You may have heard about ‘cycle syncing'. It's a term coined by Alissa Vitti, author of WomanCode (one of the very first books I read on hormones!). And while there's no scientific evidence behind it, it has been practised by women throughout the centuries as a way to harness our hormonal cycle.
From the moment you start your period in puberty, hormones can feel like they’re in control of you! Whether it's feeling overly emotional, angry, tired, snappy or hungry, our fluctuating hormones can affect our performance, relationships and how we feel throughout the month.
Syncing your diet, lifestyle and activities is a powerful tool to harness this hormonal ebb and flow to your advantage.
Understanding the different phases of your menstrual cycle is the first step. Knowing what to do in each phase to help your hormones can help get them working FOR you, not AGAINST you.
The 4 Phases of Your Cycle
Your period is the very start of the follicular phase. Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of your heavy flow. As your uterine lining sheds, your oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels. FSH starts to rise and your ovarian follicles are in a race to be selected for ovulation! Bleeding usually lasts between 3-7 days.
Symptoms; during this week, you may feel a sense of relief (if you suffer from PMS in the lead up to it), but you may also feel tired, withdrawn, pain sensitive and emotionally fragile.
Cycle Syncing in Phase 1
Diet; focus on warming soups, stews, dark leafy greens, root vegetables and healthy comfort foods. Foods rich in iron will help to replace any iron lost during your period (eg meat, dairy, bone broth, beans, legumes). Limit alcohol, caffeine.
Exercise; your energy may be low so don’t overdo things in this phase, focus on gentle walks, yoga and stretching.
Activities; slow down, schedule in some self care like a massage, or facial. Sleep as much as you can (try a nap when you’re tired), and spend some time reflecting or planning – try writing in a journal or doing some meditation. Try not to plan in any demanding work activities.
After your period, your follicular phase continues to get everything ready for ovulation. One follicle is selected to start maturing and FSH stimulates the production of oestrodial which starts to thicken the uterine lining and cervical fluid.
Symptoms; You are at your most fertile at this stage (before ovulation), and you can feel pretty good, as oestrogen is high boosting your mood, sleep, skin and libido (serotonin and dopamine are higher than normal). You may notice some ‘fertile mucus’ around this time (it is wet and slippery to help sperm to swim!).
Cycle Syncing in Phase 2
Diet; focus on protein and cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale) for good detoxification, and seeds like flaxseed and pumpkin to support oestrogen balance. Include foods rich in B vitamins (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, grains)and Vitamin E help to support a healthy ovulation.
Exercise; your energy is good so this is a great time to up the intensity and try some HIIT or heavier weights. Try something new!
Activities; you may feel more sociable in this phase, so book in time with your friends and family. Plan in your most difficult work tasks (the ones you’ve been putting off!), problem solving and productivity are going to be higher in this phase.
The release of an egg is the most important part of your cycle and the culmination of your hormones working together. In this short 1-2 day phase, one of the racing follicles reaches the finish line and triggered by a surge of LH, releases the egg. The egg is swept into the fallopian tubes and will either be fertilized by sperm or it will break down. Even if you’re not trying to get pregnant, ovulation is important because it’s the main source of oestrogen and progesterone.
Symptoms; If you ovulate, some women feel a twinge of pain or sensation as the egg is released.
Cycle Syncing in Phase 3
Diet; focus on anti inflammatory foods rich in antioxidants to support healthy detoxification (green leafy veg, berries, herbs/spices, nuts, seeds, olive oil, garlic, beetroot etc).
Exercise; your energy is still great so keep going with the more intense exercise and maybe a group class for extra social connection and show off your glow!
Activities; you’re in the mood for love! If you’ve got a partner, schedule a date night. If not, go on a new date or meet up with friends for a fun night out.
After ovulation you enter the luteal phase which typically lasts around 12-14 days. The follicle left behind after ovulation miraculously forms a new gland called the Corpus Luteum. This is where progesterone is made. And this hormone is super important!
Progesterone’s main job is to prepare the womb for a healthy pregnancy (pro-gestation is how it got its name). But it does so much more than that. Progesterone is your calming hormone. It helps you sleep, reduces anxiety and balances out oestrogen.
If there’s no pregnancy, the Corpus Luteum will start to break down and oestrogen and progesterone will fall rapidly, stimulating the breakdown of the uterine lining. And you will start another cycle.
Symptoms; During this phase, if you don’t have enough progesterone (or too much oestrogen), you can feel typical PMS symptoms which can include low energy, low mood, irritability, cravings, anxiety, breast tenderness, bloating, breakouts and more.
Cycle Syncing in Phase 4
Diet; Load up on healthy fats and protein to stave off cravings, eat plenty of fibre and hydrate well (limit alcohol and caffeine). Here you might want to get your sunflower and sesame seeds in to support progesterone balance. Also focus on foods rich in magnesium like green leafy veg, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate to help with any excess stress or pain. Supplements can help too (magnesium glycinate, omega 3 DHA/EPA etc). If you have particularly heavy or painful periods, or PMS symptoms, try avoiding dairy products throughout the month to see if this helps.
Exercise; Your energy may dip so take it easier on the exercise, and be kind to yourself. Long baths with magnesium rich Epsom Salts are great in this phase. Gentle stretching can work wonders too.
Activities; Start to wind down the social and heavy work stuff, make sure you get enough good quality sleep and relaxation. Deep breathing exercises can help to relieve tension and stress (try this; inhale for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8 – repeat 5 times).
Track before syncing
Now the huge caveat here is that every woman's body is AMAZING but unique. There are so many complex and moving parts to make this cycle happen so it’s not surprising that every woman will have a different experience.
So it's important to track your cycle and monitor your symptoms and feelings for any patterns. Cycle tracking Apps (eg Flo, Clue, Moody Month and My Sisters) can be really helpful for this (or you can do it the old fashioned way with a calendar!).
Once you understand your own phases, you can experiment with syncing your daily life and find what works for you. Be patient, it may take some time to work out what helps and what doesn't.
If you are struggling or need help, do contact us for details of our support.