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Menstruation Nation

How cycle syncing can help you take control of your period

Written by Abigail Preiszig

I once saw a meme that truly resonated with me as a period-having individual. It read:

“I don’t use a period tracker, I just wait until I’ve started drafting my suicide letter and then I know she’s coming.”

Now, this may be a drastic example of how one may feel before their period, but it resonated with me because — like many people — my emotions tend to intensify at the beginning of my menstrual cycle. I may feel more lethargic, irritated or sad for seemingly no reason, then… there she is: the crimson storm.

Recently, I scrolled upon TikToks from creator @simplysyncd about the four phases of a menstrual cycle and how they can impact your mood, focus, skin, sleep, social battery, desire to move and more. This turned me on to cycle syncing, or the process of keeping track of the phases of your menstrual cycle and adjusting your lifestyle accordingly.

A menstrual cycle typically lasts an average of 21 to 35 days and is made up of four phases — menstrual, follicular, ovulatory and luteal — that can be compared to the four seasons.

Below we will review what happens during each menstrual cycle, how one may feel, and how to best harness it through activities, food and movement.

Please note that each phase length may vary between individuals and that this is not something period-having people must follow closely. However, some ideas may be helpful.

  1. The Menstrual Phase (days one to five of the menstrual cycle, internal winter)

The science:

This is where it all starts for menstruating individuals: a New Year's Day of sorts. The first menstruation, scientifically termed the menarche — kinda cute, but it also sounds like a supervillain — happens during puberty. This is usually around the age of 12 or 13, but can vary between ages eight and 16.

The menstruation phase is when the individual menstruates, or gets their period. A period is the shedding of the uterine lining that flows through the cervix and out of the vagina. The thick lining, also known as the endometrial lining, consists of blood, mucus, nutrients and some cells. Bleeding from the vagina typically lasts three to seven days and one can lose an average of two to three tablespoons of blood.

The feelings and emotions:

This is considered the internal winter because, like wintertime, one may want to stay in the comfort of their home curled up in coziness. Hormones levels are at their lowest during this phase, so one may feel lethargic, achey, anti-social and less confident.

How to harness this phase:

The best way to honor this phase is by recharging and relaxing. It is a good time to grant yourself extra grace, take naps when needed, practice self care through journaling and meditation and do some of your favorite solitary activities like cooking a yummy meal, reading a good book or watching a favorite movie.

If you choose to work out during this time, keep it low-impact with deep stretches or a serene walk.

This is a good time to stay away from inflammatory foods like caffeine, refined sugars and alcohol, especially if you experience lower back pain or cramping during menstruation. Instead, try herbal teas with ginger, chamomile, peppermint or raspberry leaf to reduce cramping; leafy greens like kale or spinach that are rich in iron, calcium and vitamins C and K; root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes to improve mood; and dark berries or chocolate filled with antioxidants.

The Follicular Phase (days six to 14, internal spring)

The science:

The follicular phase begins when bleeding ends and the endometrium begins to thicken again, to prepare for the possibility of pregnancy thanks to a rise in estrogen.

Follicle-stimulating hormone is also produced, causing follicles in the ovaries to grow and develop into a fully mature egg (or ovum).

The feelings and emotions:

As hormones begin to level out, you may be in a clearer head space, with more energy and a desire to socialize.

How to harness this phase:

Similar to spring, this phase is a great time to start new projects, learn, plan and be creative. It is also a good time to connect with friends and family.

Foods like salmon, yogurt and avocado are good to incorporate during this time because they are filled with B vitamins, K vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids your body is craving.

One may feel more inclined to take on a more intense workout. It is also a good time for cardio like dancing, running or swimming.

The Ovulatory Phase (day 14 to 17, internal summer)

The science:

During ovulation the egg is released from the follicle due to a surge in the luteinizing hormone. Ovulation only lasts for a few hours, but the effects of the phase can be felt for a couple of days. This is when one is most fertile.

The feelings and emotions:

Hormones are at their highest so you may be feeling fun, flirty and confident during this phase. Peaks in estrogen and spikes in testosterone may increase sex drive, so take necessary precautions if you do not want to get pregnant.

How to harness this phase:

The ovulatory phase is a great time to have a “girls night out.” Much like summer, you are feeling yourself, glowing and wanting to socialize. It is also a great time for networking and decision-making.

Fiber-rich foods like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, nuts and seeds are beneficial during this phase along with prebiotics, probiotics and a focus on hydration.

With energy and confidence at a high, this is the best time to tackle an intense workout like heavy lifting, kickboxing, spin or HIIT.

The Luteal Phase (days 17 to 28, internal fall)

The science:

Also known as the premenstrual phase, the luteal phase begins after ovulations and can end with three outcomes: menopause, pregnancy or menstruation.

Menopause marks the end of going through the menstrual cycle. This typically happens around age 51.

Pregnancy occurs with implantation,when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall. Progesterone and estrogen will increase to thicken the uterine lining and prepare for pregnancy. The menstrual cycle will halt until pregnancy is over.

If the body is preparing for the next menstruation, hormones will begin to decrease as the body prepares to shed the thick lining and begin the menstrual cycle again. This will be our focus for this phase.

The feelings and emotions:

As hormone levels decrease and your body is preparing for its next menstruation, you may begin to feel period symptoms such as PMS, bloating, breast tenderness, food cravings and acne.

How to harness this phase:

The luteal phase is perfect for finishing up projects and cleaning or organizing. Self-care like journaling, sleeping well and being gentle with yourself should also be prioritized. It is a good time to slow down and relax, much like fall.

This is when cravings will be experienced most during your cycle. Because of an increase in metabolism and a dip in blood sugar, you may feel hungrier and crave sweet treats. It is a good time to eat antioxidant-rich foods like berries and chocolate, as well as complex carbs.

This is also a good time for low-impact, strength-based workouts such as light weights, yoga, barre and pilates.

To begin keeping track of your cycle, simply mark the first day of your period on a calendar and mark each day until you stop bleeding. Then, mark the first day of your next period and count the number of days between each period for an estimate of what phase you will be in during each part of the month.

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