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If you have a period, you know how much of an impact the hormonal ebbs and flows tend to have on your skin, mood, cravings, and energy levels. The waves tend to be unpredictable, unpleasant, and obstructive – but do they have to be?
Cycle syncing is an approach developed by functional nutritionist Alisa Vitti to help women optimize their lives by tuning into their hormonal fluctuations. Many of us tend to be creatures of habit, finding our favourite foods and staying loyal to them. What we may not take into account, however, is that the differing ratios of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone as the months progress require different nutrients. While studies on the subject are still emerging, cycle-syncing-practitioners praise it for changing their life.
Who should try it?
Cycle syncing may be especially beneficial if you suffer from PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), are overweight, or are trying to conceive. But even if you simply notice yourself feeling slightly off around your period, cycle syncing could be worth a try. Note that if you are on hormonal birth control, cycle syncing is less relevant since your hormone levels are less volatile.
- Track your period for a few months in order to gage your exact cycle length. Apps such as Flo, Eve, and Dot are great options.
- Identify approximately when you are in which phase of your cycle (keeping in mind all cycles are somewhat different).
- Nourish, hydrate and move/rest accordingly during each phase.
Every menstrual cycle has four phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal. Note that the menstrual phase actually occurs within the follicular phase, and the ovulatory phase is a point in time more than a true phase.
Graphic by helloclue.com
Duration: The menstrual phase lasts as long as your period, typically 3-7 days.
What’s happening: Hormones are at an all-time low as the lining of your uterus is shedding. You are losing blood and iron, and prostaglandins (which cause cramping) are peaking. You’re likely to feel reflective and restful during this phase.
What to do and eat: Build up iron reserves and focus on foods rich in zinc and iodine. Beef and liver (if you feel comfortable eating it) are great animal sources, while spinach, kale, broccoli, beets, lentils, and kidney beans are good plant sources. Anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cayenne, cumin, and garlic can help with cramping, while gut-boosting foods such as papaya, tempeh and kimchi can help your digestion stay on track. Be sure to hydrate (at least 2 litres a day) – water and decaffeinated teas are good.
Duration: the follicular phase starts on the first day of menstruation and lasts around 13 days in total
What’s happening: Estrogen and testosterone hormone levels are peaking as your body is preparing to release an egg. You feel energetic, and you move and think with ease and confidence.
What to do and eat: Embrace your increased energy levels – take HIIT classes and fuel yourself with energizing foods. Nutrient-dense meals are your best bet here: lean toward chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and fruits and vegetables such as kiwis, blueberries, kale, carrots, artichoke, and sweet potatoes. Fish and poultry, as well as eggs and dairy products provide sustained energy, if you eat animal products. Drink enough water to compensate for your more active lifestyle.
Duration: ovulation typically occurs about 14 days after your period starts, and lasts around 2 days.
What’s happening: The ovulatory phase begins with high estrogen and testosterone levels as your body releases an egg into your fallopian tubes for fertilization. You feel outgoing and social. Once the ovulation has taken place, progesterone levels increase, making you feel more tired and introverted – you want to nest. You might put on water weight and experience cramps and digestive issues such as constipation.
What to do and eat: Own the polarity of this phase by using the initial surplus energy to prepare for the ensuing energy dip. Decrease bloating by avoiding salty foods and opting instead for fiber-rich fruits and vegetables such as asparagus, artichokes, brussels sprouts, and spinach, raspberries and strawberries. Hydrate well and incorporate light movement. If there’s a time to reduce carb intake, it is during ovulation: opt for lighter carb sources such as lentils or quinoa over bread or pasta.
Focus on fruits such as watermelon, grapefruit, berries, and nuts and seeds such sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, and pistachios.
Duration: the luteal phase starts after ovulation and lasts around 14 days.
What’s happening: Estrogen and progesterone levels are initially high. If the egg is fertilized, pregnancy commences. If the egg is not fertilized, hormone levels decline, and the menstrual cycle starts again. As the hormones drop, PMS symptoms will usually occur – estrogen and serotonin dips can impact your mood, and a rise in progesterone will cause an increase in appetite, with specific cravings for carb-rich and fat-heavy foods.
What to do and eat: Continue to exercise, but listen to your energy levels as they decline and replace high impact sports with lower impact activities like yoga. Observe your cravings, since they are your body’s way of telling you what it needs before menstruation. To stay in control of the hormonal roller-coaster and avoid bingeing, eat smaller meals at regular intervals throughout the day, and be sure to incorporate foods high in iron. Aim for at least 2 litres of water every day and avoid caffeine as it will dehydrate you and likely worsen your symptoms.
Opt for beef, bone broth, tuna, and salmon for your animal sources. Fill your plate with dark leafy greens such as kale, chard, arugula, and nutrient-dense foods such as avocados, sweet potato, chickpeas, black beans, whole wheat grains and sunflower seeds. Ensuring that you’re absorbing enough calcium, magnesium, fibre, and B vitamins will help curb cravings and reduce bloating. In good news: studies report that dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao, as it will be lower in sugar) can help improve your mood swings and cramps, and help relax your muscles due to the presence of magnesium and omega-3 / omega 6 fatty acids.
The Bottom Line
Take the time to listen to your internal cues and tune in to your cycle. The body is quite intuitive, and being kind to yourself is always better than punishing yourself. Focus on high quality foods, get enough sleep, and incorporate as much movement as feels good.
And as always, keep in mind that the above is only a guide: cycle syncing can be helpful, but approach the situation with a sense of ease. One accidental tub of Ben & Jerry’s will not end the world.