Why Is Everyone Talking About Cycle Syncing?

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Photo: Courtesy of Erol Ahmed

It’s a long-believed urban myth that women who spend a lot of time together end up having synced cycles, meaning that they get their period at the same time. There were multiple theories about this; some stipulated that it was that the proximity that allowed the women’s pheromones to interact, while others stated that it was the result of some evolutionary protective system. There have even been studies to back this up, one of which showed that 80 percent of women believed this phenomenon to be real. In 1971, Martha McClintock, an American psychologist whose research typically focused on human pheromones and the effects of the environment and biology on sexual behavior, became the first to actually document some sort of scientific evidence exploring the theory of menstrual synchrony, soon after which the phenomenon became commonly known as the ‘McClintock Effect‘.

While, theoretically, the idea of synchrony between women has often been believed because of its message of sisterhood, in practice, it would seem that it does not hold up when placed under scientific scrutiny. According to a 2017 joint study by Clue, a period-tracking app, and Oxford University, it would seem that the menstrual cycles of women who spend a lot of time together do not actually sync up. In reality, what had seemed like a phenomenon is simply a mathematical coincidence, which we are keen to perceive otherwise because of our brain’s natural propensity to seek out and identify patterns.

At different stages in our cycle, our hormone fluctuations can affect our anxiety, depression, self-esteem, positivity, physical ability to withstand pain, physical strength, and more.

These days, however, cycle syncing has come to mean something entirely different, referring instead to the act of syncing your lifestyle to your own menstrual cycle. In recent years, research on hormones and the effects they can have on the rest of our overall health has become more mainstream, allowing us to better understand what an immense role they can play in so much more than our moods, affecting everything from our weight to our hair growth. In fact, understanding their ebb and flow isn’t just freeing, but it might actually allow us to work with the effects they can have on our emotions, appetite, energy levels, or even thought processes.

Here’s how it works: At different stages in our cycle, our hormone fluctuations can affect our anxiety, depression, self-esteem, positivity, physical ability to withstand pain, physical strength, and more. By learning when each of these stages occur, we can sync them up with certain goals or activities, using our cycle to our advantage. Rather than becoming a victim of its effects, you’re effectively leveraging these to help give you a super-powered boost. Think of it as outsmarting your hormones by working with them and not against them. While all women can benefit from this, research shows that women who struggle with weight gain, fatigue, libido problems, conception, or PCOS, can benefit from it most.

Before you begin, it’s important to understand, at least at a basic level, the different phases that your body goes through during a menstrual cycle. Over a period of approximately 28 days, you will go through four phases that are characterized by fluctuating hormone levels that essentially allow your body to get ready for pregnancy. So what exactly does this mean for us, beyond the fact that our hormone levels are increasing and decreasing? This is the fun part and, while some study is required, it will allow you to become very intimate and familiar with your body and its functioning.

The Menstrual Phase

Consider your period to be the first five days (although this can last anywhere between five and seven days) of your cycle. It’s called the menstrual phase and is characterized by low levels of estrogen and progesterone. During this phase, you’ll shed the lining of your uterus.

During the menstrual phase, a.k.a. your period, the body needs rest and craves comfort, so you’re better off spending this week doing only very light and gentle exercise. You’ll also want to avoid unhealthy fats and caffeine that can exacerbate your fatigue and cramps, loading up on good fats that can help stabilize your mood instead. Comfortable clothes are key, as are cozy nights in with herbal teas. As women, we are particularly prone to lower moods during this time, so focusing on inner work, reflection, goal setting, and calming activities can help us stay grounded (translation: fight PMS-driven mood swings) as our bodies release the old and welcome the new.

According to women’s health expert Alisa Vitti, the low hormonal concentration allows for the greatest communication between the right side of your brain (the feeling side) and the left side of your brain (the analytical side), making this a great time for reflection, analysis, and review.

The Follicular Phase

Between the sixth and 14th day of your cycle, you’re in the follicular phase. Estrogen and progesterone levels begin to rise, while the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) also increases to help your eggs mature in the ovary.

During the follicular phase, you can begin working up more of a sweat. Your energy and stamina are starting to come back, as is your mental activity and focus. Your ability to brainstorm and be creative is also high here, and you’ll find yourself being more open to new experiences.  It’s a great time to try a new workout, go hiking, or get your body moving comfortably again with a sweat-inducing and strength-building yoga class. Since your estrogen levels are back on the rise, eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kimchi can help your body metabolize the hormone and break it down.

The Ovulation Phase

During the next phase, which can last anywhere between three and five days, your estrogen levels reach their peak, in order to thicken the uterine lining, while progesterone levels continue to rise along with testosterone, which will help drive your desire to be intimate with your partner. Meanwhile, an increase in FSH and luteinizing hormone (LH) will stimulate the follicle so that the egg is released, ready for fertilization.

During this phase, the high levels of estrogen and testosterone mean that you can take a little more pain, so it’s a great time to take advantage of high-intensity workouts such as HIIT, spinning, or circuit training. Meanwhile, eating plenty of antioxidant- and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables will help your body continue to process that surge in hormones and keep them flowing through, while giving you the nutrient boost you need to make the most of that energy surge you’re burning off. From a work perspective, this is when you’ll find yourself to be most collaborative and comfortable in your communication with others, which will translate well into presentations, pitches, and team projects.

The Luteal Phase

Your hormones are at their highest levels during this phase. If an egg hasn’t been successfully fertilized, the hormone levels decrease, taking you back to phase one — your period — and the cycle starts all over again.

During the luteal phase, you’re essentially prepping your body for the hormonal dip that occurs during your period. Opt for serotonin-boosting foods with plenty of Vitamin B that can help keep your brain happy, to help safeguard you against those dreaded mood swings as your hormones begin to deplete. Leafy greens, almonds, quinoa, and even dark chocolate are a good idea. Exercise-wise, stable workouts that keep you strong, such as strength training or Pilates, are the way to go.

Being aware of your cycle doesn’t just allow you to be more strategic with your nutrition or exercise choices; it can also help boost your body for optimal fertility if you’re trying to get pregnant. While you should always consult with a doctor about this, studying your cycle and learning more about your body’s behavior during each phase can help immensely. If you’re interested in cycle syncing, using a menstrual calendar app such as Hormonology, My Flo, or Clue can help you understand what your body is going through during each phase of the cycle, learning how to take control of your body and working with it so that you can live your very best life.