Cycle Sync Your Way to Balanced Hormones
Did you know that your body requires different foods, nutrients, exercise and self care practices, depending on which phase of the menstrual cycle you are in?...
It sounds complicated, but stick with me!
Women, on average, follow a 28 day (monthly) cycle, whereas men are on a 24 hour (daily) cycle. This is part of the reason why men can eat, move and live the same way every single day with no problems.
But we are NOT just small men!!
As females, our hormones are constantly fluctuating throughout the entire month. You have probably had the experience of really killing it in your workouts and productivity one week, and then the next week you leave the gym after 20 minutes and don't feel as motivated to complete certain tasks.
This is often due to your hormones! And no, this isn't a bad thing that we should think of as a hinderance in life, it is actually something we should respect and use to our advantage!
The role of our menstrual cycle is to ultimately prepare for pregnancy and reproduction. Even if we don't personally want to have children, the female body is designed for motherhood.
On average, women have a 21-35 day cycle, and it is 'normal' if this is typical for you, and you aren't also dealing with hormonal symptoms.
Our menstrual cycle is actually influenced by the moon, plus light and dark cycles. It is no coincidence that the lunar cycle is actually around 28 days in length too!
It is natural for women to also ovulate with the full moon and menstruate with the new moon, another connection between our bodies and the solar system!
During the first half of our cycle we are meant to be in an oestrogen dominant state, whereas during the second half, we should be progesterone dominant. We can start to experience symptoms like PMS and irregular cycles when these two hormones aren't in balance with one another.
We can only produce progesterone after ovulation occurs. Once we release an egg, the 'sac' that is left behind (known as the corpus luteum), becomes a temporary gland that produces progesterone.
If we do not ovulate or our corpus luteum isn't strong enough, we can experience hormonal imbalances and fertility issues.
If you aren't currently tracking your cycle or ovulation, you totally should be! This is not to just know when your next period is due (although this is handy), it also lets you know when you are in your fertile window, so that you can plan for (or avoid) a possible pregnancy.
You will also need to start tracking your cycle if you wish to implement some of these cycle syncing recommendations, because you need to know which phase you are in!
I love the apps 'Flo Period Tracker' , 'Clue' and 'Kindara' to help you with this. You can also use a fertility monitor such as Daysy, Natural Cycles and Ovusense, which come with apps that log your temperature data.
Sadly, if you are using hormonal birth control, you cannot fully practice cycle syncing because your own natural hormones have been shut down and you are instead running off synthetic hormones. You may benefit from following the advice in the 'Menstrual phase' section, so you can skip to that section below, however the other phases don't apply to you.
If you are looking to come of hormonal birth control and want to learn about the effective, non-hormonal alternatives, including the fertility awareness method (FAM), check out this post.
Now, onto cycle syncing...
I first learned about cycle syncing a couple of years ago now, when I was first introduced to the world of women's health, hormones and nutrition.
Practitioners such as Alisa Vitti, Megan and Alex of Zesty Ginger and Dr Christiane Northrup were all sharing about how women could design and live their life, around their hormones and menstrual cycle.
At first I wasn’t sure about the whole thing because it sounded too much work, however when I started to research into it, I realised that this is something many women have been intuitively doing for thousands of years.
There are 4 unique phases in our menstrual cycle. (Yep, thats right, it's not just about our period!)
These are known as the Menstrual, Follicular, Ovulation and Luteal phases.
You can also think of these phases as being like seasons of the year, Menstrual (winter), Follicular (spring), Ovulation (summer) and Luteal (autumn). This will make a bit more sense when you understand what is going on with your hormones.
The cycle days shared below are based on a female with a typical 28 day cycle. If you have shorter, longer or completely wacky periods, I recommend you calculate your phases determined by your period and ovulation windows.
Is your period M.I.A? You can actually start by syncing with the moon cycles! Because remember, they are totally connected, and this can influence your body to start menstruating again. You should begin the menstrual phase (cycle days 1-7) at the next new moon and follow the lunar calendar until your natural cycle returns.
If you are dealing with a hormonal imbalance such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, fibroids or PMS, cycle syncing can definitely help you to rebalance your hormones and possibly eliminate some of your symptoms, however it is not the be all and end all.
You will probably only see noticeable results, if you have already started to address the ‘foundations’ of hormonal health, such as regulating your blood sugar and insulin levels, restoring gut health, working on nutrient deficiencies, managing stress, getting high quality sleep each night and avoiding environmental toxins.
You can cycle sync your life to the T, but if you have a chronic yeast overgrowth in your gut or you're constantly being exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals in your environment, then your hormones will still be out of whack!
Menstrual phase (days 1-7)
Day one of your cycle represents the first FULL day of bleeding (spotting doesn’t count). During the menstrual phase, your hormones are at their lowest point and therefore this phase is all about nourishing your body, resting and making self care a priority.
* Signs that you need to work on supporting your body during this phase would be heavy painful bleeding, clotted periods, sugar cravings, severe fatigue, moodiness and menstrual headaches *
It is natural to feel a little more introverted and tired during this time, as your body is asking you to rest and spend more time focusing on yourself.
A lot of women feel more intuitive during their menstrual week and it is recommended that you take this time to reflect on the rest of the month.
I like to think of the quality and experience of your monthly bleed as being like a report card, grading you on how well you took care of your hormones for the 1-3 months prior.
Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone are all super low right now, therefore your focus should be on consuming high quality protein and fat, in order to provide your body with the building blocks to create more hormones..
Organic eggs, avocados, bone broth, organic red meat, grass fed ghee/butter, wild oily fish and nut butters are all great foods to include during this phase.
Try to limit your intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar as these foods can lead to a worsening of painful and inflammatory symptoms.
You should also focus on ‘warming’ foods like soups, stews, broths and curries rather than cold, raw salads and smoothies. In Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, they believe that our body is already ‘cold’ during this time, therefore adding in extra cooling foods can lead to imbalances such as cramping, clotted periods and irregular bleeding.
Take it easy! Avoid getting your heart rate too high and instead opt for low impact movement such as walking, yoga, pilates and stretching.
I like to take the first couple of days off completely to rest, and instead I spend my time engaging in more self care, as our body is already working hard to contract and expel the uterine tissue.
If there is only one week where you engage in some good old self care and ‘me time’ , then its during your menstrual phase! Epsom salt baths and self massage are your best friends during this phase.
I recommend adding 1 cup of epsom salts to a hot bath, then soaking for a minimum of 20 minutes. You can also add in a few drops of essential oils like lavender or clary sage to make it even more relaxing . Follow this up with a self massage using organic body oils like sesame, coconut or argan oil. This combination can be very supportive and nourishing during this time.
Follicular phase (days 8-13)
During this phase, oestrogen and testosterone are starting to climb, and our body is preparing for ovulation (the release of an egg).
A lot of women start to feel more energetic and happier during the follicular phase. For many women this is the only time out of the month that they are actually symptom free, which is a big sign that they are dealing with some serious hormone imbalances!
This phase often signals a 'new start' for many women and they are much more likely to have new ideas or plans and be extra creative during this time.
* Signs that you need to work on supporting your body during this phase would be acne breakouts, headaches, fatigue and spotting *
Aim to consume an anti-inflammatory diet as much as possible. This looks slightly different for everyone due to individual food sensitivities, but for the majority of us should be a lot of plant foods and nutrient dense meals.
If there is a lot of inflammation within the body this can disrupt the hormones that are being produced and may also delay ovulation during the next phase.
You can likely tolerate slightly more carbohydrates during this phase as the rising oestrogen improves our insulin sensitivity. Stick with starchy carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, carrots, squash and non-gluten containing grains like oats, quinoa and buckwheat.
If you have PCOS or some degree of insulin resistance you should time carbohydrates mainly around your workouts or during your evening meal to support sleep quality. You can experiment by using a blood glucose mentor, to find your personal carb 'sweet spot'.
I like to recommend consuming 'lighter' proteins such as eggs, quinoa, tofu, tempeh, chicken, turkey, fish, sprouted lentils and beans. These help to regulate blood glucose levels, improve satiety and provide amino acids that support liver detoxification.
Time to step your activity up a little bit! Your increasing energy and hormones allow you to feel stronger and more energetic during your workouts. You may also feel more open to trying something new during this phase so why not do a dance class or acro-yoga session?
Get creative! Sign up for an art class, take time out to begin writing that novel you have been wanting to start, join a cooking class.
Coffee enemas can also be useful in preparing the liver for the increasing in hormone levels over the next couple of weeks. They can also help to reduce inflammation within the body and promote glutathione production which is our master anti-oxidant!
Ovulation phase (days 14-21)
Hormones including oestrogen and testosterone are at their highest this week, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the individual!
Some women feel more confident, sexy and beautiful during this time, however some women struggle with anxiety, breakouts and stinky body odour!
If you are scheduling a work presentation or date, this is often the best time to do it as it believed that your attractiveness and linguistic skills are at their best.
* Signs that you need to work on supporting your body during this phase would be acne breakouts, mid-cycle bleeding, cramping, strong smelling B.O, oily skin and mood swings *
You are able to better tolerate more raw and 'lighter' foods during this time. Green leafy vegetables, fruit, salads, coconut products, homemade vegetable juices and stir fries are some of the best foods to increase your intake of.
I also recommend consuming one raw, organic carrot (medium sized) and a handful of broccoli sprouts every day during this phase because of their benefits in supporting healthy oestrogen detoxification.
You should also aim to consume 1-2 portions of cruciferous vegetables per day (lightly cooked) such as kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and brussels sprouts, as these are rich in fibre, which supports hormone detoxification through the bowels. Plus these veggies contain a ton of supportive nutrients for your liver detox pathways, such as folate and sulphur!
If you are dealing with digestive issues (bloating, constipation, diarrhoea etc) or live in a colder climate then you may not do well with too many raw or ‘cooling’ foods so just listen to your body, consume the ones you do well with and implement the other lifestyle recommendations instead.
Go for it girl! This is the week when you are killing it in your spin, hot yoga or bootcamp class and feel like an absolute badass.
Sweating will help your body to detoxify better through the skin and this may help to prevent the acne breakouts that are common during this phase, mainly due to testosterone and other androgens which are highest during this time.
If you do have elevated androgens (male hormones) because of the condition PCOS or adrenal issues, monitor your symptoms, because pushing too hard in the gym at this point in your cycle can actually increase cortisol and androgens which can exacerbate some of your symptoms!
I like to dial back the intensity slightly during the couple of days around ovulation and I have noticed my skin is a lot happier! Stick with strength training and power walking as your main forms of exercise.
Catch up with your friends or go on a date as you will likely feel more sociable this week.
I also love to recommend booking in for a facial, especially if your skin can be temperamental mid cycle (make sure they are using non-toxic ingredients!)
If you live close to sauna facilities (heat or infrared), now is the time to go, as sweating can help your skin quality and also supports your body natural detoxification processes. Your liver can be a little bit stressed because of the increase of circulating hormones it has to deal with.
Luteal phase (days 22-28)
Hopefully progesterone is now on the scene if you have successfully ovulated! Even if you don’t want kids right now (or even at all!) you should still be wanting to ovulate and produce progesterone, because it has so many benefits!
For one, it helps to balance out oestrogen, therefore making PMS symptoms less likely to occur. It is also an anti-anxiety hormone and also helps us sleep well.
Hormones are still elevated right now, however it is the sudden drop towards the end of this phase that triggers menstruation (aka Aunt Flo arrives).
Your uterine lining is thickening as your body isn’t sure whether implantation and a possible pregnancy has occurred or not.
This is also known as ‘PMS week’ for so many women, because a lot of them have to deal with a ton of symptoms. Remember that PMS is common, but it isn’t normal, despite what we may have been taught by society!
* Signs that you need to work on supporting your body during this phase include breast tenderness, water retention, mood swings, anxiety, sugar cravings, headaches, cramping, insomnia and acne breakouts *
This is the week where sugar cravings can take over for so many women! Even though a big slice of chocolate cake sounds perfect to them, this is not the best choice as we are becoming less sensitive to insulin now that progesterone is dominating our cycle.
To ward off sugar cravings, make sure you are eating to support your blood sugar levels. This means not going more than 6 hours without eating or grazing all day long and instead consuming 3 large, balanced meals containing protein, fat and fibre.
If you continue to crave sweets and chocolate, go for complex, starchy carbohydrates like stewed apples with cinnamon or roasted sweet potatoes, and a few squares of high quality dark chocolate (80%+), rather than sugar laden, milk chocolate bars.
Cacao is actually a great source of the mineral magnesium, and this is one of the reasons that many women crave chocolate during the week before their period! This means if you are craving chocolate or sugar in general, you may be lacking in magnesium!
During the first part of the luteal phase you are likely still feeling quite energetic and able to workout harder in the gym, however towards the end of this phase you should reduce the intensity and time spent in the gym. Focus on more restorative activities like walking, pilates, yoga and lower intensity strength training with longer rest between sets.
If you are someone who deals with PMS symptoms during this week, then take it easy when it comes to exercise, however it is beneficial to engage in some type of daily movement, as this can help to prevent ‘pelvic stagnation’.
The best self care practices to support your body during the luteal phase, are going to be stress relieving, detoxifying activities such as massage, castor oil packs and dry body brushing.
Stress management is crucial all month long, but especially during this week, as high cortisol levels can actually divert nutrients and resources away from progesterone production, making us more susceptible to PMS symptoms and fertility challenges.
I hope that I inspired you to live your life in favour of your beautiful, feminine cycle. This practice truly changed my hormones for the better, and it has helped so many of my clients too.
Obviously, we cannot stick to these recommendations perfectly all of the time, but once you know the ways to support your hormones in this way, it often becomes second nature. Our dietary and lifestyle needs can also change throughout the seasons and the different phases of our life, therefore a lot of people choose to follow these recommendations loosely.
I also created a free cycle syncing guide for you to download, as an accompaniment to this post! This is so that you can save this information and even print it out for a daily reminder! You can grab this now, by clicking the link below!
image: my moontime.
Let me know your experiences with cycle syncing! Has it worked for you? Are you gonna give it a try this month? Share your thoughts below!...