People who have menstruated regularly throughout their lives know firsthand the notable shifts in mood, energy, appetite, focus, creativity, and socialization that occur during the various stages of their menstrual cycle.
During menstruation, the ovarian hormones estrogen and progesterone are fairly low. As the cycle advances through the follicular phase, estrogen levels spike. The pituitary gland then releases hormones that cause the eggs to mature in the ovaries. The most mature egg is then released. If the egg is not fertilized, the progesterone and estrogen levels fall, the lining of the uterus breaks down, and the menstrual cycle begins again.
These hormone shifts can have definite impacts on your mood and energy, and paying attention to those impacts, specifically in the form of “cycle syncing”, has the potential to bring about a more positive, empowering experience as it pertains to your menstrual cycle.
What Is Cycle Syncing?
Cycle syncing stems from the idea that carefully curated lifestyle changes can help people feel their best during all phases of their cycle. The Cleveland Clinic says this may encourage folks to listen more carefully to their bodies and prioritize self-care.
According to functional nutritionist Alisa Vitti, who first talked about cycle syncing in 2014, adjusting your routine around the phases of your menstrual cycle may have significant impacts on mood and behaviour.
Unfortunately, cycle syncing hasn’t been researched in a clinical setting, so the scientific benefits are not abundantly clear. However, there are many useful studies regarding mood and energy as they correlate to menstrual phases. Putting these pieces together gives us an indication that cycle syncing might indeed be beneficial.
How Can Cycle Syncing Help Improve the Lives of Menstruators?
In a study for the NIH on women’s mental health and the menstrual cycle, results showed that the premenstrual and menstrual phases of the cycle are most consistently implicated in changes in mental health, mood and behavior.
For example, it is common for people to experience depression in the premenstrual phase and menstrual phase, while anxiety, stress, and binge eating are more likely in the luteal phase. The physical discomfort, irritability, and low self-esteem that might be experienced during the premenstrual phase can also lead to isolation, which makes depression even more likely, and can lead to more negative behaviours (like excessive drinking and smoking).
This chain of events can become a bit of a vicious cycle within your cycle, and pinpointing where it all begins, and how it ties together, might be a positive step in breaking the negative pattern.
It makes sense that paying attention to lifestyle factors would help some people avoid a few of the more difficult aspects of their periods. According to the Cleveland Clinic, diet and exercise are one part of this equation.
Phases of The Hormonal Cycle
Becoming more familiar with the phases of your cycle, and how to incorporate nutrition and movement into them, is a good first step:
The menstrual phase occurs between days 0 and 7. You are on your period, estrogen levels are low, and (likely) so is your energy. Try staying in to watch TV or do some reading, engage in light stretching or yoga, and eat iron rich foods, as well as foods with lots of vitamin C, vitamin K, and omega-3 fatty acids.
The follicular phase occurs between days 8 and 13, when there is a rise in estrogen and energy. At this point, you might try eating cruciferous veggies, fermented foods, and healthy fats.
The ovulation phase occurs roughly from days 14 through 15 but will differ from person to person. The endometrium thickens and energy levels rise again. This is when higher-intensity exercise might feel more accessible, like kickboxing or spinning.
The luteal phase, between days 16 and 28, is when the uterus prepares to receive a fertilized egg. You might experience PMS symptoms towards the end of this phase. Medium intensity exercise is best during this period.
Where to Go From Here
Of course, there are so many other factors to consider when taking (or not taking) this advice. While being an active and empowered agent for your own health and wellbeing is great, there are limits to what you can control, and not everyone can monitor or change their lifestyle as easily as others.
Listening to your body and protecting your mental health is key, whether cycle syncing appeals to you or not. Going forward we hope more research is done in this area, and that people who menstruate are given more access to the science behind what they feel during their menstrual cycles.
In the meantime, there is enough research on mood and the menstrual cycle, as well as valuable anecdotal evidence and lived experience, to suggest cycle syncing is worth seriously considering, especially if you struggle to make sense of the emotions and behaviours associated with your period. Just make sure to take it in with a healthy balance of openness and skepticism—and remember, everyone’s journey is different.