When I went off birth control back in September I didn’t get my period for 4 months, I was so #confused. If we’re being completely honest I didn’t think twice about my period for the entire 7 years I was on birth control I was completely ignorant of it. Bloat, complain, bleed. That was my routine.
When I started getting more interested in my body, what I put in it, how I was treating it I eventually decided to come off birth control – it happened very organically. It would have been irresponsible of me to go off it any earlier (in my college days) because, well, you know why. I’ve previously mentioned this in another blog post but want to mention it again because I feel like people forget this part. Having the option to go on birth control is a complete privilege that I did not take for granted. I know that I am one of the few, very lucky people who have the opportunity to go on this pill – it’s not some pill derived from the devil that a lot of people make it out to be, I’m hella grateful that I was able to go on it. I’m just at the point in my life where I’m responsible enough to go off it, and I’ve done enough research to understand my own body, what’s going on during this 28-day cycle and how to take care of myself during each phase of my cycle. I am choosing to put in this effort to figure out my own body, but for some – that’s just not a priority at the moment (it wasn’t a priority for me for over a decade) which is A-OK, hence why I was on birth control.
I began doing as much research on my own as possible, which is where I found Cory’s Instagram page @thewomensdietition. I was so drawn to her story and how she shared her own struggles with PCOS, how she made other women’s hormone health her priority. Doing your own research is so important when it comes to your own wellbeing, but there’s certain things that you just need to be qualified to talk about and I’m just not qualified on this topic. I literally studied information technology at university. There is so much information out there that can just get straight-up confusing which is why I wanted to bring forward someone who has dedicated their career to this very subject. Cory has worked a number of years in this field and is here to answer some questions on how she started in women’s health, what to eat during which phase of your cycle (SO IMPORTANT), and advice for her younger, post-grad self.
What led you into a career focusing on women’s health?
I have always been interested in nutrition and endocrinology— I focused on this during grad school and even did my thesis on a women’s health topic. I work with a lot of women who have PCOS, which I have as well. After school, I started working in foodservice management and discovered I really didn’t like it! Eventually, I started work at a women’s clinic alongside several OBGYNs treating pregnant women (and some non-pregnant women as well). It was during this time that I felt that, alongside my grad school studies, I had collected ample experience in the field and was ready to dive into my own practice.
Will being on birth control for 7+ years affect my chances of getting pregnant in the future?
Absolutely not- research does not support this. It may take a few months to get your hormones ironed out and it’s wise to try and replenish some of the nutrients that birth control may have depleted. But, you have the same shot at pregnancy as the woman next to you who has never taken any form of hormonal birth control.
What’s the first step I should take if I’m interested in getting off birth control?
Start with a healthy diet! Focus on Vitamins B2, B6, B12, C, E, magnesium, folate, zinc, and selenium. These are the top nutrients that birth control may deplete.
Foods high in B vitamins: pork, poultry, beef, dairy, eggs, whole grains, seeds, nuts
Foods high in vitamin C: citrus, strawberries, broccoli, papaya, peppers, mango, kale
Foods high in magnesium: avocado, banana, chia, dark chocolate, beans, spinach, quinoa
Foods high in folate: dark leafy greens, citrus, whole grains, beans
Foods high in zinc: oysters, red meat, pumpkin seeds, nuts, dairy, eggs
Foods high in selenium: Brazil nuts, fish, shrimp, ham, chicken
Are there certain foods I should be eating during each phase of my cycle?
Menstrual Phase: The main foods to focus on here are ones that are going to reduce any pesky lingering PMS symptoms and ensure your depleted levels of iron are restored. Prostaglandins are the lipid compounds responsible for cramps and breast tenderness so adding in omega-3 rich foods to your diet may help reduce the activity of those prostaglandins. In addition, adding turmeric to your dishes or making a Golden Milk Latte can also reduce inflammation in your body. The nutrients in these foods will ensure your period is as pain-free as possible.
Remember to focus on red meat, beans, and spinach to ensure your levels of iron are adequate to replace any blood loss. But don’t stop here- make sure you’re eating iron-rich foods along with foods high in vitamin C– vitamin C greatly enhances the amount of iron that your body is able to absorb.
Follicular and Ovulation Phase: Your follicular phase is likely the part of your cycle where you’re feeling your absolute best– and you can thank estrogen for that! The follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) that gets released during your period triggers your ovaries to mature and prepare follicles (aka the structures that hold your eggs) to release a dominant egg for ovulation. During this phase, top foods you want to indulge in are foods that contain high levels of vitamins D and A as well as zinc and selenium to ensure healthy follicle maturation, neutralize free radical damage, and assist healthy ovulation.
Ovulation really only lasts about 12-48 hours. Your testosterone levels increase during this time – which is why most women have an increased libido and higher energy levels during this part of the cycle! You’re going to want to focus on the same foods here to sustain your body through healthy ovulation.
Luteal Phase: Your luteal phase begins after ovulation and lasts until your period starts again (anywhere from 10 to 16 days is average). The corpus luteum (the structure where you ovulated from) begins secreting progesterone and makes it the dominant hormone. The goal of the luteal phase is to keep progesterone high in relation to estrogen- If progesterone is not elevating enough or declining too rapidly in comparison to estrogen, you may notice signs of estrogen dominance or a shortened luteal phase. The luteal phase ends when progesterone and estrogen drop, signaling the start of your period and restarting the cycle over again.
During your luteal phase, you might be feeling a sense of calmness (progesterone is your “chill” hormone) and you’re also more susceptible to blood sugar swings (hello hanger!). The foods you want to hone in on during this phase are foods that are going to keep your blood sugar stable, ward off PMS symptoms, and either prepare the body for pregnancy (if desired) or ensure a smooth transition into your period.
Foods containing energizing B vitamins actually have “progesterone-like effects” that may inhibit digestion issues. Foods rich in I3C (indole-3-carbinol) help your body detoxify estrogen and balance out that progesterone to estrogen ratio. Probiotic-rich foods like sauerkraut, tempeh, and yogurt can also help relieve symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea/constipation.
I stopped taking birth control and haven’t gotten a period in 3 + months. Should I be concerned?
Possibly. If your period is still MIA after three months, it’s worth making an appointment with your doctor and just getting things checked out!
Are there certain supplements that women should be taking every day to optimize their period health?
It really depends on what your unique needs are! I can’t say for sure what supplements you should be taking but I will say please don’t go filling your cart with hundreds of dollars worth of supplements. Vitamins, minerals, and herbs can be *very* strong and if you’re not working with a credentialed professional, you may wind up doing more harm than good. I have seen this too many times in my practice. Consult a Dietitian!
What’s your go-to meal at home right now?
Mid-quarantine, I am loving no-fuss leftover hodgepodges. A little frozen veggies, canned beans or salmon, and some starchy veg like sweet potato or spaghetti squash for my carbohydrate. I am a firm believer in practicing what I preach- you’ll see me eating almost the EXACT same way that I teach my clients to eat- because this method WORKS!
If you could give your 23-year-old self 1 piece of advice what would it be?
When I was 23, I was just beginning to pursue my career as a Dietitian. I would tell her “Better things are coming- keep working your butt off, girl.”
Thank you again for choosing to spend your precious time reading my content. It means the absolute world to me. If this resonates with you, sending it to a friend and spreading the word will not only help others gain this insight but also help me out m-a-j-o-r-l-y.
You can follow Cory @thewomensdietition on Instagram or check out her blog HERE.