Getting in Sync with your menstrual cycle is like learning to ride a bike. At first, it may be intimidating, however, once you learn the mechanics & after you’ve committed to practice riding, it becomes something of a second nature - you never forget how it works.
As women, we experience a cycle each month. Now when I say ‘menstrual cycle’, I’m talking about the entire cycle, not just when you’re actively bleeding. The menstrual cycle consists of the time between the first day that your period begins to the day before your next period. On average, a menstrual cycle lasts about 28-29 days, although, many women may experience shorter or longer cycles, depending upon their individual reproductive health. Although the ‘average’ woman’s cycle may last 28 days, a healthy & normal cycle can last anywhere between 25-36 days.
The time in-between your periods is really where all of the magic happens. Your menses (bleeding time aka period) literally would not exist if it weren’t for all of the biochemistry happening within your ovaries & uterus during the time that you are not bleeding. Believe me when I say there is so much happening without you even realizing. Events are occurring such as ovulation, and the thickening of your uterine lining (which eventually results in the shedding of it, leading to your monthly bleed), as well as fluctuating hormones that ultimately drive how you feel physically, emotionally & energetically throughout the entire month.
The best part is that once you have the foundational knowledge of what’s going on within your cycle, you can capitalize on the events occurring, and use them to your advantage. No more unexpected mood swings, no more questioning when you’re going to get your next period, no more hesitations on planning your social life (because we all have experienced making a plan with someone, only to feel completely different about it on the day of, am I right?). You CAN learn to sync in & align with your cycle, and once you do, you never forget.
In order to get in sync with your menstrual cycle, you must first understand how it works. It is truly a complex, yet simplistic system. I’m going to walk you through each phase of the menstrual cycle, as indicated in the graph below.
Cycle day 1 (for accounting purposes), begins on the first day of your period. From there, you experience your bleed for about 5-7 days. After you’ve finished bleeding, you enter into the beginning stages that will result in your next monthly bleed.
The Follicular Phase ~ This phase on average lasts about 7-8 days and during this time your body starts to produce FSH (Follicular Stimulating Hormone) and Estrogen, hormones that work to stimulate follicle growth in the ovaries & prepare an egg for maturity while also thickening the lining of your uterus. This phase is very much like the Spring season. During this time, your energy levels will begin to rise out of the period-slumps and you may feel more adventurous, curious & excited to try new things. To sync in with this phase of your cycle, you need to give your body the tools to do its job. Your ovaries & uterus are working really hard during this time and require specific nutrients to help support their work. Healthy fats & cholesterol found in eggs and grass-fed animal products help to provide the building blocks necessary to produce the hormones working during this phase. Avocados, oysters & pumpkin seeds are rich sources of zinc, which help to support healthy egg development. Probiotic-rich fermented foods like sauerkraut & yogurt help to support the gut, which is very important because any excess hormones get eliminated through a healthy functioning digestive tract. Make sure to consume plenty of fresh, nutrient-packed wholesome foods during this time, and explore the exciting new energy that is produced for you during this phase, and use it to your advantage! This is a great time to try new things like attending a class at the new yoga studio that just opened up, or hanging out with new friends.
The Ovulatory Phase ~ This phase is one of the shortest, lasting only a few days until the event of ovulation actually occurs. During this Summery-time of your cycle, your hormones peak and you experience a rise in Estrogen & Testosterone, which both work to give you a big ol’ boost of confidence and a driving libido. During your follicular phase, your body may have started to produce some cervical fluid (looks like discharge on your undies or when you wipe) - nothing to be afraid of here, your body is just letting you know you’re fertile! So, if you see this discharge, either take extra precaution with sexual relations, or use it to your advantage if you are trying to get pregnant. Just keep in mind that you are the most fertile leading up to ovulation. During this short phase, to support the best ovulatory outcome, you’ll want to consume lots of antioxidant-rich foods like raw fruits & vegetables such as berries, citrus, bell peppers, and tomatoes. You may actually find that you crave lighter, fresher foods during this time, like salads, sushi or fresh squeezed juice. While your hormones are rising, you may feel light & energetic yourself. This is a great time to be social, schedule dates, and give presentations. The world is yours during these precious moments!
The Luteal Phase ~ This is the longest phase of your cycle, which is why it’s sometimes considered the “2nd Half”. This phase may last anywhere between 10-20 days! Just like Autumn, this phase creeps in slowly and prepares you for winter. In the beginning of this phase, your hormones may still be really high, specifically Testosterone, which may give you a lingering feeling of confidence & productivity. This is a great time to schedule meetings or resolve difficult conversations. Your ovaries also begin to bring another hormone into the mix - Progesterone. Progesterone raises your body temperature & stimulates your appetite, so during this time you may feel a bit like hibernating - eating & resting. During the middle-second half of this phase, the rest of your hormones begin to steadily drop while progesterone continues to rise, giving way to feeling more tired, less-productive & content with life. In some cases, Estrogen may still be lingering around, and can even be rising in relation to Progesterone. If this happens (also known as Estrogen-Dominance), you may feel emotional, irritated, anxious or depressed (common PMS symptoms). You may also experience headaches or digestive disturbances like bloating, indigestion and/or nausea. Cruciferous vegetables are really wonderful during this phase because they help to support liver health & digestive function so that your body can work to get rid of the excess estrogen. You may also crave heartier, richer foods during this time like soups/stews, roasts & dark chocolate. Through these cravings your body is asking you for plenty of mineral-rich, nutrient-dense foods like sweet potatoes, winter squash, beans & red meat.
The Menstrual Phase ~ Here we are, back to cycle day 1, the beginning of your next period & the completion of the cycle. During this time of bleeding, your body releases all that it has been growing & storing within your uterus all month. This phase represents itself like winter, with intensity yet stillness. Your hormones are at their absolute lowest, which may make you feel like turning inward and spending more time reflecting & creating instead of socializing. However you feel during this time is perfectly fine. In fact, allowing yourself to rest while you bleed may help take the edge off of any cramps you experience. Allow yourself to relax because your body truly needs the rest & recuperation during this time. While you are bleeding, you may be losing a lot of good nutrients, so bringing those back in is very helpful in supporting your body to get ready for the next cycle. Mineral-rich foods like fish, sea vegetables, red meat (try organ meats if you can tolerate them), mushrooms, beets and other root vegetables will help to replenish that which is lost. If you do happen to experience a lot of intense cramping, heavy bleeding and/or large clots, it may also be a result of excess estrogen in your system. Instead of reaching for the ibuprofen right away, perhaps try some inflammation-modulating things like a warm & cozy mug of golden milk turmeric latte or red raspberry leaf tea. And of course, rest, relaxation & warmth can also help to take the edge off.
With a little patience, observation & practice, just like riding a bike, you can learn the different phases of your cycle for yourself and how they manifest in your life. The examples I have given above are very generalized. Some women may experience things differently, and that’s okay. The important thing to remember is that we are all unique, therefor our bodies may express themselves differently as well. The goal with cycle syncing is to tune into your individual patterns and harmonize with what your body wants. Listening & paying attention to your flow is the very first step in becoming in sync with your menstrual cycle.
To learn more about cycle syncing, grab your copy of the Align Your Cycle Journal, a personal journal for syncing your nutrition, mindset & self-care with your menstrual cycle phases.
*Please note ~ women who are on hormonal birth control or who do not experience a monthly bleed due to being post-menopausal or by having had a hysterectomy or ovariectomy, may experience things very differently. Hormonal birth control works by disrupting the natural hormonal cycle in a woman in order to inhibit ovulation. Therefore, it may be more difficult for women on birth control to find patterns within their cycle because they do not have the hormonal fluctuations available to sync with. A simple way to connect with these phases if you are either not bleeding, or are on birth control, is to adhere to the cycle phase recommendations alongside the lunar cycle. The Follicular Phase - Waxing Moon, the Ovulatory Phase - Full Moon, the Luteal Phase - Waning Moon, and the Menstrual Phase - New Moon. If you are considering going off of hormonal birth control, syncing in with the lunar phases may help to support balance to your natural hormonal rhythms.
Ashe Milkovic, NTP is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Functional Hormone Specialist focusing in the field of women's reproductive health.