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Eating with your cycle

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It's interesting how many of us are welcomed into womanhood.  Maybe a quick chat about periods and being given a box of tampons...or maybe not even that. 

For the most part, the modern woman has a negative relationship with her menstrual cycle.  It has been labeled "the curse".  This could be due to the fact that it is inconvenient for the busy modern woman or that it causes unpleasant symptoms such as cramping or PMS (which are worth discussing at a later date because both are a sign of hormonal imbalance).

Very few, if any, women are actually educated on how to live harmoniously with their menstrual cycle.  One of the biggest ways that we can do this is to actually eat in rhythm with the cycle. 

This is a practice that I teach most of my clients and I wanted to share it with you so that you could start tapping into the power and wisdom of your femininity.   

Because many women don't know much about their cycle, other than it happens every month, I am going to give you the full run down.

Basics of your cycle

Most women have a 28 day cycle. Normal is considered 26-35 days.  Ideally your cycle is linked to the moon cycle.  Menstruation period lasts 3-7 days with normal blood loss being 30ml-80ml. 

In Oriental medicine, there are 4 phases to the menstrual cycle: menstrual, post menstrual, ovulation, and premenstrual.  Each of these phases lasting approximately 7 days.  The first day of your cycle is the first day you start bleeding. 

It is important to honor each of these phases and adjust both your nutrition and lifestyle accordingly.

Menstrual Phase

The uterine lining (endometrium) discharges from the body, and the pituitary begins making FSH and LH hormones to stimulate growth of new follicles (eggs).

The menstrual phase is the time when you are bleeding.  According to Oriental medicine, our energy turns inward and goes through a natural cleanse.  You want to decrease strenuous activities and allow the body to rest.  If you opt to exercise please go for a walk or practice gentle yoga. If you are tired, rest.  Refrain from eating difficult to digest foods such as dairy or hydrogenated fats.  And steer clear of stimulants such as alcohol, coffee, sugar, or tobacco.  Remember your body is detoxing, so try not to make it harder. 

Foods that you should focus on should be easy to digest foods such as soups, congee/kichari, root veggies or casseroles.  Adjust your diet to the season.  So if it's winter time, don't eat a lot of raw foods.  

Because you are losing blood, it's a good time to focus on iron rich foods such as grass fed red meat, tuna, salmon, eggs or veggies such as beets, greens (kale, spinach, bok choi), lentils or black beans.  You can increase iron absorption by eating foods rich in vitamin C as well.

Post Menstrual Phase

One of the follicles becomes dominant and begins to produce more and more estrogen. This causes the uterine lining to thicken and cervical fluid to increase.

During the post menstrual phase your body starts to grow another egg.  If you enjoy a hard workout....this is the time to do that.  You will notice that energetically you will be more drawn to socialize and have sex as well.  In Oriental medicine, the focus is on nourishing the blood and yin because this responds to the tissue in the uterine lining.  

Because your body already went through a natural detox while menstruating, it's a good time to continue that process by eating foods that are natural detoxers such as: millet, mung beans, adzuki beans, black soybeans, figs.  Also, increasing chlorophyll rich foods to balance residual toxins in the body, build new blood and support cell renewal: kale, chard, bok choy, micro-algae, seaweeds.

Other foods to increase would be: black sesame seeds; sweet fruits: especially berries such as mulberries, goji berries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, dark grapes, avocado, dates, figs, and apricots; sweet vegetables such as beets, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro; whole-grains such as oats, quinoa, buckwheat, barley (pan-roast before cooking), oats, rice; legumes like black beans and kidney beans.

Ovulation

LH hormone surges, triggering the release of the egg from the dominant follicle. Fertile cervical mucus (sometimes having an “egg-white” consistency) increases, and the cervix is open.

At ovulation, your yin energy is at it's peak and will soon be declining as yang energy increases.  During this period, your libido is at it's peak.  In Oriental medicine, we believe that during this time women are the most creative and able to verbalize their thoughts and feelings easily.  You will feel the most attractive as well!  This is a time to nourish the kidneys, which are the source of your jing and prenatal qi.  

Focusing on warming spices is a good idea such as cloves, fenugreek, fennel seed, black peppercorn, ginger, and cinnamon.  This will help expel cold from the uterus.  

Premenstrual Phase

The corpus luteum (the “shell” of the dominant follicle from which the egg was released) begins to secrete progesterone, further changing the uterine lining and causing your body temperature to be consistently higher. The egg travels down the fallopian tube into the uterus. If the egg has been fertilized, implantation occurs.

This is the time of the cycle that gets a bad rap. If your hormones are imbalanced you may suffer from breast tenderness, mood swings, or low energy.  In Oriental medicine, this is when your yang energy is about to peak.  So if you are already deficient, then this will be draining for you.  The major sign of yang energy is warmth, which is shown by the higher basal body temperature.  This is a great time for inner reflection and release.  You may start to feel more introverted and reserved.  This is a great time to get a massage.  

Increase your protein intake again and start eating more easily digested foods. 

It's time to let go!

Everyone in Santa Fe can smell and feel that Autumn is here.  We have been blessed with that cool breeze and aromatic smell of roasting green chiles.   Fall is the transition from the warm exuberant energy of Summer into the introspective cozy energy of Winter.  It’s when you begin to feel life slowing down.  Your body begins to crave more grounding foods like root vegetables rather than the light salads you may have been eating all summer.  As we move from the playful energy of summer into the soulful wanderings of winter, fall allows us the time to contemplate what is we want to bring with us.  What is essential and what is it that we need to leave behind?

In Chinese medicine Fall is dominated by the element of Metal. The primary emotions associated are grief and sadness which can be transmuted into courage (Water element).  The Lung and the Large Intestine are the organs associated with Metal/Autumn.  They work together in receiving and releasing.  The Lungs receive oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.  The Large Intestine absorbs water and nutrients and expels waste.  Both help in providing energy to the body.  They are taking in what is good and pure and then letting go of that which does not serve.  When we are not living the life that nourishes and serves us, we can feel immobilized, depressed, or sad.

Letting go is the lesson the Fall brings us.  It’s one of the hardest lessons that life presents.  The entire Buddhist religion is essentially based around this concept of “letting go” – non attachment.  With the season shifting and my own transition into motherhood, I have become conscious of my difficulty of letting go of control.  I have felt unable to control my body as it grows and transforms to accommodate and nourish my baby inside me.  I have also felt unable to control how my partner relates to this experience or me.  I can plan all I want but I have realized that I have no control over how my birthing experience will be, what temperament my child will have, or how I will handle motherhood.  Pregnancy and birth is all about surrender.  I read a midwife commenting on this by saying “When the monster is coming to you and you want to fight, open your arms and surrender.  Let it have you.  It WILL eventually anyway.  Surrender to what have to go through.  The joy is on the other side”.

Letting go is synonymous to surrender.  It is not a passive act but actually one of empowerment.  Sometimes letting go means taking action and walking away from situations but sometimes it also means relinquishing control which can feel more passive.  This can be all the harder when things aren’t going the way that we have planned.   In Pema Chodron’s book When Things Fall Apart, she says, “When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test of each of us is to stay on that brink and not concretize.  The spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell”.  When we can relax into the process, practicing radical acceptance, and letting go of things that are not serving us, we move towards our higher Selves.  How can we be open to receive if we are gripping the old?  Take a look at your relationships, beliefs, and lifestyle practices that are no longer serving you.  Where are you ready to let go?  You can use the energy of Metal/grief to let go and move you into a new cycle that can better serve you.

Foods that support you in Fall:

adzuki beans, amaranth, apples, barley, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collards, daikon, dates, eggplant, figs, garlic, ginger, greens, kidney beans, melons, millet, mung beans, oats, okra, onions, parsnips, pears, peppers, persimmons, pumpkin, quinoa, raisins, brown rice, sweet potatoes, turnips, wild mushroom, wild rice, yams.

Earth Mama: Selfless Giver

We are definitely at the end of summer here in Santa Fe, NM.  You know this when you start to smell roasting chile peppers, your coconut oil is solid, and you need to bust out your down comforter at night.  Some might say that we are in Autumn, but in Chinese medicine we have entered a very special season called "late summer".  

Once summer has peaked, the year's cycle begins it's inevitable decline into the season of "late summer"- the season of the Earth element.  

For many of us, this is our favorite time of year because we still can enjoy warm sunny days without the intense heat.  In Chinese medicine, it is referred to as a time of abundance.  No need to look further than your local farmers market for validation of this.  Nature is returning the fruits it has made, which are bountiful, ripe, and ready.  

As above, so below.  This time is more than just reaping the bountiful harvest of our gardens.  The seasons of the year reflect life's seasons.  This is a special time of year when the work we've done on ourselves during the earlier part of our lives or the year - the growth and strengthening of the body, cultivating meaningful relationships, challenging and developing the intellect, spiritual practice - all determine the quality of the harvest we reap - and what we have to share with others.  

During late summer, we have the ability to connect on a deeper level with the Mother.  This could be the mother that raised us, the mother within us, or our Earth Mother. The mother archetype is a selfless giver whom without her freely given nourishment we would not survive.  The Earth endures constant abuse, yet forgivingly provides us with food, water, and resources.  

Many of us in this world, did not receive the mothering that we needed as children.  So this is also a significant time to bring those issues to surface for healing and acceptance.   It is never too late to begin to mother ourselves in the ways we always needed.  Healing these wounds can result in a myriad of improvements in one's digestion, relationships, and overall well being.  

Ways to connect with the Earth element 

  • Go to your local farmers market and do your shopping.  Touch, smell, and admire the beauty that the Earth provides.  Spend time in your garden.  
  • Be aware of how you can nourish yourself.  When our cup is full, we are able to share more freely without regret, resentment, or depletion.
  • Share with your friends and family.  Engage in communal meals, potlucks, and gatherings.