When I was first prescribed the pill at sixteen, I wasn’t yet having sex and I was too young to even begin to understand what was going on inside my body. Like the fifty-eight percent of women who are on hormonal birth control for reasons other than for use as contraception, it was given to me because my period was irregular.
Being a teenager, I was at an age when I wanted to cover up any bodily abnormality at all costs, whether it was via a padded bra or a little pink tablet that would make my period come every 28 days, just like everybody else. But birth control soon became a mindless part of everyday life. And like a lot of people, I ended up staying on it for over a decade without giving it a second thought.
Two years ago though, when I started seeing a naturopath endocrinologist for my Hashimotos, I was told that I would never be able to fix the root cause of my hormone imbalances while pumping artificial hormones through my bloodstream.
After experiencing violent withdrawals when I finally went off, I realized how stupid I was to put a Bandaid on my issues for so many years. What most traditional practitioners who prescribe the pill don’t do a good enough job recognizing is that these symptoms are not necessarily being caused by the absence of the pill. They’re simply evidence of the problems that were lying in wait all along.
As Dr. Christine Northurp writes: “Giving birth control pills and other medications to women to regulate their periods, improve their fertility, or enhance their sex drive is akin to putting a piece of tape over the flashing indicator light on the dashboard of your car and pretending you have addressed the engine problem, rather than looking under the hood and dealing with the underlying issue.”
Unfortunately, a lot of my friends who go off and experience this same wild hormonal ride, decide to go back on the medication shortly thereafter. If you’re in the same boat, or are someone who’s chosen never to go off, trust me—I get it. Terrible skin, missing periods, irrational rages, tummy troubles—who would want that waiting for you on the other end?! Plus, after a decade, you become so hooked on the convenience of the pill that any irregularity and pain is doubly hard to endure. And of course, then there’s the question of contraception.
I know you’re used to coming here for food, so it may be a rude awakening to scroll down and see me talking about sex, periods and other things that you don’t even particularly like discussing with your Gyno. But our wellness would be an incredibly incomplete picture without getting down with this type of body literacy. And that’s what the internet is for, right?
One area that I’ve seen so many women in my life struggle to wrap their heads around is hormones. From dealing with thyroid problems, I’ve already become intimately acquainted with how the endocrine system rules my body. But it wasn’t until I read Alisa Vitti’s book Woman Code that I was able to map out how different aspects of our lifestyle impact every level of our endocrine system.
Luckily, I’ve already addressed some of the big culprits that cause hormone imbalance—chlorine in the water, endocrine disruptors in beauty products, pesticides and antibiotics in our food, just to name a few.
But this month I want to put all those pieces together and better understand how I can fuel my life, love, and desires according to my cycle. Part of that is learning to chart my fertility according to the Female Awareness Method. Thanks to technology and some amazing new apps, this is now easier than ever. The second part though is about getting in-tune with my flow; exercising and eating according to my moon time to promote healthy balanced hormones.
I have a ton of amazing resources below, so read on and I hope that all of my moon sisters will join me for a month of getting more acquainted with our natural womanly selves! As a special treat, Alisa Vitti herself will be joining me for a Wellness Wednesday chat on August 19th!! More details on that to come.
And BTW, because the universe is hilaaaarious, I’m sitting here writing this feeling like a bloated crampy mess. Of course.
From one healthy hedonist to another,
p.s. the rad picture above was actually taken with my iPhone through the view finder of a crazy telescope at the Mind Body Green Revitalize retreat! How beautiful is the moon?! One of the coolest things I’ve seen with my naked eye. The picture below is an ovarian gang sign! I copy-catted the model on the cover of the awesome book Sweetening the Pill (more on that below).
1. Chart your cycle according to the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM).
I’d never heard of FAM until I attended a fertility event this past April. It was lead by natural beauty expert Jessa Blades and prenatal bodyworker Katinka Locascio, along with a panel of badass women (and one awesome guy!) leading the natural birth control movement and spreading awareness about women’s bodies.
Ever since then, I’ve been charting my cycle through the app Kindara. If you have no idea what charting, FAM or natural birth control is, I highly recommend watching this 9 minute short film. It’s extremely entertaining and informative, and saves me from having to say the words “cervical fluid” several times in this post. You can also browse these GIF’s while getting the Buzzfeed cliff’s notes version here.
The basic concept though is you take your temperature every morning before getting out of bed. The apps help you keep track of your patterns, and coupled with the patterns of your cervical fluid (there, I did it), you can predict your windows of fertility and practice protected sex with your partner accordingly. Your chart is also a wealth of knowledge about what’s actually going on with your hormones. You can diagnose a thyroid disorder or PCOS simply from looking at this data!
Please note that this is not the rhythm method. Trust me, it takes more work. But if done correctly, it is extremely effective—more effective, in fact, than the pill.
* Besides Kindara (which has a ton of info about charting, and is coming out with a wireless thermometer that links to the app at the end of the year!), other great apps include: My Moontime and Clue.
*The book Sweetening the Pill is what’s on my bedside table right now, and so far it’s a must read about the myths around hormonal birth control. Ricki Lake just launched a Kickstarter to make it into a documentary! You can support it here.
*For general info on fertility, the seminal text is Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.
2. Eat and exercise according to your cycle.
“Few women understand how their bodies function, so most don’t know how to make informed decisions about how to treat hormones when they’re on the fritz,” writes Alisa Vitti. “Pills may temporarily (albeit chemically) regulate your cycle so you experience fewer symptoms. However, if your estrogen levels are not managed properly, those symptoms will always come back.”
One of the most interesting parts of Alisa’s book Woman Code is how she maps out tailoring your lifestyle choices to the flow of your cycle. It’s a lot to keep in your head. But after last month’s insane exercise experiment, I thought it would be a good time for me to find some balance in the movement department by letting my energy levels at different times of the month dictate my practices.
Here’s a basic run-down of how your four fertility phases match up with your diet and exercise schedule. There’s a lot of ingredient info when it comes to food, so I chose some of my favorites to focus on:
1. The follicular phase transitions you from menstruation to ovulation. This is when your estrogen levels begin to increase again and you feel a surge in energy. It’s a good time to eat dense grains and nut butters, and lots of sour, vinegary or fermented foods like citrus fruits, kimchi, pickles and saurkruat. Try these peking chicken lettuce wraps with kimchi pickles!
2. The ovulatory phase is the hardest to pin down, but the biggest indicator is the presence of egg-white-esque cervical fluid. If you’re charting, a sharp rise in your morning temperature marks that ovulation has in fact occurred. Steer clear of estrogen-heavy foods and stick to lean protein and fresh, raw veggies. This Grilled Shrimp Salad with Ginger Dressing is a great option, as avocado helps support the transition to ovulation.
3. The luteal phase lasts from ovulation until your next period. It begins the second half of your cycle that’s all about slowing down. Since your estrogen dips, it’s a good time for complex carbs like brown rice, or vegetables with a good concentration of natural sugars (like squash, sweet potato, or other root veggies). Try roasting them to bring out their natural sugars! This Roasted Root Veggie and Quinoa Salad is a great option.
4. Finally, the menstrual phase. Hopefully you won’t have trouble identifying that one! Foods that support this phase also support and replenish the blood and kidneys. Sea vegetables, tamari and miso are particularly good to incorporate during this time. These kelp noodles are great, or you can treat yourself to a sushi dinner! Chocolate is also a plus, so indulge in something healthy like this beauty bark.
For exercise, during the first half of your cycle (the follicular and ovulatory phases) your energy is soaring, which means you can take on high impact exercise like running, kickboxing, spinning and other intense cardio. The second half (the post-ovulation luteal and menstrual phases) causes your energy to go down and turn inward. It’s a great time for pilates and yoga, more gentle practices that emphasize the mind in addition to the body.
Have you struggled with the question of whether to use hormonal birth control? Or have you ever struggled after making that decision one way or another?
I would love to hear your experiences in the comments section. The decision to go off the pill certainly wasn’t easy for me, and I’ve had to read a lot of books and intellectualize a lot of info to become at peace with other options.
The Wellness Project is now a book! It’s part memoir, part health primer, with 20 inflammation fighting recipes for clearer skin, better digestion, and a thriving thyroid. (Because who doesn’t wake up in the morning wanting a thriving thyroid?!). You can read more and preorder here. To read up on past experiments and get more tips from the trenches, click here.
Yes! Thank you. I am in the exact same situation. I was prescribed at 16 as well…16 years later I’m realizing what a mistake it was to blindly accept the Pill. Stopped taking it 8 months ago and trying to figure out how to regulate my hormones. thank you so much for this post.
Phoebe Lapine says
Thank you for stopping by and sharing Val! I highly recommend Woman Code. It’s a pretty complicated system to keep up with every food you eat and correlate it to your cycle. But it has a lot of really useful information about the other lifestyle areas that need detoxing. Also check out my other wellness project posts! This year of challenges has largely been about tinkering with my body in service of my hormones. Good luck! xo
You had me at the moon photo. Incredible.
I am so glad you wrote this, Phoebe! I am so inspired by your entire series.
I, too, was on birth control for irregularity. When in reality, I was incredibly underweight, not exercising and not eating enough. None of those things changed when I went on the pill. I’m so mad they used a bandaid for those issues. I wish I could go back and reclaim those years!
I use the same tracking method! We’re Catholic, and we call it Natural Family Planning, or the Creighton Model method. We LOVE it. I admit, I’m not the best at tracking my temp, but the rest works for me. I actually stopped tracking when we decided that a baby might be nice, and within 2 months we were pregnant. I hear horror stories of women going off the pill and their fertility never returning and it breaks my heart.
Anyway, love your series, Moon Sistah! XO
Phoebe Lapine says
Ah moon sistah! thanks so much for sharing! yes – actually the girl who made MisContraception, the adorable short film I linked to, found out about charting through her catholic boyfriend! Do you use an app? If so, which one do you like? Stories of people struggling to conceive after being on the pill for so long break my heart too. I’m SO glad I got off of it when I did – I think given my uphill battle with hormones as is, I would have been in such big trouble down the line.
Interesting post, but do you mean Fertility (not female) Awareness Method? Seems like if you’re posing as an expert, it might be nice to double check your facts and terms.
Phoebe Lapine says
Ah – yes sorry, that’s what I meant. Thanks for the catch!
But FYI, I don’t consider myself to be an expert on this stuff, nor am I posing as one. My wellness project series is all about troubleshooting my health one challenge area at a time. I’m a professional in the food space, figuring out the rest as I go along.
Thanks for stopping by!
I am getting into the FAM but am having a hard time finding a good thermometer. Which one do you use?
Phoebe Lapine says
I use just a basic Nexicare one from amazon. It was pretty cheap. I HATE how it beeps. But I’m not sure how to get around that. Wink, Kindara’s wireless therm, comes out at the end of the year. It’s expensive, but I CANNOT WAIT.
You’ve proven to be Adorable and informative. So many females lack this vital information and or need a reminder. Good On You!
Phoebe Lapine says
Thanks Rosie!! I’m really thrilled to share. Been looking forward to this month on the blog all year 🙂
Phoebe – I LOVED this. I lost my period for 10 years starting Soph-Junior year of high school, and it took forever to get back (some caffeine dropping and genotype dieting). But now that its back and regular when I’m healthy – I absolutely can’t afford to not know if a pill or hormones is “hiding” it (when you bleed on the pill, that is NOT a period). I have Paraguard and LOVE it, but I know there will be a day when it needs to come out and I don’t want to put it back in again, so this FAM is very relevant for me (plus met a few ladies who swear by FAM – they’re married however).
WHich app do you like most? Easiest to use? Thermometer less (I use an excel doc right now, so this could be easier and temp isn’t crucial for me just yet). Totally curious 🙂
I can NEVER run the day or one before I get my period. Dizzies, fatigue – listen to your body! It will tell you in advance when you’re gonna get it!
Thanks lady 🙂
Phoebe Lapine says
Allie!! thanks for stopping by and so glad this was helpful! I used to use My Days but MUCH prefer Kindara. It makes charting with temp so easy. Highly recommend. I totally feel you re:exercise! Somehow before I started charting I wouldnt recognize my symptoms for what they were until my period literally, er, fell into my lap. But now I can see when it’s approaching and the few days before it’s very obvious I’m moving into a new phase. Keep me posted on your journey and good luck! xoxo
Yes, Phoebe! What a great article to run into, thank you! I decided to go off the pill about 4 years ago after being on it blindly for about 14 years. I went with the copper IUD and was so grateful to be rid of the artificial hormones and still be protected. I went through all of the withdrawl symptoms, mostly noticed in my skin, but they cleared up after a while. Recently, I realized a correlation between getting my IUD and a diagnosis of Ulcerative Colitis at the same time. I’ve been healing from the UC naturally by addressing my hormones, diet and lifestyle for the past 2 years but was still experiencing debilitating periods and persistent lower abdominal pain that I just couldn’t pinpoint. I feel as though I am much more in tune with my body than when I moved from the pill to the IUD so I decided to get rid of it and see what happened. The moment the IUD was removed it was as if a weight had been lifted from my abdomen. I have been tracking my cycle for 3 months now using the Kindara app and a cheap basal thermometer I found on Amazon. This month I think I finally can see my ovulation by temp, but checking cervical fluids has been confusing. I’m hoping over the next few months things begin to be clearer. I usually wake during the night to pee and this summer has been heavy on the hedonism, not so much on the health side of things. I am not trying to start a family, so the stress of not being protected like we used to be has been heavy on my relationship. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and advice. I haven’t taken into account the affects of diet and exercise throughout my cycle. I’m stoked to join your in your moon sisterhood challenge this month!
Phoebe Lapine says
hooray Rather! Thanks so much for reading and thrilled you’re joining the challenge. My bf and I are definitely proceeding with caution on the charting front. But from what I’ve read, so long as you’re fairly regular, it’s a very effective method. Though of course subject to human error just like the pill and a lot of other forms of BC. I’m so sorry to hear about the IUD. You’re not the first to have that experience. I was too worried about a side effect to try it. I hope you stick with charting! I’ve def been a little confused around the cervical fluids. But after paying attention for a few months, I think I am pretty clear on how mine usually evolve and can record them accordingly. The temperature has been super interesting. I’ve missed a few nights here and there because of travel. But I can still really see the pattern, which is so cool! Anyway, keep reporting back – I’m curious to hear how everything goes!
Really interesting article, and written in a far more accessible way than most on this subject! I was put on the pill at 16 for heavy periods and terrible cramps and have been on it ever since. I’m now 26.
In the past year I have suffered from awful eczema and digestive issues – all stemming from a severe allergic reaction I had about 18 months ago (I never had any health issues prior to this).
I have cut out gluten (docs suspect coeliac – although my symptoms have not massively improved after 6 months gluten-free), dairy and soy from my diet, use only natural products on my skin and in my home, cycle daily, and have been practising yoga and meditation to manage stress.
It seems like the last thing to “get back to basics” with is my contraception. I’m considering the copper IUD as I don’t think the ‘natural family planning’ would work for me (in a loving relationship but with no intention of having children in the next few years).
Has anyone had any experience with eczema and coming off the pill? I am uncomfortable, itchy and sore most days as it is so I don’t want to add more fire to the flame by changing yet another thing!
Any advice greatly appreciated,
Phoebe Lapine says
Thanks so much for sharing your story and taking the time to read about mine. Ugh! I’m sorry about the skin! Bad skin was actually the biggest catalyst that got me to change my habits. A lot of my health journey has been in service to my skin.
I can only speak from my own experience, but there were a few books that I found particularly helpful in putting it all together. Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore is great for understanding the skin/diet connection. It sounds like you’ve already made some great changes in that department. But if you want more info, there’s tons of it in her book, and it’s written in a really approachable tone. Woman Code, I of course love. Most recently, I’ve been exploring my gut’s role in all of this and trying to eat more probiotics like kefir, kraut and such. Our microbe has a huge impact on our general immunity. Your allergic reaction made me think this might be a useful area to investigate. I loved The Good Gut by the Sonnenburgs.
It’s taken me two years of these experiments to start evening out. So I would just say don’t stress too much about the results. I know you’ll see them eventually. It just may take a sucky amount of time 🙁
The birth control bit is so personal. I too am in a committed loving relationship and definitely don’t want kids any time soon! The charting is new and we are taking it very slowly and carefully. But I ultimately didn’t want to get an IUD after hearing some stories about people who didn’t react well. Also, my acupuncturist thinks it messes with our circulation/energy 🙂 But I have other friends who love it. Anything is better than the pill in my mind. I totally get not wanting to rock the boat though. You definitely might have some months of adjustment. But now that I’m on the other end of that, I’m reeeeally happy that I went off, even if it caused some initial turmoil.
Good luck and hang in there! These are hard choices!!
Thanks Phoebe! I’ve read Skin Cleanse recently and did indeed find it really helpful.
I’ll have a look into the gut-health books you recommend as I could definitely be doing more in that department (sauerkraut once or twice a week and the odd bottle of kombucha probably aren’t cutting it!)
As for the pill, that’s getting binned off as soon as I decide on an alternative.
Thanks again 🙂
Phoebe – I love how accessible you make this very daunting subject. Thank you for sharing.
Phoebe Lapine says
thanks sweet whitney!!