Why you don't need to cycle sync your nutrition
The principle of cycle syncing is based on enhancing the natural hormonal shifts which is helpful for many purposes, such as improving libido, identifying ovulation when you’re trying to conceive, reducing PMS symptoms, regulating menstrual cycles, reducing menstrual pain, etc. So the principle is completely relevant and helpful for when you are learning more about your cycle.
In terms of exercising for specific cycle phases, it is very useful as well. For example, during the menstrual phase, some women might need to take things slower and opt for exercises like walking and yin yoga which is much more gentle on the body, rather than intense exercises like HIIT or aerobics, which is better suited for the follicular phase.
However, I find the nutrition side of cycle syncing a bit pointless, limiting and somewhat stress-inducing. Here’s an example of how to eat during according to your cycle. This is from healthline.com:
With the menstrual phase, soothing teas like chamomile can help reduce cramps, but how we are eating during the other weeks will be more effective in combatting cramps for good. It is also unclear what is meant by 'fatty foods' - do they mean junk food, or does that include healthy fats like good quality dairy and butter?
For the follicular and ovulatory phase, it recommends to eat foods that support oestrogen clearance through the liver. Oestrogen may be at an all time high during this phase, but our cells are producing endogenous oestrogen on a daily basis, so the liver needs support every single day. It lists anti-inflammatory foods, but one of the most fundamental foods for the liver is protein and sadly, there is no mention of high quality protein sources here. For me, protein is first and foremost. And then come the specific vitamins, minerals, antioxidants (many of which are found in high quality protein foods by the way, as well fruits and veggies) to further support detoxification.
Here’s another one from mindbodygreen.com:
Why is protein only mentioned in this menstrual week? High quality, bioavailable protein is needed throughout the month equip the liver to detoxify oestrogen and to maintain thyroid hormone function. Our cells are producing endogenous oestrogen on a daily basis, so the liver needs support every single day.
Raw vegetables are recommended during the ovulation phase to help detox excess oestrogen, but what vegetables are we consuming raw? We really have to be mindful when consuming certain types of vegetables raw, like cruciferous vegetables, because it can throw off thyroid function. If our thyroid function is out of balance, this will affect energy, ovulation, cold sensitivity, and it can induce constipation, muscle aching, slow movement and slow thoughts, and lethargy.
Recently, I have found that I need to be very, very specific to my clients about what vegetables can be eaten raw and what can be cooked. If we look into our ancestral history, it was very rare for vegetables to be eaten raw; they were either cooked well, or fermented. I have a work colleague who’s from Zambia and in his particular village, they consume a lot of vegetables. I asked if those vegetables are eaten raw, and he said it is very rare, all of it is cooked. And it got me thinking; whenever I go to visit family in India, they never eat raw salads. Vegetables are either cooked as curries, or consumed in pickle form. We have one salad called kachumber which is made up of vegetables like tomatoes, onions, cucumbers and chillies, and so it doesn’t contain any of the vegetables that would affect thyroid function.
Luteal phase - for hormonal health, regardless of wherever you are in your cycle, or whether you have a hormonal condition like PCOS or endometriosis, or you’re pregnant, or you’re breastfeeding, or you are menopausal, we should be eating to stabilise blood sugar all the time. In every single meal.
Ultimately, cycle syncing over-complicates what the body needs. When I first started learning about this, the cycle phases was so useful to identify signs of ovulation, how my energy is different during the follicular phase and when my luteal phase has begun, but I found the nutrition side of things really exhausting.
If we look to our predecessors, they never thought they need to hunt and gather X Y and Z foods for this phase, and only eat other foods during another phase. Rather, food was based on nutrient density
Nutrient dense foods has to meet at least 3 criteria:
It’s nutrients are bioavailable; our body recognises it and can easily make use of the nutrients
Our body has to be able to digest it easily
The quality of foods have to reflect the foods of traditional cultures because they have withstood the test of time.
Of course there’s nuance here, but that’s my general definition of nutrient density.
For example, seed cycling is something I wouldn’t recommend anymore, simply because traditionally, our ancestors did not consume so many nuts and seeds at one given time. I don’t think these foods are inherently bad, but they do contain anti-nutrients.
Nuts and seeds were found inside of a shell, which provided protection and contained high amounts of vitamin E. But without this shell, like we see on our supermarket shelves today, they are much more prone to oxidation and rancidity. Plus, there are better, more easily digestible and higher in nutrient foods that can do a better job, in my opinion, like beef liver.
Nutrition and cycle syncing is also not suitable for a lot of women with cycle irregularities. Women with PCOS or some form of menstrual irregularity cannot always recognise which phase they are in and therefore cannot always clearly identify what specific foods to eat and when.
As a nutritional therapist, it makes no sense for me to suggest eat these foods this week, another set of foods another week, and so on. It would be way too overwhelming. It is a lot more sustainable to support the cycle with the same nutrient dense foods every week.
While I have personally benefitted from it a great deal and I know a lot of women have better understood their cycle through it which is absolutely crucial, nutrition can be much much more straightforward and simple with a focus of nutrient dense foods (such as, grass-fed beef, meat broths, wild fish, fruits, eggs, honey, cooked veggies, raw milk, and ghee, to name a few).