The iTOVi Nutrition Guide: Part 5: Women’s Nutrition

Woman-Eating-Salad

Ladies, this one is for you! 

Grab your dark chocolate, cranberry juice, and cycle-tracking charts—because we’re here to talk about women’s nutrition! Specifically, we want to talk about the nutritional needs of women and the nutritional obstacles women face!

It’s not all bad news. 

As women, we do tend to eat slightly healthier than men, we use supplements more, we tend to live a bit longer, and we tend to maintain better social networks that help uphold our emotional and physical health!

On the flip side, we are twice as likely as men to suffer from disordered eating behaviors, we are more likely to overeat in response to stress, and because of our biology, we are more likely to suffer from certain nutrient deficiencies. 

So what’s a woman to do? There’s a lot to cover, but our top 5 tips are: 

  1. Cultivate a positive relationship with food and your body
  2. Eat according to the current phase of your 28-day cycle
  3. Monitor and manage your stress (especially during your most stress-vulnerable times)
  4. Prioritize iron, magnesium, folate, and calcium in your diet/through supplementation. 
  5. Support your digestive system health & urinary system health 

Ready to dive a little deeper? Let’s go!

Cultivate a positive relationship with food and your body

All relationships take time, effort, and a little vulnerability—and your relationship with your body and your relationship with food are no different!

Stop and consider: Do you take time to connect with your body and connect with the food you eat? Or do you mostly spend your time avoiding, criticizing, or micromanaging? 

Your body should be your home, your best friend, and even your mentor. Listening to your body is an art, one that, if practiced well, will bless you your entire life! And your eating habits/your relationship with food should support a healthy relationship with your body. 

It’s best to prepare your food with love and savor it as you eat it so that it becomes a source of joy and healthy stress-relief, rather than a cause of stress or stress escape. 

For a deep dive into how to listen to your body, check out our blog post: The Art of Listening to Your Body. And for guidance on a healthier relationship with food, including balancing intuitive eating with dieting, visit part 3 of our nutrition guide

Also note ladies—it can help your relationship with your body (and your awareness of your stress and eating habits) a lot to live in tune with your 28-day infradian cycle!

Eat according to the current phase of your 28-day cycle

Did you know that your metabolism, including what foods are best for you, changes according to the current phase of your 28-day hormone cycle? Yeah!

We know that periods are a pain (and the bloating, food cravings, and mood swings that come with it). And because of this, a lot of women understandably ignore their biology and their 28-day cycle as much as possible. 

But did you know that your PMS symptoms grow worse when you ignore your body’s cycle? And did you know that tracking your cycle and living in tune with your hormonal changes can be empowering? It’s true!

Women all over the world are discovering the joy of cycle-syncing—matching their diet, exercise, stress management, and mind-body-emotion connection to their 28-day cycle. It’s a powerful way to live in tune with nature and enjoy better health!

Simply eating according to the current phase of your 28-day cycle will help you reduce stress and have better hormone health, which will improve the appearance of your skin, improve your energy levels, boost your mental health, and more!

We’ve published a full blog post on this topic: Tapping into the Power of Your Flow: iTOVi + Cycle-Syncing! But here’s a diet-focused summary for you:

Follicular Phase (7-10 days after your period) Eat a little lighter, emphasizing fresh antioxidant-rich produce, probiotic foods, lean protein, and nutrient-dense grains!
Ovulatory Phase (3-5 days after your follicular phase)  Eat a little lighter, emphasizing fresh antioxidant-rich produce, fiber, nutrient-dense grains, and lean protein!
Luteal Phase (10-14 days after your ovulatory phase) Eat more (500 cal+), emphasizing root vegetables, greens, nutrient-dense grains, fiber, healthy fats, and foods high in magnesium
Menstrual Phase (3-5 days starting on your first day of bleeding)  Eat more (500 cal+), emphasizing healthy fats, protein, high-mineral and fiber foods, nutrient-dense grains, and antioxidants, and avoid excess sugar

Monitor and manage your stress (especially during your most stress-vulnerable times) 

Stress has a way of sneaking up on you.

Sometimes stress surges suddenly and obviously. But more often it creeps up on you, building off of a little lost sleep here, a little uncertainty there, a skipped meal, a tense phone call…and then, without us realizing it, our stress is sabotaging our relationships, productivity, eating habits, health, and more!

The only way to keep stress down is to 1) check in with yourself regularly and 2) have reliable means and methods to help you de-stress and meet your body’s needs. 

So…when are you supposed to check in with yourself? And how are you supposed to remember to do so? The best thing to do, especially if you struggle, is to set up reminders and make a habit of it. 

For starters (in our humble opinion) ideal times to “check in with yourself” include:

  • Shortly after waking or before bed
  • During mealtimes before you eat
  • During “transition” times of day
  • Whenever you notice symptoms of stress (irritability, fatigue, lack of focus, coping behaviors, etc) 

Running a quick iTOVi Scan can be a great, fun way to check in with yourself. But you may also choose to do a quick body scan meditation or use the simple FCAS model (see the bottom of this blog post for specific instructions). Both methods can yield great results. 

Luteal & Menstrual Phase Stress Tips

Especially for the ladies, note that your body naturally becomes more susceptible to stress during your luteal and menstrual phases. So, during those days, be sure to check in with yourself often and don’t be afraid to take a little extra me-time!

Note that: 

  • It is NOT a good idea to fast during these phases as you can throw off your body’s hormone cycle. 
  • You will likely be more susceptible to cravings and binge eating during these days, so plan ahead so you can resist!  
  • Drinking warm herbal tea may help you reduce stress and stay warm as your body temperature drops during these phases. 

Prioritize iron, magnesium, folate, and calcium 

Thanks to our feminine biology, our bodies chew through certain minerals faster than men’s bodies do. So it’s important to replenish our vitamins and minerals often, especially iron, magnesium, folate, and calcium. 

Iron

Every month, when we lose some of our blood to our period, we lose iron too! And if we don’t replenish our iron, we may suffer from added fatigue, headaches, chest pains, and more. 

Fortunately, iron supplements and iron-rich foods such as greens, legumes, nuts, fortified grains, and dried fruit can help us stave off iron deficiencies.

Magnesium

Magnesium is especially vital for women. Our bodies use magnesium to regulate our muscles, balance our blood sugar and blood pressure, and build progesterone—the vital hormone of the luteal phase. 

Getting the right amount of magnesium in, especially during your luteal and menstrual phases, can even reduce PMS cramping symptoms!

Magnesium can be found naturally in dark chocolate, pumpkin and chia seeds, nuts, and spinach and you may also choose to take magnesium supplements.

Folate

Folate (classified as a B vitamin) is another micronutrient that women are particularly susceptible to being deficient in. Which is a shame, because folate supports the brain, helps your body build new cells, and it is particularly crucial in the first few days of pregnancy to help prevent birth defects!

The CDC recommends that women get 400 mcg of folate into their diet every day. This can be done through folate supplements or through folate-rich foods like dark leafy greens, peanuts, whole grains, fresh fruit, and liver. 

Calcium

Women, especially women older than 45, are extra susceptible to calcium deficiencies. And since we like healthy bones, healthy muscles, and healthy nerves, we want to prevent those calcium deficiencies from happening!

There are, of course, calcium supplements available. And you can also choose to prioritize calcium-rich foods like almonds, dairy, soybeans, winter squash, and there’s even calcium-fortified orange juice!

Support your digestive system & urinary system health

It may not matter how healthy you eat—if your digestive system is unhealthy, you may be unable to fully absorb the nutrients! 

You can support your digestive health by keeping up regular, healthy sleeping and eating habits, balancing your diet, emphasizing probiotics and fiber, eating clean, avoiding inflammatory foods, managing stress, and staying hydrated. 

Also, we women are extra susceptible to UTIs (urinary tract infections), but a Vitamin C plentiful diet (utilizing citrus, cranberry juice, cauliflower, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, and the like) can help prevent UTIs from happening. Find extra tips for taking care of your urinary system here

Conclusion

It’s not always easy being a woman. But having a good body-food relationship, managing your stress, getting your micronutrients in, and taking care of your digestive and urinary systems can help you maximize your health as a woman!

We live in a wonderful time when research into women’s health is growing! Armed with the knowledge of how nutrition, stress, and other wellness factors work in the female body, we can live better, share good advice with our daughters, and more fully embrace our femininity! 

Stay tuned for the next section of the iTOVi Nutrition guide! And in the meantime—live well, ladies!

Body Scan Meditation (10 min.)

Directions

Set a timer for the amount of time you want to spend in focused, unbroken meditation. Find a quiet place where you can lie down comfortably and not be disturbed. Lie down on your back with your legs straight and arms to the sides. Try to release any tension you are holding in your body. Then, starting at your feet, turn your attention to one part of your body at a time. Take a few seconds to mentally “be” with each body part, feeling any tension it is holding and then relaxing that body part. Then move on to the next part of your body, moving your consciousness slowly upwards towards your head. 

Once finished, take 1-5 minutes to lie still and try to be present with your entire, now-relaxed body. You may wish to get a drink of water before returning to your normal activities. 

For beginners, try using this order: Left foot, left ankle, left calf, left knee, left thigh, left buttock, right foot, right ankle, right calf, right knee, right thigh, right buttock, pelvis, abdomen/stomach, spine, ribcage, heart, collar bones/upper chest, right hand, right wrist, right forearm, right elbow, right upper arm, right shoulder, left hand, left wrist, left, forward, left elbow, left upper arm, left shoulder, neck, jaw, face, left side of the head, right side of the head, back of the head, top of the head. 

How Does This Support Me? 

This meditation reduces stress and encourages feelings of groundedness and safety. Additionally, this meditation increases bodily/interoceptive awareness which assists in emotional processing. 

The FCAS Model

To use this model, simply stop, pay attention to your body, and determine which of the following four states your body is gravitating toward the most. Once you’ve chosen a state, lean into it!  

  • Feed: Your body needs to recover energy and stability. You likely feel tired, hungry, or otherwise “low-energy”. Take some time to eat, sleep, or socially recharge (by spending time alone if you are an introvert or spending time with people if you are an extrovert). 
  • Cleanse: Your body needs to release tension so that you may recover energy and stability. You likely feel tired, strained, or overstimulated. Find a low- to moderate-energy output activity to help you de-stress (going on a walk, creating, art, cleaning and organizing, meditation, etc). 
  • Absorb: Your body is capable of or is seeking growth and stimulation. You may feel bored, curious, or playful. Take some time to learn or gather new information about things, people, or places that interest you or seek out a novel experience.
  • Stretch: Your body is capable of or is seeking growth and stimulation. You may feel restless, mentally fatigued, or overly stiff. Take some time to be physically active by completing household tasks such as cooking, exercising, playing sports, being actively creative (not just mentally creative), testing your abilities, etc.

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