Have you ever tried out a fad exercise routine and found that it did next to nothing for you? Or went all in on a new diet only to achieve…nothing? If you have, there may be a reason for that! Functional Nutrition Coach and Founder of Floliving Alisa Vitti gives us some insights as to why in the past 10 years there’s been an explosion in online wellness content — new diet protocols, new fitness programs, new ‘extreme’ biohacks like cryotherapy and infrared saunas — but for those assigned female at birth (AFAB), hormone and autoimmune conditions have jumped nearly 50% in that same time period!
Alisa is a women’s hormone and functional nutrition expert and pioneer in female biohacking. She’s the author of the best-selling books WomanCode and In The Flo, is the Founder of The FLO Living Hormone Center, the world’s first menstrual healthcare platform, that has helped hundreds of thousands around the world put their period issues like PCOS, Fibroids, Endometriosis, and PMS into remission naturally, using her highly effective FLO Protocol and the FLO Balance Period Supplements, and the creator the MyFLO period app—the first and only functional medicine period tracker. So read on to learn more from Alisa about exactly what is going on!
Important note! This article is being re-published from Alisa Vitti’s blog with their permission. Everything that follows below is written from their perspective. Allbodies would like to point out that we recognize that not all people that have a menstrual cycle are female or women and not everyone who is female or a woman, has a menstrual cycle. We love you and welcome you all. We also want to point out that while Alisa talks about a 28-day menstrual cycle below for organizational purposes, most people actually DO NOT have a 28-day cycle. We actively want to dismantle that discourse. It is absolutely not the norm. So please use the below as a framework for your unique cycle length and phases.
The rest of this article is written by Alisa Vitti and the Floliving team.
With the discrepancy between the boom in wellness protocols and women’s health, I needed to figure out what was going on. So I dove into the research and it led me to two answers:
- First, that women are being left out of most medical research.
- Second, people with female physiology have a second biological rhythm that impacts the performance of six key systems of your body, and it has a name — the infradian rhythm.
MEET YOUR SECOND CLOCK (ALSO KNOWN AS YOUR INFRADIAN RHYTHM)
In my new book In the FLO, I’m introducing the wellness world to the infradian rhythm, which is one of two internal timekeepers experienced by people with female biochemistry. The infradian rhythm powerfully affects six different systems of the body — brain, metabolism, immune system, microbiome, stress response system and reproductive system — and women benefit when they eat, exercise, and work in ways that support their infradian rhythm, as opposed to following diet, fitness, and work trends that disrupt it. It’s precisely because so many women try to follow the ‘same-thing-everyday’ plans that work for men that 50% of women are suffering with hormonal imbalances, while men don’t suffer them at the same rate.
You’ve probably heard of the circadian clock, or the 24-hour biological rhythm that is inherent to all of us, men and women, old and young. This internal timekeeper directs many of the body’s internal processes, from when we get our get our deepest sleep (around 2:00am) and when we’re at our most alert (around 10:00am) to when we’re the most coordinated (2:30pm) and when we have the fastest reaction time (3:30pm). The circadian clock also helps regulate our body temperature and metabolism. Men’s testosterone production is organized around the circadian rhythm (and so is the vast majority of fitness and nutrition research and advice; more on that below).
But people who menstruate also follow the infradian rhythm, which is linked to the menstrual cycle. And when you understand your infradian rhythm and how it informs your unique female biochemistry, you can become calmer, happier, and healthier, as well as more productive at work and more satisfied in your relationships. Your hormones will stay balanced and you can live symptom-free.
HOW DOES YOUR INFRADIAN RHYTHM AFFECT YOUR BODY AND BRAIN?
Did you know that:
- The infradian rhythm creates a 25% change in your brain chemistry over the course of the month.
- Your metabolism speeds up and slows down predictably across the month and that you need to change what you eat and the intensity of your workouts each week in order to optimize your metabolism.
- Your cortisol levels are higher in one part of your infradian cycle, so pushing yourself through an intense workout bumps up cortisol levels even further, adding to your stress and inflammation, disrupting your hormones, and making you feel anxious and unfocused.
- People with female biochemistry need more sleep than men because we have a more complex brain and it needs 20 minutes longer to clean itself and reset for the cognitive day.
- People with female physiology tend to need less in the way of extreme self-care practices because we have more efficient biology.
As this list shows, your body and brain change significantly throughout the course of a month. Specifically, we move through four distinct phases within the course of 28-days. They are:
- Phase 1: Follicular (the 7 to 10 days after your period)
- Phase 2: Ovulatory (the to 4 days in the middle of your cycle)
- Phase 3: Luteal (the 10 to 14 days between ovulation and your period)
- Phase 4: Menstrual (the 3 to 7 days of your period)
During each of these four phases, you experience normal hormonal fluctuations that influence your body temperature, skin elasticity, sleep cycle, energy, emotions, and cognitive function.
What’s more, your 28-day cycle (infradian rhythm) works in close concert with your 24-hour cycle: a dysregulated infradian rhythm will mess with your circadian cycle—and a wonky circadian cycle will negatively influence your infradian cycle. In this way, using phase-based self-care not only supports your month-long hormone cycle, but also your 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. This makes practicing The Cycle Syncing Method™ even more powerful in promoting hormone health and overall health.
WHY DOING THE SAME THING EVERYDAY DISRUPTS YOUR INFRADIAN RHYTHM AND HURTS YOUR HORMONES
Our bodies and brains are different during each phase of our cycle, so our food, exercise, and self-care should be different each week, too.
If you’ve been living in a ‘same-thing-everyday’ way, you’re not alone. There is a widespread cultural belief that we are supposed to repeat the same rituals every 24 hours — have the same morning routine, for example, or exercise the same way each week. But this insistence on doing the same thing day-in and day-out caters to the male hormonal biological rhythm. Men follow the same predictable pattern everyday: the 24-hour circadian clock and only the 24-hour circadian clock.
People with female biochemistry having shifting hormones and shifting needs all month long. This manifests in a lot of different ways, but you can get a good sense of what I mean if we look at one specific example.
Take exercise. During your follicular and ovulatory phase, your metabolism is SLOWER and cortisol levels are LOWER. As such, you need fewer calories during these two phases, and when you couple that lower caloric intake with cardio and HIIT workouts—30 minutes is sufficient, but you can go longer if you are healthy—it creates a metabolic situation in which you use your glucose stores for energy, fat burning, and building more lean muscle without disrupting blood sugar or increasing cortisol, which would trigger inflammation and fat gain—the exact opposite of what you want to happen.
You don’t have to avoid any specific workouts during this phase, but the ones that will net you the results are cardio and HIIT.
During the luteal and menstrual phase, your metabolism is FASTER and cortisol levels are HIGHER. So you’ll need MORE overall calories each day (around 250 extra calories) and when you eat carbs they must be complex carbs to keep blood sugar levels stable. If you don’t increase your calories during this time, it will interfere with hormone balance and trigger fat storage. What’s more, because your cortisol levels are higher, you need to limit workouts to 30 minutes only and stick to simple strength training, pilates, or yoga without a high intensity cardio component.
WHY ISN'T THIS WIDESPREAD KNOWLEDGE?
Historically, medical research has deprioritized women’s health issues and/or not included women in medical research. Why?
Precisely because of our unique 28-day hormone cycle. When putting together clinical trials, many researchers have decided it is simply too complicated to include women as subjects because our monthly hormone cycle is too complicated. It’s hard to control for all the hormonal shifts women go through every 28-days, so instead of trying to account for those fluctuations, researchers have just left women out and focused on men, whose predictable 24-hour circadian cycles do not vary from day to day.
Another reason? When women go to the doctor, women’s concerns about their health are often dismissed as psychological. Women are told that their symptoms are in their head, or that they are imagining their pain, or that they’re overly concerned about their physical well-being. Studies back-up this theory: one report found that almost half of those who went on to be diagnosed with an autoimmune condition (the majority of people who experience autoimmune conditions are women) were originally told that they were too worried about their health. This is all to say that when medical professionals have the chance to explore women’s symptoms in more detail and understand the root cause of their symptoms, they often don’t.
Medicine doesn’t know a lot about women’s health, explains author Maya Dusenbery in the book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick, and it doesn’t pay serious attention to their symptoms. There is a gender bias in medicine and if you have experienced period problems like acne, bloating, cramps, heavy or irregular periods, missing periods, PMS or other hormone-related symptoms and not been helped by traditional interventions, you know this firsthand.
But you can break the cycle of symptoms, and look and feel your best, when you ditch the idea that you are supposed to live the same way everyday and start living in sync with your cycle.
THE CYCLE SYNCING METHOD™ 101
Once I uncovered all of this about the infradian rhythm and our specific needs, it was clear that we needed a diet, fitness and lifestyle program that would help us support our biological rhythm. This is why I created The Cycle Syncing Method.™ Practicing The Cycle Syncing Method™ is easy. It starts with deepening your familiarity with your 28-day hormone cycle—something you can do with the MyFlo app—and then tailoring your food, movement, supplements, and lifestyle choices to your unique strengths, weaknesses, and needs during each phase of your cycle.
That might sound daunting. It’s not. Before long, you will develop an intuitive sense of how your body feels during each phase of your cycle and what it needs to maintain hormone balance. You will begin to naturally shift your food, movement, and schedule as your hormones fluctuate. With time, making phase-based self-care choices will be second nature.
What type of phase-based choices am I talking about? Here’s a closer look at the different ways The Cycle Synching Method™ is used in practice:
Do you have certain cravings during different weeks of the month? Do you feel hungrier at different stages of your cycle? If so, you already have an embodied sense of your shifting needs each month. Practicing The Cycle Synching Method™ with food starts by choosing specific foods that will support optimal hormone balance in each phase. I go into more detail here, and I do a deep dive in my new book In the Flo, which is packed with biohacking advice and meal plans.
Sometimes, even if you’re eating perfectly, supplements are necessary to deepen your phase-based self-care plan, erase your period problems, and feel your best. If you are deficient in any of the five essential micronutrients required for hormone health, you will never fully resolve symptoms like acne, bloating, PMS, cramps, menstrual migraines, missing or irregular periods, or cyclical fatigue and moodiness.
Planning your workouts in sync with your cycle will allow you to achieve your fitness goals with less effort. It also makes your workouts easier because you are not trying to do a workout that is ill-matched for your hormones during a specific time. Using The Cycle Synching Method™ for exercise is a win-win.
Let me be clear, and the research confirms – you as a woman, can do ANYTHING, ANYTIME. The research also shows that as hormones stimulate the brain in different ways throughout the month, that you are more interested and more naturally at ease with certain tasks at different times of the month. The same is true of men of course, their brains are stimulated just over the course of one day and they do arrange their work to be optimally productive. So when we plan our schedules accordingly—for example, when we schedule important meetings or interviews when we are primed for communication—we may find even more success – and more importantly experience less overall stress on your body.
Sixty percent of women are sexually unsatisfied because we don’t understand how our infradian rhythm affects our sexual desire and changes our requirements for physical stimulation in each phase. Once you get the right key, the ignition will work every time and you don’t ever have to think something’s wrong with you again.
Nurturing a healthy, balanced relationship takes work, and using your infradian rhythm to organize the activities you might want to do with your partner can be a helpful way to bring in a wider variety of experiences. From trying new things to going out with friends, to romantic date nights, to Netflix and chill nights at home — timing these according to your biological rhythm increases pleasure, positive connection, and decreases stress!
You can use your infradian rhythm to organize your approach to parenthood, too. With your cycle as your guide, you can plan to do the things that matter most to you as a parent at times of the month when your interest in those activities is highest, and when you will naturally be your best at those things. By planning out your parent-child time in this way, you will prevent burnout, be less susceptible to the cult of perfectionism around parenthood, and create more quality time with your children.
Written By: Alisa Vitti + the Flo Living Team
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