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Health

How Learning To Track Your Cycle Can Help With Cramps

By Lauren Hand·· 6 min read
Tracking Your Cycle

Periods are a part of every woman’s life, but they don’t have to be the worst part. Charting your cycle will save you so much pain and stress.

“If women ran the world there would never be war; just every 28 days, some severe negotiations.” When the late-comedian Robin Williams said this the crowd had a good laugh, but I think he’s on to something a little bit more here. The classic average number of 28 days in a woman’s menstrual cycle that frequently comes with all the goods: acne, back pain, cramps, fatigue, and irritability, hence the "severe negotiations."

Full disclosure, I got my period at 11, and as my mom sung Mother Nature’s praises, I sighed and just thought this sucks. 11 years later, I’m still in that mindset, and I know that I’ll have an embracing reality conversation with my daughter when she gets hers.

“If women ran the world there would never be war; just every 28 days, some severe negotiations.”

Throughout high school, my PMS symptoms got worse, particularly my cramps. Since I was having these symptoms, I wanted to understand what I was experiencing, and if I could, predict them. In college, I started looking into my fertility and wanted to discover the science behind it all. Before we get started, let me throw out some disclaimers: I’m not, nor have I ever been sexually active, and therefore I'mm not nor have I ever been on artificial birth control of any kind. I think it's especially crucial for you, dear readers, to understand since one of the most common reasons to prescribe the Pill is to relieve menstrual cramps.

It’s Science

Menstruation is not dependent on the Moon, the goddess within, or whatever else you have heard. It’s about hormones and your reproductive organs. If just one thing is out of balance, it will mess with your cycle. My cycle is very regular, and if my Ava (I’ll get to that later) bracelet tells me that I’ll get my period on a specific day, it’s usually within three days of that target. Since this is the case, when I don't get my period right on time I know somethings up. For me, it's usually stress that messes with my cycle, but that is the key to the importance of charting.

Menstruation is not dependent on the Moon, the goddess within, or whatever else you have heard. It’s about hormones and your reproductive organs.

Take last month for example. I was in the midst of my last semester of graduate school, giving season (I work in development), and planning a wedding…and as predicted, my period came a week late. Your cycle can give you all the clues. Stress is something that can mess with your cycle, but so can things like artificial birth control since its pumping your body with artificial hormones instead of the natural ones it wants to create. Fertility Based Awareness Methods (FBAM) of family planning are ways to track your natural cycle and still help you prevent pregnancy or get pregnant, depending on your situation.

What’s Charting?

Charting is precisely what it sounds like. It's a method of keeping track of your cycle - ALL of it, not just when you get your period. There are plenty of different methods for doing this. If you’re new to this charting world, don’t be intimidated. It’s actually much more manageable than you think! Also charting your cycle can give you insight on how the rest of your body is doing (diet, exercise, etc.).

It is a method of keeping track of your cycle - ALL of it, not just when you get your period.

If you’re willing to invest a bit of money, which I think is definitely worth it, check out the Ava bracelet that I mentioned earlier. I’m getting married this summer and bought this as a way to chart my cycle without thinking. You wear Ava while you’re sleeping and sync it every morning - she tracks it all for you! I’ve loved how easy the Ava app is. I can keep an eye on all aspects of my cycle, log how I’m feeling every day, and just have it all on my phone. The app is also able to be shared on someone else’s phone (my fiancé is just thrilled about this). The Ava bracelet uses the symptom-thermal method to track your cycle which is based on your internal body temperature which ebbs and flows depending on the time in your cycle.

Get Moving and Eat Right

You’re talking to a girl who gets cramps that are debilitating to the point that I can't stand. This is going to sound like I’m your mom, but bear with me. Honestly, the best remedy for me and these cramps has been my diet and exercise. If I’m good the month prior, eat lots of veggies, red meat, exercise, and don’t have too much sugar - I maybe have to take one Tylenol, and I’m good to go. If I don’t…well, you know.

Honestly, the best remedy for me and these cramps has been my diet and exercise.

I’m talking about a healthy diet and exercise. Please don’t get your BMI (Body Mass Index) down to 10-15% because that’s actually really harmful to your fertility. Exercise enough to keep your muscles lean and active because this actually helps with cramping all over your body, and oftentimes, exercises work out your uterine wall (Bet you didn’t know that, huh?). My roommate recently got me going to Barre classes with her which I really love because they're a muscle and a circulatory workout and that means better blood flow, which means more comfortable periods. Cramps usually happen because of inflamed muscles. You know how to fix that? That’s right, exercise and eating anti-inflammatory foods.

Cramps usually happen because of inflamed muscles. You know how to fix that? That’s right, exercise and eating anti-inflammatory foods.

Alright, on to diet. Having a balanced diet is obviously essential for overall health, but certain foods are powerhouses for your period. Meet spinach, your new best friend. Spinach is chock full of a majorly necessary sustainer for your period, IRON. Depending on how heavy your flow is, and how long it lasts, you could be losing anywhere from one to four pints of blood, so let’s get eating.

Take an Iron Supplement

This is my favorite. My game plan for diet is usually the following: I take my Iron supplement every day, regardless of moment in my cycle, and then about two days before I get my period until about two days after I make a smoothie every morning with spinach, almond milk, fresh ginger, avocados, blueberries, bananas, flax seeds, plant-based protein, vanilla, and cinnamon.

Closing Thoughts

Of course, I live in the real world and know that school, work, wedding planning, or whatever else gets in the way of life so you can’t always be on top of your diet, but just try and I promise it will make a difference. Although, here’s some practical stuff to keep in your office in case your cramps start at work: an electric heating pad that you can put on your lap under a blanket while you’re in your desk chair, some dark chocolate covered almonds, and a handy bottle of pain reliever.

Happy Charting!

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