For all the women out there, our cycles and our hormones can be a bit of a mystery. Some of us are regular; some of us are not. Some of us know exactly what to expect during each phase; others are hit like a ton of bricks each time it comes around. Getting hormones under control can be a true struggle, particularly with all of the chemicals and hormones that have been in food as we’ve grown up. But luckily, there are many ways you can take care of your body and wrangle your hormones and your cycle, and tons of them are natural and in line with what the body needs and wants.
We sat down with holistic nutritionist and trained doula Lizzy Ott to discuss hormones, fertility, cycles and our bodies. Here’s what she had to say.
Hi Lizzy! So great to chat with you about all this. So many of us still find it a bit taboo, so it’s really interesting to get it all out in the open. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
Yes! I’m a certified holistic health coach and Naturopathic Medical student (a 4 year medical program that trains primary care doctors). I’m also a trained birth doula and the creator of my own little organic skincare line Vessel Surface Care. I’m interested in women’s health, community health and spirituality as medicine.
You really are a jack of all trades! We are very interested in fertility trackersand natural methods of birth control as we strive to take care of our bodies naturally. Do you use them?
I do! I use Alisa Vitti’s MyFlo app to track my cycle. I’ve also heard great things about the app Kindara, though I’ve never used it myself. One thing to note with these apps is that they’re not infallible. Certain months your cycle may be longer or shorter. If you’re using fertility awareness as a birth control method, it’s really important to really tune into your body.
That makes sense, and we sort of think that’s the case with most things. You need to pay attention to what your body is asking for when it’s asking for it. If you feel run down and lacklustre, you may want to do a cleanse. That sort of thing! Can you tell us a bit more about your experience with birth control and fertility trackers?
Yes! As a bit of background – I was briefly on the pill during college, and, like so many other women I know, it really messed with my sense of wellbeing. It was difficult for me to feel connected to my body and the substance of my emotions while my hormones (which are really just little chemical messengers relaying signals to the body about what’s happening internally and externally) were being biochemically manhandles (a genius term from Rudolph Ballantine). After getting off the pill, I would use condoms as a form of protection. The sense of disconnect and disruptiveness of rubber between partners is pretty unsexy and can feel unnatural. Switching to using a cycle-tracking method felt much healthier and more in line with my values. I think it’s important to note that I am with a long-term partner whom I trust and love – my method of birth control would likely be different if I weren’t with one partner. That said, fertility awareness is a pretty tried and true method of regulating whether sex leads to having a baby. Simply put, fertility tracking lets you know when you’re ovulating. There are only about 6 days when you are actually fertile, coinciding with the ovulation phase of your cycle. Once you understand this, you feel a bit freer to enjoy sex.
We love that you are encouraging women to really understand what’s going on inside and get your whole body on the same page. We’ve heard a lot about cycle syncing and are curious about how you should treat your body during the different feminine cycles. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Cycle syncing! Such a beautiful thing. As women, we’re naturally cyclical. Our bodies are an aspect of nature – like the moon, the tides and the seasons, our female bodies move through phases. I look at syncing with cycles like syncing with the seasons – you wouldn’t want to wear a warm sweater during summer, just as you wouldn’t want to run a marathon while you’re menstruating. Tuning into the body’s cycles is one of the best ways I know of balancing hormones and improving wellbeing. The female cycle involves four phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulation and luteal. A typical cycle will generally last 28-35 days, but there’s definitely variation here.
Wow! Most of us only ever really think about our menstrual and ovulation phases. Can you break those down a bit more?
Your menstrual phase is your period, when you’re bleeding the endometrium’s lining. When you’re menstruating, it’s best to take it super easy. Be soft, calm and generous with yourself. This is a time for turning inwards and tapping into your innate wisdom. Lots of greens are great here, as are calming, cooling foods like local, seasonal fruit or rose or tulsi tea.
Your follicular phase involves a rise in menstrual hormones (mostly oestrogen and progesterone). Focus and creativity are heightened here, and it’s a great time to get stuff done. Make plans, allow creativity to blossom. As oestrogen rises, it’s important to keep your body utilizing it by incorporating foods like flax seeds, kimchi and miso (very key to stay organic here).
Your ovulation phase is your fertile window, which generally lasts 5-6 days. During ovulation, you’ll likely notice an egg white fluid discharged from the vagina. Energy is higher here, and this is a great time to go for it with cardio. Ovulation lends itself to sociability, communication and overall openness. This is a great time for gatherings and for connecting deeply to people around you. This is the most important time to support yourself nutritionally – incorporate a variety of fresh, local veggies (particularly cruciferous ones like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage for their liver-boosting properties), whole grains and clean protein. Cook for yourself when you ovulate.
Your luteal phase is generally the “PMS” time. This is when your body understands that an egg hasn’t been fertilized, and hormone levels begin to dip to ultimately lead back to menstruation. When your body’s in balance, the luteal phase can be another moment of increased focus and creativity. Support yourself with extra protein and nourishment here as you prepare for menstruation. Be particularly careful to avoid inflammation by steering clear of alcohol and fried food.
That is so, so interesting. We looked into which workouts you should tackleduring each phase, but this takes things one step further. And what about seed cycling?
Seed cycling is a wonderful way to encourage your body’s natural hormone movement. Seed cycling involves using 1 tablespoon of ground flax or pumpkin seeds during the first half of your cycle and 1 tablespoon of ground sesame seeds or sunflower seeds during the second. I generally grind the seeds each week and then mix with ½ cup warm coconut milk. Though using the seeds in cooking is okay, it’s best to use them in warm milk for your body to register the seeds as medicine.
So much to take in. We’ll definitely be adding all of this to our routines! Alright, one final question: do you have any ideas about how to embrace your body and the feminine being?
Ah! Such a wonderful question. Most simply, my favourite way to embrace my body is to massage organic oil into it every day. Massaging oil into the body after showering sends so many wonderful neurological signals to your body, letting it know you’re there for it. If it’s your thing, take baths – put flowers and salts and essential oils in there and just make it a beautiful fiesta of self-love and self-care. Take time each day to sit on the ground – close your eyes, centre yourself, take a few deep inhales and exhales and tap into the essential part of yourself that’s always well. I like placing one hand on my heart and one on my belly, noticing what comes up without judgment and sending massive amounts of love to myself regardless of what emotions, thoughts and feelings are coming up. Things that aren’t pretty need caring for too.
Lying on your back with your knees open and feet together like a book (known in yoga as goddess pose) is a very beautiful way to tap into receptivity 0 I like doing it and imaging my heart opening along with my womb. I think it’s also incredibly healing to talk about our bodies. Do your body and soul a massive favour and give the gift of opening up to it – it will teach and heal you.