In the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time trying to learn more about the menstrual cycle and my hormones so that I can make the transition off of birth control as pleasant as possible. I am SHOCKED at how much I DIDN’T know. It is crazy to me how young girls are taught next to nothing about their menstrual cycles, hormones, and birth control when it impacts women’s health IMMENSELY. Having a menstrual cycle and regularly ovulating are two big factors when it comes to determining our health. For someone, particularly being a woman, who has been so passionate about health for years and have looked at it through so many different angles, it’s hard to believe I’ve missed this piece for so long.

I am very conscious of what I put in my body. From food, to drinks, to medications, I’m generally very aware. I rarely resort to antibiotics if I’m feeling sick because they wreak havoc on our gut microbiome, which takes hard work to restore. I stopped taking over the counter pain relief medication because I learned they can also, overtime, destroy our gut microbiome. Side note: in case you didn’t know, our guts are our second brain. Our guts communicate back and forth with the brain in our skull, which is why you feel mentally off if your gut is out of balance. If that wasn’t important enough, 75-80% of our immune system resides in our gut. So, it’s really important that we try our best to keep our gut microbiome healthy and happy (so we stay healthy and happy.) Back to my point...I was staying away from these medications that messed with my gut and had NO IDEA that hormonal birth control DOES THE SAME THING!!! Why was that not on the pamphlet when I went to the doctor at 16? Why was that not discussed?

Another recent discovery I had is that hormonal birth control stops ovulation. The doctor may have explained this to me. I remember him telling me “the pill tricks your brain into thinking you’re pregnant, so you doesn’t produce any eggs.” I thought, “okay whatever will get rid of my acne and stop my heavy ass periods give it to me now!” At 16 I didn’t even know what gut health meant or what it was. I didn’t think about how this pill might impact my fertility later on. I was more concerned with the pimples covering my face, so I didn’t question anything about my health. I was told I might have nausea when starting....that’s it. Ovulation is an important part of our menstrual cycle. It is a signal that our hormones are working properly. If I’m putting synthetic hormones in my body, and skipping a vital part of the menstrual cycle, then who knows what’s going on with the hormones that my body is supposedly trying to naturally produce?!

I started my period when I was 11 years old and I am now 27. I was pretty much taught that once a month I was going to bleed for a few days, that I might get cramps, and now I could get pregnant and that was that. I mean I’m sure I was taught more about it during sex ed, but honestly who paid attention in middle school? Not me, especially not in sex ed. Around age 23 I started wondering if birth control could actually be good for me. I instinctively knew it probably wasn’t good to be replacing my natural hormones with synthetic ones, but I also knew I didn’t want to get pregnant so I didn’t look into it any further. I simply thought this was my safest, and to my knowledge, only option. I didn’t want to get a ring or a stick in my arm, because to me it was all the same thing.

Fast forward to me at 26...I’m married, but I still don’t want to get pregnant yet. I start looking more into birth control and how it could potentially cause complications with fertility. Becoming pregnant is something both me and my husband want in the near future, so it became important to me, but it also was one of those things where you don’t read too much into it because you’re afraid of what you might find. I was worried I was going to find articles that told me I had screwed my body up forever and that I would never get pregnant. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. I did find a lot of negative side effects and that fertility certainly COULD be impacted, but nothing that I should have been so afraid of.

I’m still learning a lot about my hormones and I have yet to get to really know my cycle and even really my body off the pill since it’s only been a few weeks, but I am so intrigued by everything I’m learning. Better late than never, right?

I am especially mind blown from learning about biohacking hormones and cycle syncing. I was listening to a podcast where Alisa Vitti, the founder of FLOLiving and fellow IIN graduate, was the guest. She explained that in order to really optimize our lives we should be eating and working out in certain ways based on which phase of our cycle we are in. GET READY BECAUSE I’M ABOUT TO HIT YOU WITH SOME AMAZING INFO. Our hormones are fluctuating throughout our cycle, that is why we feel different symptoms throughout our cycle (DUH.) Our bodies are going through changes and we can honor those changes and feel our best by making slight lifestyle changes during certain times. Now I’m no expert, but Alisa is and so I figured I’d listen to her and at least TRY this for myself and see.

I’m not going to get into what is happening during each phase, because 1, I’m still trying to fully understand and 2, that would make for an extremely lengthy blog post. So, I'm going to keep things short and simple because that’s how we like it around her! During our follicular and ovulatory phases (the first two AFTER you menstruate) it is okay to reduce calories, you might even feel less hungry. This is also the time that you should be engaging in more vigorous exercise, such as HIIT or heavy resistance training. Our resting cortisol levels are lower during this phase and we can sustain higher intensity workouts without putting too much stress on our bodies. Now for the luteal and menstrual phases resting cortisol levels rise and - here’s where shit gets good you guys - continuing with calorie reduction and engaging in intense exercise actually TURNS ON MUSCLE WASTING AND FAT STORAGE. Our bodies are depleted of hormones, our cortisol (stress hormone) levels are high, and we are more susceptible to blood sugar instability. This means we should be eating approximately 237 additional calories a day, and moving our bodies in a more gentle way, such as yoga, pilates, walking or using light weights. To me this makes sense because I am usually extra tired, irritable and moody during these last two phases so if I add physical stress my body is going to react by storing fat and burning muscle to protect me. This is potentially why women have a harder time losing weight. By continuing to reduce calories and push through intense workouts when your body needs rest and calm vibes, you’re essentially undoing all of the hard work you put in in the first two phases.

Now I’m not saying it’s impossible to lose weight and gain muscle if you consistently reduce calories and engage in high intensity workouts, some of you have probably done this and seen great results. But think about how you felt...did you feel drained? Was it extra hard to push through your workout and stick to your diet during certain times and you blamed yourself for your lack of dedication? YOUR HORMONES WERE RAGING GIRL, WE KNOW YOU’RE DEDICATED. If you’re feeling great and meeting your fitness goals then by all means keep doing what you’re doing, but if you’re feeling depleted or frustrated because those last few pounds won’t come off, maybe give this cycle syncing a try! ALWAYS listen to your body and do what feels right/best for YOU.

Fitness goals aside, I think this is a great way to get to become more in tune with your body, get to know your menstrual cycle and optimize your health so that you can feel your best through all phases.

Being that this is my first menstrual cycle off of the pill I’m going to try it out! This will be mentally tough for me because I enjoy sticking to a schedule at the gym. I like doing HIIT on certain days and pilates for recovery, but I have a feeling my body will respond well and thank me for it. I am currently using the App Clue to track my cycle and symptoms. It is free in the App Store and is very user friendly! Please remember, I am not an expert, just a woman passionate about helping other women feel their best and sharing ways to facilitate that!!