Updated: Nov 11, 2020
Have you ever had that experience of trying a new routine and having it go fabulously only to have it fizzle out after a week or two? Or have you had a strict diet protocol feel cleansing and nourishing at first, but suddenly felt ravenous and depleted out of nowhere?
I know I have. It’s frustrating and confusing. But the past few days, I’ve been reading and listening to the work of Alisa Vitti, a women’s hormone expert, who has been blowing my mind. She points out that all of the wellness practices that call for grinding out the exact same routine every day or front-loading our mornings with an aggressive list of goals are based around men’s cycles. Research in the health world is done mostly on men. Honestly, this doesn’t surprise me because if you start to dig into any research, whether it’s medical or psychological, female bodies are often largely missing.
Honor your unique rhythm
A male cycle is the same every day - cortisol levels rise to get you out of bed in the morning, peak and slowly ramp down by afternoon. They have these same hormonal peaks and valleys each day. But this is just not true for everyone. Menstruating folks have a second biological clock, a monthly clock, and from week to week, our energy levels, brain chemistry, and nutritional needs change.
As menstruating humans, we have an infradian rhythm as well as a circadian rhythm. I’ve always known about the circadian rhythm, that’s our sleep and hunger cycle, and it happens over a 24-hour period. But I never really thought about the idea of my menstrual cycle in the same way. Shaping your life (what you eat, how you exercise, how you plan) around this monthly cycle is called Cycle Syncing. I recently started looking into it, and here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Number one - we get blood results every month! And no, you don’t have to go to the doctor. How our period looks gives us information about any issues with our hormones. (check out this video to see an excellent visual breakdown of what your period should look like) Also, our infradian rhythm - our monthly cycle - impacts not only our reproductive system, but our brain, immune system, and microbiome so, how our blood looks can tell us a lot about our overall health.
And here’s the kicker - are you ready? PMS symptoms are a sign something is off. Cramping, bloating, mood swings, headaches - none of it is necessary. When I heard this, I was shocked. You mean everything I’ve ever been told as a woman is a lie? Well, yeah - and actually when I start to think about it, I’m not surprised, because…patriarchy.
Your inner seasons
So - that’s a lot to unpack already. But here’s the next part - we have four distinct phases of our cycle. Not unlike seasons, or the lunar cycle. It’s so beautiful. The follicular cycle - our spring, the ovulatory phase - our summer, the luteal phase - our fall, and the menstrual phase - our winter.
Most female-bodied people are familiar with the menstrual phase because we have to be. We need to have period products on hand, and many of us need to be prepared because we are going to feel like crap (which - spoiler alert, you don’t have to). But there are three other phases, and each one has it’s own distinct energy level, hormone surge, and needs. They also have their own distinct benefits. And yes, if you start to pay attention, you can use these to your advantage.
I’m reading Vitti’s book In the Flo right now, which unpacks all of this and guides you into cycle syncing. This is new to me, so I’m still learning, but I’m excited about it! I already love paying attention to the cycles of the moon and to the seasons to feel more connected. Paying attention to my inner seasons seems like a beautiful continuation of this process.
This information is a little bit complex and can feel overwhelming, so I’m starting with a couple of simple practices for now. Here are the two things that I’m going to try right away
Seed cycling: this is an idea that certain seeds, when eaten at specific times during your cycle, can support hormone health and help boost what your body needs at that time. Here’s how it works - during the follicular phase (starting on day 1 of your period), you eat more flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. The phytoestrogens in flaxseeds can help increase or decrease estrogen levels as needed. And the zinc from pumpkin seeds promotes progesterone production in preparation for the next phase of the cycle. During the second half of their cycle (starting the day you ovulate), the luteal phase, eat sunflower and sesame seeds. Lignans in the sesame seeds inhibit estrogen from increasing too much. The vitamin E in sunflower seeds helps boost progesterone levels. (if you’d like to get even more in-depth, this article breaks it down well!)
Cycle-specific Herbal infusions: I love a good herbal infusion, and I’ve been using them for a while now. Infusions are different from teas in that they are steeped much longer, usually overnight. So they are higher in concentration and, thus, nutrients. Here are the suggestions I found from the blog Moon and Rock (which is also full of great information about this process!)
Follicular phase: 1 part Tulsi ~ 1 part Oatstraw ~ 1/2 part Hibiscus Flowers
Ovulatory phase: 2 parts Hibiscus Flowers ~ 2 parts Peppermint or Spearmint (whichever you prefer)
Luteal phase: 2 parts Oatstraw ~ 1 part Red Clover or Red Raspberry Leaf ~ 1 part Hibiscus Flowers
Menstrual phase: 2 parts Nettle ~ 1 part Hibiscus flowers ~ 1 part Oatstraw ~ 1 part Cramp Bark (optional for those who experience painful cramping during bleeding)
The instructions are to use about one oz of dried herbs for a quart mason jar. Fill it to the rim with boiling water and allow to steep overnight. Strain the herbs in the morning and drink it up.
Recovery and hormonal health
I am just so excited to continue to dive into this information. There is advice for what to eat during each phase of your cycle, and what sort of exercise would best support you. There is also advice for planning projects to maximize your magic. If reading isn't your thing, there are some great videos and several podcasts explaining the process. Here’s a video one by one of my favorite YouTubers Nina Montagne. And this episode of the Expanded podcast is super informative. If you look up Cycle Syncing, you’ll find all sorts of info out there!
And if you happen to be wondering if this has anything to do with recovery - it 100% does! Not many people know, but alcohol is a huge hormone disruptor. (I’ll tell you the truth, I thought I was hitting early menopause when I was still drinking because I was starting to get hot flashes. They immediately ceased when I quit). Alcohol increases estrogen and lowers progesterone. It can lead to disruption in periods, like heavy bleeding or missed periods, which greatly increases the risk of breast cancer.
So, regulating my hormones is a big deal because anything I can do to help my system get back to humming along is a priority! It’s exciting to think that I can use natural methods like food, herbs, and working with my natural rhythm to do it. A couple of weeks ago, I talked about syncing with the lunar phases, and I’ll be writing more about how I’ve learned to honor the Earthly seasons. Of course, it just makes sense to turn inward and appreciate my cyclical nature.