Women get a bad rap, and I think we all know why. Women are often considered to be “too emotional,” “moody,” “hormonal,” and other sexist terms that just aren’t meant to be flattering.
See top entry for “emotional” in the Urban Dictionary:
There’s this pervasive idea, at least in western culture, that steadiness and unchanging-ness are the norm, and what’s more, that they’re the standard of goodness.
Women throughout history have tried, and often failed, to live up to societal expectations of steadfastness. Those who do live up to the standard are usually just naturally low-key individuals who don’t express their emotions as dramatically as some of their sisters might.
Ladies, I’m here to tell you, and your gentlemen too, that we’ve been done a disservice. Yes, our moods change throughout the month. Yes, our hormones aren’t the same every day like men. And no, there’s NOTHING wrong with this.
Our moods aren’t simply “emotional” changes that come from being “weak,” “fragile,” or “easily influenced,”. Very often our moods signify physiological changes from our hormones that bring about perceivable differences in our bodies and minds.
So, not only is it ok to not live on a twenty-four hour cycle as if every day was the same, it’s healthy.
Well That Was A Lot. What’s This About Now?
In this blog post we’re going to talk about Cycle Syncing. That is, the practice of women taking their monthly cycle into account when planning their daily, weekly, and monthly calendar events, workouts, and meals.
We’ll learn together what the phases of our monthly cycle are and how they impact our minds and bodies.
We’ll discuss how these phases can change our preferred activities and why it’s important to listen to those bodily cues.
Finally, we’ll discuss ways that women can learn to live more at one with our bodies. It’s not just a man’s world; it’s ours too, and our biology deserves its own place in our cultures and schedules.
Let’s Get to It
A woman’s monthly cycle has four phases, menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, and luteal. 1
Each of these phases is (are) marked by distinct hormonal changes that drive the cycle through each stage, but they also drive the body through other changes as well. Depending what time of your cycle you’re in, you may feel more or less energetic, creative, hungry, emotional, sexual, anxious, etc.
The goal of cycle syncing is to help your body move through the difficult periods with grace and kindness, and to harness the energy of the more pleasant periods.
This kind of specialized attention can help your body to feel more cared for and function more effectively.
During your menstrual phase when you’re losing blood, and therefore energy, iron, oxygen, etc., choosing foods high in protein, iron, and complex carbohydrates can help you to stay nourished and energized.
On the other hand, during your ovulatory phase, you may feel energetic, playful, and sexy. Choosing light foods such as fresh vegetables and smoothies may help you hold on to these feelings and keep you from getting unnecessarily weighed down in an otherwise pleasant hormonal period.
So, without further ado, let’s learn about the phases and how to improve your experiences with them
I think most people are familiar with the menstrual phase, it’s when Aunt Flo comes to visit. There’s more to this phase than tampons and chocolate though.
During the menstrual phase, a woman’s body is shedding the uterine lining that she has spent considerable energy developing over the past weeks. In this process of shedding, the uterus must heal all the points of blood vessel contact between the shed lining and the uterus, so inflammation is naturally high in the body at this time. 1
In addition to the physiological implications of this process, there are hormonal effects as well. Both estrogen and progesterone are low in this time, which is likely to make you feel tired, and uninspired, on top of the physical symptoms of cramps, bloating, fatigue, etc. 1
We know that women vary dramatically in their ability to cope with this particular phase of the cycle. Fortunately, there are ways we can improve our experience of Aunt Flo’s visit.
- Stay hydrated. Our bodies use a lot of fluid to generate inflammation for healing and we also lose a lot in our menses. Dehydration can worsen feelings of tiredness and even contribute to period-related constipation, which worsens menstrual cramps and bloating.1
- Eat to combat inflammation and promote healing. Choosing to eat anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices can help lessen the inflammation and pain that accompany this time of the month. 1
- We should also make sure that we’re getting plenty of iron and B vitamins, since bleeding, regardless of the cause, depletes these nutrients and can contribute to fatigue or even cause anemia. To get more of these nutrients, choose foods like mushrooms, fish, walnuts, peanuts, and dark leafy greens. You can also choose to supplement with a B-vitamin complex and/or an omega-3. 1
- Many women find it helpful to choose warm, cooked foods in this time, since they are easy to digest and absorb. It’s just one more way to take it easy on your body and treat it gently. So, if you notice that large salads and other raw foods just don’t sit well during your menstruation phase, this can be a very soothing way to care for yourself.
- Don’t do any huge, creative projects unless you have to. You’re unlikely to feel inspired, energetic, or creative. 1 If you can, choose to complete tasks that take less creative power, and the simpler the better.
- Take it easy on your body when it comes to exercise. Your body is already working really hard during the menstrual phase, so exercise should be gentle and slow. 1 Many women find that walking, yoga, stretching, or very light weight training are best in this time. Save the cardio and heavy lifting for later.
Ah, the follicular phase. That golden time of flat tummy and boundless energy. If only every day were a follicular day.
The follicular phase is the time when the body is preparing an egg for fertilization. One of the many eggs in a woman’s body is selected to be matured, so that she can ovulate and become pregnant later in her cycle. 1
During this time, estrogen is rising and progesterone is low. Since the female body loves estrogen, you’re likely going to feel very good during this phase. You may feel more energetic, inspired, creative, and social. 1
As with all phases of the cycle, there are ways that you can alter your lifestyle to maximize benefits and minimize unwanted effects.
- If you’re trying to conceive, or even if you’re just leaving it up to fate, now is a great time to nourish your developing egg to give it the best chance at a healthy life, should it turn into a pregnancy. To improve your egg quality, focus on getting lots of healthy fats and antioxidants. This means eating foods like eggs, nuts, seeds, fish, berries, cruciferous vegetables, and leafy greens. Color is key right now! 1
- Many women find it helpful to lean into that light, energetic feeling by choosing to eat a lot of salads, smoothies, and other raw, light foods. You may also find that you crave less carbs during this time and prefer to eat more lean proteins and non-starchy vegetables. Go for it!
- If you really want to cash in on the estrogen phase, you can increase the effects by eating a diet rich in phytoestrogens during this time. Phytoestrogens are molecules found in plant foods that are very similar to human estrogen and many of them produce similar effects in the body when we eat enough of them. Foods high in phytoestrogens include soy products such as edamame, tofu, tempeh, and soy milk, flax seeds (not flax oil), strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, peaches, wheat bran, cruciferous vegetables, and dried fruits. 2
- Now is a chance to harness your creative energy and work on projects that require lots of thought and collaboration. This is a great time to prioritize work that takes a lot of energy, creativity, and focus. 1 So, write that blog post, paint that portrait, or fine-tune that recipe. You can do paperwork later.
- You’re probably gonna have energy to move your body right now, so party on! This phase is a time for long runs, HIIT workouts, and strength training. You’ll probably have better endurance and are likely to make bigger gains. (Studies show that strength training in the follicular and ovulatory phases builds more muscle than in the luteal phase). 1
The ovulatory is the best and shortest phase. It’s technically the end of the follicular phase, and in this time the mature egg is released from the ovary and into the fallopian tube where it waits for sperm to come and fertilize it. 1
Estrogen peaks in this phase and progesterone remains low. Most women feel frisky, sexually aroused, energetic, creative, and social during this time. 1
In this phase, recommendations will be very similar to the Follicular phase, but with a couple of distinct differences.
- Continue eating to nourish your egg and your reproductive system. Choose to eat healthy fats like olive oil and omega-3s, and antioxidants like berries and leafy greens. In this phase you’ll want to start increasing your water intake to support the coming luteal phase as well. 1
- You can continue to prioritize light, bright foods like salads and smoothies, but if you find that you’re starting to crave warm, cooked foods, listen to your body and give it what it's asking for. Some women find it helpful to start transitioning in this time by including more cooked, starchy vegetables in their diet such as carrots, sweet potatoes, peas, and winter squash.
- Our estrogen is peaking in this time, so this is the last chance to really cash in on that high for the month. 1 If you’ve been reaping the benefits of including lots of phytoestrogen foods, you can continue that for just a little bit longer.
- Now is the time to finish up your creative, high-energy projects. Your ovulatory phase signals the last 2-3 days of this highly productive time, so you might want to finish things up before your body starts to slow down both mentally and physically. 1
- Even if you’re trying for a baby, don’t be afraid of those high intensity workouts in this time. Your body has lots of energy, so use it! You can continue to enjoy the same exercises as in the follicular phase. 1
When you enter the luteal phase, your body is preparing for a possible pregnancy. The lining of your uterus is growing thick with tissue and blood, so that a baby can implant and feel all cozy and safe. 1
When you exit the ovulation phase and enter the luteal phase, your estrogen levels drop like a rock. Then, estrogen and progesterone rise together, with progesterone being the dominant hormone. You’re likely to have less energy both physically and mentally, and you’ll likely be feeling bloated as well. 1
This is also a time when you’re likely to be feeling hungrier than before and you’re also likely to want more carbs. 1 Thou shalt not come between a woman and her pizza!
Fortunately, taking good care of your body during this time can help to minimize unpleasant side effects.
- As stated above, you may be feeling hungrier than usual, and that’s totally normal. If you’re hungry, then eat! Your body is working hard and you are burning more calories in this phase of your cycle. 1
- Start incorporating more complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, peas, and corn. These nutrient rich, energy rich foods will help keep the fatigue and cravings at bay. 1
- If you find that you often get cramps during this phase, you can continue to prioritize omega-3s and antioxidants to help keep your pain levels down. And, of course, since bloating is usually a part of this phase, avoid eating lots of salt, which will aggravate any bloating you experience. 1
- If you haven’t done so already, start transitioning to more cooked foods and fewer raw ones. The extra fiber you’ll get from these foods may also help to rid your body of any excess estrogen that could make the luteal phase more unpleasant and less balanced. 3
- Since progesterone is the dominant hormone in this time, you’re going to want to try and accomplish as many tasks as you can early in the day, since you won’t have the same kind of mental stamina you had in the follicular and ovulatory phases. You’re likely to feel slow and kind of foggy. In fact, progesterone is the hormone that contributes most heavily to “pregnancy brain” since it’s dominant in pregnancy as well. 1 We ladies are susceptible to “luteal phase brain.”
- Now is the time to return to a more gentle exercise routine that focuses on activities like walking, gentle yoga, and light weight lifting. 1 Remember, your body is doing a lot, so don’t feel the need to compensate for extra calories by going on long runs or doing crossfit. Be kind to yourself.
Did you know cycle syncing isn’t a new concept? It’s based in the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach to managing a woman’s monthly cycle. Check out this article to learn about TCM Cycle Management.
A Few Things To Note
What if I don’t know my cycle?
If you’re interested in cycle syncing but you aren’t sure how long each of your cycle phases lasts, then start tracking.
You can use things like cervical mucus, basal body temperature, ovulation tests, and other tools to help you figure out how many days each of your cycle phases typically lasts.
Figuring this out can be a bit of a process, and most women at least three months of tracking before they really know.
What if I don’t have regular cycles?
If you want to do cycle syncing but you don’t have a regular cycle, then you can try following the lunar calendar and move with the phases of the moon.
Many women’s cycles are synchronized to the moon’s phases anyway, so this is a good option if you’re trying to create more regularity in your cycle. If successful, your body will show you her preferred cycle as you move through the phases with care and attention.
Menstruation is typically associated with the full moon and ovulation with the new moon, so start by matching one of those hormonal phases to its respective lunar phase.
What if I’m on birth control?
If you want to do cycle syncing but you’re on birth control or have an IUD, things aren’t quite so poetic.
Hormonal birth control prevents the body from moving through the natural phases of the cycle. 1 You can talk with your doctor about the specifics of what your birth control does to your hormones and treat your body accordingly if that’s something you’re interested in.
But really, cycle syncing is all natural, and birth control is not, so they don’t really work together. This isn’t to say that hormonal birth control is a bad option, it’s just not going to take you through the same phases every month that mother nature will.
Perhaps plan to incorporate cycle syncing into your lifestyle in future if/when you plan to stop birth control.
Embrace Your Womanhood!
Whether you’ve decided cycle syncing is the path for you or not, we hope that this post has inspired you to embrace your femininity in all its phases and changeability.
The heart of cycle syncing is to listen to your body and to give it what it needs in order to thrive and move through life with grace. It’s a practice that owns who we are as women, and no birth control or irregular cycle can take that opportunity away.
So, let’s make a move to support ourselves and our sisters emotionally and physically as we acknowledge our unique physiology and strive to make space for it in our lives and culture
In parting, remember that eating healthy, whole foods, and lots of plant foods is one of the simplest, safest, and most effective things we can do to promote good health in our bodies. As with every preventative/restorative measure though, sometimes these changes alone are not enough to help our bodies function the way we want or need them to. If you are struggling with health problems, please contact your doctor or other healthcare provider such as a Naturopathic Doctor, Dietitian, or Mental Health Professional, to see if they can offer appropriate guidance and care. We at Wholesome Story believe that healthy communities require community effort, so we advise you to keep your healthcare community aware and involved in your journey as you pursue better health.
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- Crawford N. Cycle synching: Optimizing your menstrual cycle phases. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrMuHs4_h2g. Published August 24, 2022. Accessed October 21, 2022.
- Berkheiser K. How to increase estrogen with these 11 power foods. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-with-estrogen#TOC_TITLE_HDR_11. Published December 14, 2021. Accessed October 21, 2022.
- Kubala J. How your diet can affect estrogen levels. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-to-lower-estrogen#tips. Published November 30, 2020. Accessed October 21, 2022.