My "to read" list is looooong.
So when my good friend Jami told me about WomanCode probably about a year ago at this point, I added the title to the list but didn't download it right away. SO many good books seem to be popping up every month, and as I am not (yet) a lady of leisure, there are only so many hours in the day I can commit to diving into a book.
In fact, usually I read for about an hour before I go to sleep, and after having endometriosis surgery last year followed by needing half my thyroid removed, I didn't particularly want to read about hormones before going to bed. They were already the stuff of my nightmares.
But the next time I saw Jami and we caught up, she mentioned it again. She said the book made her think of me and that we should try to meet the author one day. She told me about how it helped her identify some of her confusing medical symptoms.
And then as you know, I got into Lee from America, recommended to me by a PCOS sister who knew a TON about hormones and nutrition. I noticed Lee wrote about cycle syncing and credited her information to WomanCode.
In the meantime, I had started learning about and experimenting with a mostly antiinflammatory nutrition plan. It turns out reading WomanCode was the perfect next step.
Yes, the subtitle, "Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source" sounds a bit self help-y. And yes, there are vignettes throughout the book that frankly read like infomercials. They are probably meant to get women to see the author, Alisa Vitti, in person.
But if you are a woman struggling with any kind of reproductive dysfunction -- endometriosis, PCOS, infertility, painful periods, PMS, low libido, you name it -- you really can't afford NOT to read this book. TBH, I actually think EVERY woman should read it.
Having struggled with irregular periods, stubborn extra weight, excess body hair, fatigue, and other problems, Vitti was finally diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) when she was in college. As with endometriosis, it takes women with PCOS many years before receiving an accurate diagnosis. Also as with endometriosis, the typical protocol most doctors take is to manage it with synthetic hormones and other drugs.
But Vitti believed the birth control pill should be just that -- used to prevent pregnancy, not to manage disorders. In researching how to manage her PCOS, she ended up making a career change entirely, learning as much as she could about the female endocrine system and using food to manage it. She studied here at Hopkins and at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, becoming a functional nutritionist.
WomanCode is the culmination of what she has learned. As someone who has spent the better part of my career editing medical content, I didn't expect to learn as much as I did -- or realize I knew so little about my own body. I've always been focused on managing the structural problems my endometriosis causes; hormones were just something I put on the back burner, assuming mine were just whack and the best I could do was hope for a mild month of PMS here and there.
But according to Vitti, the endocrine system is very predictable when it is working well. However, due to the lifestyles most of us lead, starting with diets that make our blood sugar levels fluctuate wildly followed by too little sleep and too much stress taxing our adrenal glands, our hormones seem crazy and uncontrollable because we've consistently fried our systems. And for those of us who have menstrual or reproductive problems, the hormone imbalances exacerbate our issues and our bodies to the point of collapse.
Despite heavily relying on medical research (as it should), this book is quite readable, and I devoured it. Every chapter felt like a lightbulb went off for me. So many symptoms or little nagging things that I never connected to my hormones for years began to make sense. Some of the changes I had already begun to see from avoiding inflammatory foods I understood more scientifically.
And nothing crazy or extreme is involved at all. In fact, it's all very common sense. Eat as well as you can, avoiding refined sugar, processed foods, coffee (I have yet to give this up), and alcohol. Buy as much organic produce as possible and look for organic and humane animal proteins (these animals will have had the least imbalanced hormone levels). Sleep as much as you can and rest when you need to (your adrenal glands don't fare well when you're body constantly thinks it's in fight-or-flight mode, even if that's just coming from work deadlines or being stuck in traffic). Trash home cleaning supplies, toiletries, and beauty products that aren't all-natural because certain common ingredients like sulfates and parabens are hardcore endocrine disrupters. And...sweat and poop daily because this helps eliminate not just toxins, but excess hormones from your system (and we all know too much estrogen can be a real bitch).
The less intuitive, new information for me is summarized in Lee's blog post. Certain foods support the hormone changes that occur in each phase of your cycle. Different symptoms can be managed with different foods. For instance, cilantro supports the liver, helping it clear excess estrogen, improving your skin. Foods high in B vitamins cut back on sugar cravings, and parsley, celery, and cucumber help flush bloating. It's amazing what food can do.
Vitti also recommends planning for your productivity to ebb and flow in predictable ways with your cycle. For instance, you'll have little energy to be productive during your period, but the drops in hormones means your brain will be better able to analyze and evaluate the projects you're working on. Similarly your energy for socializing and working out changes throughout your cycle. Apparently, you want ALL THE HANGZ, and you want to work out like a beast you're ovulating because your hormones peak and give you huge amounts of energy. As they decline during your luteal phase, you become less social and want to spend more time alone. Additionally, better workouts during this time are slower ones like yoga. My acupuncturist has been telling me to rest during my period for LITERAL years.
With the help of Vitti's companion FLOliving app, this past cycle, I've started planning my newfound antiinflammatory favorites around which cycle I am and adding different produce to my smoothies accordingly. I am trying to schedule my social engagements when I know I'll be feeling up for it and planning for self-care and me time when I know I'll be needing that instead. Instead of trying to work out the same way each week, I am trying to be mindful of my energy and ACTUALLY listen to my body (which I've *said* I've done in the past but never actually have). According to Vitti, pushing through and living your life the same way each day is a masculine way of living. And she promises that if I partner with my endocrine system and my body, instead of stubbornly pushing past it, I'll hate my body's feminine way of living less.
Of course, this will take some time to see the effects, at least three or four cycles. I'm just about to complete my first cycle doing my best to sync, and I missed out on eating for my ovulatory phase almost entirely due to a stomach virus. But in the months since beginning to focus on antiinflammatory foods and better, more genuine self-care, last month's premenstrual skin was SIGNIFICANTLY clearer and although I did have one spike of anxiety right before my period, I didn't want to kill everyone in sight for a solid 10 days pre-period like I usually do. I'd call that a win.
If you know me, you know I am OBSESSED with this book, its ideas, and the app. So tell me -- have you read WomanCode? Have you tried cycle syncing? Did you know as little as I did about the female endocrine system?