Periods are something that have many connotations, and not all of them are positive.
Aside from the perils of period pain — which, according to Women’s Health Concern, around 80 per cent of women experience at some stage in their life — there’s a whole host of side effects that period-havers experience even on days when they’re not bleeding that can all be linked to the trusty menstrual cycle.
Per a study published in Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics, the monthly menstrual cycle — particularly the hormonal fluctuations — plays a significant role in bodily responses, including appetite, thought processes, and emotional status to name a few.
As part of that study, participants said they experienced high levels of self-esteem and general wellbeing in the middle of their cycle — especially in ovulation — but prior to their actual period — which is the first phase of the four-phase cycle — they reported feelings of depression, hostility and anxiety.
Some health experts, however, believe that problems like such associated with the menstrual cycle can be avoided altogether if period-havers pay attention to their cycle, and adjust their diet, exercise routine, sex and work habits to take advantage of the changes in hormones.
This is where the term ‘cycle syncing’ comes into play, which is a practice that allows period-havers to, essentially, hack their period by leaning into the menstrual cycle. Here’s everything you need to know about cycle syncing.
What is cycle syncing and does cycle syncing actually work?
Nutritionist Alisa Vitti introduced — and eventually trademarked — the term ‘cycle syncing’ in her book WomanCode, which centred on ways women are affected throughout the month by hormonal fluctuations.
Vitti, who went on to found the FloLiving Hormone Centre and created the period tracker app MyFlo, argued that many life hacks, especially those that focus on scheduling things at specific times throughout the day, are largely ignorant of women’s hormonal changes — as it’s the hormones of men that fluctuate throughout the day.
Women, meanwhile, follow a monthly cycle. And the benefits of tracking the cycle and planning activities depending on the cycle’s stage, according to Vitti, mean women can get ahead in their health, relationships and careers.
For example, halfway between their periods — during ovulation — women are more likely to feel energetic and be more mesmerising. Vitti says in her book that ovulation, therefore, aligns with women achieving more success in their lives, such as promotions at work or being more likely asking for a pay rise.
During the menses, Vitti says the brain’s communication between the right and left hemispheres is improved, which means it’s an ideal time to use it as a period to slow down and reflect.
As for the legitimacy of cycle syncing as a health practice, although there aren’t many studies that support the practice of cycle syncing — and the ones that do exist are dated or poorly executed — anecdotally, many that practice cycle syncing say they’re never going back.
Aimee Eyvazzadeh, a reproductive endocrinologist, told Kin Fertility that cycle syncing is based on the medical concept reproductive physiology.
“Almost every aspect of your life can be affected by where you are in your cycle: your sex life, appetite, metabolism, and mood, just to name several,” Eyvazzadeh, who also highlighted the importance of the menstrual cycle’s stages when trying to conceive, said.
There are multiple studies that do support the notion that emotional, mental and physical states change in line with the menstrual cycle — including one in the International Journal of Eating Disorders that says women are more likely to emotionally eat before their period and during — however, cycle syncing itself does lack concrete academic evidence, therefore a lot of women look to it as a self-care practice moreso than a medical practice.
Women’s health specialist and functional nutritionist Nicole Negron told Healthline: “Once women understand these monthly hormonal shifts, they can avoid becoming casualties to their hormones and begin to maximise their hormonal power.”
Alexandra Abikhair, who has been cycle syncing since she was diagnosed with endometriosis and adenomyosis, told the Sydney Morning Herald that while she initially tracked her period to prepare for the period pain, she also started observing what was happening to her around her menses phase.
“I noticed things like the fact that in my pre-menstrual phase I’m really capable of making a decision, which is normally hard for me,” the 33-year-old told the publication.
“Knowing my boundaries of capability and then retrofitting the world around that, what I can control at least, has really helped. Now, if I’m booking meetings in advance I’ll have a quick look at my chart and see if I can push it out a few days so it’s in my [follicular phase] so I’m more outgoing. Ovulation is when I’m able to give a bit more in terms of time and effort. [The luteal phase] is good for editing — I get into my inbox and tidy up, get into my to-do list and tick it off, clean out the fridge, meal prep for my period.”
How can you cycle sync?
If you’re interested in cycle syncing, it’s important to be aware of the time, commitment and expenses required to successfully practice it.
Reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist Dr. Elizabeth Fino told The New York Times in 2019 that it is an expensive practice that requires a lot of time to somewhat master. A lot of birth control methods may be more suitable for you if you’re only looking to regularise your periods, depending on your lifestyle. Cycle syncing is not a form of birth control.
The easiest way to cycle sync is to use a period tracking app or calendar to keep track of your symptoms — including your libido and what your food cravings and energy levels are like — and how they change, but some recommend keeping a journal as well for in-depth, individualised notes. You’ll also want to understand the length of your menstrual cycle, which you can do by marking the first day of your period in your calendar or tracking app, and count the days until your next period begins.
It’s usually recommended to spend a few months getting acquainted with your regular cycle before you change things up, especially if you’ve just come off hormonal birth control, as that would have changed how in touch you are with your natural rhythm.
Cycle syncing will not work as effectively if you’re on hormonal birth control, as hormonal birth control essentially stops your regular menstrual cycle.
Cycle syncing your food
Vitti says that changing your diet based on what stage of the cycle you’re in is the most impactful, but each person’s specific bodily requirements are different.
Using your app, calendar and/or journal to track your symptoms, you can subsequently track what stage of the cycle you’re in based off the app’s advice.
A majority of women need more calories between ovulation and menstruation, which means at this time, period-havers should try to stabilise their blood sugar by eating more complex carbohydrates — which can be found in foods such as peas, beans, whole grains, and vegetables — than usual.
During ovulation and the luteal phase — the stage before menstruation — period-havers may need extra help with estrogen metabolism, which occurs in the liver. Hence, try to eat foods rich in vitamins A, B and C, and glutathione — also known as leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.
During the luteal phase specifically, because it is before menstruation, some nutritionists advise staying away from foods that could trigger discomfort or period pains, like caffeine. This also includes avoiding alcohol, carbonated drinks or artificial sweeteners, red meat, dairy and anything with added salt.
Regarding menstruation itself, to stabilise your mood, favour foods rich in fatty acids — such as avocado and salmon — plus root vegetables such as beetroot and carrot are ideal for the needed vitamin A. Some dietitians also recommend choosing foods that are nourishing and warm, like soups, stews and iron-rich foods like grass-fed meat to support blood loss.
READ MORE: What 100 calories of fruit looks like
Cycle syncing your fitness
Hormonal fluctuations not only influence your dietary requirements, they also influence how much exercise and what types of exercise you should be doing. As with dietary requirements, however, each individual body is different and may benefit from more personalised advice than the below.
Generally, try yoga or walking during menstruation, as that’s when energy levels are at their lowest and rest is key. High-intensity workouts should be avoided at this stage, as that’s when period-havers are more sensitive to pain, and high-impact exercises can stress uterine ligaments.
Move onto exercises that do work up a sweat but aren’t at a super high intensity during the follicular phase, such as light runs or hiking, but get ready to ramp up your exercise routines as ovulation hits.
During ovulation, testosterone and estrogen levels peak — the opposite to the first half of the cycle — meaning high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and spin classes are ideal. You can push yourself a little harder than usual at this stage.
After ovulation — the luteal phase — progesterone rises while testosterone and estrogen levels fall, meaning strength training, pilates and intense yoga is the best way to maintain fitness at this time, based on what’s happening in your body.
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