IN THE FLO, the new book from women’s hormone expert, Alisa Vitti, is all about life flow, energy flow and, yes, your monthly flow. Namely, how to harness the female form and embrace cycle syncing for your physical, emotional and energetic advantage.
By listening to our own unique rhythmic biochemistry, we can pinpoint when and how to exert energy to honor the body’s natural rhythms—and hit peak physical fitness.
Vitti is a wealth of knowledge on all things women’s health. We were thrilled to take a peak into her new book, as excerpted below, as she shares a bit of her journey toward wellbeing. Part one, below, and stay tuned for part two coming up. Prepare to take notes…
Doing less can be the key to getting the results you want. When I finally realized that in addition to adapting my eating patterns to my cycle, I needed to sync my exercise, I easily dropped 60 pounds without having to work out aggressively. I started working out less—seriously!—and the extra pounds melted away.
Even better, I felt energized, alert and motivated. The same thing happened after I gained 40 pounds while pregnant with my daughter. After giving birth, I stopped doing all high-intensity training and switched to short walks—no more than half an hour—and gentle Pilates. The extra pounds melted away, and I’m back down to my feel-good weight. I was finally able to end the war with my body. I was thrilled, and a little bit shocked, because it went against everything I had ever learned about fitness and weight loss.
Why It’s Pivotal To Understand Female Biology For Physical Health + Fitness
Our female biology shines a light on why the less-is-more approach works for us. When you get your heart pumping, your body burns the glucose in your bloodstream for energy. This supply lasts only about thirty minutes; after that, your body needs to find a replacement to keep your energy up.
Where does your body turn? It calls on your adrenal glands, and they jump into action by pumping out the stress hormone cortisol, which converts stored fat into usable glucose so you have the energy to continue working out. Although the fat-burning part of this process may sound like a win-win for you, it comes with some serious side effects.
If you have unresolved hormonal issues, such as excess estrogen—the most common hormonal imbalance I see among my clients—the cortisol spike and fat burning lead to something counterproductive. The estrogen overload programs your body to convert any circulating glucose back into fat. And estrogen tends to cause your body to hold on to the fat cells in your midsection and hips. Your body doubles down on the action when those fat cells, which are hormonally active tissue, pump out even more estrogen into your body. The more fat cells you have, the higher your estrogen levels. And the more estrogen, the more your body hangs on to those fat cells. So instead of becoming a fat-burning machine, you become stuck in an ugly cycle of burning stored fat with cortisol, only to have your high estrogen levels send the fat right back to all the wrong places.
This is especially likely to happen in the luteal phase of your cycle, when your body naturally pumps out more cortisol. Even worse, if you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue, exercising too hard or too long will cause your adrenal glands to become overstimulated. Going all out at the gym when you’re already dealing with the effects of chronic stress will leave you feeling even more depleted and further strains your adrenals.
Eventually, adrenal fatigue can spiral to a point where you can barely crawl out of bed each morning, you struggle to get through your workouts, and you feel more exhausted than ever. It’s a no-win situation. You force yourself to work out because you think you’re doing something healthy for your body—but really, you’re just compounding your hormonal issues.
How To Work Out Smarter, Not Harder
Don’t worry. There is a solution: Work out smarter, not harder. Your rhythmic biochemistry provides a clear road map to plan your best workouts. During each phase of the menstrual cycle, the female body is primed and prepped to respond to different kinds of exercise. The first half of your cycle is the ideal time to focus on cardio and building lean muscle. In the second half of your cycle, you’ll benefit more from skipping intense cardio and shifting to resistance training, flexibility, and recovery.
You may even want to skip the gym altogether on some days—and that is not only okay, it’s recommended! Finally, you can stop beating yourself up for not doing enough. You can stop feeling guilty if you walked out of your dance class after half an hour. You can do less, get better results, and feel better, too.
Letting go of the “more is good, harder is better” mentality can be hard. In fact, you may be asking yourself, Won’t I gain weight if I don’t exercise with the same intensity every day? Women ask me this all the time. I promise you, the answer is a resounding no! In fact, when you begin syncing with your cycle and give yourself permission to scale back your workouts during the second half of your cycle, you’ll start to see results within a month or two. For example, instead of trying to make PMS bloat go away by sweating it out on the treadmill, you’ll find that you no longer feel bloated in the first place. So there’s no need for that high-intensity workout.
Why keep swimming upstream? That’s the lesson Emily, a twenty-eight-year-old fitness and yoga instructor, finally learned after a lifetime of giving in to the more, more, more mentality. She taught about twenty classes a week and would push through her period pains out of fear she might gain weight if she took time off. Eventually, her stressed-out body began screaming for a break, and she realized she needed to make a change.
After learning about this cyclical program, she made a commitment to start honoring her body in a way that would support her cycle. She started by taking off the first day of her period from teaching and simply doing a few restorative poses on her own. Then she began to notice that her body craved different types of movement and intensity depending on the phase of her cycle. By listening to that inner wisdom, she developed routines that fueled her cycle and left her feeling energized rather than deflated. “I’ve come to a place where I feel balanced,” she says, adding that she doesn’t even bother weighing herself anymore.
This is part one in a two-part series excerpted from IN THE FLO by Alisa Vitti. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright 2020.
Stay tuned for part two!