All of nature moves in cycles. The seasons cycle through winter, spring, summer, and fall. The moon cycles from the new moon to the full moon, and then back to the new moon. As women, we have many cycles within our being – everything from sleep cycles and cardiac cycles to menstrual cycles. Every month, as a menstruating woman, your body will go through four different phases. And, just as it is important to nurture your body differently for different seasons, it is equally important to support yourself throughout each phase of your menstrual cycle.
When you support your cycle throughout all its phases, you nourish your body on a deep level. This cycle of self-love and self-care acts as the foundation of hormonal balance in our bodies. Having balanced hormones will not only help to increase fertility and decrease PMS symptoms, it will also increase overall health and vitality as our bodies prepare to reproduce when we are functioning at our optimum level.
Along with daily nourishment in the form of healthy foods & movement, you can promote internal balance by honoring & supporting yourself through each phase of your cycle. This is how you nurture the most intimate relationship you will ever have. When you dive deep into caring for yourself with reverence and joy, your whole life emanates harmonious femininity.
Supporting each phase of your cycle holistically begins with the foods you eat, the activities you partake in, and the integration of herbal medicine to support, rebalance and restore the body. Always tune into your intuition when it comes to choosing foods & herbs that resonate for you and your body. It’s best to work directly with a holistic or herbal practitioner if you need guidance, direction, and support.The menstrual cycle is divided into two main phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. Within these phases, there are two additional phases: menstruation and ovulation.
The follicular phase starts on the first day of your cycle (the first day of menstruation) and lasts until ovulation, usually around day 14-16. The luteal phase begins after this, and continues through days 15-28 (approximately), leading up to your next period. These phases are prompted by hormonal changes that occur naturally within the body, and so the health of our menstrual cycles can tell us a lot about the health of our hormones.
Changes during the menstrual cycle are controlled by various hormones. When these hormones become too low or too high, women experience various symptoms. Through proper diet, herbs, and supplementation, we can support our bodies and hormones to alleviate these symptoms and promote a healthy and regular menstrual cycle.
In all cycle phases, it’s important to support the body with real, whole foods while limiting/avoiding the following:
- Highly processed and refined foods including refined flour
- Junk and fast foods
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Damaged fats (vegetable oils, fried foods, etc.)
- BPA found in plastics, and plastic in general (these contain hormone disruptors!)
- Conventional, hormone-containing meat (look for organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed, wild-caught, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats)
- Sulfites and other food additives
- Chemical toxins found in conventional personal care products, household cleaners, and air fresheners
- Excessive use of drugs & alcohol
The following is a general guide of what to focus on and is not set in stone. You can most certainly consume foods in other phases or throughout the month even if they’re only listed in one phase. The idea is that the nourishment recommended will support a smooth transition through each stage and focus on consuming more of those foods during that part of the cycle.This phase starts on day one of your cycle (the first day you start to bleed). Typically, this phase will last anywhere between 3-5 days in a healthy individual. When the body recognizes that pregnancy did not take place, hormonal changes occur to shed the uterine lining (bleeding is the uterine lining leaving the body).
Progesterone and estrogen production drops as menstruation begins. Because the focus of this phase is to clear the blood/uterine lining out of the body, it is important to support your body through this elimination process.
You may feel more tired than usual and have cravings for food like chocolate. These cravings are usually your body speaking and asking for iron and magnesium-rich foods. Take as much time as you need during this phase to rest, recharge & restore.
Nourishment for the Menstrual Phase:
Foods that are rich in minerals, iron + vitamin C. Plus plenty of water - aim for ½ your body weight in ounces every day. Avoid heavy + fatty foods, alcohol, red meat, excess caffeine (especially coffee), and highly processed + overly salty foods during this phase.
Include: Bone, herb, vegetable, or miso broth, dark leafy greens like collards, kale, spinach & Swiss chard, beets, broccoli, bananas, dark chocolate, nettle leaf, sweet potatoes, seaweeds, berries, avocado, buckwheat, adzuki beans, kidney beans, black beans, lentils, tempeh, nut butter, and Himalayan sea salt. Omega 3-rich foods such as walnuts, wild-caught fish, hemp seeds, and chia seeds.
Supportive Herbs for the Menstrual Phase:
- Nettle leaf (as a tea, infusion or tincture) is high in iron & antihistamines
- Spirulina to support remineralization & detoxification + a decrease in inflammation
- Ginger tea & Turmeric for any pain/inflammation during or prior to menstruation
- Dolores as needed for any pain during menstruation
- Stress Relief Tea for calming support
- Chaga for the reduction of inflammation, iron & immune support
Movement, Rituals & Remedies for the Menstrual Phase
Avoid high-impact workouts during this time. Gentle movement as desired, such as stretching and restorative yin yoga, yoga nidra, or light walking. Warm baths with magnesium & sage, and hot water bottles are very soothing at this time. Try resting, reading, and journaling.This is the phase in which our bodies begin to prepare for a potential pregnancy. It is an opportunity for a new beginning and we often feel heightened energy, creativity, and vitality. There is a steady increase of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) as well as increased estrogen, which causes luteinizing hormone (LH) levels to increase and several follicles to develop. These follicles hold immature eggs, until at least one is released in ovulation. During this phase, you want to support the potential for increased vitality through nutrition and rituals.
Nourishment for the Follicular Phase:
Eat plenty of probiotic-rich foods and foods that are high in fiber, vitamins E, B, and zinc.
Incorporate foods that support the liver and help metabolize/eliminate excess estrogens from the body, like cruciferous vegetables. Focus on sprouted and fermented foods like broccoli sprouts, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Ensuring that you are getting adequate fiber is also essential for healthy elimination of excess estrogen - ground flax seeds and psyllium husk are great options.
Include: Watercress, parsley, broccoli, leafy greens, avocados, lemons & limes, oranges, grapefruit, oats, mung beans, lentils, cherries, pomegranates, carrots, zucchinis, quinoa, avocado, pumpkin seeds, pasture-raised organic chicken & eggs, white fish, olives, sauerkraut, nut butter, and coconut yogurt.
Supportive Herbs for the Follicular Phase:
- Nettle for replenishing iron
- Schisandra to replenish, post-menstruation
- Spirulina - high in b12 to Help boost energy by rebuilding red blood cells
Movement, Rituals & Remedies for the Follicular Phase:
Flow yoga, dancing, hiking, walking, and light jogging are best in this phase. As are activated breathwork, gua sha, self-massage, and other types of massage. Social connection, new experiences & activities are also beneficial at this time. You’ll likely find that your creative juices are most fluid during this time. This phase typically occurs around the middle of your cycle, usually day 14 for most women, but for women on a 32-day cycle, it could be on day 16 as well. The ovulation phase lasts for only 24hrs!
Be mindful if you are not looking to conceive - you have to be careful & practice safe sex for the entire week as sperm can survive for up to 5 days. Once inside your body, they wait while the egg is released from the ovary and travels to the uterus.
There is a 1-2 day window when we are fertile and when we experience a peak in estrogen, LH, and FSH. This phase is also when we feel at our social and sexual peak. Energy levels are up, our skin looks vibrant and clear, and we have an extrospective presence. During ovulation, you may feel warmer than usual as your body temperature increases by .5 degrees. If you are trying to get pregnant, this is the perfect time! If not, track your cycle & take precautions during the week you’re ovulating. *note things that can affect your cycles/ovulation below
Nourishment for the Ovulatory Phase:
Consume foods and herbs that support liver cleansing. Focus on anti-inflammatory, high-fiber foods like fruits, a variety of vegetables, and sprouted nuts, plus plenty of probiotic-rich foods.
Include: Asparagus, spinach, Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, dandelion, figs, coconut, raspberries, dates, apricots, turmeric, quinoa, lentils, almonds, pecans, Brazil nuts, lamb, wild-caught salmon, spirulina, psyllium husks, and fermented foods such as raw apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and coconut yogurt.
Supportive Herbs for the Ovulatory Phase:
- Dandelion or burdock root to help support liver detox & elimination.
- Maca for enhanced energy, stamina & libido
Movement, Rituals & Remedies for the Ovulatory Phase:
Higher-intensity workouts such as running or power yoga are best during this phase. Attend groups, workshops, and community events. Open communication and personal connection. This is a great time for attracting potential partners or new friends.This phase begins right after ovulation. It is marked by the breaking down of an unfertilized egg and a spike in progesterone levels before they drop off at menstruation. This abrupt change in hormones is what can sometimes lead to intense or unpleasant feelings and symptoms. This is generally a time when we begin to look within. As we move through this phase, it is normal for our energy to decrease and we may become more withdrawn and introverted. Nurture yourself deeply during this time.
Nourishment for the Luteal Phase:
Eat foods that support serotonin production like dark greens, healthy fats like salmon, eggs, and avocado, plus sprouted nuts & seeds and root vegetables. Add in magnesium-rich foods to increase energy and libido, like pumpkin seeds, spinach, Swiss chard, and dark chocolate.
Focus on healthy fats and protein to promote satiety and reduce cravings during this phase. Reduce/eliminate excess caffeine, alcohol, and dairy during this phase. It is best to eat warm, grounding foods, especially towards the end of this stage as you transition into the menstrual cycle.
Include: Celery, kale, collards, ginger, sweet potatoes, squash, parsnips, carrots, bananas, apples, dates, pears, brown rice, chickpeas, walnuts, pasture-raised organic poultry & eggs, wild-caught halibut & cod. Magnesium-rich foods such as spinach, beet greens, celery, Swiss chard, avocados, organic dark chocolate, quinoa, and almonds. Omega 3-rich foods such as walnuts, wild-caught fish, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and spirulina.
Drink plenty of water and include electrolytes as needed - especially if you tend towards water retention prior to menstruation.
Supportive Herbs for the Luteal Phase:
- Womb Tea which helps regulate hormones & balance moods drink on the days leading up to your cycle to support your uterus.
- Triphala for pre-cycle constipation. *Only take 1-2x during this phase with plenty of water.
- Golden Moon for reducing inflammation & relaxing support
Movement, Rituals & Remedies for the Luteal Phase:
Pilates, strength training, and yoga are best during this phase - especially in the first half of the phase. Lighten or reduce the intensity of your activities towards the end of this cycle. Self-massage, gentle womb massage, yoga nidra, gentle breathing, castor oil packs, warm magnesium baths, and anything that is soothing and comforting are great to include.
Intuition is most potent during this phase. Dream journaling & stream of consciousness writing are powerful tools during this time into menstruation.
Holistic Nourishment for Every Phase
Regardless of what phase you’re in, the following tips are always helpful for holistically nourishing yourself so that you feel your best throughout your cycle.
-Drink plenty of water each day (half your body weight - in pounds - in ounces of water)
-Regulate stress through meditation, spending time in nature, drinking gentle nervine teas, and getting at least 10-15 minutes of natural sunlight every day
-Enjoy movement every day in some form - walking is wonderful!
-Support circulation & lymphatic flow through exercise, sex, self-massage, gua sha, and alternating hot & cold showers
-Eat & cook with joy/pleasure
-Enjoy fresh herbal teas & infusions
-Drink fresh vegetable juice
-Eat more plants
-Eat less animal-based foods - in small amounts as needed/desired
-Get plenty of fiber to help clear excess estrogen & relieve constipation
-Support elimination through water, fiber, movement, and massage
-Balance your blood sugar level (and hormones) by eating regular meals at regular mealtimes - less or more food, depending on where you are in your cycle; you may find during the luteal phase your appetite increases and then you have less of an appetite during menstruation
-Listen to the changing cues & needs of your body
-Utilize self-massage, breast massage, and various types of breathwork throughout each cycle
-Do gentle/seasonal cleansing rituals as needed - strengthen your body by cleansing from caffeine, alcohol, animal products, sugar, and packaged foods for 7 -10 days at the beginning of each season
-Rest whenever you need to
-Get deep, restorative sleep - retire at the same time every night and rise at the same time every day as often as possible (this tends to shift with the seasons/amount of light)
-Unplug from electronics/blue light at least 2-3 hours before bed - limit blue light exposure
-Unplug from all technology/media 1-2x per week or as often as possible to reset
Cycle Support Tools & Education
Menstruating with the new moon
Beginning your menstrual cycle on a new moon is known as the White Moon Cycle. Cycling with the new moon encourages restorative practices, focusing on rest and contemplative reflection. This time also encourages self-care and is traditionally linked with fertility and motherhood. Starting your period on the new moon means you tend to withdraw and check out energetically during this time to really focus on yourself. This time encourages a powerful connection to intuition, inward thinking, and meditation.
Menstruating with the full moon
Beginning your menstrual cycle on a full moon is known as the Red Moon Cycle, and is associated with caring for others and creativity in all its forms - children, art, and business. Traditionally, women on the Red Moon Cycle were thought to be healers or medicine women. Energy is often focused outwards and women may feel more outgoing and vibrant at this time, with a focus on mentorship, growth, and the development of others. By contrast, ovulation during this time (White Moon Cycle) is often supportive of conception and starting a family.
How to sync your cycle with the moon
Gaze at the moon, spend more time in nature, get 15-20 minutes of sunlight every day, spend more time in the moonlight, avoid excessive amounts of blue light (especially 2-3 hours before bed), sleep in complete darkness (especially during the new moon - eye masks are helpful for this), and practice new moon & full moon rituals.
What a healthy menstrual cycle looks like
A healthy cycle can be anywhere from 21-35 days, though the average cycle is typically 28 days with ovulation occurring at day 14. Whatever length your cycle is, a relatively consistent rhythm from month to month is key.
Bleeding generally lasts between 3 and 5 days and menstrual blood should be bright red - as opposed to dark red or light pink - and should be free of clots. Bleeding or spotting in between cycles is often indicative of an imbalance. Brownish discharge towards the end of the cycle is common.
PMS is common, though the severity generally depends on your internal state of health. If symptoms are interfering with your daily activities or feel extreme, it is best to reach out to a holistic practitioner for support.
Mental health changes are also quite common - especially during the luteal phase & for some, this can be quite extreme. Again, if you experience radical mood shifts and extreme mental health challenges during this phase, it is best to reach out to a holistic practitioner for individualized support.
Factors that cause a dramatic shift in your menstrual cycle or the loss of bleeding
- Excessive stress, leading to the release of cortisol which increases estrogen and sends the body into fight or flight mode.
-Moving and traveling, while often fun and enjoyable, are also perceived as stress by the body and can disrupt the cycle.
-Poor sleep over an extended period of time can raise cortisol and insulin, which can alter your cycle.
-Traveling to another time zone sometimes shifts your body’s internal rhythm, which reflects as changes in your cycle.
-Exercising vigorously or pushing past your body's limitations can signal a stress response in the body.
-Gaining weight quickly, as well as losing weight quickly, as this alters internal estrogen levels.
-Excessive toxin exposure - excessive drug/alcohol intake, household chemical cleaning supplies, toxic beauty products, pesticides, or BPAs, which are known endocrine disruptors.
-Underlying hormone imbalance.
How to get your period back (if you are not menstruating but not yet menopausal)
Stress reduction is key! You can do this in a number of ways, such as: connecting with the earth, connecting with spirit, grounding, connecting with & gazing at the moon, listening to the ocean, walking in the woods, sun therapy 15-20 minutes per day, especially in the morning, and allowing yourself down-time, taking time off to completely unplug and connect with your gentle, intuitive feminine nature. Less intensive exercise and more fluid movement such as walking & gentle yoga. Proper & balanced nourishment, massage, womb massage, plenty of water, restore vitamin & mineral imbalances and deficiencies (best to test, not guess, & seek the support of a holistic practitioner).
Supportive foods: Ghee, nuts & seeds, avocado (+ all healthy fats), a variety of teas, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, root veggies, warm & easy-to-digest foods, plenty of protein and fiber, and unrefined carbohydrates. Avoid restrictive / elimination diets. Have regular meals at regular mealtimes. Include plenty of iron-rich foods + spirulina & chlorella.
- Womb tea - to help rebalance hormones
- Maca to help rebalance hormones
- Liver Cleanse - for seasonal cleansing or as needed liver support
- Qi Energy/ Protein - to rebalance the body & hormones
- Moringa - to replenish & restore
- Suma - to replenish energy & help restore hormone balance
How to get in touch with your ovulation (+ cervical mucus)
Charting and tracking your cycle and cervical mucus throughout the month can give you a better idea as to which day of the month you ovulate. It is important to remember that every woman is unique, and our cycles are as well. Not every woman ovulates at day 14 on the dot. We all have different follicular and luteal phases, and menses lengths. This is why tracking based on apps may provide you with false estimates, and you may want to use a second barrier method if having unprotected sex.
Cervical mucus is fluid secreted by your cervix and is controlled by hormones. The primary role of this discharge is to help sperm reach the egg and begin fertilization. The fluid also protects your cervix. Your mucus changes in color, texture, and amount throughout the month and the different phases. These changes will give you an idea of what stage of your cycle you are in and, most importantly, when ovulation will begin.
Cervical Discharge Cycle
Cervical discharge will be different throughout your cycle. Here’s what to look for and what it means:
- Menstruation: blood flow covers mucous, so you will not be able to detect it
- Dry to sticky: not fertile, “safe” days if pregnancy is not on the agenda
- Creamy like lotion: egg is beginning to ripen, “safe” day for sex
- Wet and watery: fertile - time for pregnancy
- Raw (clear) egg white consistency: most fertile - the best time for pregnancy
- Back to dry and sticky: the cycle is beginning again, not fertile:
- Menstruation: same as above - the cycle repeats
*Note that even if your cycle does not match the one above, your mucus must have a (clear) egg white consistency to signal ovulation.
*Also note that vaginal discharge that is white, thick, clumpy, and odorless often indicates a yeast infection.
If you are not ovulating
A lack of ovulation, or anovulation, is often a sign that there is an imbalance in your body. This signifies a disruption in the communication between the hormones necessary to support the release of a mature egg, which causes an anovulatory cycle. When ovulation does not occur, there is no mature egg, meaning pregnancy cannot occur during that specific cycle.
Many influences can disrupt a healthy hormonal balance, including stress, infections, and illnesses, poor diet, extreme shifts in weight (increasing or decreasing), excessive exercise routines, breastfeeding, fertility issues, pituitary or thyroid problems, recently coming off the birth control pill or having an IUD removed, and traveling.
How to get your ovulation back (if you are not ovulating)
Nature connection, connecting with the moon, connecting with spirit, stress reduction, deep sleep, womb massage, balanced and consistent nourishment, plenty of rest, and gentle exercise.
Ovulation supportive foods: Plenty of protein: animal or plant-based - legumes, lentils, nuts & seeds, wild-caught fish, pasture-raised eggs, ghee, dark leafy greens, a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, root veggies, beets, seaweed, broccoli, spirulina, and chlorella.
Ovulation supportive herbs:
Suma - to help regulate sex hormones
Supportive Cycle Tools + Adjuncts
Limit xenoestrogens - Xenoestrogens are synthetic chemicals which mimic the effects of estrogen in the body but are 100 times stronger. They can cause significant hormonal imbalances, most often estrogen dominance. These are found in plastics, pesticides, and common household products.
Try: Using glass and stainless steel containers rather than plastic for food storage, and replacing conventional body care products with natural alternatives (EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database or the Think Dirty app can help you find natural alternatives).
Improve detoxification - Help the body eliminate excess hormones, primarily through liver support and healthy bowel movements, to encourage hormonal balance.
Try: Consuming adequate fiber, which is easier to achieve if focusing on whole foods. Ground flax seeds and psyllium husk are particularly good for binding excess estrogen to be eliminated in the stool. Be mindful to drink enough water each day (½ your body weight in ounces is a good general guideline). Fiber without water can cause constipation and worsen hormonal imbalance.
Herbs like burdock & dandelion & bitter foods help to cleanse the liver. Try them in tea or infusion form. These are especially helpful if you are experiencing constipation or experience constipation during ovulation or prior to your menstrual cycle.
This Article Was Written By,
Kristin Dahl is a Los Angeles based nutritionist, herbalist, and women’s wellness educator whose teachings emanate from her extensive education in holistic healing, Ayurveda, herbal medicine, plant-based cooking, and functional nutrition. Her book, The Art of Wellness, co-written with Olympic Gold Medalist Stephanie Rice, has gained global attention for its integrative guidance on health and wellness. Kristin’s approach merges the practical and spiritual, educating and empowering individuals to take preventative steps and make lasting change.
Visit her website: kristindahlnutrition.com