How Your Diet and Exercise Habits Can Affect Your Period

diet-and-exerciseAt some point in your life you’re likely to experience irregular periods. Although there are a lot of different factors that can affect your cycle, such as stress, sleep deprivation, travel and having children, there are certainly aspects of your diet and exercise habits that have a huge impact on the regularity of your periods.

My periods have never been predictable and my cycle has always been substantially longer than the average woman’s; I get a period approximately every 45 days. My mother’s cycle is equally as long, but when I started under-eating and over-training that number went up to 60… 100 … 204 days!

When half a year had come to pass and I’d still not had a period I went to the hospital and asked for an ultrasound as I was genuinely worried that I had polycystic ovaries. The scan revealed that there were no cysts or growths and nothing to be concerned about; my lack of periods was due to a hormonal imbalance alone. And what was the cause of this hormonal imbalance? Poor diet and over-training.

At the time I was obsessed with getting strong and lean; “strong is the new skinny”, right? I was bodybuilding for 1-2 hours per day, 6 days per week, plus high intensity cardio session 3-4 mornings per week. I was eating around 1200 calories per day, of which 40% of the calories came from animal protein and I was lacking so many nutrients from my diet.

Now that I am no longer obsessively weight training, nor am I eating a poor, restrictive diet my periods have gradually returned to my version of normal.

So, what diet and exercise habits can have an impact on your menstrual cycle?

Under eating
Under eating can certainly have an effect on the regularity of your period. The majority of anorexic women do not have periods (known as amenorrhoea) and this happens as a consequence of her body fat percentage becoming too low. The low level of body fat will cause a hormonal imbalance and thus her periods will cease.
When a woman is underweight and under eating her body knows she is not ready to bear a child and therefore she has no need to menstruate.

Over eating

In a similar way over eating and becoming overweight can have an impact on your menstrual cycles. An increase in body fat percentage can alter estrogen levels, which will in turn affect your period. Too much estrogen can cause conflicting signals in the brain, which will result in irregular periods or your periods stopping altogether.

Changes in your diet

Just as your menstrual cycle can be affected by how much or how little you eat, the content of the food you ingest could also have an impact. Irregular periods can be caused by too many simple carbohydrates, such as baked goods and candy, and not enough complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes and oatmeal. Eating too much high fat meat could also cause irregular periods where as fruit, vegetables and plenty of water could help to keep your cycle regular.

Over training

From gymnasts to ballet dancers, sprinters to power lifters, overtraining can most certainly have an effect on the regularity of your period. Over exercising puts too much stress on the body, which will affect your hormone levels. If you’re running for 4 hours per day or lifting very heavy weights you may start missing periods.

Once again the whole purpose of a period is to facilitate procreation, if your body knows you’re experiencing intense physical stress every day it will be aware that you’re not ready to have a baby and thus your periods will stop.

Of course exercise is great and perhaps there are times in your life when excessive training is necessary; maybe you’re getting ready for a marathon or a bikini competition (bodybuilding). It may not be a terrible thing if your period goes away for a little while; it’s just good to be aware of WHY you’re not menstruating.

The best thing you can do to keep your periods nice and regular is to get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, exercise a normal amount and avoid any external stress.

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About This Blogger

Charlotte Poole

Charlotte is a 24 year old British girl who enjoys healthy eating, keeping fit and exploring sexuality. After graduating university Charlotte backpacked through Southeast Asia and found a new home in Bangkok where she currently works as a freelance writer.