‘Everything hurts and I’m dying’ sums up how I have felt the last couple of days. I am usually an emotional and rage filled mess the day before my period starts and then on day 1 suffer from cramps, back ache, sore boobs and a general feeling of bleurgh. Day two is sometimes fine and sometimes a repeat of day 1 but by day 3 I’m usually fine. I also feel heavy and sluggish and like I could really use a wheelbarrow for my tummy.
So that brings me to exercise. Generally the last thing I want to do the day before and for the first two days of my period is move. Ideally at all. What I really want is to eat all the food, cry all the tears and stay under the duvet with permission to snarl at any living being coming within 5 feet. Curling up and hiding isn’t actually all that helpful though. Mostly I feel better if I can manage to do some exercise. Mostly, but not always.
This week my carefully crafted plan has gone out of the window so I am already a bit grumpy about that. I was tired after my longer run on Sunday and decided to take Monday as my rest and move things around. Tuesday I did a very half hearted workout. I had a thing in the afternoon and I was anxious and edgy and couldn’t really focus on the workout. I got through it, it was one of those you just tick off. I did feel better for doing it. A little more focused afterwards.
Then yesterday was the bleurgh day. I was tired and emotional and hugely pre menstrual. I slept badly and unusually my period started in the middle of the night at 2.30am and I have been drugged on ibuprofen and caffeine pretty much since then. I could quite happily have stayed in bed. But I got up, I had breakfast and drugs and we did the food shop and then I kept hoovering up any food within reach. Kath went out to run and I wondered whether that might be a nice thing to do. But the thought of leaving the house and bouncing the bloated belly down the street was enough to make me go for another spoonful of peanut butter.
Once Kath finished work she persuaded me to at least have a go at one of our Body Coach workouts. I was skeptical. I mean, leaving the sofa felt like an exertion and there was cheese in the fridge that I could eat with minimal effort. But the ibuprofen I’d taken a while ago would wear off soon so it was now or never. I agreed to try, squeezed myself into my shorts, coaxed my poor boobs into a sports bra and started swearing at Joe from the minute he started talking. I huffed and puffed and whimpered my way through bootcamp 20 on the app. I felt weak and crap and struggled to complete some of the exercises. It was pretty grim.
So do I feel better and energised and proud for having done the workout. No. I don’t. Sometimes this ‘You’ll never regret a workout’ rhetoric and this forced notion of always feeling better really gets on my nerves. I appreciate that it probably did me good. I also think I’d probably feel worse if I hadn’t done the workout because I actually quite like ticking them off and sticking to the numbers of workouts per week. But I have absolutely zero strong feelings about the workout. It did not change my day, it did not change my mood, it did not make my cramps disappear. It was grim, it’s done. And I guess sometimes that’s all it needs to be.
But I do think we need to start talking much more about how our periods impact on exercise and diet. It’s nice to see more conversations, more research and more writing on this but I think it is still missing from our general talk about exercise and how we fuel our bodies. So today I had several spoonfuls of peanut butter, a handful or several of chocolate beads, a scone, cheese and my 3 meals, plus some biltong and some cherries and whatever else I have now forgotten. That’s ok. I was busy containing rage and dealing with a very cross lower back. I wasn’t about to worry about the extra fairly random calories. I also hated the exercise. That’s fine. We don’t have to love it every time. I hated that I couldn’t do it and I am cross at myself for even expecting myself to be able to do it. I mean obviously I couldn’t do it. I feel about 3 stone heavier than I actually am, standing up unleashes a tidal wave of menstrual fluid thus making squats particularly fun and my boobs are under so much tension that quite frankly anything could happen when I run on the spot.
So can we just give ourselves a break here. Can we just accept that sometimes our periods will have a huge impact on our day and our routine. I am actually not bad every month, sometimes I can carry on almost as normal but more often than not expecting the same levels of energy, the same good food choices and the same enthusiasm for moving never mind exercise is just madness. It is tempting to be disappointed at not sticking to the Body Coach food framework (which is about a lifestyle and not a diet so should in theory work for periods too, in fact it should have an extra period snacks section I reckon) and frustrated at how awful the exercise was and the fact that there was no way I was doing a workout and a run today. But we need to work with our periods, they need to feature in how we think about living healthy lifestyles. And for some of us our periods become less painful or heavy or have less of an impact as we get generally fitter but that’s not universally true. For some of us exercise helps relieve some of the symptoms but I don’t think that’s universally true either. I think, like for so much with running and exercise and healthy living and all that generally, we need to figure out what works for us. Forget the ‘should’, forget the ‘this works for me so it must for you’ and certainly forget the ‘just push through’. Make those bleurgh days about you and what is right for your body. Nourish it how you want to, move it how you want to and never ever feel guilty about it.
Now, where’s that peanut butter.