Hey men, this post isn't for you. So feel free to look away (but don't be scared, if you have a woman in your life who struggles each month, stay a while and share what you learn).
Beautiful woman, I need to start this post with this: your body does not hate you. It is not punishing you. It is not "normal" to spend a week each month in pain, suffering from debilitating cramps, headaches, heavy periods, etc. Your body is a beautiful, complex system that works hard to maintain balance and show you what it needs - so listen to her queues. I promise, change is possible. Healing is possible. And a beautiful, harmonious period is your birth right.
I've shared my story a bit before: debilitating period pain, super long cycles, extreme bleeding, passing out, anemia, endometriosis, miscarriage .. needless to say, I understand what you may be going through. But take it from me, someone who went from a 72 day cycle average, with such heavy bleeding, a super tampon and an overnight maxi pad would be soaked through in under an hour, it is totally possible to heal. I now spend 4-5 days a month (every 30-33 days) bleeding. I can use natural pads, regular tampons and my beloved diva cup without much thought. And I only have one day of mild cramping and headaches (which I take as a loving request from my body to slow the fuck down). The symptoms I am currently working on eradicating: the three days before my period where I get super emotional, have intense lower back pain, some breakouts, constipation, and breast tenderness.
However, I'm at a point now where I can confidently say I embrace this time every month as an opportunity for deep reflection and self care. I slow down and tune in and honour my body for the glorious thing its doing. And she responds with gentleness.
But how did I get here? It's not all woo-woo and spirituality that got me to this place. It was hard work and making some big changes. But they were SO worth it.
Way back almost three years ago when I started this journey, I was a vegetarian and feeling totally exhausted. My energy levels began to tank, my hair was falling out and my period - was a HOT MESS. I ended up in the emergency room several months in a row, missed work, school and was afraid to go out without a bag full of supplies and immediate bathroom access. I had extra clothes in my car, and towels down on the seat. A 30 minute drive to work felt like an eternity. It was bad.
When I had my miscarriage, and bled uncontrollably - something shifted. I knew something was wrong. But my body gave me the first sign: a craving for meat. I hadn't eaten any meat in over 5 years, so although desperate for some butter chicken, I was a little disturbed. But at this point, curled up in the fetal position, was willing to try anything my body told me to do. So I added back in some organic chicken and bone broths, 3 days a week. And miraculously started to feel better. This started a new journey with food.
I started researching like crazy. I picked up book after book on hormonal health. And I have to say: as someone who thought vegetarian diets were the be all and end all cure to everything, I felt very very stupid. Every book talked about the importance of animal proteins and high quality fats on balancing hormones. And I want to just say - there are a lot of people that thrive on vegetarian and vegan diets, in fact, I'm all for them - BUT not all of us can eat that way and feel great. And through experimenting with myself, I realized I did NOT feel great eating that way. So my diet shifted to a heavily plant based diet, supplemented with organic chicken and fish. Slowly over time, I added things in like grass fed beef, organic free range eggs, lamb, turkey - the works (although I'm still super hesitant around pork).
And my diet continues to shift. As I've transitioned to a paleo diet over the last three months, my periods have changed from 40-50 day cycles, down to a healthy 30-33. And my symptoms (aka your body telling you whats up) are almost completely gone. So now that I've shared a little back story, here are the steps I've taken to radically transform my menstrual health:
1. Diet - I stick to a plant-heavy, paleo diet that includes loads of greens, high quality proteins like chicken, fish, eggs, and beef, and high quality fats like ghee, coconut oil, brain octane, avocados, etc. I eat nuts and seeds, and avoid most grains and gluten containing foods, as well as dairy. I supplement heavily (I'll go into detail in this post about what supplements I started with, and you can check out my current supplement routine here) with nutritional supplements, adaptogenic herbs, and things like collagen. This has made the world of difference: to my skin, my energy, my hair, my nails, my body and my menstrual cycle.
In the early days of healing I supplemented with ThyroSMART and Vitex, to get my period back and balance my thyroid hormones. Vitex has a stimulating and normalizing effect on women's sex hormones, as well as stimulates the pituitary gland to function optimally. Its indicated in dysmenorrhea (which is why I took it), PMS, mastalgia or breast pain, etc. It helps restore progesterone concentration, and helps reestablish a luteal phase in the menstrual cycle. I found it highly effective, and took it for three months while changing how I ate.
I also completed several cleanses to help clear my liver and get my digestion jump started. My fave to recommend right now is Ange Peter's: Ready Set Glow. More recently, I have loved the Whole 30 reset program - and found a HUGE improvement in a number of my symptoms in a months time. I highly recommend.
2. Self care - I practice rest for the first day of my cycle. I sleep 8 hours a night. I take care of my skin with natural products, including the feminine hygiene products I use. I take at least 2 epsom salt baths a week for the detoxifying effects, and for the calming nourishment it gives my body. I journal, I have a
beautiful morning practice, and I make sure there is time for me.
3. Exercise - I hit the gym at least 4 days a week, and focus on strength training, with light cardio mixed in. Its a pump up of endorphins, and gets blood flowing through the body. Also sweat is an excellent detoxifier. It's also a time where I get to connect to my body, and spend some time with my hubby. During cardio, I amp up the self love by listening to an audio book or inspiring podcast (always learning).
4. Essential oils - these have been monumental in balancing my hormones. Some of my key faves are: clary sage, Clary Calm by doterra, any feminine oil (rose, geranium, ylang ylang, lavender, etc). I diffuse every day, I roll on my tummy, on my face, inhale with a few drops in my hands, roll on my wrists. The works.
5. Yoni eggs - I use a rose quartz yoni egg, and my fave retailer for eggs and wands is Chakrubs without a doubt. Vanessa is amazing - like real deal, original creatrix of crystal wands as she calls Chakrubs. You can get an egg here. First off, yoni eggs get you intimately connected with down there. And most of us are seriously lacking in that area. We judge our body, especially our vagina and vulva, and consider it failing us when something goes wrong. Instead, get connected. Love on that area. Yoni eggs have been used for thousands of years to tone the pelvic floor, tone the vaginal walls, increase lubrication, balance hormones, and reduce cramps during your menstrual phase (and so much more).
I would not suggest using it during your menstrual phase, but during the rest of the month, its a beautiful practice to incorporate. In fact, its so beautiful I'm sharing my Blissed Out Sexy Self Care guide with you - download it here. It has a beautiful yoni egg practice, essential oils for hormone balancing, as well as a number of other practices like breast massage, baths - that were all a huge part in balancing my hormones and getting me back in touch with my feminine to heal my menstrual cycle.
6. Detoxed my wellness products - This included makeup, skin care, feminine hygiene care, cleaning products, EVERYTHING got changed. The reason why is there are SO many chemicals in conventional products that are known endocrine disruptors aka mess with your hormones, OR even mimic them in your body. This can cause some major imbalances. Especially when the average woman uses 12+ products PER DAY. Some common endocrine disruptors and other harmful chemicals you may see in your products include: BHA and BHT, coal tar dyes, DEA-related ingredients, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde releasing preservatives, paragons, parfum aka fragrance, PEG compounds, petrolatum, siloxanes, sodium laureate sulphate and triclosan. Please educate yourself and cut at least these ingredients out. I promise its actually easy to do.
The biggest area I recommend to make a change and stat is in your feminine hygiene products - tampons, pads, etc. I HIGHLY recommend switching to the diva cup or another menstrual cup for a few reasons: you save a shit ton of money, better on the environment, you get up close and personal with your blood, you can monitor colour and consistency better (this tells you a lot about the health of your hormones), as well as track how heavy you are bleeding. This has been huge for me, who was bleeding extremely heavily and it allowed me to tangibly see the changes over the months and give my doctor accurate information.
If you don't want to switch to a menstrual cup, you can try a few natural brands including: NaturaCare (which is what I use), they have a full line of tampons, pads, pantyliners, and wipes that are amazing, Asana is another easily accessible brand, or you can look into other alternatives like cloth pads (I didn't find these to be enough protection) or Thinx period panties (super expensive).
7. Fertility tracking - I practice fertility awareness method or FAM (currently for birth control), as it allows you really intense insight into your menstrual cycle. You track your temperature everyday as soon as you wake up, after at least three hours of sleep, as well as tracking things like cervical mucuous, cervix location and texture and mood shifts. I will go into detail for you another time, but its been incredible getting to know my cycle and identify the areas that need the most help. For example, my luteal cycle was at 30+ days, and should be between 14-16 days. Which is where I have it now. Recognizing these things, allows you to make shifts to nutrition and supplementation because you know which hormones are out of balance. I strongly recommend partnering with your doctor or a naturopath to have a full hormonal workup as well.
My fave app is called Fertility Friend, but some other good ones are myFLO, Clue or Kindara.
A note on the moon: I'm going to be honest, I got super woo woo in my healing process, and my relationship to the moon got intense. In about 6 months, I've been able to get myself synced up with the moon for my periods. Like clock work I ovulate with the full moon and menstruate within days of the new moon. Each month. I bring this up, not because its the be all and end all, but simply because its cool that our cycles tend to match up with the natural cyclical nature of our world.
As a cool little thing I learned: ancient texts tell us that women were thought to have one of two cycles, the red moon cycle or the white moon cycle. Women with a red moon cycle ovulate on the new moon, and bleed with the full moon. Its said that this combination is present in healers, medicine women, and she shares her creative energy with the world. On the other hand, women with a white moon cycle are in perfect sync with the fertility of nature. This link came from bio-dynamic farming practices that found planting on full moons to be the most bountiful for crops, and that is where the fertility connection came in to play.
I found it incredibly interesting as I was attempting to maximize my fertility due to my endometriosis, that my cycle shifted in this way.
Now I could continue going further into more detail, but these are the basics. I will be updating this post continuously, and giving you more and more information, AS WELL AS writing more posts that go into detail on specific areas of hormonal health to better equip you with the information to help you out. So you don't have to do it all on your own.
For now, here are a few further reading recommendations: WomanCode, Balance Your Hormones, Balance Your Life; Mama Glow, Code Red, Love Your Lady Landscape and Taking Charge of Your Fertility