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Cycle living is something that I have recently become more passionate about. After getting off birth control after 10 years of being on it I realized I didn’t know much about my cycle. All I really knew is that women ovulate and have a period, I had never even heard of the other two phases, and I wasn’t even sure what my hormones did for my cycle and when they changed levels. At first, it all seemed so overwhelming, but after really breaking it down into each phase I realized how much power I had if I just payed attention to what my body was trying to tell me. I not only felt different, but also thought different during each week of the month, and instead of thinking and feeling powerless to all of this happening to me, I realized that it actually gave me an even greater control of my life.
By realizing and recognizing which phase I was in during the week I could work out, eat, and plan my social life to better fit me and how I was feeling, which in turn has led to less burn outs and break downs. I am not saying that doesn’t still happen occasionally, but it is no where near the amount I was getting before. Life will still happen in ways you can’t control, but understanding and taking the reins on the parts that you can control has been eye opening to say the least!
I have done a blog post in the past specifically around the Traditional Chinese Medicine ideas of food and the menstural cycle, so you can turn food into medicine, and since then I have gotten more and more questions in my practice about the phases in the cycle and thought this was a great way to break it down even more. There is some overlap in the food section to the previous blog, but I have added more information from a western standpoint of food as well.
***Side note: this is assuming that you have a fairly normal cycle with little to know major complaints. Additional food, herbs, and of course acupuncture can be added to this to help with cramps, late, early, or irregular menses. As well as bloating, acne, back pain and muscle pain/weakness, all of which can be related to certain phases of your cycle!
PHASE ONE: MENSTRUAL
Hormones all decline to their lowest levels. This opens up the greatest communication through the month for your left and right sides of your brain, meaning it’s a great time for your analytical (left) side and your feeling (right) side to think and feel and then create a game plan for how to proceed. It is a great time in the month to journal and reflect.
Your energy is at it’s lowest at the start of your period, so exercise may not be on the top of your list at the start of this phase, listen to your body and let it rest. As the week goes on you can move into lighter more yin exercise, such as walking or yoga.
Nutrients are important during this phase so focus on proteins, healthy fats, as well as veggies and fruits to keep your blood sugar steady. Seafood and kelp can help give you more iron and zinc which is lost during your cycle. From a TCM stand point:
Add: Comfort foods such as stews, casseroles, whole grains, root veggies
Avoid: Dairy, Alcohol, Spicy foods as much as you can
PHASE TWO: FOLLICULAR
All hormones are low and slowly are starting to increase. This increase in hormones brings the mind to a point where is is more creative and open to new things. It is a great time to start a new project and set your intentions for the month ahead. This is a great time to say YES to invites after what can be a little hibernation time during your menses. Go to an outside event or concert, anything where you can be active and on your feet!
As far as exercise goes, its a great time to try some new classes, or take a different hike. You can move more out of the yin style exercise into something a little more stimulating.
For foods eat things that make you feel light and energized. In TCM we are looking for foods that build Yin and Blood, during this phase the endometrium is being built.
The foods listed below are nourishing food for both Yin and Blood
Add: Protein Rich Foods- beans, fish, eggs, meats, cooked leafy greens, shellfish, beets, sweet rice, apricots, cherries, grapes
Avoid: Sugar, Excess salt and processed food, as well as dairy, alcohol, and spicy foods
PHASE THREE: OVULATION
All of your hormone are increasing. FSH rises followed by the rise of LH (luteinizing hormone) which stimulates the follicle to release an egg. Estrogen increases and further thickens the uterine lining. While Testosterone spikes which increases desire. Your verbal and social parts of your brain are heightened, which makes this a great time to speak your mind, your energy is magnetic during this phase. Go to dinner with friends, head out to parties, just get out and be social!
Your energy is at a high during this phase, so you have more then enough energy to burn! High impact or yang exercise is great during this phase of your cycle.
Raw veggies and fruit are great during this part of your cycle, because they are easy to metabolize and helps to get rid of excess estrogen that likes to hang around. From a TCM prospective this is when we switch from Yin into Yang so the focus for your foods during this time is to support that.
Add: Lighter foods- fish, quinoa, salads, cooked beets, whole grains, chicken, ginger, cinnamon, onions
PHASE FOUR: LUTEAL
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are all at their peaks, and fall right before cleaning begins. Your brain is wired for task oriented projects. This is the time of the month where I love lists and crossing things off them. Organization comes much easier during this phase. PMS can occur during this phase and is usually cause from too much estrogen in comparison to progesterone.
This phase is between 10-14 days and there is two separate halves during this phase. The first half your still have energy is a good time to be around people and the second half is all about taking care of yourself. It’s ok to say no and set boundaries during the second half of this phase, because without them you may end up more irritated and down. Give yourself permission to really pay attention to your inner voice, it gives you insights into what you really need!
In the first half of this phase you will still have excess entry that works great with strength training or more intense yoga or reformer pilates. But as you move into the second half of this phase start to scale back and move into the more yin activities again.
Focus on foods rich in B vitamins to curve you sugar cravings. Dark leafy greens boost your calcium and magnesium and can also help with fluid retention. And roasted root veggies are great to help get rid of more of that extra estrogen. In TCM the food recommendations are also split into two parts. For the first half you are focused on supporting Yang since all of your hormones are at their peak.
Add: Warming foods, increase proteins, cooked veggies, brown rice, eggplant, beans, seaweed, spicy food, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts
Avoid- cold raw food and dairy
And for the second half it is all about building the Qi that is needed to move the blood during your menses. Without enough Qi there may be spotting, or your cycle may start late.
Add: Oats, rice, potatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, cherries, figs, grapes, beans, beef, chicken
Avoid: milk, cheese, raw foods, coffee, excess sugar