So, I’m talking about hormones today! Woohoo! Aren’t they a blast for us gals, especially during *that* time of the month? While I don’t believe that there’s any woman who can say she loves alllllll of the fun side effects that come with the menstrual cycle, I DO believe that taking the time to learn about our bodies and our hormones can make a world of a difference in how we feel!
No clue where to start? I highly recommend reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It's crazy to think I didn't learn how my body really works until I was almost 38 years old! This book should be required reading as a teenager! Anyway...
I’ve talked before about how I went off the pill last August (after some trial and error between switching brands and experiencing all sorts of wackiness). Hormonally, I was not in the best place, but I was committed to staying off the pill to try and learn how to manage my cycle naturally. Needless to say, this quest turned me into a total fertility nerd, and I wanted to know anything and everything about how my body works. Seed cycling was my first jump into a more natural way of balancing hormones - and while I was skeptical at first, I totally noticed a difference. I really thought seeds were magical... until they weren't, and I stopped noticing all of the awesome effects.
After that, I thought, what else is out there to try? Awhile back, I picked up a book with all sorts of information about cycle synching called Woman Code by Alisa Vitti, a functional nutritionist and women’s hormone expert - and I am super glad that I did! You’re probably asking yourself - what the heck is cycle syncing, you hippy?! It sounds a little out there, but trust me, once you get the hang of it, it’s not at all.
Essentially, cycle syncing is just adjusting your lifestyle (and food!) to match which phase of your cycle you are in. Interesting, right? At first, I was a little hesitate. Plan my schedule around my hormones? Really? But, hey, I'll try anything once. And, surprisingly, syncing my lifestyle to my cycle didn’t make things more difficult - it actually simplified life because I began working with my body instead of fighting it.
Instead of trying to force our hormones into fitting into our lifestyles (which is basically fighting a losing battle because nature does what it wants), Alisa encourages women to embrace them and adjust their lives as much as possible according to what part of our cycle we are in. There’s a lot of talk about the menstrual phase and all the fun things that come along with it, but there are actually FOUR phases of our cycle, meaning that our hormones are are constantly flowing and changing:
Menstrual - ‘nuff said.
Follicular - post-period, when your body is gearing up to ovulate
Ovulation - when your ovary releases a mature egg cell
Luteal - when your progesterone increases to prepare for possible pregnancy
And rinse and repeat!
During these four phases, your hormones are shifting- and this can impact all aspects of your life - from the food you crave to your energy during workouts, right down to if you feel like cancelling your Friday night plans. Been there, done that!
Alisa encourages women to schedule tougher workouts during the follicular phase and go easy during the luteal and menstrual phases. You guys know I’m a sucker for a kick-ass workout, and when I first began my healthy living journey, I would often go hard even if I wasn’t feeling great. Honestly, I saw going easy or taking a break as just another excuse and would push through even when my body was telling me to do otherwise.
Now, I’ve learned through reading Woman Code and my own hormone story that it is so important to be mindful about how we feel and actually listen when that feeling is “blah.” After tuning into my cycles, I’ve noticed that I generally feel great during the first half of my cycle, so I make an effort to try a little harder during workouts. During the second half of my cycle, if I feel like I have low energy or am generally fatigued, I’ll stick to weights and leave the super high-intensity stuff for later (or just not go as hard). I’ve also noticed that I take more rest during the luteal and menstrual phases - and that’s totally ok!
When it comes to diet, I’ve definitely struggled with some not-so-healthy premenstrual cravings. Chocolate? Cheese? ALLTHECARBS. Obviously, I like to indulge, but I sometimes felt like my cravings around my menstrual cycle were kind of out of control. Did you know that there are foods we can eat throughout our cycle that provide key nutrients so we can minimize those cravings? Oh, yes.
I’ve been using this handy list when I go grocery shopping that details the best foods to eat based on which phase of the month you're in. It's broken out into several food groups, which makes meal plans and shopping quite easy. Basically, I use this list as a loose basis for meals and snacks during the week. I’m not nuts about it - if I’m grabbing a drink and someone puts down a bowl of follicular phase olives during my luteal phase, I won’t say no if I really want them. Haha! But I do my best to follow the list to make sure I’m fueling my body with what it needs - and I’ve definitely noticed a difference in reduced cravings and my energy levels!
Beyond diet and exercise, our cycle impacts all facets of our lives - from work to friends and family to our creativity. Ever make weekend plans on a Monday because you’re feeling super social, only to find that come Friday you just want to stay in and curl up with a good book? Yep - that could definitely be related to your hormones changing! Crazy, right?
While it's impossible to structure your whole social and work life around your cycle, Alisa gives us plenty of insight into why we feel one way during one week and differently the next. During the menstrual phase, women tend to be a little more withdrawn and introverted. The follicular phase brings an increase of clarity and creativity, while during ovulation you might find yourself being a bit more social and outgoing. In the luteal phase, women generally have a boost in their assertiveness and problem-solving skills. Personally, I feel creatively charged right before ovulation and want to rest and relax at the onset of the menstrual phase. This book provides so much useful information and answered so many of my questions about why I “mysteriously” felt a certain way - turns out, there was an explanation all along! I swear, hormones are related to everything!
Clearly, I’m a tad obsessed with Women Code - and not just the book! Alisa has her own website where she offers a TON of resources for hormonal support as well as a super awesome community of women. There’s also an app called MyFLO that not only tracks your period, but tells you what to eat and how to plan your day based on where you are in your cycle. How cool is that? There’s a quiz on the site as well that offers recommendations for solutions to the type of period-related symptoms you're experiencing. I’ve taken it three times since coming off birth control - and it’s always spot-on and has shown my progress with hormonal symptoms over the past year!
I've really enjoyed playing around with cycle synching these past few months. it's still fairly new to me, but I like to think that I'm helping to balance my hormones and make them happy. If you’re thinking about trying cycle syncing, just remember to be patient. None of these natural hormone tools produce results overnight, but I swear, it was 100% worth it. It's taken a year to get where I am today, but I can confidently say that I am in a MUCH better place overall!
Question of the Day
Ever heard of cycle synching?