All of nature moves in cycles. The seasons have a cycle that they follow: winter, spring, summer and then fall. The moon cycles from its new moon, to the full moon, and then back to the new moon. As women, we have many cycles within our being – everything from sleep cycles and cardiac cycles to menstrual cycles. In every monthly cycle, as a menstruating woman, your body will go through four different phases. And, just as it is important to nurture your body differently for different seasons throughout year, it is equally important to support your menstrual cycle throughout each phase.
When we support our cycle throughout all its phases, we are taking care of our body and giving it love and attention while creating a hormonal balance within our bodies. Having balanced hormones will not only help to increase fertility and decrease PMS symptoms, but will also increase overall health as our bodies prepare to “reproduce” when we are functioning at our optimum.
Supporting each phase of your cycle holistically begins with the foods you eat, the activities you partake in and the integration of herbal medicine to support, rebalance and restore the body.
Phase 1: Menstruation
This phase starts on day one of your cycle or the first day you start to bleed. Typically, this phase will last anywhere between 3-4 days in a healthy individual. Because the focus of this phase is to clear the blood/uterine lining out of the body, it is important to support your body through this elimination process. You may feel more tired than usual and have cravings for things like red meat or chocolate. These cravings are usually your body speaking and asking for iron-rich and magnesium-rich foods.
+ Dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, sea vegetables, bananas and dark chocolate.
+ EFA rich foods like avocados, wild-caught fish, hemp seeds
+ Plenty of water or herbal tea
+ Try a cramp bark tincture– take every 15 minutes until intense symptoms subside.
+ Eliminate coffee/excess caffeine during this time, and a few days prior, if cramping tends to be aggressive.
HERBS: Replenish and restore! Drink herbal tea that contains red raspberry leaf and stinging nettle herbs to help with cramping and replenish iron into the body. Magnesium and B vitamins to diminish menstrual symptoms. For sleep support, chamomile or lemon balm. Enjoy some quiet time reading a book, doing deep breathing exercises or guided meditation.
MOVEMENT: Avoid high-impact workouts during this time. Focus on walks, pilates or gentle stretching.
LIFESTYLE: The body is working hard, which causes fatigue, so make sure that you are getting extra sleep – about 8-9 hours a night – and enjoying restful activities that are not strenuous. Massage just before your cycle begins is helpful for promoting circulation. It’s also important to eat warming foods and stay warm during menstruation.
Phase 2: Follicular
This phase starts right after bleeding stops. This is when estrogen and testosterone levels are rising and when the building of the uterine lining and the maturation of an egg happen.
+ Nutrient-dense foods with a heavy dose of protein and healthy fats.
+ Root vegetables, oats, quinoa, millet, lentils, salmon, eggs, nuts and seeds, and oysters as they have a variety of minerals and vitamins to offer the body.
+ Healthy fats like ghee, avocado and coconut oil.
+ Focus on whole foods that won’t drastically increase blood sugar.
HERBS: Drink herbal tea that contains Nettle to rebuild the body.
MOVEMENT: Your energy will be at its peak, so if you are planning any vigorous activities or workouts now is the time to do it!
LIFESTYLE: This is a perfect time for creative projects and new activities. Deep, therapeutic massage will support you during this time.
Phase 3: Ovulatory
This phase typically occurs around the middle of your cycle, usually day 14 for most women, but for women on a 32-day cycle, it could be on day 16 as well. This phase only lasts for one week while the egg is released from the ovary and travels to the uterus. During ovulation, you may feel warmer than usual as your body temperature increases by .5 degrees. If you’re trying to get pregnant – this is the perfect time! Right after day 14, you may also notice a sudden, temporary drop in your mood as high estrogen drops off and progesterone has not yet kicked in.
+ Quinoa, lots of leafy greens, vegetables, rice and cold-water fish.
+ It is important to not cool the body too much, so avoid completely raw meals.
+ Consume a mix of cooked and raw foods.
+ Avoid heavy foods as they can often make you feel a bit lethargic.
HERBS: Try including MACA into your smoothie for a few days before ovulation and a few days after to balance hormones. Shatavari herbs will help to boost and support libido during this most active phase.
MOVEMENT: The egg is released and travels down the fallopian tube so you may feel slightly stiff or sore around the hips, lower abdomen, and lower back. Try hip-opening yoga postures or gentle stretching.
LIFESTYLE: This is a good time to socialize, meet up with friends, schedule a date night! Massage and acupressure can also help relieve any stiffness or soreness.
Phase 4: Luteal
This phase begins about one week after ovulation and continues until the end of your cycle/the day you start to bleed again. The uterine wall will continue to thicken, more blood will flow to the area to create warmth and bring in much-needed nutrients.
+ It is important to increase protein and healthy fat intake as well as warming foods as your body gets prepared to do a lot of work.
+ Brown rice, root vegetables, salmon, beans, avocado, ginger, turmeric, and curries.
+ Plenty of water
+ Avoid things like alcohol and caffeine during this phase, since they will increase PMS symptoms and drain the body of much-needed nutrients for the upcoming bleeding phase.
HERBS: Start sipping on herbal teas and infusions daily that contain raspberry leaf and cramp bark if you experience cramps before or during your period. Burdock root helps to remove excess hormones that have built up in the body by gently detoxifying the liver.
FOR BLOATING OR EDEMA: Drink a herbal tea with dandelion root daily.
MOVEMENT: Light exercise is encouraged during this phase to help balance mood and hormones. Just be sure to stay away from anything too strenuous as it will deplete the body.
LIFESTYLE: You will naturally notice your body wanting to slow down and you may feel more introverted. It is important to listen to these cues and give yourself ample space.
There is such shift to understanding our bodies through each of these phases, tracking our cycle and nourishing our body.