hormones + seed cycling 101
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or certified medical practitioner. I did do extensive research and this is based off of those findings and my personal experience. This is not recommended as a substitute for doctors’ opinions and is not intended to serve as medical advice.
Hey friends — I’m here today to talk about something that’s almost taboo to talk about. Like ew, periods, let’s pretend that’s not a thing.
But it’s natural, and it’s something that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about.
The backstory with my period — it was crazy heavy during high school. I’d be paranoid during swim practice and have to get out quite often to prevent unfortunate accidents (they sometimes still happened). But other than that, it was normal. I was healthy.
Once I got to college, my period disappeared completely. My doctors chalked it up to the big life change of going to college across the country, and said I was fine.
After six months of still no period, my parents brought me to the doctor again. I had lost almost fifteen pounds “by accident” (this was from working out 2-3x a day and probably drastically under-eating, but I felt fine so I passed it off as “normal”), and they put me on hormonal birth control pills and progesterone to kickstart my period again.
Birth control and I didn’t agree very well — I suffered from breakthrough bleeding (literally when your period doesn’t stop for a long, long time) and I stopped taking it immediately.
My period (kind of) came back irregularly when I gained some weight, but when I fell back into disordered eating patterns my second and third year of college, it went away again.
This time, the doctors didn’t even try to suggest anything.
“You’re fine,” they assured me. “You don’t need a period.”
I knew I didn’t need one, but I was fairly sure it wasn’t normal to not have one. (Only later did I find out that yes, there’s a medical term for it — amenorrhea).
My parents were still concerned, so the OB/GYN did an ultrasound to check for ovarian cysts or polycystic ovarian syndrome (I didn’t have it, thank goodness).
“You do have such low levels of progesterone and estrogen that nothing we give you would really work anyway,” all the different OB/GYNs said.
It was only after taking many steps to heal my body, decrease stress, and focus on nourishing my mind and body that my period came back (coincidentally (or maybe not?), around the time I started this blog and started following a Paleo lifestyle).
I made a rash decision to get an IUD (I got the Mirena) some time later, and it presents its own issues. I got it removed after a year of struggling with it, and after a few months, my hormones seemed to balance out. My cycle became normal, but I continued to ask myself these questions:
Why do so many women suffer from crazy PMS symptoms and how do we avoid that? (I sometimes did too.)
Why don’t we talk more or focus more on a woman’s cycle as a sign of hormonal health?
Why do we think it’s “ok” to not have a period (I remember thinking that I was “lucky” to have saved money on feminine products and not have to stress about bleeding every month).
How do you help your period come back after not having it?
It was also during this time that Dr. Jolene Brighten’s work began to come to light (more on that later) and that we as a society began to talk more about periods and hormonal health in general, and that sparked the idea for this post.
What is seed cycling, and why should I pay attention to my cycle when I’m not on my period?
Seed cycling is eating 2 types of seeds (flaxseeds + pumpkin seeds) for the first half of your cycle and another 2 types (sesame seeds + sunflower seeds) during the second half. This is to help you balance your progesterone and estrogen levels during your period.
*If you’re have serious hormonal imbalances, seed cycling may not help, but it won’t hurt either. If you simply want hormonal support and already have a regular or semi-regular cycle, want to boost your body’s natural hormone production, or want to try and manage PMS symptoms, this is a fairly harmless thing to try.
Paying attention to hormones throughout our cycle is important because life, like our cycle, goes in phases. We don’t always feel 100% all the time. If you ever wonder why you feel great one day, why you feel like your skin is glowing more than usual, and then are struggling to leave the house, to fight breakouts a couple of days later, this could be your answer.
I’ll be breaking down the different phases of your cycle below, along with tips on what each cycle means, what to do for exercise, what to eat, and how to take care of your skin.
Menstrual Phase: Days 1 to 7
WHAT IT IS
Your period. Yep. Basically, old tissue from your uterus (and endometrium, your uterus lining) gets shoved out of your vagina. Cute, I know.
This is where seed cycling comes into play. Dr. Brighten recommends 1-2 tbsp of fresh ground flaxseeds and raw pumpkin seeds, which support estrogen production (end this on ovulation).
Traditional Chinese medicine (AKA something my mom tells me about all the dang time but I never fully bought into until now) recommends that you eat warm/warming foods during your period to help you alleviate/avoid cramps and to prevent your period from being longe than usual.
Warming chia seed pudding with flaxseed meal mixed in and topped with raw pumpkin seeds
Pegan “oatmeal” topped with raw pumpkin seeds and berries
Oatmeal / cauli oatmeal with flaxseed mixed in and topped with pumpkin seeds
Gluten free bread made with flaxseed meal and pumpkin seeds (drink this with ginger tea for even more benefits)
Gluten free pasta made with dairy free pumpkin seed pesto
Your energy is likely lower — you may feel sluggish, slow, unmotivated. This is because your body produces less testosterone, resulting in an energy drop. So, for your workouts, try yoga (some people don’t like to do inversions during this time, but I felt pretty OK with it), Pilates, walking, and just resting.
Your skin may seem dry and dull, which is because estrogen drops at the beginning of your cycle. Be sure to gently exfoliate, stay hydrated, use a nourishing moisturizer, and get plenty of sleep.
Follicular Phase (pt. II) & Ovulation (~Day 14): Days 8 to 21
WHAT IT IS
Theoretically, the follicular phase starts when menstruation (aka your period) starts, so we’re talking about part II (when your period ends). During this period (ha), your brain signals your ovaries to release an egg (ovulation is when the egg is released).
Focus on lighter, fresh foods. Your body has more natural energy (see below), so you can focus on protein vs. carbs. Fill up on raw or lightly cooked fruits and veggies, fiber-rich grains (if you’re not Paleo/Keto), and seafood.
You’ll likely feel increased energy, so now’s the time to get after those workout. HIIT, strength training, and other higher intensity workouts are good for this phase.
As estrogen begins to rise, your skin should clear up and people might say you’re glowing. Estrogen is the highest right around ovulation, which lasts for ~16-32 hours. This is also when you’re the most fertile.
Luteal Phase: Days 22 to 28
WHAT IT IS
This occurs right after ovulation, when the CL (corpus luteum) produces progesterone, which is necessary to transform the endometrium (your uterine lining) to a state that’s receptive to implantation of a human embryo and maintain early pregnancy.
Dr. Brighten recommends 1-2 tablespoons each of raw sunflower and sesame seeds, which support regulating your progesterone levels. You’re likely to crave carbs, so load up on natural forms like potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains, yucca, and your choice of rice.
Butternut squash “fry” breakfast bake (can also use sweet potatoes or normal potatoes)
Slow cooker Paleo turkey chili (eat with wild rice)
Baked sweet potatoes stuffed with dairy free unsweetened yogurt, fresh berries, and topped with sprouted sunflower seeds and tahini
Nourish bowl made with brown rice, sautéed kale, sprouted lentils, topped with sunflower seed pesto, tahini, and nutritional yeast
You’ll likely feel more tired faster, which kind of sucks for high intensity workouts. Kind of unrelated (but still related), the increase in estrogen and progesterone causes breasts to swell and become tender, so high impact cardio may be kind of painful (I can vouch for this — ouch).
Focus on lower impact, moderate-intensity, steady state exercises like swimming, running (or walking!), cycling, and yoga.
Progesterone begins to rise at the start of this phase, which contributes to breakouts (this is also why if you’re on a progesterone IUD like the Mirena, you may break out more than normal).
Prevent acne by using face masks, clearing treatments like tea tree oil, removing makeup before bed, and cleaning your face after you workout.
* Note about birth control: Your body produces more relaxin when on oral contraceptives during both the follicular and luteal phases. Relaxin is hormone that’s often talked about during pregnancy, but also is released during your normal cycle. It loosens ligaments, so take care to avoid injury while working out.
Other resources / blog posts to check out: