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After more than a decade on the hormonal birth control pill, I decided to go off of it in 2014 and have never looked back. While I am incredibly thankful for access to birth control and the role it played in allowing me to make my own choices regarding parenthood, I felt ready to try natural family planning and experience my natural cycle.
It’s important to recognize that this isn’t a path that everyone can choose and that my ability to rely on natural family planning intersects with a lot of privilege — such as a partner who is willing to cooperate, knowing that I could afford a child if I were to unexpectedly become pregnant (or gain access/afford an abortion), and that the obligation of parenthood wouldn’t be detrimental to my health, career, or safety.
As I’ve gotten to know my cycle over the past seven years I’ve written a lot about how I’ve taken advantage of the natural ups, downs, and many changes that occur over the course of a month. I’ve written about how I sync my cycle to the foods I eat, the exercise I do, and even the type of work I do in each phase. It’s very much like a superpower once you know how to harness the strength and weaknesses of each phase.
There are also two things that this experience has taught me that I really believe have changed my life, and I’d love to share those with you today:
Please note that there will some discussion of weight loss and diet culture.
Understanding that weight fluctuation is a very natural part of a menstrual cycle is helpful not just for your physical health — but your mental health. It can also help you avoid falling into the trap of diet culture.
Diet culture has made many of us extremely sensitive to changes in our weight. If we step on the scale during our Luteal or Menstrual Phase and see that number up five pounds, we might restrict our eating, cut out a vital food group, or force ourselves to over-exercise. All at a time when our body needs rest and nourishment the most. Not only can this wreak havoc on your hormones, but it can also cause a complex or unhealthy relationship with your body or food…and could cause your body’s set-point (natural weight range) to increase.
Understanding how my body’s size is impacted by my cycle was a game-changer for me. I now proudly own pants and bras in two different sizes and know that I’ll fit into each at some point in my cycle. I pay much less attention to the scale and trust that my body will adjust throughout my cycle as it needs to.
When you enter the Luteal Phase (usually days 19-28+) your body will begin to crank out progesterone in hopes that it is pregnant. If you aren’t, the progesterone will rapidly decrease and this can leave you feeling mentally and physically sluggish. Your predisposition to hormonal sensitivities is genetic, so depending on how sensitive you personally are to this decrease, you might feel anywhere from slightly gloomy to downright depressed and it might last a matter of hours to days. Of course, this also occurs around the time that other PMS symptoms like acne or bloating arrive — so it can certainly take a toll even if your experience is relatively mild.
I happen to be more sensitive to this progesterone drop. Tracking has allowed me to pinpoint it to days 23/24 of my cycle (or roughly 4 days before bleeding beings) and it’s pretty accurate month-to-month.
Tracking this can allow you to know when it’s coming, and to be more conscious of the fact that it is driven by your hormonal changes and will pass within a day or two. Before I was aware of this, it would often trigger a downward spiral where I’d feel depressed about having felt depressed, and rather than limiting those feelings to a day or two, I’d have an emotional hangover that would last an entire week. Now I know when to expect this slump, and knowing the cause helps me feel in control of it. I overcome it much quicker knowing that it is temporary (and normal).
Now I can plan ahead and support myself through it. Some of the things I do: try to clear my schedule (or at least avoid things like product launches or podcast interviews), plan on cozy nights at home where I can relax rather than too many social engagements, eat supportive foods, and make sure my partner knows. I gotta say that if you have a partner, looping them in on your monthly progesterone drop can be a real game-changer. Prior to cycle tracking, this was *almost always* the point in my cycle where we’d bicker and have disagreements. Just like that monthly weight fluctuation, if you’re having a big blow-up with your spouse once every 24 days, it’s easy to feel like you are always fighting and that your relationship sucks. It’s no wonder my partner once called cycle tracking the “best thing we ever did for our relationship”.
Worth noting that some people can experience up to two weeks of luteal phase depression and that it can cause severe symptoms and even suicidal ideation. This more severe form is known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder and is believed to impact 8%+ of people with a menstrual cycle.
Understanding, accepting, and anticipating that my weight will fluctuate and my mood will vary throughout the month has helped me feel in control of my cycle — rather than feeling like I’m just along for the ride. I really believe that this has contributed to living a happier and healthier life.
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