Ladies, we need to talk.
I’m almost 31 years old, and this was the first year of my life I started to really learn about what goes on, you know...down there. I’ve had my period since I was 15, so that means I’ve spent roughly half of my life with little-to-no understanding of what’s really happening to my body every 28-ish days. And, I especially had no idea how it all related back to my diabetes.
When I was 16, like most of my female peers, I was prescribed the birth control pill. I also happened to be diagnosed with diabetes the following year. I remember the process of finding the right pill being exhausting and frustrating.
My mom was furious that it was even happening at all. She didn’t understand how a doctor could slap what she considered a “bandaid” on a developing woman and not explain to her all the other ways she could work to help regulate her body, mood, hormones, etc.
Flash forward 15 years, and I finally see where her frustration stemmed from. I guess mothers really are always right!
In no way, shape or form am I against the birth control pill...you gotta do what’s best for you, sister. Plus, it kept me safe throughout high school and college. But what angered my mom, and subsequently me, was that we didn’t know why or if it was truly the best option for me. It was the only option we were given.
What I was missing was a deep dive into the way my hormonal cycle worked, the phases within it, and the impact these phases have on insulin resistance and sensitivity. What I’ve learned since, is that there is an intricate relationship between our hormones that all work together in our endocrine system in ways we could never imagine.
Last year, I was introduced to the concept of cycle syncing. Holistic health coach Alisa Vitti explains cycle syncing as:
“The process of adapting our diets and activities with the particular needs of our menstrual phases in order to help bring about a greater sense of balance and well-being.”
She claims that issues ranging from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, heavy/uncomfortable periods, low libido, unexplained infertility, and PMS symptoms such as headache, acne, bloating or moodiness can all be improved when we adapt our behaviors to harmonize with our bodies as hormones shift from phase to phase.
When I realized I could fold a little experiment with my insulin sensitivity and resistance into this, I was sold. I was tired of my BC pill bossing my endocrine system around, and I was ready to see if I could take back control, and seek a greater sense of internal “flow”, if you will.
Phase 1 — The Menstrual Phase
On the first period day, the hormone progesterone plunges, which can actually increase my insulin sensitivity a little bit. Minus the horrible cramps, I love this day of my period because I can usually get away with a few “free passes” from my carb counting.
Experts recommend that, during your period, you lay low and let your body rest. Your body is working hard to start your cycle back up, and that exhaustion you feel is very warranted. Load up on healthy fats and protein to restore energy, and focus on quiet time.
Phase 2 — The Follicular Phase
In this phase, your pituitary gland releases a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH). For the first few days, Estrogen and Testosterone are at their lowest of your whole cycle—which allows for more insulin sensitivity— but begin to rise throughout the week.
During this phase, I focus on cardio and brainstorming, as I feel an upswing in energy and confidence. Just remember, if you’re doing intense cardio while you’re more sensitive to insulin, be careful of lows! Try scaling back on your basals before or during your workout, and making sure you don’t have any insulin on board.
Phase 3 — The Ovulatory Phase
The most well-known phase, for many obvious reasons, is when an eager egg gets released from its follicle with the hopes of a little swimmer passing by.
Estrogen and testosterone rise to peak levels, which I’ve found increases insulin resistance slightly. It’s also true that uncontrolled or irregularly high blood sugars can cause ovulation complications. During this phase, my energy levels are highest, but almost in a “too high, must blow off steam” way, so I tend to gravitate towards more HIIT-style workouts to avoid feeling overcome by my hormones.
Phase 4 — The Luteal Phase
This is the phase I find most challenging. This is where the mood swings can kick into gear, physical discomfort begins to rise, and my energy level starts to tank. A lot of women complain about all-time stubborn high blood sugars during this phase (myself included), but this can be possibly avoided or at least alleviated by sticking to foods that help flush hormones more quickly, and stave off sugar cravings.
Obviously, every woman’s body is very different. And with diabetes, we experience a lot of fertility, endocrine, and hormonal hurdles. It’s very common for us to have irregular cycles, or no period at all. And when it comes to diabetes and pregnancy, there is so much conflicting information out there. Can we do it? Is it safe? Will our babies be huge?
Our endocrine systems are already so overwhelmed by external forces, I decided that reducing blockers and interference would benefit me in the long run. But if I’d never learned about cycle syncing, then what? This is why it’s so critical to be lead down a safe and empowered path from a young age about our reproductive health.
If you’re interested in learning more about cycle syncing, Alisa Vitti’s book is available on Amazon. She also developed an app called FloLiving that helps you understand and track your hormones and endocrine function on a daily basis. A favorite blogger of mine also outlines a food chart here that makes the nutrition element of cycle syncing super easy.
May the future of gynecology continue to outline the facts and the options that our miraculous bodies have to grow into our most informed, and magical female selves!
Libby Russell is the creator of the type 1 diabetes lifestyle brand and shop, I Have the Sugars, and the in-house copywriter for a NYC-based fitness tech company. You can find her exploring Brooklyn on the weekends, designing her latest collections for www.ihavethesugars.com, and on Instagram at @ihavethesugars.