Did you know men have a 24-hour hormonal cycle? Women have a 28-day cycle.
If only men could understand this concept… !
From day one, we’re taught that female hormones are complicated and mysterious, often with a mind of their own.
In 7th grade, I learned this to be true. From painful cramps leading up to my period to nasty mood swings to severe hormonal breakouts that seemed to get worse and worse… it felt like my body was going against me in every way.
There was one solution my doctor had recommended. Most of the girls at school were either on it already or talking about going on it. I’m sure you can guess it… the birth control pill. At 15 years old, I went on the pill to regulate my cycle, balance my hormones and help with my acne-prone skin. I would have given ANYTHING for clear skin. Seems normal enough, right? So why is this a problem? The symptoms I experienced were happening for a reason. My body was trying to tell me something but instead of balancing my hormones naturally, I used the pill as a band-aid. I didn’t know of any other way; these things weren’t talked about.
So many of us stay on the pill for years and years to prevent pregnancy and put a temporary fix on our hormonal imbalances until we need to go off the pill for various reasons, and the symptoms return tenfold. They don’t just disappear!
I was on the pill for 10 years. When I went vegan 3 years ago, I felt out of touch with my body and went off the pill. I wanted a real period, not a “fake” period. A period on birth control is not a real period. The pill stops ovulation and replaces your own natural hormone production with a consistent stream of synthetic hormones. I prefer the holistic route so going off the pill was a no brainer for me but I was scared of the aftermath. Deep down, I knew my symptoms would return… and oh my, did they! My skin went absolutely CRAZY which stressed me out more which made everything worse. My period didn’t return for 7 months… and for two years after it still didn’t fit in the “normal” or “regular” period window.
Most of my friends are still on some form of birth control. I can only imagine how many women are still on it and have been since high school.
It’s so “normal” to be on the pill that my gynecologist constantly encourages me to go back on the pill if I want my period to be regular. I’m not a doctor and I’m not here to suggest what you should do… but doesn’t that seem crazy and backwards?
I’m writing this post to share how I’ve chosen to handle my cycle because I used to think nothing of it. I figured I should be happy I even have a natural period at all and if it’s irregular then meh… there’s not much I can do about it. Deal with it later, right?
To start, let me ask you a few questions:
- Do you know the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle?
- Can you name the best foods for optimizing each cycle phase?
- In what phase do women have the most energy for intense cardio and HIIT training? What about strength training?
- Do you know what endocrine disruptors are and how they negatively affect your cycle?
While I’m familiar with endocrine disruptors, I could only name two of the four phases before learning about my cycle as a whole. I also had no idea certain foods for each phase of our cycle was even a thing!
All four cycle phases are equally important and fascinating in their own way. They are the Follicular, Ovulatory, Luteal and Menstrual phases, in case you were wondering. Nurturing my endocrine system to with me and work for me sounded amazing.
With a fairly easy food protocol that focuses on specific micronutrients crucial for each phase, we can feed and nourish our bodies back to balance, with the right kind of exercise and lifestyle shifts to support the process.
So, how did I stumble upon this?
Back in March of 2017, I came across a book called Woman Code, written by Alisa Vitti, a functional nutritionist and hormonal expert. She’s a wealth of knowledge and changed my perspective on everything; I’ll never be the same! Alisa is the founder of Flo Living and the My Flo tracker app, her story is incredibly inspiring. Immediately intrigued, I ordered her book on Amazon and dove into it while on spring break in Florida (this is not sponsored at all, by the way).
My mind was blown. How come no one was talking about this? Where had it been all my life? How had I not heard of cycle syncing before?
A few pages in and so many questions (all of which have been answered, so don’t worry if you have a zillion thoughts/questions running through your mind). So I started following her protocol while changing certain aspects to make it plant-based . It was the missing puzzle piece. It’s EXACTLY what has been missing from women’s lives. There are so many apps for tracking your period, but none of them help to heal your hormonal issues like the My Flo app. After the book, I immersed myself in more of Alisa’s content by listening to her videos and podcasts, reading her articles, referring back to the book and re-learning/picking up on new things along the way. She also does a Facebook Live every Thursday, chatting lots of juicy topics!!
While learning how to eat and exercise in sync with my cycle, I’ve been tracking everything in the My Flo tracker app. Without this, I never would have found out why my cycle is a little wacky and what I can do about it. As it turns out, my luteal phase is too long which means my progesterone levels are low. When this happens, it’s hard to know when you’re ovulating, if you even are at all. At first, I was upset and disappointed. I was mad that my cycle was off. I was mad at my body but at the same time, I felt relief because there were answers for the awful PMS symptoms I’ve been experiencing, symptoms that I thought were normal and to be expected each month because I’m a woman with fluctuating hormones.
Apparently, PMS is NOT NORMAL. In fact, it’s a sign that your hormones are not in balance.
Um, I’m sorry… say whaaa?? We don’t have to experience PMS every month?? Can you imagine a world without hormonal acne and cramps and bloating?!!
Ever wonder why some weeks you can power through a workout like a boss whereas other weeks, any kind of workout is a major struggle?? That’s the lovely cycle of hormones, not your lack of willpower, so stop being so hard on yourself! How about those weeks when you feel really good and your clothes are fitting great, then other weeks you feel bloated, you live in leggings 24/7 and ALL the chocolate in the world is absolutely necessary? Yep, you guessed it, hormones… (the chocolate craving is actually a magnesium deficiency).
I didn’t know raw fruits and veggies are best during the ovulatory phase or that roasted root vegetables are essential during the luteal phase to flush out excess estrogen in order to decrease PMS symptoms. I love learning about my cycle and how to optimize it. I’m not bothered by the squeamish details of looking at the color of menstrual blood to decipher how hormonally balanced I am. These are important clues and apart of being a woman; it’s all very fascinating!
There is a way to bring your hormones back in balance and it starts with nutrition. I’ve adapted the protocol to be vegan for me. I’ve added in extra B-complex vitamins and extra omega’s from ground flax and hemp seeds. I drink magnesium tea every night. I cut out caffeine and added in more fats (like my newest obsession – coconut butter!).
So that’s what I’ve been working on. Healing and nurturing my cycle by eating certain foods and exercising for each phase. Being on the pill really screwed up my body and I’m still doing the work and making up for what I lost while the pill was leeching all the micronutrients from my body. The sooner the better, in my opinion. I’m only a month or so into cycle syncing and so far, it’s been nice to have something to follow. Planning out meals seem easier because I’m doing it for the good of my body AND my hormones.
You may be wondering, what do you eat thats so different? I’ve written a separate post on ‘Eating For Your Cycle‘, but it’s different for each phase. I also put together a vegan meal & lifestyle plan for your hormones! Check out this video to learn more. I will say that my food is more balanced with carbs, fats, protein and fiber at each meal.
Here’s a few samples of foods for each phase:
- Follicular phase (before you ovulate, after your period): Artichoke, broccoli, carrot, parsley, green peas, string beans and zucchini
- Ovulatory phase (when you’re ovulating): Asparagus, brussels sprouts, chard, escarole, scallion, spinach
- Luteal phase (before you have your period): Cauliflower, collard greens, daikon, onion, parsnip, radish, squash, sweet potato
- Menstrual phase (your period): Beet, kale, kelp, mushrooms
Where should you start?
- I highly recommend getting my book, The Happy Hormone Guide!
- Start by tracking your cycle from your last period, using the app
- Begin cycle syncing by implementing the suggestions for food, exercise and lifestyle from my plan. Even if your cycle is irregular, start in whatever phase the app says you’re in and follow it. Doing this will help balance your hormones, even if your body isn’t matching up yet, just stick with the recommendations. There won’t be major changes overnight but in 2-3 months, you should start to notice differences. There are specific programs you can purchase from Alisa, but I haven’t purchased these; I’m just using the book and app and her other resources and learning on my own.
- Listen to this podcast for an overall view of the protocol (it’s so interesting and the first one I listened to!).
- Watch her video about the birth control pill, micronutrient deficiencies and other birth control options and this video for Natural PMS Remedies (amongst so many other videos too!)
Why Should You Start?
This is about taking back your feminine power and working with your hormones to be more productive in all areas of life rather than working against them and constantly dreading the days leading up to your period. It’s about feeling in control of your body and knowing when things are off. It’s about sweating during the ovulatory phase and doing restorative yoga during the menstrual phase. It’s about knowing the best times to give a presentation or ask for a raise. It’s about optimizing fertility when you try to get pregnant naturally.
This is a lifestyle and not a one-time, one-month fix. It’s a whole body system, food-based approach for life.
It gives us women something to go off of, a guide for our optimizing our body.
I love it so much!
>>>> read on to Part Two: Foods for Each Cycle Phase
>>>> read on to Part Three: Supplements & Herbs
>>>> read on to Part Four: Cycle Syncing Our Workouts
Let me know, have you heard of Flo Living? How are you optimizing your cycle?!