By Mariah Mansvelt Beck, co-founder of Yoni
I’ve read quite a few books about menstruation. However, never one as factual, yet so simple to understand and as practical as the book « Period Power ». The first part just came out in Dutch (translated by the wonderful writers’/ activists’/ speakers’ duo Damn, Honey, as « De Cyclus Strategie ». I was lucky to get a bit of time to talk with Maisie before the book launch in Amsterdam. Read on for a teaser of what to expect from her book as well as some of the highlights from our conversation and my top 5 takeaways. My basic advice would be: get yourself a copy and gift your friends – especially those struggling with their cycle in any kind of way. This book could potentially change your life and will definitely leave you with more insight into your cycle and therefore yourself and your own health.
In a nutshell Maisie provides a simple framework, using the four seasons, to explain the phases of the menstrual cycle. Winter marks the first day of your cycle and is when you start bleeding. Spring follows menstruation and lasts up until around your ovulation. Summer is when you are fertile, ovulating and at your most energetic generally speaking. After summer you enter fall, in which your body prepares either for pregnancy or yet again menstruation.
Just by saying – or reading – the seasons probably already gives you a feel of what you can expect and what your body may need in the different seasons e.g. more rest in winter, more exercise or socializing in summer. Maisie explains which hormones play a role in each phase and how these generally play out physically, mentally and emotionally. She also explains how to recognize when you are out of balance and provides some practical advice on how to re-balance and take (better) care of yourself.
While the framework is so simple Maisie also continuously underlines that your experience, is your experience. Hence there is no one-size fits all and while generally e.g. a hormone may have a calming effect on most it is totally possible that the opposite is true for you. She also highlights how our experiences will continuously change due to things like our environment (think of things like the weather or having a sick baby keeping you up all night), your lifestyle, how we take care of ourselves (e.g. Christmas dinner) as well as our ever-changing age. One of the main takeaways from the book is the importance of tracking your menstruation. I’ve tracked mine for years but am mostly focused on 2 moments – when am I fertile and when will I have my period. One of the eyeopeners for me is how often the transitioning from one season to another can be tricky. These transitions often mark emotional, physical and/or mental challenges. The book provides great insight into what you can do to support yourself in these transitions starting with becoming aware of them – which is where tracking comes in handy.
What is « normal »?
Maisie and I spoke about how we both in our work hear a lot of stories from people dealing with physical struggles including things like extreme pain, heavy periods, fainting with the belief that this is part of « being a woman ». It doesn’t help when doctors verify that indeed cramps, bleeding, etc. are just part of being on your period and send you home with empty hands or painkillers without looking into what might actually be going on for you. This is a reason why this book can be so life changing for people struggling with their cycle.
Maisie and I also spoke about what’s « normal » in terms of mood swings. Just like with physical changes Maisie was clear that both should not be disrupting your life or relationships. Our emotions do fluctuate as our hormone change. However, if your emotions are so volatile that they are disruptive then you should definitely read the book as well as look for help as you may be experiencing an imbalance or a mismatch in terms of your lifestyle to your cycle. Maisie also made the great point that we should not be discounting our emotions because we are « PMS-ing ». All of our emotions including those « negative » ones are showing up for us for a reason. It’s worthwhile to take a look and investigate what is going on in your life.
I also asked Maisie what she considers a « normal » cycle length. Maisie explained that according to most medical bodies a « normal » cycle length is considered to be between 17 and 35 days. She explained that she herself adheres to a less broad range of normalcy – something more around 26 to 33 days as much shorter or longer cycles may be indicating an imbalance in your life and would be worthwhile to proactively look into.
Most common struggles
I also asked what types of problems are most common. Maisie shared that she feels social media is changing the types of cycle related problems she and fellow practitioners are seeing. Five years ago, the majority of people seeking help were dealing with pain related problems. Now she is seeing more people with irregular periods or even completely absent periods. Maisie agreed that this shift may partially be due to the fact more women are tracking their cycle and therefore more aware of irregularities. However, she feels social media is playing a larger part in making people feel pressurized to strive to look, eat and live certain ways that may have very little to do with what your body actually needs. She shared that too much rigorous exercise often in combination with a diet with too little proteins, healthy fats and carbs tells our bodies to go into conservation mode, which can lead to irregular periods or even no periods at all.
She shared that her first 3 questions to new clients generally would be along the lines of describing their daily life, their stress levels as well as their abilities to set healthy boundaries for themselves. Women are more likely than men in general, to have multiple roles in life and struggle to find time for themselves in between the competing priorities their careers, relationships, social life and possible children are constantly asking of themselves.
After reading the first part of Period Power (« De Cyclus Strategie » for the Dutchies) these are my personal highlights, take aways, facts and top tips:
- Track your cycle! And not just focusing on when your period starts (and ends) and when you’re fertile but really tracking it (the book has practical tips how) to understand if your e.g. mood swings might be related to certain imbalances so you can make life easier for yourself and maybe can start viewing your cycle less as a curse but something you can actually use to your own advantage.
- Seed Cycling: eat two to four spoons of flax seeds and pumpkin seeds from your menstruation up until your ovulation and then, after you ovulate, eat two to four spoons of sesame seeds and sunflower seeds until you restart your cycle. These seeds will help to boost your oestrogen levels in the first part of your cycle and progesterone in your second part.
- Be regular. So, I mean poop every day. Maisie explains the importance –it is an important way to get rid of the hormone oestrogen. We need oestrogen but we also need to get rid of it because if it hangs around it can lead to problems like heavier menstruation, sensitive breasts, feeling bloated, PMS, migraines, difficulties sleeping and even breast cancer (and the list goes on!).
- In this life we menstruate approximately 400 times.
- Unlike sperm, which is regularly produced. We were born with all of the eggs we will ever have. This means the egg that became you, already existed when your grandmother was pregnant with your mother. Hence you were once a part of your grandmother…
- Spring is the best time to introduce new habits.
Get your copy of the book here, follow Maisie on Instagram and/or listen to the Damn, Honey podcast with guests Merel Wildschut and Daan Borrel talking about how the book changed their lives. Also make sure to keep a look out for the second part of Period Power if you prefer to read it in Dutch – « De Hormoon Revolutie » (The Hormone Revolution) will be filled with practical advice how to support yourself in the difference phases of your cycle with your diet and lifestyle. And as I reach my 40’s I was extra excited to hear about Maisie’s current project focusing on a book about menopause and how to prepare for this next exciting phase. Bring it on!