It sounds like a Judy Bloom novel or the preface of American Girl’s The Care and Keeping Of You (anyone else have some painful flashbacks just then?), but my uterus and I have never been on good terms. I got my period at 12 years old, was too embarrassed to tell any of my friends, and knew so little about female reproduction that I thought a period could only start on Mondays (the next month, I got it on a Wednesday, much to my chagrin).
Since then, my period story has been part drama, part suspenseful mystery. I’ve dealt with unbearable cramps, severe mood swings, unexplained pain, random bleeding, multiple gynecologists that couldn’t figure out what’s wrong, dozens of birth control pill brands, and a routine monthly breakdown where I’d cry to my mom, “This just isn’t fair! Why me!?”
Enter: Berrion Berry. I first found Berry on Instagram (well worth a follow, FYI), and her content helped me change my mindset surrounding sexual health. She is a PMS and Period Educator, founder of The Flo Academy, and host of the podcast “Flow with Berrion Berry” (aptly named, right?). I knew I wasn’t the only one struggling with my period or lacking knowledge on how to heal myself, so I picked Berry’s brain for the tips, tricks, and info every woman should know about her period. Spoiler alert: it’s informative as hell.
For the record, Berry’s mission is to inform. What you do with your body is entirely up to you, and only you know what’s best for it (but more on that below!). With that being said, here are 7 things every woman should know about her period:
1. There’s more to your cycle than just your period.
When we refer to our cycles, we often are talking about the days we’re bleeding. However, even though it’s the most obvious (and obnoxious) phase, the actual period is only one small piece of the puzzle. Yes, there’s the menstrual phase, but there’s also the follicular phase, the ovulatory phase, and the luteal phase. Your body is constantly evolving and changing based on the phase that it’s in, and each phase requires just as much care and attention as the menstrual phase.
2. Tracking your cycle can be powerful.
Period apps can be tedious to keep up with, but knowing what phase your body is in can be incredibly powerful. Berry recommended cycle syncing, which means aligning everything from diet to exercise to work style with your cycle. She explained that the four phases act as a blueprint to help balance hormones and alleviate pain (sign me up!). Let me break it down for you:
- The Menstrual Phase: When you start bleeding, focus on restoring, replenishing, and refueling the body. Berry recommended eating comfort foods, sleeping in, taking things slow, and going for a walk or doing a vinyasa flow.
- The Follicular Phase: Once your period ends, focus on reconnecting with the external world. Hormone levels are beginning to rise, so you’re probably feeling like you can conquer the world. Go on that first date, turn up the intensity of your workouts, and make some plans with friends.
- The Ovulatory Phase: With the surge of both estrogen and the luteinizing hormone, you’ll feel incredibly productive. Launch the new program you’ve been working on, work longer hours if you want to, or take on a new challenge. Berry also recommended strength, resistance, and power training during this time, as well as getting in enough healthy fats and fiber (since your appetite might increase).
- The Luteal Phase: Un-lovingly referred to as PMS, this phase requires relaxation, as estrogen levels are typically at their lowest. Get all the macronutrients your body needs, turn down workouts to gentle pilates or going on walks, and be kind to yourself as you may experience shifts in mood and energy levels.
3. Birth control is no easy decision (and you should know all your options).
Between the NuvaRing, shots, IUDs, the patch, and pills, picking a method of birth control is as confusing as deciding what to get at a breakfast buffet (if I fill up on scrambled eggs and hash browns, will I regret not getting pancakes!?). Whether you opt for hormonal birth control to ease period symptoms or for actual birth control (or both, which is most often the case), the method that’s best for you is extremely personal. What’s right for your best friend, or even your gynecologist, may not be right for you. Whether you prefer hormonal birth control or a hormone-free method, research all your options, identify the root cause of any symptoms, and talk to your doctor about what’s best for you.
4. If you have difficulty understanding your body, it’s not your fault.
One of the many reasons I’ve loved following Berry’s career and killer Instagram is because she makes me feel OK for past mistakes (AKA my years of excessive Advil consumption) and for the fact that I’ve had a period for over half of my life and I still don’t totally understand my body. Berry explained, “A lot of research is done on men (they’re on a 24-hour hormonal clock), and not as much on women (we’re on a 28-day hormonal clock). I think the lack of research for women plays a massive role in why it’s so difficult for women to understand their bodies.”
Of course so many of us struggle with the right birth control method, painful period symptoms, and even talking about our sexuality and periods. Not only have women historically been studied less, as Berry pointed out, but women’s sexual and reproductive health has been taboo (I mean, did you learn about the clitoris in seventh-grade Sex Ed? I certainly did not). Don’t feel guilty about what you struggle with, feel uncomfortable with, or don’t know. Instead, educate yourself (on your body and your options). Don’t be afraid to ask questions. While we’re at it, can we all agree to talk comfortably and openly about our periods, once and for all? A period is as natural as breathing, and it’s time we start acting like it.
5. PMS can be your body’s way of communicating with you—know that it’s OK to slow down
A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do when cramps and back pain are coming on strong (see #4). Of course, you’re going to do what you can to treat the symptom, but don’t forget to look at the big picture to understand where the symptom could be coming from. Work on improving your overall health every day (not just that time of the month), and try to assess whether stress, diet, or another source could be affecting your symptoms.
One of my favorite sayings is “whatever men can do, women can do while bleeding,” and it is so true (need I mention that we can do it while also wearing six-inch heels?). Let’s take a minute to cue up Run the World (Girls) on Spotify and celebrate how badass women are. Now that we’ve established that and have Beyoncé on repeat, you also need to know that you can be both a motivated, hard worker who is destroying the patriarchy, while simultaneously slowing down during that time of the month.
Your body is literally shedding uterine lining and releasing an egg; it’s no simple feat. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not keeping up with a typical workout routine or if productivity is lacking at work. Berry suggested, “Take the time to go within and give yourself permission to just bleed and be. During your period, you need to focus on you and your needs, not everything and everyone else.”
6. Be mindful of what you’re eating (yes, even on your period).
Now that we’ve established period symptoms can be a reflection of everything from diet to stress, you already know that eating healthy foods (and enough healthy foods) can be crucial to your cycle. Berry says one of the most common mistakes many women make when it comes to their period health is eating too much sodium, refined oil (like palm oil or vegetable oil), and sugar.
If you’re craving something heavier or sweeter on your period, listen to your body and make a rice dish or have a few squares of dark chocolate after dinner; your body knows what it needs. However, using that time of the month as an excuse to eat all the ice cream and greasy foods you can fit into a week isn’t helping symptoms. Berry said, “I’m a big fan of honoring cravings because it’s how the body communicates needs. Give yourself grace when you’re on your period, but don’t use it as an excuse to just eat junk food and perpetuate painful period problems.”
7. You know your body better than anyone else.
At the end of the day (or the end of your cycle), only you know what your body needs. Even if your period is painful, heavy, or random, it’s not trying to ruin your life (I promise!); it’s just doing what it’s supposed to do. You are the best advocate for your own body, so keep a journal of symptoms you’re feeling, and talk to your doctor so you can work with the ebbs and flows of your cycle—instead of working against it.
Personally, I’m still not as excited on my period as women in Tampax commercials seem to be, but with a little help from Berrion Berry, my trusty MyFlo app, and a whole lot of self-healing. While I’m only at the first step of a longer reproductive health journey, it’s the beginning of a story between me and my body that I should’ve started a long time ago. Berry said it best, “Remember that it’s your body and your choice. You are your best advocate, so make sure you’re the one taking care of yourself.”