainly help with your cravings and hunger. Keeping a reasonable amount of fruit in your diet is an easy way to help with this. So don't feel fruit is the enemy.
Fruit is not making you fat. In fact, it's probably helping you.
Does Birth Control Play A Role?
Again, this is something that's hugely nuanced by individual. Variances between women and types of contraceptive pill are common. Therefore, broad assumptions and guidance is notoriously difficult. However, any rises in weight are driven by hunger and the subsequent over consumption of calories, rather than anything else.
Practical Advice When It Feels Harder To Lose Weight On Your Period
Losing weight on your period is a very individual experience. The emphasis should be on taking general advice and applying it to your specific situation.
So the big question is should you change your nutrition to accommodate changes in hunger, cravings and metabolism? And the very simple answer is 'maybe'. Not incredibly helpful I know, but let me explain.
If you were able to maintain a consistent calorie deficit across your 28 day cycle, you could benefit from additional fat loss. Because as your metabolism increases, so does your calorie deficit. So there's a logical argument to leave calories at a constant level.
However, if the rising hunger levels make adherence to your calorie deficit an almost impossible task, a change is needed. In these instances you should consider increasing calories at specific times in your cycle. Because allowing yourself more calories when you need them, prevents wild over consumption.
So think about your calories across the entire month. If you need to, reduce calories further when hunger isn't an issue. And increase them when you're at your most vulnerable. As long as you maintain your target as an average across the month, you'll be fine.
The Bottom Line: It Is Harder To Lose Weight On Your Period!
"Is weight loss harder on your period?" The simple answer is yes. Quite frankly, men got off lightly on this one. Because not only did we skip the pain of child birth, but we managed to dodge the monthly minefield of a period too.
The struggle to lose weight on your period is real and very individual. So take the time to map out where you're most hungry, where you feel tired, and in pain. Then adjust your training and nutrition accordingly. And realise it might take a little trial and error to get it right. So don't beat yourself up if you don't get it right first time.
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But for now, all I'll say is... Keep living the Lean Life and I'll see you soon.
Ideas and concepts for this article were developed using the following resources and studies:
Lyle McDonald Research Review. L McDonald (2015)