The Menstralean diet is a cutting edge weight loss strategy for women.
Basically, it’s synchronized with the phases of the menstrual cycle, and scientists believe that it may be easier to adhere to than the traditional approach.
Recently, a team of researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial comparing the Menstralean diet with a conventional weight loss diet.
Here is a detailed summary of their findings.
In women of reproductive age, the menstrual cycle is a recurring monthly process that prepares the body for possible pregnancy.
On average, the length of the menstrual cycle is 28 days and can be divided into three phases:
- Menstruation (days 1–4).
- Follicular phase (days 5–15).
- Luteal phase (days 16–28).
The menstrual cycle is characterized by metabolic changes and fluctuations in hormones. Compared to menstruation and the follicular phase, the luteal phase is associated with the following:
- More frequent food cravings, especially for carbs and fat (1, 2).
- Increased calorie intake (3).
- Increased calorie expenditure (4).
Simply put, women tend to have a greater appetite during the luteal phase, which can promote weight gain. During this phase, it may also be harder to stick to a calorie-reduced diet.
The Menstralean weight loss program is adjusted to the different phases of the menstrual cycle. Some researchers believe that this makes it easier to follow in the long-term, compared to conventional, calorie-reduced diets.
A team of Danish researchers examined the effectiveness of the Menstralean diet and exercise program on weight loss in women.
The purpose of this 6-month, randomized controlled trial was to examine the effectiveness of a weight loss program designed to moderate the effects of the menstrual cycle.
A total of 31 healthy but overweight, premenopausal women completed the study. None of them were taking hormonal contraceptives.
Each of the women followed an exercise program and calorie-reduced diet that provided 1,600 kcal per day.
They were randomly assigned to one of two groups:
- Menstralean diet: This diet was tailored to the metabolic changes that occur during the menstrual cycle. It changed depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle (see chart below).
- Control diet: This was a simple, calorie-reduced diet that contained 45–50% of calories from carbs, 15–20% from protein and 30% from fat.
All women in the Menstralean diet group started the program on the first day of their menstrual cycle.
The Menstralean diet was a 28-day plan designed to match the three phases of the menstrual cycle. Specifically, the proportion of protein, fat and carbs differed depending on the phase, as shown in the chart below:
The luteal phase (phase 3) is associated with more frequent food cravings and increased calorie intake (3).
For this reason, the participants were allowed to eat an additional 200 kcal of dark chocolate per day during phase 3.
What’s more, the diet in phases 2 and 3 provided higher amounts of protein (30% of total calories) in hopes that it would reduce appetite and cravings, making the program easier to follow.
All of the participants were also advised to exercise. On the Menstralean diet, the exercise routine changed depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle:
- Phase 1 (days 1-5): Light training once a day. This involved walking, yoga or stretching.
- Phase 2 (days 6-14): Circuit training consisting of weight and aerobic exercises 2 days a week and cardio 2–3 days a week.
- Phase 3 (days 15-28): Weight training 2 days a week and cardio 2–3 days a week.
- Control (days 1-28): Vigorous exercise for half an hour 2 days of the week but moderate exercise on the other 5 days. This exercise program corresponded to Danish public health guidelines.
At the start, midpoint and end of the study, the researchers measured body weight and waist circumference.
Bottom Line: This was a randomized controlled trial examining the effectiveness of the Menstralean diet, a weight loss program that’s synchronized with the menstrual cycle.
Finding: The Menstralean Weight Loss Program Caused Greater Weight Loss
Weight loss was similar in both groups when average values were compared.
However, when participants who didn’t fully comply with the program were excluded from the calculations, those in the Menstralean group turned out to have lost significantly more weight, compared to the control group.
These findings are shown in the chart below:
Simply put, those who followed the Menstralean weight loss program lost an additional 10 pounds (5 kg) over a 6-month period, compared to the control group.
Waist circumference also decreased by additional 1.1 inches (2.8 cm) in the Menstralean group, compared to the control group.
The protein content of the Menstralean diet was higher than the control group’s. Specifically, protein provided 30% of the total calories most days on the Menstralean diet but only 15–20% on the control diet.
This is the first study to examine the effectiveness of a weight loss program that is synchronized with the menstrual cycle. Further studies need to confirm its findings.
Bottom Line: Those participants who managed to follow the Menstralean weight loss program lost significantly more weight than those in the control group.
This study had several limitations.
First, it was not possible to blind the participants to their treatment. Those in the Menstralean group may have realized that they had been assigned to a new and unusual weight loss program.
As a result, they may have become more motivated than those in the control group.
Accordingly, the drop-out rate was much higher in the control group (61%) than the Menstralean group (38%).
Second, the drop-out rate was quite high, suggesting that the weight loss program may have been hard to follow and not for everyone.
Third, the Menstralean diet may not be relevant for women taking hormonal contraceptives.
Finally, the menstrual cycle is highly variable between women. Accurately synchronizing a weight loss program with the menstrual cycle may be difficult.
Bottom Line: The study’s main limitations were a high drop-out rate and indications of lower motivation in the control group.
Summary and Real-Life Application
In short, this study suggests that synchronizing a weight loss program with the phases of the menstrual cycle makes it easier to follow. This approach was called the Menstralean diet.
However, the study had several limitations that make the findings difficult to interpret.
First, the Menstralean diet provided higher amounts of protein, compared to the control group.
Second, differences in drop-out rates suggest that participants on the control diet may have been less motivated. Of course, this also supports the idea that the Menstralean diet is easier to stick to, but we do not know for sure.
Simply put, it’s debatable whether matching a diet to the phases of the menstrual cycle is more effective than a traditional approach. Further studies need to confirm the findings.