Cycle Syncing 101: A Beginner’s Guide To Holistically Rebalancing Your Hormones
As a functional medicine expert, I see countless women in my telehealth clinic dealing with chronic hormone imbalances. Between coming off birth control, poor diets, increased toxin exposure, and heightened stress, there are more factors in our modern world working against women’s hormone health other than championing it.
Because of this, women have started looking for natural ways to rebalance their hormones, with one of these ways being cycle syncing. By harnessing the power of nutrition, exercise, and self-care, cycle syncing can support everything from irregular periods, PMS, and even infertility. So if you are ready to take back control of your health, read on to learn more about cycle syncing and how you can implement this into your daily life.
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What is cycle syncing?
Cycle syncing is a practice that involves aligning your daily activities, diet, and exercises with the various stages of your menstrual cycle in order to optimize overall hormone health. The idea behind cycle syncing is that since women’s hormone and energy levels fluctuate throughout their menstrual cycle, supporting these changes with lifestyle adjustments, can help women manage the symptoms associated with each phase while healing any underlying hormone imbalances.
Who can benefit from cycle syncing?
Many people who start cycle syncing do so because they are struggling with severe underlying hormone conditions including:
- Irregular periods
- Thyroid problems
But you don’t have to be dealing with a chronic health problem in order to benefit from cycle syncing as it can help improve other symptoms that commonly occur alongside hormone imbalances, such as:
- Weight loss resistance
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Brittle nails
Whether you are looking for relief from one of these problems or just looking to optimize your hormone health and be in control of your cycle, cycle syncing can be a great tool to do so naturally without having to turn to conventional therapies like birth control.
Phases of cycle syncing
Before diving into cycle syncing, it's essential to have a basic understanding of the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is a complex process that typically lasts about 28 days, although variations are common making it shorter or longer in length. Throughout the cycle various hormonal changes occur designed to prepare the body for potential pregnancy. These changes can be categorized into four main phases: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase.
Menstruation (Days 1-5): Menstruation marks the start of the cycle and occurs when the uterine lining sheds, leading to bleeding. Hormone levels are at their lowest during this phase and you may experience symptoms such as cramps and mood swings.
Follicular Phase (Days 1-13): As menstruation ends, the follicular phase begins. Hormone levels - particularly estrogen - start to rise, leading to increased energy levels. During this phase, the ovaries prepare an egg for potential fertilization.
Ovulation (Around Day 14): Ovulation is the midpoint of the cycle, and is marked by a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH). This surge triggers the release of an egg from the ovary, making it the most fertile phase. Your estrogen levels are at their peak during ovulation, contributing to a happier mood and increased libido.
Luteal Phase (Days 15-28): After ovulation, the luteal phase begins. The ruptured follicle becomes the corpus luteum, which secretes progesterone. This hormone prepares the uterine lining for possible implantation. If pregnancy does not occur, progesterone levels drop, leading to the onset of menstruation. This is when you will most likely experience PMS symptoms.
How to start cycle syncing
In order to start cycle syncing, it is important to become familiar with your personal cycle since the length of your cycle can vary (not to mention the fact that you may be cycle syncing in order to improve an irregular cycle). Not only will tracking your cycle show you when to implement these practices during the different phases, you’ll be able to look back and see improvements in your symptoms and cycle length. While you can use a journal or calendar to track this information, I recommend a period-tracking app like MyFLO Period Tracker since they can also include predictions for future cycle phases.
Cycle syncing your workouts
As your energy levels, strength, and endurance change, cycle syncing allows you to capitalize on your strengths and weaknesses throughout the month without pushing yourself too far, increasing cortisol levels, and wreaking havoc on your hormones. Here are some best practices for working out during each phase.
Menstrual phase: During menstruation, it's common to experience fatigue and low energy levels. Instead of trying to hype yourself up, take this as an opportunity to prioritize rest and self-care. But that doesn’t mean that all movement should be avoided. Gentle exercises like walking, yoga, or stretching help to promote blood circulation, relieve cramps, and reduce stress.
Follicular phase: As estrogen levels rise during this phase, you'll likely experience a dramatic increase in energy, stamina, and strength. This is the time to incorporate higher-intensity workouts such as strength training, HIIT (high-intensity interval training), and cardiovascular exercises.
Ovulatory phase: For most women, ovulation is when your energy levels and performance are at their peak. Use this time to try challenging yourself with exercises that push your endurance and focus.
Luteal phase: As your progesterone levels rise during this phase, you’re more likely to experience mood swings, bloating, fatigue, and other symptoms that aren’t conducive to wanting to work out. Low-impact exercises like yoga and Pilates are great during this phase since they offer additional stress-reducing benefits while being easy on your body.
Cycle syncing your diet
When it comes to cycle syncing your diet, it’s a little less straightforward than your workouts. As everyone’s exact health case and biochemistry is different, you have to take into account your particular health case, nutrient needs, and food sensitivities when cycle syncing your nutrition. But with that said, there are some basic principles that most people can follow during each phase of your cycle. And as always, make sure to prioritize clean, whole foods whenever possible and limit your intake of sugar and processed foods.
Menstrual phase: During menstruation, prioritize iron-rich foods like grass-fed beef, poultry, fish, and dark leafy greens to help replenish iron lost through menstruation. This is especially important when you consider that women already tend to have lower iron levels than men. Foods high in magnesium like dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds are also good to incorporate as this nutrient can help improve cramps and balance mood swings.
Follicular phase: As estrogen starts to rise along with your energy levels you may have a desire for fresh, light meals. This is a good time to try a variety of nutrient-dense vegetables and protein.
Ovulatory phase: Since you're likely to feel more energetic and social, focus on foods that provide sustained energy, such as healthy carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and healthy fats.
Luteal phase: In the luteal phase, progesterone levels rise, potentially leading to mood swings and cravings. Up your intake of healthy fats like wild-caught fish, avocados, nuts, and chia seeds during this phase to help stabilize blood sugar levels and keep you satiated in order to reduce cravings. Magnesium-rich foods are great for this phase as well to mitigate PMS symptoms like bloating, cramps, and mood swings.
Another common way to cycle sync your diet is through seed cycling. This practice involves eating specific seeds during each phase of the menstrual cycle to capitalize on their ability to optimize hormone production and restore imbalances. The seeds commonly used in seed cycling include flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds due to their unique nutritional value.
How long does cycle syncing take to see results?
As with most things with health and wellness, the time it takes to see results from cycle syncing can vary from person to person based on your individual health goals, underlying health problems, and consistency. But in general, 3 months is a standard timeline before you start experiencing some noticeable improvements whereas long-term, sustainable changes can take longer to achieve.
While cycle syncing is a fantastic tool, it doesn't always replace the need for additional support. If you are struggling with chronic hormone-related symptoms, it is important to work with a functional medicine doctor who can identify the root cause behind your symptoms in order to recommend more targeted solutions for your particular needs. In my telehealth functional medicine clinic we run comprehensive hormone labs to put together a recommended plan of action that address all aspects of your health case.
If you are struggling with a hormone imbalance, schedule a telehealth consultation today to learn more about how we can help you with functional medicine.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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