Working With Your Menstrual Cycle (Instead of Against it)
Updated: Jul 26
Women aren't often educated on the power of working with their menstrual cycle. For many of us, we've been told that periods are a part of a woman's existence, and that's that. But our menstrual cycle has so much to teach us, and when we learn how to work with it instead of against it, our lives will be more fulfilling, restful, sacred, and self-aware.
So, what exactly is cycle syncing?
Cycle syncing is when you align your lifestyle, like diet, exercise, sleep, work, and social commitments with the different phases of your menstrual cycle to alleviate symptoms associated with hormones and to improve hormone balance. When we learn to understand our body, we can stop fighting against it.
Any woman who has a period can benefit from cycle syncing, whether your symptoms are severe or mild, or if you have a hard time getting through one of the phases due to suffering from PMS. Based on a study conducted in 2016 on a group of women between the ages of 25-46, you're most likely to benefit from cycle syncing if you're:
finding it hard to conceive
having a continuously low libido
It can take approximately up to 3 months to start feeling the benefits of cycle syncing. The symptoms we experience due to hormones isn't a negative thing; it's our bodies trying to tell us something. What would happen if we started listening?
Phase 1: Menstrual Phase
The first phase of a woman's cycle is called the menstrual phase, also known as the follicular phase. This typically lasts between 3-7 days, and it's when a woman bleeds as she sheds the lining of her uterus. During this phase, estrogen and progesterone levels are low, and it's common to experience fatigue and bloating.
EXERCISE: Because energy levels are low during this phase, high-intensity workouts are not recommended. If you'd like to workout, low-impact options are relaxing yoga poses, stretching, or light cardio (hiking or walking).
FOOD: Comfort foods are a big deal during this phase! Focus on eating foods that are high in fiber, iron, antioxidants, and zinc. A few great options are eggs, tofu, fish, sweet potatoes, brown rice, yogurt, lentils, beef, chicken, and nuts.
MENTAL HEALTH: Since this phase causes low energy, it's important to spend time taking care of yourself and looking inward. This doesn't have to be an extensive process. It can look like journaling, meditating, or doing breathing exercises.
Phase 2: Late Follicular Phase
The late follicular phase is the second phase of a woman's cycle, and it can last anywhere between 14-21 days. This phase is when new follicles grow in the ovaries. You might notice your mood and energy increasing while your estrogen levels gradually start to rise.
EXERCISE: With energy levels rising, now's a great time to get back into those high-intensity workouts! Some workouts to include in your late follicular phase are kickboxing, strength training, running, high intensity hikes, or swimming.
FOOD: During this phase, your goal is to eat foods that help muscle growth and repair. It's also important to add in more fiber as a way to support how your body is metabolizing estrogen. Protein-rich options will be your best friend! Those include leafy green veggies, fish, avocados, broccoli, yogurt, olive oil, flaxseeds & pumpkin seeds, and zucchini.
MENTAL HEALTH: You're likely to feel pretty creative during this phase. You also might feel more positive, upbeat, and optimistic! Take this time to do activities that involve brainstorming, planning, socializing with friends, and trying something new!
Phase 3: Ovulation & Mid-Luteal Phase
The ovulation phase typically lasts for 1-2 days. This is when an egg is released from the ovaries. When in this phase, your estrogen and progesterone levels are at their highest, which boots libido, energy levels, and mood.
EXERCISE: In the ovulation phase, you'll still be experiencing increased energy levels, which is great! High-intensity workouts are still an option as they were in the late follicular phase. Take advantage of it!
FOOD: You'll want to eat foods that are full of fiber, give your body strength, and help it to recover. Options include quinoa, eggs, tomatoes, kale, fruits, wholegrain, and leafy green veggies.
MENTAL HEALTH: Mentally, the ovulation phase is a woman's peak mindset. You'll feel magnetic, confident, powerful, and full of life. Now is a great time to socialize with people, plan public speaking engagements if that's a part of your job, collaborate with others, and plan or prepare for things in your life.
Phase 4: Late Luteal Phase
The final phase of a menstrual cycle is the late luteal phase. This is when corpus luteum develops, which is an area of tissue in the ovaries that forms after an egg has been released. Progesterone levels increase during this phase, which can cause breast tenderness, mood changes, and bloating.
EXERCISE: You might have a little bit of energy left in your reserve during this phase, but shortly after, your energy levels tank. Decide to pull back a bit and focus on preparing for the menstrual phase of workouts. This can include, pilates, light strength training, yoga, and low-intensity cardio.
FOOD: Focus on complex carbs, which can help regulate your energy and mood. It's common to experience cravings during this phase; that's completely normal and okay. Listen to what your body is asking for, and respond. Food options for this phase include dark chocolate, berries, fruit, protein, herbal teas, spinach, brown rice, and lentils.
MENTAL HEALTH: During this phase, it's common to experience increased anxiety, and don't be surprised if you find yourself overthinking. Feeling fatigued and less social than usual is a common part of the luteal phase. This is the best time to self-reflect, plan what you're able to (without pushing yourself), and prepare what you need to within your limits.
Give Cycle Syncing a Try
Menstrual cycles are a natural part of a woman's life, and it's important to remove the shame and stigma associated with it. The more we talk about how to make our menstrual cycle work with us instead of against us, the more we'll find ourselves present, in-tune, and aware of our bodies, how they work, and what they're needing from us.
At Root Counseling, we work with women who may be experiencing symptoms related to their menstrual cycle, infertility, miscarriages, traumatic births, and infant loss. To schedule an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.