Women's Health

Meet The Holistic Approach To Periods That Can Transform Your Cycle

With more than 84% of women experiencing painful periods, there’s no wonder why “that time of the month” is filled with negative connotations. As someone who doesn’t fall into the 84% percent noted in that study, I can still attest to factors like age, stress, and lifestyle affecting my menstrual cycle and the way I experience my periods. Gone are the days when my symptoms peaked at salty and sweet cravings, and in its wake, I’ve been introduced to cramping, low estrogen levels, and a heavier flow than I’ve experienced in all my years of having a period. Where I used to look at my periods as a time of the month when was indifferent, I am now feeling the effects and I can only imagine how the other 84% of women reporting period pain go through (more power to y’all, for real).

Two things changed the menstruating game for me. One, the conscious decision to look at my cycle for the full 28 days that it is (anywhere between 21-40 days is considered "normal.") instead of just the 5-7 days I am actually in the menstruation phase of my cycle. And two, looking into cycle syncing as a holistic way to change my relationship with my period and my cycle overall. You see, instead of acting in opposition to what I experienced during my periods, I could lean into it and restructure my life in a way that aligned with the different phases of my cycle, and therefore the different “seasons” I was in. When it comes to all that cycle syncing entails, ladies and gentlemen, this is just scratching the surface.

Berrion L. Berry, founder of Optimize Your Flo and menstrual health educator, explains, at its core that cycle syncing “is aligning different aspects of your lifestyle such as fitness, nutrition, wellness, and even business with the phases of your menstrual cycle.” And although the results could vary from person to person, it is still something she recommends to women and menstruators to see if it positively affects the way they experience their cycles. She adds that not only can cycle syncing transform your periods, but it can also evolve the way people with periods work.

“As more and more research is being conducted we’re finding things that are so unique. Did you know that there are times throughout the cycle perfect for brainstorming new ideas like during the menstrual phase?” Berry continues, “When practicing cycle syncing and understanding changes that happen, people can actually work more effectively and I think that’s incredible. Especially if you’re someone who’s looking to go from feeling burnout to embracing the soft life.”

Keep reading for the phases of the menstrual cycle and how to optimize each phase for ultimate alignment as well as potentially less painful periods.

The Phases of the Menstrual Cycle

Phase 1: Menstruation (Winter)

Phase 2: Follicular (Spring)

Phase 3: Ovulation (Summer)

Phase 4: Luteal (Fall)

Cycle Syncing During the Menstruation Phase (Days 1-7)

Menstruation is the “shedding of the uterine lining and when your period happens.” Berry notes that since the hormones are in an 'off' position during this time, your overall energy can feel low. Nourish the body with unprocessed, nutrient-rich foods and filtered water to keep your blood sugar and energy levels steady.

The Optimal Way to Nourish the Body:

"A good mix of lean proteins, healthy fats, and low GI carbs such as root vegetables, whole grain, and legume-packed stews, can support the energy-intensive process of menstruation."

The Optimal Way to Move the Body:

"Since your body is physically releasing, the best thing you can do is rest or active recovery. The reason you want to do this is so that you don’t apply additional stress (increased cortisol) to the body and create an inflamed, exhausted, or overwhelmed environment within the body.

"Light jogs, long hikes, a nice yoga flow for most people. If you’re someone who likes to train a lot, one of the best things you can do during this time is a low-intensity workout like Pilates as well, preferably mat Pilates.

Cycle Syncing During the Follicular Phase (Days 8-13)

The follicular phase is “the time between the end of the period and ovulation” and can be viewed as the “spring” season of your cycle. To prepare for ovulation, the body's hormone levels are on the rise as your egg follicles mature, Berry explains. In contrast to the low energy levels you might have felt during the menstruation phase, during the follicular phase, you may start to feel more energized.

The Optimal Way to Nourish the Body:

"Supporting your gut aids the body in processing estrogen and potential toxins that may be in your body. The more micronutrients you focus on getting during this time, the better. This is a good time to incorporate light, fresh and vibrant foods, such as salads and fermented foods like kefir, probiotic yogurt, or sauerkraut, which support gut health and detoxification."

The Optimal Way to Move the Body:

"During this time, since your hormones are beginning to rise, it’s the perfect time to pick back up on your workouts and training. Exercises like reformer Pilates, boxing, spin class anything a bit intense and vigorous is perfect for this. You may also want to consider adding a bit of resistance training in."

Cycle Syncing During the Ovulation Phase (Days 14-21)

Berry refers to the ovulation phase as “the main event” of your menstrual cycle as it is when the egg is released from the ovary. "During ovulation, hormone levels are skyrocketing and estrogen is the life of the party. It aids in the ovulation process along with a surge in LH. Our basal body temperature also increases during this time, which can impact increased energy levels."

She also adds that “ovulation is not always day 14 of a cycle no matter what you’ve been taught in the past. Ovulation can actually change based off so many things, so just make sure you know your body.”

The Optimal Way to Nourish the Body:

"Consuming foods that are nutrient-dense, but also refreshing like a smoothie bowl or salad is definitely a must. See, excess estrogen can have a negative impact on our cycle, including breast tenderness and increased spotting, however, consuming nutrients that support the liver to remove estrogen is good to include and are found in foods such as kale, broccoli, onions, garlic, and radishes."

The Optimal Way to Move the Body:

"During this time, since your hormones estrogen, LH, and testosterone have surged, it’s the perfect time to do those higher intensity workouts and anything that will have you actively sweating and increasing your heart rate. Exercises like spinning, sprinting, and heavy lifting are perfect during this phase."

Cycle Syncing During the Luteal Phase (Days 22-28)

The last phase of your menstrual cycle is “the time between ovulation and before the start of menstruation when the body prepares for a possible pregnancy if the egg is fertilized.” Berry continues, "During this phase, there's a shift in hormones, and around day 23 of your cycle, your body begins to prepare for the shed of the uterine lining. You may notice your cravings are a bit more intense, and you just want to eat everything in sight."

The Optimal Way to Nourish the Body:

"With estrogen on the decline and progesterone on the rise, you'll want to make sure that you focus on nourishing your body with additional nutrients like iron, magnesium, and zinc as well as complex carbs."

The Optimal Way to Move the Body:

"Since your body is preparing to physically release, the best thing you can do is low-intensity workouts and active recovery. The reason you want to do this is so that you don’t apply additional stress (increased cortisol) to the body and create an inflamed, exhausted, or overwhelmed environment within the body. I suggest light jogs, long hikes, or a nice yoga flow for most people."

How to Start Cycle Syncing

If you want to start cycle syncing and optimizing your period health, Berry has the perfect method to start. In her teachings, Berry recommends beginning your cycle syncing journey through a process of habit stacking where you optimize cycle syncing by building on basic healthy habits you've already mastered. Berry sums this process up with the statement, "Standardize before you optimize." Her step-by-step process to standardize healthy habits is as follows:

The O.N.E method:

  • O is for "organize your meals in sync with your cycle;"
  • N is for "nurture your adrenals" which Berry says means working out in sync with your cycle, making time to meditate, journal, or pray at least once a day, and getting on a regular sleep schedule;
  • E is for "execute daily" which Berry created a checklist to help people with this step (download the checklist here).

After utilizing her method to standardize your healthy habits, Berry advises looking at where you are in your cycle to optimize your lifestyle habits according to the recommended lifestyle habits according to the phase you are in. For more specifics, check out her guide on fertility awareness here. "Once you know where you’re at in your cycle, I like to recommend people start with nutrition, then add fitness and wellness, but ultimately people can start with wherever they want," Berry shares.

If you are starting your cycle syncing practice and don't wish to go the DIY route, Berry has a wealth of resources, including classes that she advises period havers to take if they are looking for a step-by-step plan with all of the details. Learn more about her classes here.

For more information about cycle syncing and daily tips, follow Berry on Instagram or TikTok @berrionlberry.

Featured image by Kevin Kozicki/Getty Images

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