As the tide flows in and out, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and the seasons of the year come and go, nature does its designs in rhythmic cycles. Your body is not exempt from being guided by its own rhythm: the infradian rhythm that takes you through your monthly hormonal cycle.
From a young age, we’re taught to only be mindful of when we’re bleeding and throw all cares to the wind when we’re not. There’s a major education gap for most young women on how hormones affect you 24/7, instead of just when you’re menstruating, and those impacts span from the nutrients you need to the rigor of exercise you should get and even the stress you put on your body during rest. Say hello to the concept of living according to your cycle, a method of adapting your lifestyle to your body’s infradian rhythm.
Think about it, since there are four distinct phases your body goes through during the month and each one affects your physiology in its own unique way, it makes sense to try tailoring your lifestyle to keep your hormones balanced naturally and feel your best. The benefits? Many women who try living according to their cycle say that it helps them naturally balance their hormones, regulate their periods, reduce PMS symptoms, and even optimize their fertility.
1. Master Your Knowledge of the Four Phases
Before you even think about making lifestyle changes, you need to understand the four phases of a woman’s cycle: the menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulatory phase, and luteal phase.
Your menstrual phase starts with day one of your period and lasts for about three to seven days, depending on how long your period is.
Your follicular phase also technically starts when your period starts and lasts for about 13 days. During this phase, your ovary is developing an egg in a follicle, hence the follicular phase.
Your ovulatory phase is very short (just one day!) and takes place about 14 days after the first day of your period. This is when you ovulate.
Your luteal phase is anywhere from 11 to 17 days but is typically 14 days long and ends with the start of your period. Your luteal phase is named after the corpus luteum, a temporary organ that’s formed from the empty follicle and now makes progesterone.
2. Understand the Best Nutritional Practices for Each Phase
One factor you can easily control to support your body throughout your cycle and balance your hormones is being mindful of the food you eat. If you’re nourishing yourself with key macro and micronutrients tailored to each phase of your cycle, your body will know to produce the correct hormones instead of going in fight-or-flight mode and producing stress hormones.
Eating the key nutrients for each phase of your cycle will help your body produce the correct hormones.
Now, you don’t need to restrict yourself from eating something you really want if it doesn’t exactly line up with the phase you’re in, but if you’re trying to start eating according to your cycle, use the following food ideas as your guide to give yourself the best, most supportive boost of nutrients possible.
During your menstrual phase, you’ll want to support your body by building up iron, making sure you can actually absorb that iron, and incorporating anti-inflammatory ingredients to successfully battle any cramps.
For protein, you should eat beef (especially liver, which is an overlooked Godsend for iron), fish, and poultry.
For carbs and fats, you should eat lentils, beans, chickpeas, beets, mushrooms, dark leafy greens (kale, chard, spinach, collard greens), mangos, pineapples, papayas, strawberries, cherries, and citrus fruits.
Try adding in the following anti-inflammatory herbs and spices to your cooking or beverages: turmeric, ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, cumin, parsley.
During your follicular phase, you’ll want to give yourself an extra bit of vitamin and mineral love, and I don’t just mean from supplements. This is the time when your body is building up energy and needs estrogen-building nutrients.
For protein, you should eat beef, fish, poultry, lamb, dairy, and eggs.
For carbs and fats, you should eat quinoa, brown rice, oats, sweet potatoes, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, walnuts, almonds, avocados, bananas, apricots, blueberries, apples, artichokes, green peas, green beans, snap peas, and sprouts.
During your ovulatory phase, your estrogen and testosterone are both very high, so the foods you eat should be those which help detox excess hormones. Make sure to prioritize fiber-rich, hydrating foods that are high in water content to decrease bloating and keep your bowels moving.
For protein, you should eat beef, cold water fish, shellfish, and eggs.
For carbs and fats, you should eat broccoli, cauliflower, leafy greens, potatoes, eggplants, squashes, zucchinis, cucumbers, radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, bell peppers, plums, peaches, pears, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, goji berries, berries, pistachios, macadamia nuts, and sunflower seeds.
During your luteal phase, you’ll want to enjoy very nourishing, nutrient-dense foods that promote the healthiest uterine lining possible. These foods would ideally boost your progesterone levels and stabilize your blood sugar.
For protein, you should eat beef, salmon, oysters, tuna, poultry, shellfish, and sip on plenty of bone broth.
For carbs and fats, you should eat sweet potato, brown rice, plantains, whole wheat grains, black beans, chickpeas, carrots, cabbage, kale, chard, bananas, figs, raspberries, avocados, sunflower seeds, and almonds.
3. Stay Properly Hydrated
Okay, so you’ve got a good idea of the right foods to eat, but what do you wash it all down with? Well, water is key to start, but let’s take a look at a few great drink ideas to support your body during each phase of your cycle.
During your menstrual phase, your gut microbiome could use some TLC. Fermented or probiotic drinks like kombucha, water kefir, kvass, apple cider vinegar, ginger ale, and natural sodas will give your gut the healthy bacteria it needs. If you get weary of plain water, try herbal teas.
The obvious one: water. But otherwise, support the extra energy your body craves naturally with frozen fruit ice cubes in your water, fruit-infused water, fresh juices, and smoothies.
Again, get the hydration you need first from water and then enjoy some lighter beverage options like fresh juices. Since you need extra fiber during this time, fibrous vegetables and fruits in a smoothie or an extra greens powder can really help you out.
Okay, water first! Next, get real comfy with bone broth, vegetable broth, and herbal teas. Pick comforting beverages and be mindful of your caffeine consumption during this time.
4. Accept That Your Libido Will Ebb and Flow
Whether you like it or not, your sex drive will fluctuate alongside your changing hormone levels. When you’re in your menstrual phase, your lower estrogen levels will reduce your libido. Then, as your body is ramping up during its follicular phase and peaking in the ovulatory phase, your estrogen hits its high point. At this time, you’ll likely feel the most sexual desire and if you’re trying to conceive, lucky you! You’ll be at peak fertility.
Your sex drive will fluctuate alongside your changing hormone levels.
When you’re living in rhythm with your cycle and paying more attention to your body’s natural desires, cervical mucus, and energy levels during each phase, you can much more easily conceive during the right window of time or avoid pregnancy naturally to the best of your ability. Keep in mind that you're only fertile for three to five days of your cycle: the day of ovulation and up to five days before that (that's how long sperm can live in your body!). An egg only lives for about 24 hours once it's been released from the ovary.
5. Be Mindful of Your Lifestyle Choices
While you can’t be in control of every aspect of your day-to-day life, there are a few lifestyle choices which could help you tap into the right energy depending on what phase you're in. Don’t stress if family, work, travel, or any other obligations keep you from following these lifestyle tips to a tee; instead, you should use this advice as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules.
During your menstrual phase, you should take a step back and slow down. Resting during this time can be important if you’re feeling a bit more tired than usual. This is a great phase to be reflective while you’re feeling reserved by journaling and planning. You likely will feel your least creative, so indulge in a bit of mindless media if that's your thing.
Hey, social butterfly, you’re probably feeling much more productive and creative during your follicular phase. If you can swing it, do your biggest brainstorming and project planning during this phase. Take advantage of your extra energy by spending more time out and about with family and friends.
The ovulatory phase is often when a woman is her most fertile. You’ll likely have a heightened sex drive and feel extra confident. Though this phase is short, this is the best time to tap into that confident side and try things out you might have felt a bit sheepish about, whether that’s something new in bed or something totally unrelated to your libido like asking for a raise, going on an interview, or trying a new hobby for the first time.
While the term self-care can often get misconstrued, your luteal phase is definitely a time for taking care of yourself. Your energy will likely dip, so instead of straining yourself to go out for a happy hour you’re not really in the mood for, take a rain check and spend some reflective time at home. Give yourself a manicure, try baking a new recipe, and enjoy a quiet moment or two with a good book. If you’re going out and about, shift your social gatherings to more low-key outings like coffee shop dates or beauty appointments.
6. Try Working Out Smarter, Not Harder
Though we can work out like men if we want to, choosing your exercise routines with your cycle in mind is a method that accounts for your natural hormonal shifts and takes advantage of the different levels of energy and strength you’re feeling during them. Training alongside your menstrual cycle doesn’t mean you don’t get to train at all; instead, it means that you adjust your workouts to prevent unnecessary fatigue and enjoy better recovery.
It may feel easy to assume that the most important part of a workout is the physical motion itself, but recovery is equally as important. Think about it: When you lift weights, for example, you’re tearing your muscles. Those tears are tiny, but once healed, they make you stronger and improve your endurance. If you’re always pushing yourself far beyond your limits, your body won’t recover and your muscles will feel as though they're under constant stress. This logic explains why weightlifters prefer to split up routines that rotate muscle groups instead of working out the same muscles every day.
This would look like a “down” week for you, where you’d tone down your normal exercise routines by decreasing time and weight or swapping out for lighter activities like yoga, biking, swimming, and walking.
You’re exiting your “down” week and working your way back to more intense levels of training. During this time, your body would be coming off a rest period, so you’ll want to warm up and wind down with good stretching after you finish exercising.
While your energy is at its peak in between the follicular and ovulatory phases, you can take advantage of that extra pep in your step and go a bit harder on your body. Whether that’s lifting heavier weights or biking longer and harder, your body can handle a bit more stress.
This is when you’d begin to taper back down to a less intense, more aerobic style of exercise. You aren’t in total rest mode yet, so you could think of this time period as doing medium-intensity workouts but for longer durations.
For more information about exercising and eating in accordance with your cycle, as well as for exercise videos paired to each phase, sign up for the free feminine fitness platform, 28.
7. Accept That You Won’t Get It Perfect…Yet
Adopting new habits is no walk in the park. For many of us, regularly remembering to do something outside our typical flow of life is trial and error until it becomes second nature. This is especially true with something like transforming your lifestyle to be in rhythm with your cycle, which requires you to really hone in on what your body is telling you, and what you're telling your body through your habits.
Adjust your workouts to your cycle to prevent unnecessary fatigue and enjoy better recovery.
When adopting new habits, you should try a variety of methods to hold yourself accountable. Some tried and true techniques are things like journaling about the emotions and physical changes you feel on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, learning a fertility awareness method that tracks your progress through your cycle, noting on your calendar when you believe you move into the next phase, and also having a buddy along for the journey so that you two can keep each other motivated.
8. Explore Different Options To Track Your Cycle
The length of each phase, as outlined above, is just an estimate, and your own phase lengths will likely be uniquely longer or shorter. Here’s how you can start tracking your cycles.
When you start your period, make note that you started your menstrual phase. Then, once your period ends, your body is in its follicular phase. One of the best ways to figure out when you move from your follicular phase to your ovulation phase is by tracking the changes in your cervical mucus from day to day. The closer you get to ovulation, the more your cervical mucus resembles egg whites: clear, stretchy, slippery, and lots of it!
Other than observing your cervical mucus changes, you can use your basal body temperature to know when you have ovulated and moved into your luteal phase. Your basal body temperature is your resting body temperature, and you take it first thing every morning with a special thermometer. After ovulation, your BBT will rise about 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit in response to the production of progesterone. Tracking your BBT can help you know that you have ovulated (it can’t predict it), and you can start seeing the pattern develop after tracking it for a few cycles. If you didn’t get pregnant, then the temperature will fall as your progesterone level declines, signaling for your period to come.
If you want a coach or teacher to help you learn your body’s signals and to discover the patterns of your unique cycle, then a teacher certified in a fertility awareness method like Creighton, Billings, or Marquette could be the right option for you.
9. Know That You Might Not Be Able To Do It…Yet
Many of us, unfortunately, deal with irregular periods or don’t have a period at all due to birth control, chronic illness, pregnancy, or breastfeeding. You may understandably feel a bit of FOMO by not being able to live according to your natural cycle. In that case, don’t fret! While you’re working on getting your hormones back in balance or aren’t quite done breastfeeding your child, you can try matching your menstrual cycle with the moon.
Don’t feel discouraged, there’s a lot out there that can temporarily disrupt your hormones but with patience and extra care, you can get back to being balanced. If you’re struggling with regular cycles and have only ever been advised to get back on birth control to regulate your periods, then it may be time to reach out to an Ob/Gyn who incorporates natural methods, a naturopathic doctor, or a functional medicine provider. Then, once the underlying causes of your menstrual irregularities are addressed, you can test out living in accordance with your cycle to fully regulate your cycle.
What’s particularly helpful about a platform like 28 is that it provides an all-in-one destination for a woman to demystify and simplify living in rhythm with your cycle, every step of the way. Trying to figure out the right ingredients to cook with or the best workouts to follow that honor your body’s cycling hormones rather than working against them can be intimidating. With 28, you simply track your cycle and you’re provided with corresponding workout options, scientifically sound nutritional guidance, and feminine advice and inspiration.
Womanhood is beautiful, and it’s certainly dynamic. We’re taught to be inflexible with our bodies instead of respecting the weekly and even daily changes we experience, but we don’t have to fight against the current if we don’t want to. As more women wake up to the dangers of hormonal birth control and reclaim the uniqueness of their bodies, it’s only natural to feel curious about optimizing your daily life by living according to your cycle. Interested? Give it a shot, and let us know how you feel!
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