308: How to Use Your Hormones to Your Advantage With FloLiving

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How to Use Your Hormones to Your Advantage With FloLiving
Wellness Mama » Episode » 308: How to Use Your Hormones to Your Advantage With FloLiving
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The Wellness Mama Podcast
308: How to Use Your Hormones to Your Advantage With FloLiving

You’ve heard me talk about the importance of optimizing our circadian rhythm with food and light, but as women there’s another rhythm we all know well… that monthly cycle that fogs our brains, gets our food cravings going, and plays havoc with our emotions!

It ruins everything, right?

Well, Alisa Vitti is here today to change how we think about periods and all that comes with it!

Alisa is a women’s hormone and functional nutrition expert and an absolute pioneer in women’s biohacking. After her own difficult journey healing her PCOS, she created a true menstrual health care platform based on functional medicine principles. It’s called FloLiving or the MyFLO app and using these programs has made a tremendous difference in how I approach my daily life.

Alisa’s message is that with the right education, tools, and support, a women’s hormonal cycle can be a powerful advantage that guides us to daily rhythms and habits that allow us to thrive. You’re going to love her and this episode!

Episode Highlights on FloLiving

  • The (shocking) percentage of women today dealing with hormonal health issues
  • Which six systems of the body hormones control
  • The four key stages of the menstrual cycle and how our brains and bodies adapt to each
  • Infradian rhythm: what it is and why it’s just as important as circadian
  • Why medical research is so lacking when it comes to women’s health
  • The right way to do intermittent fasting if you’re in your childbearing years
  • Stories we tell ourselves about our hormones and emotions… and how to rewrite them to our advantage
  • The reasons women need to approach health and biohacking much differently from men
  • How to match the foods you eat to the stage of your cycle for sustained energy and mood
  • Science and cycle backed ways to manage stress and get out of fight-0r-flight mode
  • What to do if you have irregular cycles, PCOS, or are on the pill
  • And more!

Resources We Mention

More From Wellness Mama

Do you have a question we didn’t cover, or a tip to share? Please drop a comment below or leave a review on iTunes to let us know. We value knowing what you think and this helps other moms find the podcast as well.

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Katie: Hello and welcome to “The Wellness Mama Podcast.” I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com. And this episode is all about hormones, specifically for women, and how we can use our hormones and monthly fluctuations in hormones to our advantage. I’m here with Alisa Vitti, who is a women’s hormone and functional nutrition expert and a pioneer in female biohacking. She is the best-selling author of a book called “WomanCode,” the creator of “Cycle Syncing,” which is a female-centric diet and lifestyle program that leverages our hormonal patterns for optimal health, fitness, and productivity. As the founder of floliving.com, she has built the world’s first menstrual health care platform that helps women around the world put their period issues to rest using her natural protocols. She’s also the creator of an app I use all the time called MyFLO, which is a period tracking app. But it’s the first and only one that gives functional medicine period tracking advice, and it’s designed to help users eliminate symptoms and schedule our lives according to our cycles. It’s consistently ranked one of the top 10 paid apps in health and fitness. And in this episode, we are going to go deep on all things related to female hormonal health, and how you can use your hormones to your advantage. Alisa, Welcome, Thanks for being here

Alisa: I’m so happy to be here, Katie. Thanks for having me.

Katie: I’m so excited to chat with you, mainly because you’re so fun to talk to anyway. And also because you have so much important information to share This topic is increasingly important. I know you’ve just written a new book “In the Flo” and a term that stood out to me and I think we need to establish as a starting point is the idea of infradian biological rhythm. So, if you don’t mind, let start there. Explain what that is.

Alisa: Yes. Yes. Yes. I mean, for me, so the infradian biological rhythm is the special biological rhythm that women have in their reproductive years. So, from puberty to menopause, you have this activated infradian rhythm. And, you experienced that, you know, across the month in your monthly cycle. However, it isn’t just something that affects your reproductive health. It affects five other systems of the body and really, you know, dictates the quality of your overall health. And it’s something that is a term that comes from, you know, chronobiology, but it’s not a term that we’ve heard about before.

We’ve heard all about the circadian rhythm. We know how important that is. We know we should be taking care of it with our blue-light-blocking glasses and with, you know, getting to bed when it’s dark, and waking up with the sunrise, and not messing with that. And there have been numerous studies, for example, the nurses study back…it’s been a multi-decade study confirming that if you disrupt that circadian pattern, you will develop big disease of inflammation. And what I was really so excited to share in this new book is just how critical, health critical it is for women to be caring for their infradian rhythm while it is active as really the foundation, the cornerstone of absolutely everything they do because it affects so many systems of their body while it’s active.

Katie: Yea, that makes a perfect sense and that’s actually probably a new term for a lot people. It was definitely a new term for me. And I’d love to hear, I’ve read some of the research and I hear from a lot of people daily about women who are struggling with health and especially with hormone related health issues. But I know, in your research, explain some of the stats. How big of a problem this is that we are facing now.

Alisa: Oh, my goodness. I mean, you know, 47%, and I think that’s a conservative number, of women are dealing with a hormonal health issue. You know, 90% of moms feel like they’re chronically stressed and exhausted. You know, almost all research, medical, fitness, nutrition research is being done on men, but then those suggestions and recommendations are being shared to women as things that are going to help them, and then they end up feeling worse because their infradian rhythm’s disrupted. And I think it’s just so important that we recognize that if we’re not specifically supporting and working with our infradian rhythm, we are actually disrupting it and making ourselves unnecessarily sick, stressed, fat, tired, you know, you name it, and, of course, hormonal. But nature really with this infradian rhythm has designed you to be super optimized, and it’s really the ultimate biohack, in my opinion.

Katie: Yea, I love that. I think understanding that gives us more tools in our toolkit to address these things. But to circle back, you mentioned that all these studies are done on men. Explain that. Explain why, because you’re right, a lot of studies I read even on Pubmed, are on male. Is there a reason this is the case?

Alisa: Yeah. So, I mean, there’s a long history of women being excluded from medical research. I mean, some of it is just some good old fashioned research bias in terms of whoever has been historically conducting research. You know, you have to keep in mind, women have only been allowed to practice medicine recently in recent history, so you had a lot of male researchers just coming from their point of view. But then there was also sort of a big, terrible crisis that happened with a drug trial for thalidomide in the ’60s that caused a huge amount of birth defects, and so women were then actively, during their reproductive years, excluded from drug trials.

However, in 1996, the National Institute of Health put out a special committee to request that medical research actively go out of their way to include young females in their studies, young being women, you know, over the age of 21 and not postmenopausal. And then, in 2016, VWC Women’s Health Collective published kind of a progress report following that mandate, and, you know, the unfortunate update was that progress has been basically slim to painfully slow. And, you know, we’re just nowhere being included. And that’s important from a medical point of view because, of course, you know, medications and all these things are not being developed or dosed, you know, within a female ecosystem, but then it also has transmitted this sort of gender bias into nutrition and fitness research.

So, again, here, all nutrition and fitness research is really mainly done on men and postmenopausal women because they find it to be, I guess, too difficult to try to figure out how to create experiments for women in these different stages of their infradian rhythm. But what then happens, of course, is that you’ll get, you know, some sort of new discovery like intermittent fasting is probably my favorite one to talk about because it’s so…you know, the promise of intermittent fasting is absolutely fantastic, right? It’s going to help with insulin sensitivity, it’s going to help with cellular health and anti-aging, and it seems to be this universally wonderful tool to help you stay healthy.

But the truth is that those studies are done on men and postmenopausal women for whom intermittent fasting is a fantastic health tool. But for women in their reproductive years, the few studies that have been done, which I sort of detail in the new book, they actually show that it has the opposite and adverse reaction in women in their reproductive years. Meaning if you do intermittent fasting while you have your infradian rhythm active, you will make your insulin sensitivity worse, right? So instead of improving it, which is what all the intermittent fasting research shows for men and postmenopausal women, for women in their reproductive years, you’ll have worse insulin sensitivity. You can gain weight. You can increase your cortisol levels dramatically. You can shrink your ovaries, stop ovulation, disrupt sleep, and dysregulate your mood. So it’s not like a little bad for you. It’s completely bad for you.

And I think that’s really important because we need, just like medicine is moving to more bio-individual forms of treatment for cancer, for example, for all sorts of diseases, we really need to look at making the nutrition information that we’re being given specific to the biological rhythms that are affecting that individual. And that sometimes can be gender-based.

So I love the idea of women sort of understanding that not everything is something that they should try. And it really should be much more detailed about, you know, “This study was done for men, or for postmenopausal women.” But if you’re in your reproductive years, I’d love to see that kind of coverage being shared in mainstream articles that, you know… You know, for example, and I know Mark Sisson has done this in some of his blogs when he shares about the ketogenic diet, and how that has…the few studies that have been done show that actually can disrupt women’s thyroid hormones and not have them have all the weight loss. It can disrupt fertility.

So to make sure that that is being presented to women when they’re reading about these health trends, I think, is so important. And it’s important because we have been sort of, you know, living in an environment, culturally as women, that basically has told us one story, which is, you know, “Your hormones are crazy and not to be trusted. Your metabolism is slower than men’s, and therefore, you have to compensate for that by just generally finding new and better ways to have some sort of restrictive diet and to work out more. And that’s how you’re going to ‘have the body or control your body in the way that you want.’

And that is just not accurate at all. In fact, in the book, I kind of go into how your metabolism actually is affected by the infradian rhythm and how you can eat to, you know, maximize your metabolism. It’s completely different than what we’ve been taught.

Katie: That’s so fascinating. And I get in the research sense why it’s easier to work on men because their hormones are more stable. But, like you said, it’s a disadvantage to women and I think a lot of women have turned to figure out what works for them individually because of that. Because there’s not a lot of knowledge of this in the medical system. I’m curious, you mentioned you can eat in rhythm with your infradian rhythm and that can be really beneficial. Is that also true for time restricted eating or for any type of fasting. Because like you said, the research is really amazing on what fasting can do in the body and I know a lot of women want to try it. Is there a time in the cycle that is less problematic?

Alisa: Yeah, you can do intermittent fasting much more safely in the first half of the cycle when your metabolism is naturally slower and you need less calories. But for women in their reproductive years, the only amount of time that is safe to do intermittent fasting is the 12-hour kind of like between dinner and breakfast fast. So, you wouldn’t want to…as soon as you push past the 12-hour mark, then you start to have all the adverse reactions that the studies sort of outline. So you don’t want to do like a two-day fast or, you know, a 13…even the 13-hour fast is too much. Again, once you’ve completed your…you know, once you’re postmenopausal, you can go to town and do as much intermittent fasting as feels good to you. But while you’re in your reproductive years, you know, let’s say you’re done with dinner at 7:00, just don’t eat breakfast till 7:00 the next morning, and that will be every-single-day intermittent fast that is hugely health beneficial and will give you all those great benefits without harming you. And that will be much easier to do in the first half of your cycle because of your metabolic changes.

Katie: That makes sense and I think that’s another important distinction. We all “intermittent fast” while we’re sleeping, no one is eating while they are asleep. I know there is good data, even for women, about not eating too late at night. Because that digestive system interrupt and how you want your digestion to be pretty calm so your body can do other things.I think that’s an easy, like you said, even when you’re pregnant, you can choose to not eat after 7pm and just eat a good breakfast.

It’s not like you have to eat every three hours while you’re sleeping, but it means you don’t have to do a super long fast either. I also think, I wonder if there’s an alternative side to this. Which is yes, women are harder to research because our hormones change, but because of this, we get so much more data if we pay attention to our hormones than men do. And I know you have an app that I use regularly, the myflo app, and seeing those hormonal changes and getting input on what you’re supposed to eat that time of the month, it makes a huge difference. And so I try to think of it, on the positive side, I think we also have this amazing benefit if we learn to pay attention to it of how our hormones change. So, walk us through some of those things that those monthly fluctuations and hormones tell us.

Alisa: Well, I mean, first of all, the fact that we think that our hormones are not stable, or that, you know, it’s harder to research, it’s just not medically accurate, you know, which I go into great detail in the book. You know, the truth is, the men’s hormones fluctuate, they just fluctuate in a pattern that mimics the circadian pattern, meaning…and I like to kind of contrast this to just…and I’ll go right in into how your hormones fluctuate in the infradian rhythm.

But for example, men, they make all their testosterone while they’re sleeping. They wake up with the full dose of testosterone that is concurrent with their big surge in cortisol that everyone gets in the circadian biological rhythm. So they wake up with all of this. And then they get, you know, two, three more pulses of that in decreasing concentration throughout the day. So you’ll get a big dose at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, then there’ll be another pulse at like noon, another one around 3:00, and then that starts to really taper off so that they can wind down for the evening and go to sleep.

But this is exactly why that it’s easier for them to, let’s say, do research on men because they’re just tracking the sort of one or two, you know, cortisol and testosterone, but they’re tracking it throughout the day. So they are factoring in time differences and hormone differences. So, for example, Olympic coaches who train Olympic athletes will have men do any sort of training that will help them gain muscle in the early morning when testosterone and cortisol is at a maximum. It’s going to make that happen more easily, and it’s going to help them be able to do that with less risk for injury versus, let’s say, having them train later in the afternoon. And they’re doing this based on all this research that goes deep into the fluctuating levels of hormones for men. It just happens in a shorter timeframe in a day, 24 hours, versus women happening over 30 days.

But the technology or the technique to create studies that factor in these changes already exists because they’re using them for men. So I think the medical community realizes they need to figure this out. They actually have created a menstrual cycle in a petri dish, you know, hooked up to a computer, and they’re starting to do some testing of medications throughout the cycle, which I think is a huge step forward. There’s a long way to go. But I think the more that women like you who are tracking where you are in your cycle, and I’m so thrilled you’re using the MyFLO app, you know, that we can actually participate in studies with the full knowledge of where we are in our cycle.
And so people can do studies for women who are just in the follicular phase, or just in the ovulatory phase, or just in the luteal phase, or in the menstrual phase.

And these four phases have their own distinct hormonal signature, a ratio of hormonal combination that create a certain response in these six systems of the body, which include the brain, the metabolism, the immune system, the microbiome, the stress response system, and the reproductive system.
So, you know, any sort of testing or research could be done on any of these systems of the body to see how they fluctuate. In fact, in 1996, Catherine Woolley from Northwestern University published a really important paper, you know, in psychoneuroendocrinology about her research looking at the fluctuating levels of estrogen throughout the infradian rhythm and how the brain actually changes 25% across the cycle. And just knowing that is really important because, you know, knowing that your brain is going to change throughout the cycle can help you set yourself up for, you know, better productivity, better workflow with less stress throughout the month, for example.

And, of course, this can be applied to your workouts, to your eating. And it’s just amazing once you understand these fluctuating patterns, just how easy it is to just work with that, to go with the flow, to get in your flow, and to start making everything just less of a push, less of a force, and more of this state of flow, which I just think is so important.

And I don’t know about you, Katie, but, you know, I’ve done all the fun, personal growth and development things. Like I’ve attended one of my favorite Tony Robbins, you know, the weekend, where you walk across the firewalk and, you know, listening to people and experts talk about these peak flow states and biohackers talk about these peak flow states. And I always found…I felt a sense of disconnection from achieving that because it was all predicated on this concept that you have to do the same thing day in and day out to achieve that peak flow state, to put you in a peak flow state, right, to optimize for that. And that really makes sense, you know, to have a morning routine, for example, that’s the same day in and day out if you have the male hormonal pattern that closely mimics the circadian biological rhythm. Because it does make sense for them to get up in the morning, to do a big workout, to do some of their big deep work first thing in the morning when their cognitive focus is really turned on.
But it doesn’t make sense for women. In fact, I find it…it kind of feels like this…for me, that somehow I have to feel like I’m a failure already even though I haven’t started my day, right, because I don’t always feel like depending on where I am in my infradian rhythm, jumping out of bed in the morning and doing a workout. And the pushing and forcing myself to do that actually is infradian rhythm disruptive. And so what I want to say to women is you can achieve a peak flow state, but it’s going to look very different from that of men. And it means that instead of trying to force yourself to be the same every day, to do the same routine at the same time, to eat the same food day in and day out, week over week, month over month, that actually is disruptive to you and forces your body to perform sub-optimally. The way you’re going to achieve your peak flow state is to really work with your infradian rhythm and to optimize for that week over week. So, your state of flow is going to look very different from that of men.

And I also think it’s really interesting that biohacking is such a popular concept among men. And that also makes sense because there is a real energy cliff that happens for them around 3:00 in the afternoon when testosterone and cortisol really start to move toward their lower serum concentration levels in the body, so they’re less able to focus on deep project work, they have less energy and stamina for workouts. And, you know, using nootropics or upgraded coffee or things like that really do help in that timeframe to help with that natural energy cliff. But as women, we don’t have these energy cliffs. You know, because we’re the ones that carry babies when we’re pregnant, natures made our bodies extremely good at conserving nutrients and energy. And so if you support your infradian rhythm, what you’re going to find is that you don’t ever fall off the energy cliff.

And Katie, you might be saying now to yourself, “Well, what about PMS and all the things that happened to women around their period where they do feel so bad?” I’ve been taking care of women with their hormones and their periods for close to 20 years now. And myself, having suffered from a major, you know, bout of PCOS in my 20s, in my teens and 20s, and having recovered from that, what I can tell you is, the reason, the deepest reason why so many women are struggling with their hormones is because everything we’re doing, the way we’re eating, the way we’re working out, the way we’re organizing how we work during the day is disrupting our infradian rhythm. And when you disrupt your infradian rhythm, you disrupt all those six systems of the body, and you just can’t feel your best. You can’t be your healthiest. You can’t have the energy you want. It’s not in your head. And it’s not that you’re a failure and you have no willpower and you just can’t stick to these days, you’re just using the wrong system to support your biological rhythm.

Katie: That makes so much sense. And a couple of follow-up questions to that, a short one to begin with. So I do regular blood tests just to keep track of all my metrics, and I also track, like through my Oura Ring, for instance, and, like, kind of line that up with my cycle so I can see what’s going on. Is there a time of the month for women that’s the best to get blood test if you’re going to do regular blood testing, or is it more about getting it at the same time in your cycle?

Alisa: It really depends on what you’re trying to test. So if you’re trying to test progesterone levels, right, you would want to test those in the luteal phase, you know, because that’s when your progesterone levels are active. You know, if you’re doing fertility testing, some people will recommend that you do that on day three of your cycle. So it just depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re trying to test for cortisol levels, you can do that, you know, sort of in a 24-hour saliva testing situation. I really just think it’s about what you’re trying to test. And, of course, that’s for static blood tests where it’s a standard blood draw.
I think there’s a lot more sophisticated things now that you can be using like Dutch testing and for urine analysis and saliva testing that gives you a spectrum of hormonal levels over time. That’s always the best way to see things, is, you know, how do your hormone levels rise and fall over the whole course of the infradian rhythm? And the first place to really start doing that, you know, every single day is just with some basic basal body temperature tracking to just see. Even though many people use that for fertility, it also will sort of indicate, you know, how your infradian rhythm is performing over the course of a month.
Katie: Got it. Okay, that’s really helpful. So then you’ve mentioned several times, like, different ways we can start to support our infradian rhythm, through different lifestyle factors, through diet. I’d love to go a little bit deep on some of these, maybe starting with diet. I love and totally resonate with that idea that if you are having trouble sticking to a diet, it’s probably not really that you’re doing it wrong, it’s that you’re on the wrong type of system for your body right now. So let’s start with food. How can we support our infradian rhythm using food?

Alisa: So first, we have to understand how the infradian rhythm affects our metabolism. So in the 30-day period where the infradian rhythm makes ts like one rotation, right, as opposed to in one day, you will have a pretty dramatic fluctuation in your metabolism. So in the first half of your cycle, meaning the follicular phase and the ovulatory phase, your metabolism is naturally slower. So you can actually get away with fewer calories and, you know, lighter meals, in general, and I’ll go into specifics of what you should be eating.

In the second half of your cycle, the luteal phase and the bleeding phase, your calorie requirements are higher, in fact, up to anywhere between 16% and 20% more caloric levels are required during this time and your metabolism speeds up because there’s an epic amount of structural changes happening inside the body during this phase of the cycle from a reproductive standpoint. You know, the lining of the uterus is being built and maintained, the corpus luteum is growing, and, you know, all of this is happening, and it takes nutrients to make it happen. Plus, you have to build, manufacture bigger levels of estrogen and progesterone to have a healthy cycle.

So, again, the nutrient requirements are much greater in the second half of the cycle, and your metabolism speeds up. It’s important to know that for, let’s say, metabolic maintenance, or another way to say this, like weight maintenance or blood sugar stability, that when your metabolism is slower, right, you can eat lighter. So I always suggest in this phase of the cycle, you know, and I break it down by each of the four phases. But for today’s purposes, we’ll kind of just talk in sort of broader swathes here, that in the first half of the cycle, you can eat more, let’s say, raw foods, salads, smoothies, kind of like what you would associate your typical diet, healthy light eating, right?

You know, steamed veggies, and poached fish, and things that are going to be easier on the digestion because your metabolism is slower. It’s going to seek to conserve those nutrients. You don’t need to snack as frequently because, again, slower metabolism, you’re going to conserve these nutrients for longer. And you can just get away with a lighter, less fat in the diet, in the food preparation during this time.

Then when you switch to the luteal phase and the menstrual phase, this is when… I’m trying to think of like a dietary type that you could easily grab on to. This is kind of like the luteal phase, which is 10 to 12 days. I always say this is kind of like your macrobiotic phase where you really want to be eating proactively slow-burning carbohydrates, and whichever ones work for you. If they’re legumes, great. If it’s some grains, great. If you can’t do grains, you can do root vegetables, whatever your digestion and food sensitivities can handle, but making sure that you’re proactively eating more of them because your metabolism is so much faster and your caloric needs are higher, you have to put that in proactively. We all know what happens when we don’t, right, when you try to stick to this stereotypical lighter eating, the salad life, you know, in your luteal phase, what happens when you do that all day, right? You have your smoothie in the morning, you have a salad at lunch. And you get home from work, and you just start eating, and you don’t stop, and you don’t know what happened like four hours later. You’ve eaten chips, and crackers, and pasta, and cheese, and cookies, and your body is like trying to make up for its caloric requirement, but you’re now binge eating because you haven’t proactively been eating slow-burning carbohydrates throughout the day.

So we have specific meal plans and recipes to help you really understand what to eat when so that this is not confusing for you at all because I know this can be an adjustment because we’ve been told just to eat the same way every day, and that’s completely wrong for your infradian rhythm. And then in your menstrual phase, you don’t need as many complex carbohydrates, but you do need more fats and proteins. And so this would be more of like, let’s say your paleo or keto week, if you will.

So to help you kind of break it down into these diets that you are familiar with, that would be the way to think about it. And doing this stabilizes blood sugar throughout the infradian rhythm, optimizes your metabolism, works with the metabolic changes that are happening, and keeps your energy and your mood, like, supercharged, right? So instead of falling off the energy cliff around the luteal phase because you’re not nourishing your body the way it needs, and you’re now tired, PMSing, fatigued, stressed, moody, instead you’d feel the opposite. You feel good, you feel energized, you feel clear-headed and happy, and you don’t have PMS symptoms that, you know, certainly will balance that out because you’re also eating foods that are going to help you make more hormones and break them down more efficiently.

So some of us struggle with, let’s say, estrogen dominance. The foods that you’re going to be eating, the foods that are in the food chart in the book are going to help you, you know, both manufacture and metabolize hormones really efficiently as well. So that really helps stabilize any symptoms that you’re having throughout the cycle.

Katie: Yeah, when I learned of this concept from you, it was kind of like a paradigm shift for me because I started just paying attention to what was already happening but that I had never really paid attention to because I didn’t know to pay attention to, and I definitely noticed that shift. Like, in the first half of my cycle, I really wasn’t that hungry. I could do like soups, and salads, and light stuff and like generally not think about food. I’ve been on a pretty big, like, weight loss journey the last year as I’m finally now not pregnant or nursing a baby. And I’ve noticed that first half of my cycle, it’s easy to lose weight, and then that’ll, like, stabilize. I won’t gain weight in the second half, but it’ll just kind of like rest there for a while, and then the next first half of a cycle I’ll lose more weight. And I also noticed, like, when we start paying attention to our hormones, it’s like my cravings now are telling me what I actually need. So in the second week of my cycle, I’m craving like salmon, and sweet potatoes, and tons of olive oil, and like all the green things I can possibly eat for the micronutrients. Like I’ll make a pesto out of, like, so much parsley, and cilantro, and all these things.

Alisa: Oh, my gosh. I’m so proud of you.

Katie: But it’s just amazing when you have that lens to look through. I just, like, start seeing those patterns, and then it’s, like, I don’t have to stress about it. I can be like, “Oh, first half of cycle, I don’t have to really worry about getting enough calories. I’ll just eat when I’m hungry. It’s totally fine.” And then second half, I pre-plan, so I know I’m not going to hit that afternoon like, “Oh my gosh, I’m starving.” I have sweet potatoes pre-made or whatever it may be, and like just having that prep makes it so much easier. I’m also curious, are there different nutrient needs at different times as well? Like, are there supplements that can be beneficial at certain times, and is it also that we shouldn’t take the same supplements every single day?

Alisa: So that’s interesting because there are micronutrients that are, you know, pretty universally required by the endocrine system to function. So, you know, I think the endocrine system, we want to be supporting that too. So, I would say that yes, nutrient needs do change throughout the cycle, but certain baseline nutrients like B vitamins which are water-soluble, and you need to put that in every day. Magnesium, which is lost daily, again, water-soluble. So some of these very transient micronutrients that we tend to be very deficient in or easily depleted with due to stress, or caffeine intake, or chemical exposure, it is really helpful to keep putting those in on a daily basis, especially if you’re someone who’s dealing with a health issue. Giving yourself that extra boost of certain micronutrients, which I outline in the book can be really, really helpful. But from the food point of view, and taking micronutrients is one thing.
Macronutrients, which are these food changes that you make, you know, we’re really talking about, for example, in the ovulatory phase as you know, Katie, because I know you’re a cycle syncer, is that, you know, you’re eating foods that are high in glutathione and in the most bioavailable form. And this is because estrogen is at its peak concentration, that it will be, throughout the cycle, that its most serum concentration that you’ll ever have. And so depending on how your body is functioning, right, if your liver is optimized, for example, for elimination, or if you’re having great bowel movements, or if you’re having constipation, you may be more sensitive to that estrogen, right?

So if you’re breaking out during ovulation, that’s a sign that you’re not metabolizing that estrogen efficiently. But by eating the foods in the ovulatory phase that I’m outlining for you in the book, you’re going to break down that estrogen as quickly as possible because you’re supercharging the liver with glutathione. So that’s a great example of these types of macronutrient and micronutrient intersections that happen throughout the cycle. And I think the more we leverage that like you’re describing in your own experience, you lose weight more easily. You know, you maintain your energy.

And I think this weight loss thing, this is like a personal thing for me because, you know, you know me. I used to be 60 pounds heavier, and I gained quite a bit of weight when I had my pregnancy. And I’ve lost all that without dieting, right. And I love saying that to people because that just doesn’t make any sense given the current cultural narrative about how you’re supposed to lose weight as a woman. You know, actually, it’s not really gender specified, though it should be.

So how men lose weight is just by restricting calories and working out more, but how women lose weight is not by restricting calories. So you actually have to nourish yourself in order for your metabolism to work optimally. And I love that you’ve already seen for your own weight loss journey that you are able to take advantage of that slower metabolic phase, right, the first half of the cycle, the follicular and ovulatory phases to slower metabolism, which, if we listen to the current rhetoric, would mean that you wouldn’t be able to lose weight during that time. But by eating the right way during that time, you do lose weight.

And then instead of eating the same way during the luteal phase, which would if you continue to eat the lower-calorie, let’s say, format in the luteal and menstrual phases, you jack up your cortisol levels, okay, because that creates internal stress on the body to be calorically deprived when you have new caloric requirements. And that cortisol increase signals to your fat cells to stay put, right? So now you’re gaining weight, or at least not losing any weight, and that’s why women feel so frustrated like they can’t lose weight. They’re like, “I don’t get it. I’m depriving myself. I’m counting my calories. I’m doing the same thing each and every day.” But if you do do it each and every day, you’re actually, again, disrupting your hormones, disrupting the infradian rhythm, and you’ll end up either, at best, not losing any weight or, at worst, gaining weight. And this also has big implications when we start talking about fitness as well.

Katie: That makes sense. And I want to…let’s jump into fitness in just a second. But to reiterate what you said as well, that was the other really staggering thing for me. I think there’s, especially for women, that we often underestimate how much the emotional and mental side really is important for stress, and for weight loss, and for everything. And I know that’s an area I fought for a lot of years. And when I finally addressed that, it was like my relationship with food entirely changed. And I was able to lose weight without dieting, without really changing my diet or exercise at all.

I think there was such a shift in my stress response, and so I think that’s another issue. I always say to women, like that’s really worth looking at, whether it’s therapy, whatever your process is going to be. That was hugely pivotal for me. And I want to talk about fitness too because I’m really curious now. So you said men have this 24-hour cycle, and they’re better to train in the morning. For women, are there times of the month that we should maybe look at different types of training that can really line up with our biology?

Alisa: You bet. In fact, not only is this like…And, by the way, this is like not just a nice idea or like, “Oh, this would be fun to try.” This is a must-do. Like just as much as we now know disrupting the circadian rhythm causes disease, disrupting your infradian rhythm really messes with your health. And so much so that the U.S. women’s soccer team is cycle syncing and training their athletes based on this methodology because they understand that there are metabolic changes and, you know, fitness requirements of the body that really affect performance as it goes throughout the cycle.

So what that means is in the first half of your cycle, let’s say you want to put on some lean muscle and lose some body fat, like who doesn’t want to do that right? And that’s just good for all-around well being. The way you want to accomplish that in the first half of your cycle is with cardio-based exercise, and then high-intensity interval training. However, if you were to continue to do the cardio and the high-intensity interval training, which, by the way, is kind of what we’re told to do every day, right? Like, I mean, think of any workout slogan like Nike, like “Just do it.” Push yourself. Don’t quit. Just commit. No pain, no gain, right, all of this like… Just even if you don’t want to, you should keep trying to do the same thing every day. That’s really good for guys, really bad for you. Because if you do cardio and high-intensity interval training in the luteal and menstrual phases, you turn on fat storage and turn on muscle wasting.

So, here you are. And I discovered this years ago in my practice because I routinely be like, 15 years ago, there was this trend for people to get fit by training for a triathlon, even if they weren’t like athletes. They just used it as an excuse to get in shape. And I had many, many clients coming in to see me say, you know, “Gee, I don’t understand what’s happening. I’m running five miles every day, I’m swimming, you know, four times a week,” and whatever else they were doing, “and I’m eating what I’m supposed to be eating according to my trainer.” And they’ve put on 20 or 25 pounds at the end of three months. And I, you know, looked into that, and, of course, the answer was very clear, “Because your metabolism changes. And if you do the same physical activity at the same intensity day over day throughout the infradian rhythm, you disrupt it, you increase cortisol, you mess with estrogen levels, and you end up gaining weight. And that’s the fact.”

So if you are somebody who’s been, you know…you know, New Year’s resolutions or you sign up for some online fitness program, and it’s the similar kind of workouts every day, high-intensity interval training, you should expect, at best, not to gain any weight, or sorry, not to lose any weight. But at worst, you’re going to gain some weight. And that’s what’s so frustrating because we’re told the wrong information. We’re told information that’s meant for men or postmenopausal women. And if you’re in your reproductive years, you need the right information. And that’s why I’m so excited about having written this book because it’s finally just clearing this up once and for all.

There is an infradian rhythm, you have to work out differently. First half of the cycle, you’ll do your cardio, you’ll do your high-intensity interval training. Second half of the cycle, you’ll do body resistance or slow strength training with no cardio component. So that could be lifting a heavy set at the gym or in your home gym, that could be just doing push-ups and, you know, squats up against the wall, or that could be doing pilates, or doing, you know, strenuous yoga.

And then in the menstrual phase, it could be walking, it could be just like a yin yoga stretching class, or it could be napping. And I say that, and I know that that might make some you laugh, like, “Oh yeah, I’d love to take a nap during my period.” But actually, depending on your hormonal status quo, meaning if you have hormonal issues, if you’re dealing with elevated levels of cortisol due to, you know, emotional or lifestyle stresses, taking a nap can be hugely restorative and actually boost your metabolism during the menstrual phase.
So that is one of the exercises that’s listed in the exercise chart in the book during that phase because it is so beneficial. And it’s so important that I point that out because the truth of the matter is when you work out with your infradian rhythm, you can work out less and get more fit. And you can work out less at the right times, including napping during the menstrual phase and still, at the end of the month, either maintain the weight that you hope to maintain or lose weight if that’s what you’re trying to do.

And, again, having done this myself two times with big numbers, you know, 60 pounds the first time and 40 to 50 pounds the second time with my pregnancy again using this methodology, it’s just so effortless. It’s just so easy. It’s not a push, it’s not forcing. You don’t have to just do it. You don’t have to push yourself. There’s no pain and all the gain that you want. And I think that’s just such a comforting thought because I don’t know about you, but I’m just tired of this idea that you have to work so hard to achieve small results because we’ve been working for these little crumbs with the systems that were designed for men when if we simply use a system that was designed for us, we could really get the gold.

Katie: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And I think that’s been a really big shift for me as well, the effortless part of this. My whole adult life, it feels like I fought my body trying to get it to do what I wanted. And then when I finally learned to love and support it, it just naturally started doing those things I had hoped to do all along. It reminds me there’s a beautiful quote online, I’ll have to look up who said it, but it’s basically the idea that, like, “I said to my body, ‘I want to be your friend.’ And it took a deep breath and said, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for this.’” And I think that’s what you teach. It’s so beautiful. And you’ve kind of explained the concept of cycle syncing. But for anyone who’s new to this, can you just kind of give us like the really technical definition and what that looks like?

Alisa: Yeah, so I created this term, gosh, many, many years ago now, but it was this idea that once I really understood the infradian rhythm, I wanted to create a term that would help women understand the active part of what it means to connect with that, to support it. And so cycle syncing, syncing your activities, your food, your fitness, your sex drive, your relationships, your career, your parenting styles, all of that can be synchronized with your cyclical changes with these fluctuating hormones, with these four phases of the infradian rhythm. And when you do that, things just get in the flow.

Katie: Makes so much sense.

This podcast is sponsored by BLUblox. They create stylish and effective blue light blocking glasses for any time of day. Their BluLite lens is a clear lens designed for people who work under artificial light during the day, but they don’t want to look like they are wearing orange glasses. This one is designed to target the light that creates digital eyestrain, migraines, headaches and more. Their SummerGlo lens steps it up a notch for those who are exposed to intense artificial light all day and who suffer from migraines, anxiety, depression and SAD by blocking the light that contributes to those conditions. For better sleep, their Sleep lens is a complete blue and green light blocking full red lens that is ideal for use after dark. When the sun goes down, the red glasses go on. The studies show that by blocking blue light, you can increase your melatonin production and improve sleep. And lastly, if you can’t create a perfectly dark sleep environment, their REMedy blackout sleep mask is the next best thing, blocking 100% of light while staying comfortable and is easy to sleep in! Code wellnessmama gives 15% off at blublox.com/wellnessmama

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Katie: I know it’s not, or I’d love to talk about a little bit like the emotional and stress response side of the cycle as well, and if there are things we can do, A, to optimize those, and, B, like how we can use that to our advantage in relationships.

Alisa: So, you know, you are more sensitive to cortisol in the second half of the cycle, which is why it’s so important to do the right eating to stabilize blood sugar so you’re not, you know, adding the cortisol demand in the second half of the cycle and that, again, you’re doing the right workouts. Doing those two things will decrease your stress levels dramatically in the second half of the cycle. And, by the way, if any of you are struggling with, you know, luteal phase anxiety, or depression, or mood swings, or irritability, again, just doing these first two components of the cycle syncing method with the food and the fitness, you will see enormous impact in a positive way on your mood and your energy levels. And, again, it just it’s remarkable what happens when you start taking care of this biological rhythm.

So I think we have to look at stress as external stress, right, things that are like, I don’t know, the kids are driving you crazy, you’re having friction in your relationship, something is going on that’s stressful at work. And that these are things that involve other people that are outside of your control, and that’s just life, and we all have to learn how to balance our emotional reactivity in those situations, to not take things personally, and to really rise above and figure out how to navigate that with a lot of emotional intelligence. But then there are these types of stressors that can be managed by understanding the infradian rhythm.

So, for example, we just talked about how you can create unnecessary amounts of stress cortisol level in the body by eating and exercising incorrectly during the luteal phase, for example. But you can also have stress created at any point in the cycle by, let’s say, you know, not feeling…and let’s pick career or work, right? So I obviously cycle sync absolutely every area of my life, which I outline in great detail in the book and give you every chart that I created for myself. But in work, for example, because we know the brain changes by 25% over the course of the month, there are certain times that you’re more naturally inclined to do certain activities. You can do anything you want anytime you want, of course, but when you’re in the mood to bake cookies, right, that’s like more fun. But then when you have to make cookies for the class, you know, fundraiser and it’s late at night, you don’t feel like doing it. It’s stressful, right?
So that’s a great example of doing things when you’re in the mood to do something. They feel effortless and pleasurable versus pushing yourself to do it when you, you know, don’t really feel like doing it.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could set up your workflow to just kind of always pick the things that you’re naturally in the mood for so everything feels like that joyful, like, “Oh yeah, I’m so happy to be baking these cookies right now, you know? I’m so happy to be working on this marketing copy, or I’m so happy to be doing this report for my boss, or I’m so happy to be doing this customer call because just really my verbal social center is being stimulated right now by my estrogen in my ovulatory phase. This is working for me I’m feeling really good.” It’s so fun since these changes are predictable, and they repeat, you know, every month. You can map out your calendar to optimize your work around this. And, in fact, I put in my own daily planner into the book because…this is another fun funny personal aside.

But years ago, I mean, I was always an eager student, you know, even at a young age, I remember I convinced an employer of mine. I had an internship in high school, I said, “I believe that the key to success is figuring out how to manage your time successfully.” So I convinced them to send me to a time management class, Franklin Covey. And specifically, you know, that’s that whole rhetoric of like, “You gotta sharpen the saw every day and do the same activities and big rocks and the whole thing,” right?

And I had the planner in the analog days, so, you know, it was a big notebook, spiral notebook. And I remember being so excited. I literally was holding this, like, “This is going to, like, change my life.” I filled it out, and, you know, I was, like, really diligent for a week or two and then something changed. I didn’t know what then because I was only in high school, I hadn’t yet done all this work that I now do, and I just felt like I couldn’t do the things that I had mapped out in my calendar. They felt like a burden, and I felt so bad. I felt so self-critical. I said, “Oh my God, I’m so lazy. I’m so undisciplined.” That inner critical voice just started raging, like, “What’s wrong with you?” And I kept trying for several months to just like really stick with whatever it was that I was… Like, every month would start off the same. Like, I’d be, like, “Okay, great. I’m in the zone. I’m doing what I said I was going to do each day,” and then something would change.

I didn’t realize then it was my hormonal brain chemistry was changing. Then I couldn’t follow those same plans in the schedule, and I felt so bad. I literally, after a few months, was so upset about the whole thing. I stopped using that planner. I broke up with time. I stopped wearing a watch. I was like, “That’s it. I’m just never going to be a success because I can’t manage my time.”

Then fast forward years later when I discovered the infradian rhythm, and I create the cycle syncing method, and I start, like, planning all of my work around my biochemical advantages throughout the month for each week. The amount that I could get done in a month astonished me. I mean, I just couldn’t believe it. Because I was enjoying what I was doing. Everything was flowing in terms of my work, and my productivity, and my creativity, and I wasn’t draining my energy, right? We cannot make more time, but we can make more energy. And by working and doing the things that are my natural proclivities based on my infradian rhythm at any given week, I never put myself in the energy hole, right.

Like, you know, when you bake these cookies at 8:00 at night, you don’t really want to do it. You feel exhausted afterwards, and you feel sort of energy hungover the next day. Because we’re not planning our productivity and our creativity around our infradian rhythm, we’re in an energy hangover, in fact, an energy crisis all of the time. And I did say earlier, 90% of moms feel exhausted and to the point where just last year, the World Health Organization made burnout an official medical diagnosis. We’re all working in a way that’s not supporting our infradian rhythm, and that’s really to our detriment.

Katie: It makes so much sense. And I’m so glad that there are people like you out there really breaking this down for women and giving us practical tools, even if the research hasn’t quite caught up to our hormones yet. I think that’s been the lesson for a lot of us. I know it’s part of my story and part of yours as well is that, at the end of the day, we do have to take our health into our own hands. And doctors can be amazing partners, and hopefully, we find some incredible ones to work with. But at the end of the day, we’re the ones responsible for those changes and having tools like this make it so much easier.

And that point we’ve mentioned several times in this interview of just not having to fight your body, that alone is just a complete paradigm shift for women. And so I love that you are spreading the word about this, and I highly recommend your new book. Of course, it will be linked in the show notes at wellnessmama.fm, but any starting advice for women who are listening to this going, “Oh my gosh, yes. I need to do this.” Obviously, get the book but what else? Where can we start?

Alisa: I mean, I think you’ve got to know where you are in your cycle. So like yourself, Katie, if you haven’t downloaded the MyFLO app, that’s a great place to start because it’s going to tell you…it’s the world’s first and only cycle syncing app, of course. I had to build one. So, you know, you’ll know which phase of the cycle you’re in, and it will start to teach you what you need to know about that phase when you go into the cycle syncing section. And it will remind you and send you reminders about, “Okay, you’ve just moved into this phase, you know, you want to think about eating these types of foods, etc.” And we also have content that, you know, you can get more recipes and meal plans, and workout videos, and all of that as well with the cycle syncing membership. So that’s a place where you can get more support. But I would say start with just being aware of where you are in your cycle.

Of course, we didn’t get a chance to talk about, “Well, what if you have hormone problems, or what if you’re on the pill?” And I’ll just quickly say that if you have hormone struggles, you know, I would say, you know, if you have a diagnosed condition like PCOS, or fibroids, or endometriosis, or you have irregular cycles, you do need to do kind of the cleanup work that I describe in my first book, “WomanCode,” to help your body, your endocrine system, let’s say, recalibrate or get back to homeostasis so you can get yourself to a regular cycle so your hormones are giving you the opportunity to have a healthy infradian rhythm.

If you’re on a hormone suppressive birth control, whether that be a pill, or a device, or an insert, unfortunately, then you will not be able to…it kind of really messes with the infradian rhythm, and so you’re not going to have the cycle happening over the 30 days. You’re kind of in this like phaseless no cycle zone, and so you won’t experience these changes. And, of course, I go into detail about what you can do in the book to kind of understand what you need to know about that.

So first things first is just to understand where you are in the cycle, and then pick a lane, right? So there are five different areas in the book that you can start with. You could start with food. You could start with fitness. You could start with the new daily planner, the time and, like, your work, your monthly project list. You could take this into looking at your sex life and relationships, romantic relationship, and you can look at motherhood.

So there are these five charts in the book, then you can just pick one of them and decide that you’re going to just do an experiment for that month. You’re going to just change your food for one month and see how that makes you feel, or you’re just going to do the workouts for a month and see how that makes you feel, and then you start to slowly add, right, because this is really about a system that allows you to really optimize every area of your health and life. So, you can’t expect to make all the changes at once, but you want to build on them over time. And using the charts in the book are really going to help with that.
In fact, we also have a great, like a starter, you know, in the flow quick start guide that people are getting when they order the book that’s on the book website. So before the book arrives, you can start to figure out, you know, which life area you want to address, health, work, or relationships, and start to make these changes for that week that you’re waiting for the book to arrive to see how you can apply this in each of these four phases. It’s much easier than you realize once…like, Katie, you’ve been saying, you just start to have that awareness, and then it goes from there.

Katie: I love it. And we might have to do another round one day to address those specific hormone-related, like if you have PCOS, but I love that we covered this for now. And lastly, is there a book or number of books that have really dramatically impacted your life besides obviously your own?

Alisa: Oh, well, yes. There are… I mean, my books are my, like, prized possessions, I would say, and I was really thinking about this. So I think, for me, the very first book that woke me up to the idea that our bodies are special and sacred were “Daughters of the Earth,” which is a book about Native American menstrual rights that I came across as a junior high schooler in my local library, and just something about that was really like a call home in some way. And then Natalie Angier’s book, “Vagina,” hugely eye-opening, and Clarissa Pinkola Estés, “Women who Run with the Wolves.” Also a very game-changing book for me.

Katie: I love it. Those are all great recommendations. I’ll make sure they’re in the show notes as well. But Alisa, thank you so much for your time and being here. I love the education and the work that you do. And I’ll, of course, make sure everything we talked about and a link to our website are in the show notes so you guys can find those if you are walking, or running, or driving while you’re listening to this. But thank you so much for being here.

Alisa: Thanks for having me. It’s always a joy to have a conversation with you about cutting-edge health information.

Katie: I love it. And thanks as always to all of you for listening, for sharing your valuable resource, your time, with both of us. We’re so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of “The Wellness Mama Podcast.”

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

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Thanks to Our Sponsors

This podcast is sponsored by BLUblox. They create stylish and effective blue light blocking glasses for any time of day. Their BluLite lens is a clear lens designed for people who work under artificial light during the day, but they don’t want to look like they are wearing orange glasses. This one is designed to target the light that created digital eye strain, migraines, headaches and more. Their SummerGlo lens steps it up a notch for those who are exposed to intense artificial light all day and who suffer from migraines, anxiety, depression and SAD by blocking the light that contributes to those conditions. For better sleep, their Sleep lens is a complete blue and green light blocking full red lens that is ideal for use after dark. When the sun goes down, the red glasses go on. The studies show that by blocking blue light, you can increase your melatonin production and improve sleep. And lastly, if you can’t create a perfectly dark sleep environment, their REMedy blackout sleep mask is the next best thing, blocking 100% of light while staying comfortable and is easy to sleep in! Code WELLNESSMAMA gives 15% off at blublox.com/wellnessmama

This podcast is brought to you by Gaia Herbs and their black elderberry syrup! I’ve been a big fan of elderberry syrup for years and theirs is the best pre-made one I’ve found. It is also the #1 best-selling organic black elderberry syrup in the U.S. This time of year, it is a medicine cabinet staple and immune season essential. Elderberry will help your family stay feeling well with the delicious immune elixir loved by adults and children alike. It is certified organic and concentrates the juice from 14.5 grams of elderberries in a single teaspoon, so it’s highly potent. It is made with just four clean whole-food ingredients and is vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free and soy-free, making it safe for most people. Black elderberry syrup is safe for the whole family and is formulated for adults and children age 1 and older. You can save on Gaia Herbs by going to gaiaherbs.com/wellnessmama and use code WELLNESSMAMA at checkout for 20% off your first purchase.

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


7 responses to “308: How to Use Your Hormones to Your Advantage With FloLiving”

  1. Marci Ekman Avatar
    Marci Ekman

    Last year, I had a partial hysterectomy (uterus only). Since I still have my ovaries, I know I still have a hormone cycle but find it so difficult to track since I no longer have a period. It would be nice to understand where I am in my cycle to help understand why I may be feeling a certain way, but I haven’t been able to pinpoint how to do it so far! Any thoughts?

  2. Lizzy Avatar

    Hi Katie. I’m only halfway through the episode but it’s very interesting so far! I’ve heard conflicting things about IF for women that are in their childbearing years and Alisa referenced some harmful outcomes (insulin sensitivity, shrinking ovaries, etc). Would you be able to provide the study or resources she’s referencing here? Would love to learn more. Thank you!

    1. Katie Wells Avatar

      I can ask her and update to include them. I have also heard conflicting things and personally seem to do fine with it but some people seem not to. I don’t plan to have any more children so I’m not as worried about the fertility side and I do great with IF but think it is a very individualized thing for women.

  3. Mary DeCuzzi Avatar
    Mary DeCuzzi

    Hi Katie. I totally enjoyed your podcast today. I was wondering if Alessia vitti helps women in in pre and menopause. Thank you very much

  4. Kim Avatar

    I’m interested to know why the exercise recommendations by phase are so in contrast to the work of Dr. Stacy Sims. In particular, workout recommendations during your period are completely the opposite!

  5. Krystel Avatar

    I want to get one of her books. Which of the two do you recommend? I don’t have any Of the serious health issues like PCOS or infertility. I just don’t want to feel like crap every two weeks

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