You may have heard that eating to the seasons can be good for your health (and your budget) – winter vegetables in winter, pumpkin soup in autumn, salads in summer, you get the gist. But what about the seasons of your menstrual cycle? There’s a school of thought that creating a diet for yourself that is in sync with the phases of your menstrual cycle can improve your health, sense of wellbeing, and help you to balance your hormones.
It was my new year cycle resolution to get into seed cycling, and I’m finally taking the plunge, starting with learning what the whole eating-to-your-seasons movement is actually about. And, as ever, I’m taking you lot along for the ride.
Now, the menstrual cycle is a complicated thing so if this is the first article you’ve ever read about your hormone fluctuations and the phases of the menstrual cycle, we’d definitely recommend you backtrack a little before diving right on in to eating to your seasons. For an outline of what your body is doing throughout the different stages of your cycle and how you can expect to feel, check out our menstrual cycle resources.
We call them ‘seasons’ because they mirror the cycle of the seasons of the year. Think of winter – sparse trees, little growth, pretty cold and often a tad miserable. Menstruation is winter because it’s the cycle phase where your hormones are at their lowest. It’s followed by the follicular period, which mirrors spring in that things start getting brighter and there’s a general vibe or regeneration – your hormones rise and your body begins to prepare to release an egg ready for fertilisation. The ovulatory stage is much like a UK summer – hot and intense but for all too short a time. It’s when ovulation occurs and oestrogen and testosterone both peak, leaving you feeling at your most confident, beautiful, and erm, horny. Then comes the luteal phase, or autumn. It’s usually the longest phase of the menstrual cycle and is where you’ll feel a plummet in libido and confidence and an increase in mood swings. After that? It all bloody starts again.
A really good way to get into eating to your seasons is to simply think about the seasons of the year and how your diet naturally varies throughout. You’re probably not chowing down on hearty roast dinners and warming soups in the middle of summer, are you? Just like how fresh salads seem more appealing in warmer weather, you should respond to the seasons of your body and feed it what it needs.
Many articles about eating to your seasons will tell you what foods to avoid as well as which to seek out – I’m not gonna do that. Because I really don’t want eating to your seasons to become just another fad disguise for diet culture. I’m interested in thinking about what foods I should be trying to get into my body, not punishing myself for eating a goddamn cookie.
Eating to the seasons of your cycle
Here’s the part where I remind you that none of this will work if you’re not eating a well-balanced diet across your whole cycle (read: every bloody day). That means getting your fruit n’ veg portions in, trying not to have too much refined sugar, and getting so-called ‘healthy fats’ in there more than copious amounts of fast food and crisps, et cetera. Eating a few flax seeds when you’re ovulating isn’t gonna do much for your hormone balance if your diet mostly consists of fish ‘n’ chips and midnight mars bars. It’s also important to remember that diet is only a small slice of the wellbeing pie. Feeling your absolute best self every day also depends on factors like consistently getting enough sleep (easier said than done, I know), not drinking too much alcohol on a regular basis, moving your body in any way that feels good to you, and (my favourite advice to hand out, unsolicited) DRINKING ENOUGH WATER. Now we’re in business.
In winter, we’re aiming for dark, earthy foods. Your protein should come from beef, chickpeas, lentils, black beans, etc and you’ll want to get in lot’s of nuts and seeds such as pumpkin seeds and flax seeds. For the veggies we’re looking at those on the darker end of the colour spectrum and anything that reminds you of a Sunday roast, along with dark leafy greens such as kale.
The vitamins we’re trying to get in our bods are magnesium, iron, omega 3s, zinc, and manganese. I recommend making soups out of your fave winter veggies, roasting vegetables, and finding some recipes for lentil and black bean curries to warm your aching bod. If you’re looking to sync up your drinking game with your diet too (and, no, I’m not talking about beer pong), you can aim to drink herbal teas in raspberry, ginger, and nettle flavours or, if you’re a little more green fingered, go ahead and just pop a whole sprig of rosemary, fennel, or juniper in a glass of hot water. The aroma from the steam alone is super bloody comforting.
Things brighten up in spring – and I don’t just mean your hormones. Your diet will start to look a little more colourful, incorporating fresh fruits and plenty of avocado (one of earth’s greatest delights) and lighter greens (cabbage, green beans, asparagus, etc). For your protein, opt for leaner meats, eggs, tofu, and plenty of seafood. Incorporate wholegrains into your diet with more rice dishes, oatmeal, and buckwheat pancakes.
The vitamins you’re after in this phase are magnesium, iron, zinc, and omega 3. It’s a great idea to try to incorporate pumpkin seeds and flax seeds, probiotics to help detoxification, shatavari root, blood-nourishing foods. Fermented dishes and drinks such as kimchi, kombucha, and tempeh are great for boosting digestion and health and metabolising oestrogen.
In your ovulatory period, your diet will be fresher, lighter, and brighter, just like in summer. You veggie intake should involve a lot of broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and the like. Incorporate in chia and flax seeds, along with almonds and pumpkin seeds. Your protein will come from red lentils, tuna, salmon, peanuts, quinoa, hemp seeds, and/or vegan meat alternatives such as seitan. We want to be getting in some sunflower seeds, sesame, and cooking with sunflower oil.
Think about what you feel like eating on warm, lazy summer days. Summer berries. Kooky salads with pomegranate and walnuts. Barbecued veggie kebab skewers. That’s where we’re leaning during this fabulous but all too short phase of the cycle. The vitamins we’re aiming for are selenium, magnesium, vitamins E and B. Drink ginger-infused iced teas (real ginger only), make lots of smoothies with the aforementioned summer berries, eat lots of oranges, strawberries, cucumber… anyone else suddenly got a hankering for pimms?
During the luteal phase, aka autumn, we want to be getting in foods that will support our bodies in feeling good during the time when our hormones are plummeting and our mood swings might be giving us some wild cravings. We want to be getting in lots of fibre, warming foods, while still chowing down on some of the same seeds and incorporating the same vitamins that were supporting us throughout our summer phase. Our proteins are coming from a mixture of our summery seafood (opt for trout, sardines, and cod) and wintery meats (such as beef). The vegans among us can start looking once again to chickpeas and beans, soy, tofu, seitan, and other meat alternatives. We want to up our calcium intake, eat lots of root veggies (potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, garlic, parsnips, etc) and switch it up with some brown and red rice dishes.
Again you’re looking at getting in vitamins B & E, magnesium, and progesterone-supporting selenium and zinc. We’re trying to combat cravings for refined sugars as this not only exacerbates hormonal acne but also period pain. Incorporate bananas and everyone’s fave “healthy fat”, avocado, as well as dark chocolate treats and brazil nuts. For liquids we’re looking at ginger (as ever), chamomile teas, peppermint, lemon, and dandelion leaf (for fluid retention).
And there you have an intro to eating to your seasons! I’ll be honest I’m still a total beginner at this myself and have yet to put a lot of this into practise – planning meals in advance isn’t really my strong suit – but I’ll keep you updated on my efforts and progress. Happy cycle tracking (and eating), ohne babes.
header image via Charlotte Abramow