What’s the best time of the month to start a diet?

Almost all diets work. Perhaps not the really crazy ones, but any diet that calls for an increased awareness around carbs, fats, calories and portion sizes will help you to lose weight – in the short term anyway. When a diet ‘stops working’ it is more often than not a compliance issue. With this in mind, the next logical question is, “Are there ways to improve adherence for better long term weight loss results?” Absolutely!

Firstly, choose a diet that is easy to sustain.  Secondly, choose the best time of the month to start your diet. This has nothing to do with starting on the 1st of the month, or on a Monday, or after a holiday, or once your salary cheque has cleared.  Nope. It has EVERYTHING to do with your menstrual cycle, ladies. Taking the ebb and flow of your monthly hormones into consideration could make the difference between getting off to a great start or throwing in the towel 3 days into your diet. Why? Because estrogen and progesterone have a massive impact on energy levels, exercise performance, hunger, fuel utilization, metabolic rate and cravings.

Let’s first explore diet choice. We know that diets that severely restrict fat or calories can leave one constantly hungry and unsatisfied. Doesn’t sound appealing or sustainable does it?  A better option is to reduce carbs to bring down insulin levels and optimize fat burning. Eat only when you are actually hungry to control calorie intake. Healthy fats in the appropriate quantities are good for you, so don’t be fat phobic.  Protein is the most satiating of the macro nutrients, so be sure to include enough meat, chicken, eggs, fish and the like in your diet.  Fill your plate with vegetables and salads. The fibre and water content will keep you feeling full for longer.

Now let’s look at timing. To get a better understanding, we first need to get some insight into the nitty gritty workings of the female body. Generally, a naturally menstruating women will have a 28 day cycle or thereabouts.  The cycle is broken up into two main phases:

  1. the follicular phase (day 1 to 14) and the
  2. luteal phase (day 15 to 28).

 

For clarification, day 1 is when your period starts and day 14 (mid cycle) is when an egg is released from the ovary and ovulation occurs. During the follicular phase estrogen (estradiol) rises and is the dominant hormone. In the luteal phase estrogen drops off and progesterone starts calling the shots.

 

The graph below, taken from Lyle McDonald’s website www.bodyrecompisiton.com, illustrates this.

 

 

 

 

 

Besides regulating fertility, estrogen and progesterone have other effects on our body that impact on how we feel. Some women breeze through their cycles while others really struggle. See table below.

 

First two weeks of cycle (Follicular phase)

Dominant hormone: Estrogen

Last two weeks of cycle (Luteal phase )

Dominant hormone: Progesterone

·      Hunger is controlled

·      Minimal cravings

·      Physically stronger

·      Energy and motivation good

·      Stable moods

·      Feeling of wellbeing

·      More insulin sensitive

·      Good muscle recovery

 

·      Appetite increases

·      Cravings intensify

·      Water retention/bloating

·      Physically weaker

·      Energy and motivation levels low

·      Moods can become unstable

·      Potential for headaches and cramps

·      Less insulin sensitive

·      Slower muscle recovery

 

Taking the above into account, it would clearly be best to start a diet in the follicular phase – perhaps just after your period has finished. You will be in a better frame of mind and since the first week of a diet is always the hardest, this could really help with motivation and willpower. You will have at least 2 weeks to get into the swing of things and create better habits before PMS, increased hunger, low moods and cravings set in towards the end of the luteal phase. Knowing what to expect and why it is happening is helpful and allows one to make a plan to get through it.

For example, the reason appetite increases during the luteal phase is because one’s metabolic rate increases.  So, instead of going off the rails by chomping down on a hamburger and chips, rather be well prepared and allow yourself to eat more-healthy low carb food and a little more fat.  In the event that cravings get too much to handle in the days leading up to your period, opt for 1 or 2 blocks of quality dark chocolate. This is far better than trying to hold out and then eventually caving and eating an entire slab in one sitting.

Supplement tip:Taking a vitamin B complex, magnesium and chromium can help to control the symptoms of PMS and cravings.

Another point to note is that, due to a decrease in insulin sensitivity, one’s body doesn’t handle carbs as well during the luteal phase. You are better advised to keep carbs to a minimum and rather consume a little extra fat to help with cravings and satiety. Save the healthy “orange list” carbs like butternut, sweet potato and carrots for the follicular phase when your body handles them better because you are more insulin sensitive at this time.

Diet tip:In the follicular phase include more starchy veggie carbs and lower your fat consumption.  Then, in the luteal phase, swap them around by reducing carbs and adding more fat.

Women tend to feel really good during the follicular phase. Their mood is stable and they have more energy.  It’s later, in the luteal phase, where things tend to go downhill and we just feel blah? The best time to ace your workouts is therefore in the follicular phase and early in the luteal phase. Granted, you may want to be over your period first, especially if you are one of those unlucky ladies who require the “big guns” when it comes to sanitary products.  Want to push for a personal best? Do it in the late follicular phase and more specifically just before ovulation when a woman’s testosterone peaks and strength increases.

Exercise tip: Don’t make yourself hungrier and more tired by upping the duration or intensity of your workouts during the luteal phase. Use this time to take it down a notch and ‘de-load’, especially during the late luteal phase (week 4). As an alternative, focus on flexibility, form and technique as well as gentler forms of exercise like walking and swimming.

Mix things up a little and keep your body guessing.  Vary carb and fat amounts during the different phases. Eat a little more when you feel hungrier and less when appetite is under control. This approach has been shown to be very beneficial for maintaining a good metabolic rate when losing weight – not to mention the positive effect it seems to have on adherence to a diet over the long term. Work with the natural rhythms of your female body and give it what it needs at the different times of the month. So, next time you want to start a diet or get back onto the wagon, first take a moment to work out where you are in your cycle and plan your start date accordingly. There are great free Apps available for charting your cycle.

Note:If using contraception that artificially regulates your cycle or prevents menstruation completely, the above may not be applicable.


Article written by Nicky Perks for Lose It magazine (Volume 27)

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Why protein is so important when dieting

There is a secret weapon of fat loss that doesn’t always get the airtime it deserves. It is a macronutrient that has been shrouded in considerable controversy over the years for the part it supposedly plays in kidney damage if eaten in large quantities. We are talking protein, animal protein to be more specific. Plant-based protein, like beans and legumes, are difficult to incorporate into a low carb diet due to their relatively high carb content so fall out of the scope of this article. Beef, chicken, lamb, fish, pork and eggs; some experts say don’t eat too much, while others believe that these foods are a vital key factor for health and sustainable weight loss.

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How to assess your risk for heart disease

I get asked this question a lot and while I am not a doctor, I can share with you what I have learned over the years. You can take this info and discuss it with your doctor, especially if they are wanting you to take a statin medication for high cholesterol. I encourage you to do your own research too.

Did you know that 75% of the cholesterol in your body is made by your liver? Think about that for a moment. Would your intelligently-designed body manufacture so much cholesterol if it was bad for you? Your body and brain need cholesterol to function properly. We would not survive without it. Cholesterol is important for manufacturing hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone and cortisol. Cholesterol helps the liver create bile, which enables us to digest food, especially fats. It improves memory and boosts serotonin, the chemical that makes us feel happy. It is also quite normal for cholesterol levels to go up as we age. It shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. Read the rest of this entry

Why women should lift heavy

Girls, it is time to put those 2 kg dumbbells away. They will not help you achieve the lean and toned “fit” look that turns heads in a bikini. If you want a curvy butt and shapely arms you need to lift and squat heavy. The multitude of myths surrounding lifting heavy weights has unfortunately held many women back from achieving the look they desire. Want to change your body shape? Stop spending so many hours on the treadmill and spin bike and pick up a barbell instead.  You will be amazed at how quickly you will see results. Besides, if you aren’t strong, running can be brutal on your body. Strengthening the muscles surrounding and supporting your joints helps to prevent injuries. Read the rest of this entry

Fight back against depression with food

Ask someone about the cause of depression and chances are their reply will include the words ‘chemical imbalance’, or ‘serotonin deficiency’. Because of this widely held belief, the taking of antidepressant medications to fix the problem appears to be the most obvious solution. Yes, medication may offer some relief, but it will not cure you and it definitely won’t get to the bottom of why you are depressed in the first place.

New York based psychiatrist Dr Kelly Brogan put down her prescription pad years ago after coming to the realisation that nutrition and lifestyle interventions were a far more powerful treatment for depression than medication. She is the author of “A mind of your own”, in which she shares with her readers the truth about depression and debunks the serotonin theory. Her book details natural protocols for helping women to heal their bodies and reclaim their lives.

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The problem with too much insulin

A noticeable sign that you might have an issue with insulin is belly fat. This, however, does not mean that all slim, flat-bellied people get off scot-free. If not caught early enough, high insulin can ultimately result in poor health. Before your blood sugar starts to reach diabetic levels, insulin rises first. It is the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” that warns one of imminent danger. The build-up of insulin in your blood stream indicates, metabolically speaking, things are no longer working as they should. If left untreated, high levels of insulin develops into insulin resistance (a pre-diabetic state) and, eventually could result in full-blown type 2 diabetes. Read the rest of this entry

Reasons we overeat and what to do about it

Food is an essential part of life. Equally pleasurable as it is necessary. From the moment we are born, we start creating emotional connections with food. We associate food with nurturing, comfort, celebration and reward. Unfortunately, negative associations such as shame and guilt are also quite common. Even though eating should be a simple physical process of hunger, eat, stop, repeat – for many it is a daily psychological battle. It is within this emotional space that overeating can become a problem. When we continually miss (or ignore) signals to stop eating once we are full, or we eat without actually being hungry, the result can be obesity with all its related health issues.

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How alcohol can affect your fat loss

Can one drink alcohol on a low carb diet? It all depends on your goals and timelines. In general, if you want to maximize your fat loss, alcohol is best avoided or strictly limited. You get to make the rules. You might decide to have only 1 or 2 glasses of wine on a weekend and then not to drink during the week at all. Another option is that you only drink alcohol when there is a special event or when you eat out (provided that is not too often). You could also decide to avoid alcohol completely in the beginning of your weight loss journey to lose weight faster.  The challenge is balancing “having a life” or “being social” or “unwinding with a drink”, with your fat loss goals and finding a happy medium that is going to work well for you. Read the rest of this entry

Banting Basics: The what and why

I thought a good way to kick off the year was to review the basic principles of Banting and give a short explanation as to why they are important. Here are the ‘rules of the game’.  Play by them and you will taste victory. Let these 10 principles guide you towards control over your cravings, improved general health, more energy and effective fat loss.

Weight loss and optimal health takes consistent effort and most importantly it requires us to take responsibility over our food choices – and yes we also need to exercise a degree of willpower and restraint. Taking responsibility is often the biggest hurdle one needs to conquer before progress can be made. Excuses just lead us further away from our goals and the truth is, no-one can do it for you. These principles should help you to get things on track.

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How to lose stubborn thigh and bum fat

Do your weight loss attempts leave you slim on top, but still decidedly chunky from the waist down? You are not alone. Stubborn weight on the buttocks, hips and thigh areas is a common female complaint. So, why do women struggle so much to turn their pear-shaped bodies into the coveted hour-glass? It has a lot to do with hormones, the foods we choose to eat, as well as the type of exercise we do. While it is practically impossible to spot reduce specific areas of the body, there is still much one can do to maximise fat burning in general, while doing the right type of exercise to develop muscle and change body shape.

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