I suppose I should start this off with a little explanation of how I stumbled onto this mystical “cycle syncing.” It sounds like the beginning of a Judy Bloom novel, but my period has never been my friend. Since my first period at 12 years old, I’ve suffered intense mood swings, severe bloating, and cramping so bad I would go home from school or vomit, every darn month. I tried doubling up on Advil, spending hours under the heating pad, and even got prescribed pain killers, until my doctor finally suggested birth control. Oral BC helped control the beast, but certainly did not make all the symptoms and problems go away.
Enter: 23-year-old me — a little more confident, self-assured, and mature (kind of), than the 12-year-old girl who cried thinking about having to go to ballet class on her period. You’ll be pleased to know that I no longer have to go home from school (I mean, work) during my time of the month, but I’m still so uncomfortable I spend every minute that I’m not in bed wishing I was (and no amount of Advil or dark chocolate squares will change that). After six years on the pill and an endless cycle (pun intended) of pain, PMS, and breakthrough bleeding, I’m tired of feeling like sh*t for a fourth of my life, putting unnatural hormones into my body to mask symptoms, and more importantly, feeling like my body is more my enemy than my friend.
As always the believer in natural and homeopathic remedies, I’ve been researching different techniques to help with female reproductive health. So, thanks to Google and one particularly crampy night where I was feeling motivated to find a cure, I stumbled upon cycle syncing, and knew that for the sake of my curious nature and angry ovaries, I had to give it a try.
What is Cycle Syncing?
Cycle syncing is exactly what it sounds like — syncing your lifestyle, exercise, and diet around your cycle. Some people call it an ancient wellness technique, and some call it a bio-hack. It can be used to help hormone imbalances like PCOS or irregular periods, improve a low libido, reduce PMS symptoms, and be more in tune to your body.
Before you write it off as excessive or voodoo, just think about it logistically. Everything in nature has ebbs and flows, and ups and downs. As women, we have the tendency to place on ourselves the constant pressure of feeling like we always need to be high energy, always need to be on top of our game, always need to crush a tough workout or have a salad for lunch. If we’re not always our best, something’s wrong, right? But our bodies weren’t meant to be at a constant — they were meant to change and flow, and our expectations for our bodies and exactly how we treat them should change too.
The idea of cycle syncing is that your hormones are different during each phase, and therefore, your needs, emotions, and energy levels are too. The moon has four phases, the seasons have four phases, and, we as women have four phases.
This is the part of the story where I imagine you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking, DAMN she has officially lost it, but hear me out — cycle syncing has actually been around for centuries and if modern medicine (aka birth control) isn’t doing it for me, why not try a totally different approach that’s not only good for my body, but for my mind and spirit too?
I am so tired of being a slave to my hormones, dealing with intense mood swings, a heavy flow, and painful cramps that make me want to do nothing but crawl into bed and watch three seasons of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills — wouldn’t you be!? I wanted to be empowered by my lady business and understand the power that was happening in my body instead of just dreading that time of the month. So, without further ado, here’s exactly what each phase of your cycle entails, and what cycle syncing is all about:
The Menstrual Phase (Approx. Days 1-5)
Aunt Flo is officially here (or ready to be here), and I don’t need to tell you that this phase is just plain shitty. Maybe you have all the stereotypical symptoms — anything makes you cry, your pants don’t fit, and you need chocolate — or maybe your symptoms come more in the form of anxiety, back pain, or sluggishness. Either way, you need to chill. Estrogen and progesterone are both low, and the lining of the uterus sheds, causing bleeding. Your body has the lowest energy levels than in any other phase. Focus on slowing down and relaxing.
- What to Eat: Comfort foods and foods rich in iron and B-vitamins to support blood loss and energy levels.
- How to Exercise: Opt for gentle yoga or walking and stay away from high intensity workouts. Not only is your body craving rest and rejuvenation, but it’s also susceptible to pain, and high-impact workouts can stress uterine ligaments (sounds real painful, doesn’t it?).
- How to Support Your Mental State: Write down your goals for this month, focus inward, and try not to make social plans, as you’re likely craving rest and alone time. Tend to your self-care, and do something creative, as higher levels of delta brainwave activity increases creativity.
The Follicular Phase (Approx. Days 6-14)
The Little Red Devil is finally gone, and you’re ready to take on the world again! Estrogen and progesterone levels are rising. You finally have more energy, and your brain is ready to concentrate and get to work, being at its peak awareness.
- What to Eat: Focus on foods high in vitamin E for ovary support (like sweet potatoes, walnuts, spinach, and broccoli), and lots of protein paired with greens for estrogen support.
- How to Exercise: If you like higher intensity workouts, now is the time to go for them. Try HIIT or weight-lifting.
- How to Support Your Mental State: Schedule social plans or work meetings during this time, because you’re feeling both social and ready to problem solve. If you’ve been wanting to try something new like a new recipe or a different workout class, now’s the time to try it.
The Ovulatory Phase (Approx. Days 15-21)
I personally like to call this phase the fun phase, aka where I’m truly my most fun self — I’m energetic, excited, and social plans actually become appealing (rather than another night sitting on my couch with a glass of wine and Vanderpump Rules). Not only are you feeling your most confident, but you also have peak sex drive (although don’t forget that this is also the phase for conception). Estrogen peaks, and testosterone and progesterone are on the rise.
- What to Eat: Cruciferous vegetables help to flush out excess estrogen, and magnesium-rich foods like dark chocolate and spinach help to steady hormones.
- How to Exercise: You’re energized enough that high-impact workouts can feel invigorating rather than exhausting, and your body is ready for a challenge. You also might want to try some group fitness classes to feel more connected socially.
- How to Support Your Mental State: Go on a date, socialize, network, or initiate a tough conversation you’ve been putting off. This is the phase where your head is clear and you’re craving social connection.
The Luteal Phase (Approx. Days 22-28)
Your body is preparing for the next phase, so energy can get very low. Estrogen and progesterone levels start high, and then decrease when the egg is not fertilized (sorry, egg), which explains the different levels of energy and social connection you’ll feel throughout the phase.
- What to Eat: Choose foods that will make you feel grounded, like root vegetables or warming soups. Foods high in vitamin C, like papaya or citrus fruits, will aid progesterone production and eliminate estrogen.
- How to Exercise: Start winding down the intensity of your workouts, but keep your body moving (as it will help with preventing bloating and sluggishness on your period) with light exercise like restorative yoga or pilates.
- How to Support Your Mental State: Stay home and be productive by checking items off your to-do list. Set yourself up for rest in the menstrual phase by getting work done, since you’ll be feeling productive anyways.
So, obviously this information is a lot, like way too much for a busy, modern woman to keep up with on her own — even me, who is obsessed with health and wellness like it’s my job (’cause it is). So I’ve been using a trusty app (it’s 2019 — why the hell wouldn’t your cellphone also track your cycle phases?) called MyFlo.
Based on your own cycle (because the approximate length of each phase is just an estimation, but it’s different for each woman), the app tracks which phase you’re in, gives you suggestions for lifestyle changes to support your cycle, and keeps track of symptoms. Plus, the app will tell you exactly what’s going on in your body to cause each symptom, and the lifestyle changes that might help fix them.
I feel so much more knowledgable and informed just from using this app that, at the risk of sounding overly dramatic, has been absolutely life-changing.
During my period, I didn’t force myself to make social plans if I didn’t want to. I took lots of baths, read a lot, and did a lot of journaling (because you know I’m into that kind of thing). I didn’t even try to falsely promise myself I’d make it to the gym in the morning, and instead I did some light stretching and a face mask. I followed the rules for the rest of each phase as well, but for the most part, I actually just listened to what my body actually needed and wanted.
At the end of the day (or at the end of my cycle), I feel like I need to experiment with cycle syncing for a little longer to really see how it affects my body. Still being on birth control definitely doesn’t help when I’m trying to understand what’s going on with my hormones, so I need to either try cycle syncing through a few more cycles, and/or get off of artificial hormones in order to really see a difference. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected my health already.
My biggest takeaway from this experience has been being more in tune to my body and to stop resisting what my body needs. Since I was 12, I hated my period and would push myself to keep up with my workout schedule or be down on myself when I couldn’t. My lack of motivation felt like failure, and my desire for alone time was depressing instead of empowering. I’ve learned to understand my body better and realize that, while it’s painful, heavy, and random (don’t get me wrong, I’m still working with my doctor to figure out what’s going on!), it’s just doing what it’s supposed to do, which is actually a pretty amazing and miraculous thing, and I feel empowered knowing more about how to support it in that process.
All this time, I thought my body was making me its enemy, and in the end, it was I who was making my body the enemy.
I have forgiven my ovaries, and my ovaries have forgiven me. I’m only on the first step through a much longer fertility and sexual health journey, but I feel as though it’s the beginning of a love story between me and my body that I should’ve started a long time ago. To quote Leslie Knope, ovaries before brovaries — or, you know, before anything else.