One of the lessons I learned the hard way transitioning to the ketogenic diet was listening to my body's needs as a woman. You may have read in one of my past posts, but somewhere in my third week of Keto, I got my period and experienced some of the worst cramps I have ever had in my life. It was awful. I could hardly walk at the end of the day and crawled to our bathroom to take the hottest Epsom salt bath with lavender oil I could stand.
Now, this really caught me by surprise, because I have been lucky in that my periods have historically been light and not too uncomfortable. I would get the occasional cramping and lower back pain on my first day, but all and all, my cycle has been regular and easy. So, when I got this intense of cramping, I thought, something serious is going on. I began a little more research into what the Keto diet means for women and how it can differ from men. Most of my resources going into this diet have been from my husband, a man, so his overall take on health, hormone balance, and diet as a man is different from me as a woman. I knew this going into the diet that we are different and might adapt differently to the Keto diet. I had also heard testimonials from women struggling at first to balance their hormones on the Keto diet, but I have to admit, it really slapped me in the face that I needed to pay more attention to my own needs as a woman on the ketogenic diet.
My research lead me to numerous accounts and testimonials emphasizing a woman's need for targeted carb-ups. What I learned (thanks mostly to the awesome Leanne Vogel) is that most women need more carb refeed days than men, and to not be afraid to try a carb meal once you are fat adapted (usually after three weeks). One day of carbs or one meal of carbs (preferably dinner) will not bring back the “Keto Flu” and it’s good to give your body a shock and something different every once in awhile. It’s ok to break away from the mold on occasion, while continuing to listen to your body and its needs.
I've heard so much negativity from those who don't believe in cyclical keto, carb-ups, or targeted carb-ups on the ketogenic diet. Some even say it's not "true" keto with carb-ups. Well, I think that's total BS! As a woman, after six months of the ketogenic diet, I have found that I need different foods at different points of my menstrual cycle. This is key to maintaining a healthy hormone balance, so please don't be afraid to try carb-ups. Every one and every woman is different, but this is what I have found works best for me.
During my menstruation week, I like to stick to fats and proteins, mostly from animal sources but also avocados and all things coconut. The follicular phase (when you're preparing for ovulation) calls for fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi to promote gut health and healthy egg production. In the ovulation phase, I crave raw foods. This is a perfect week to enjoy leafy green-packed salads, avocados, raw seeds and nuts, and sashimi. Once in the luteal phase, I crave fully-cooked foods (mostly steak) and like to plan a targeted carb-up in this phase before my period starts. I mostly use sweet potato, white rice, plantains, or quinoa at dinner for my carb-up, which greatly alleviates my PMS symptoms, cramping, and support my body for this transition.
It is so important to carefully listen to your body whenever you are implementing a new diet or health routine. I can’t stress that enough! Definitely give yourself time to think, reflect, and listen to your body. You can learn so much by just paying attention.