How I Healed [+ Currently Honor!] My Hormones
I want to start this article by stressing that I am in no way a hormone expert. I am not recommending anyone try this without the advisory of their healthcare professionals. The following is a story about me + my journey that I want to share with you all in hopes that I can help someone else!
It started for me about 9 months ago. My PMS symptoms were suddenly getting worse with crazy mood swings, extreme breast tenderness, + terrible bloating. My anxiety also got worse + symptoms of depression were lacing their way into my world. I wasn’t feeling myself. I would detach from people I loved. I was having exceptionally bad breakouts + I was having carb + sugar cravings which all led me to feel completely uncomfortable in my skin [and let me tell you, as a fitness professional who lives in tight workout clothes + cropped tops, this was HELL].
I lived in this state for several months [like, 6 months] before putting my foot down + acknowledging that I couldn’t live like this anymore. Don’t ask me why it took so long. I think part of it was because I felt sorry for myself, part of it was denial that something was really wrong, part of me was scared of the work I would have to do to get myself out of feeling this way. In any case, I knew I needed help, so I started to do research. I started reading articles + listening to podcasts + having conversations. I was completely shocked at how common this seemed to be + this gave me hope.
The first step I took was getting a therapist. I “shopped around” with a couple different ones before finding one that I really loved. Here’s the thing — I think everyone should have a therapist. Whether you are going through a hard time or not, it is amazing what having an unbiased person to talk to will do for you!
The second thing I did was go to the gynecologist + got my IUD removed. Like my girls in my age range, I have been on birth control for 12 years- since I was 15 years old. I used to get really heavy periods when I was younger, + it interfered with my dancing, so my mom + I agreed that I would start the pill. The pill turned into a NuvaRing, which turned into another pill, which eventually turned into me getting an IUD. It was the magic solution for me at the time. I say at the time, because in my early 20’s, not getting my period was amazing! In my later 20’s, not so much. It wasn’t until the past year that I started noticing PMS symptoms + a possible change in my hormones. I read somewhere that your hormones reset every 7 years or so, which is why we may notice these symptoms more now than we did when we were younger. So, to the gyno I went, + out with the IUD!
I was advised that many of my symptoms, especially the emotional ones, would get worse before they got better, so I braced myself for a few months of bumpy road. A huge sense of relief came immediately. I felt really good about taking a step in a great direction for myself. The next month, I got my period for the first time in about 8 years (I kid you not). I started to track my period on my calendar, + while my period came, my moods + skin weren’t improving. I came across a podcast that talked about hormone imbalance + I could not believe that every single thing they were saying was speaking to my situation.
The guest speaker was a hormone expert, who initially worked with women going through menopause, + until recently started seeing girls in their late 20’s to early 30’s who all seemed to be having similar issues. She was a wealth of knowledge + it brought me so much comfort to hear her words. She, like many hormone experts, recommended that girls go off of birth control every few years to reset their bodies. Great, I had that down. She then went into this whole discussion of how we can take care of ourselves by honoring our menstrual cycle, which apparently is much more complicated than a few days of craving chocolate + having mood swings, then a few days where you need tampons, then all of the other days. Additionally, with these different phases, there are different things your body needs, from workouts to foods! So here’s the Cliff Notes version of what this looks like.
#1] Menstrual Phase: Hey-o, Flo is here! Your hormones are at their lowest levels. This is a great time to focus + strategize in your life. Since your energy is at its lowest levels, you should focus on light exercises like yin yoga, meditation, or gentle mat pilates. For food, think of eating fats, proteins, + other foods that will keep your blood sugar steady. Additionally, add more fiber + zinc, since you are losing these during menstruation.
#2] Follicular Phase: Hormones that have been at low levels are slowly starting to increase. You might be feeling more creative at this point, this is a great time to start new projects + get inspired! For exercise, ease into some more intense workouts or try a new one like a cardio dance class, or reformer pilates. The best foods to eat during this time are ones that are brightly colored + high in nutrients to keep you feeling energized. Lean protein, fermented foods, + lots of veggies are great here. You might also be feeling an increase in sex drive — its normal! Go for it!
#3] Ovulation Phase: This is where you have higher levels of luteinising hormone, which prepares your body to release an egg. In this phase, communication is super important in all aspects of your life! Your energy levels are higher, so this is a great time to get into a group cardio class, or high intensity workout. For food, raw veggies + fruits should be on your plate alongside lighter grains.
#4] Luteal Phase: Estrogen, progesterone, + testosterone are at their highest levels at the beginning of this phase + fall right before you get your period. This is a great time to focus on completing projects + tasks + taking care of yourself. In the beginning of this phase, you may have more energy to be social + in the second half, more of a desire to be alone. Slow but intense workouts like strength training + hot/power yoga are great options at the beginning of this phase, + then move into lower intensity workouts in the second part. Hearty foods like whole grains, beans, + meat are good to focus on so you can fight off sugar cravings [foods high in sugar increase blood sugar which can set off your stress hormones], dark leafy greens will help with bloating + root veggies are great to eat here too!
. . .
I am really happy to be able to feel these different parts in my cycle — I don’t feel as numb, + I have noticed + awareness of my body + mood that I didn’t have before. While I’m 4-5 months without being on birth control, I feel like I have a really good grip on where I am at. I know that I am a work in progress always, but it feels really empowering to know that I can make changes in my life to make myself feel better. I hope this is helpful + I can’t wait to continue this conversation with you!
PSA: Listen to Aya on #TheCHAARGPodcast — episode #45!