If you haven’t heard, Alisa Vitti – pioneer of female biohacking, Johns Hopkins alum, women’s hormone health expert and founder of the period-positive platform FLO Living, is launching her latest book, In the FLO. It’s full of radical, groundbreaking information, meant to help women understand and reconnect with their unique biological rhythm, just as nature intended. This book shows us how mainstream health plans, self-care routines, fitness regimens, and time management schedules, and even the power morning concept are all founded on a system that only optimizes male biology, and leaves out the specialized and cyclical needs of women. She believes that women finally deserve to have a system that supports our biology – period!
Alisa is the best selling author of WomanCode. She is the creator of the Cycle Syncing MethodTM, and the MyFLO period app and has been a trusted council member for W+G for years. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Vogue, Forbes, SXSW, and TEDx.
The success story out there is – if you get up early in the morning, do an intense workout, meditate/journal and plan your day/learn something new – each and every day – that this will increase your chances of success.
Every time I see these videos from anyone talking about setting yourself up for success during the day with your morning routine – it drives me nuts! The gender bias there is egregious. (There is also an unspoken assumption that while you are doing one of these morning routines for optimal success and health, someone (aka women) is taking care of the kids?)
These videos conceptually assume that everyone has the same biological rhythms and therefore will benefit from the same practice. And because women have been left out of medical, fitness, and nutrition research, they base this assumption that we all operate on the 24 hour circadian biological rhythm alone.
It’s not a bad concept. The problem is, that women have a second biological rhythm at play – the Infradian rhythm and this same early morning, intense workout routine doesn’t actually work for their biology and they can’t stick with it for very long. I have heard time and again from women of all ages that the narrative that there is this one correct way to get into a peak flow state for the day, really leaves women feeling like failures before their day even begins.
It’s toxic to think and feel this way and it’s completely unnecessary if you have the correct gender specific information to base your self care practices on.
Without the scientifically correct and gender distinct information about biological rhythms, women assume they should squeeze themselves into this same routine in order to set themselves up for success.
I myself felt like a time management failure after trying all the male success coaching routines. Once I understood the science about our Infradian Rhythm, it went way beyond the morning routine. Because of all of these changes in our biochemistry, it became clear as day that women need to change what they eat during the month, that we have to change our workouts to adjust for metabolic and cortisol changes, and that we can use the predictable brain changes we experience to select projects that feel effortless and reduce stress. I created The Cycle Syncing Method™ to live in total support of our infradian rhythm. It’s a food, exercise, and time management plan that is based on female biology. And I learned how to apply the infradian rhythm to my advantage outside of self care to work, sex, relationships, and motherhood. It has changed my life, maintained my health, and is the secret to my success. I detail all of this, with charts to make this easy, in my new book, In the FLO.
Let’s look at some chronobiology so we can see why men and women need totally different morning routines.
The male hormonal biological rhythm that governs testosterone production follows the circadian rhythm that regulates cortisol output and other biological functions. Men wake up with the highest concentration of testosterone and cortisol early in the morning. So it is logical and biologically advantageous for men to optimize their health and lives with a consistent routine of bed by 10pm, waking up at 5 or 6am, workout, meditate, and front load as much work as possible before 3pm when male hormones downshift and they run out of stamina, mental focus, and energy. And this is exactly why certain types of biohacking is so popular for that group because it is helpful to figure out ways to extend energy, stamina, sexual performance, cognitive energy for longer in the day.
Women have a circadian rhythm just like all humans, that regulates cortisol and other basic biological functions. However, and it’s a big one – women from the first period to their last – have a second biological clock at play called the INFRADIAN rhythm. The circadian rhythm takes one day, and the infradian rhythm takes one month. This rhythm governs 6 key systems of the body – the brain, metabolism, immune, microbiome, stress, and reproductive systems. For example, did you know the infradian rhythm creates a 25% change in your brain chemistry over the course of the month? Did you know that your metabolism speeds up and slows down predictably across the month and that you need to change what you eat and the intensity of your workouts each week in order to optimize your metabolism and that trying to do the same thing each week with diet and exercise will make you fat, sick and stressed? Did you know that your cortisol levels are higher in one part of your infradian cycle and therefore the ‘just do it’ or ‘push yourself’ mentality will actually elevate cortisol levels further, increase stress and inflammation in the body, disrupt your hormones, make you feel anxious and reduce your ability to be creative and productive? And that women need more sleep than men because we have a more complex brain and it needs 20 minutes longer to clean itself and reset for the cognitive day? Women also do not experience this cliff at all. We are more efficient users of energy and therefore we don’t have to crowd all of our productivity into the morning. In fact that can be hormonally disruptive at certain phases of the infradian cycle.
So, are you seeing now why that early power morning ritual is good for the guys in your life but terrible for you? Men are the same each day – they run out of testosterone and cortisol every afternoon, so for them, front loading as much of their physical, sexual, social, and cognitive activities before 3pm is critical for their success. In fact, all of business culture is oriented to optimize male performance. From a biological point of view, one could say that the patriarchy is simply a culture that organizes life and work to support male biology. And one could also say that trying to squeeze ourselves into this culture is disrupting our infradian rhythm which is why over 50% of women suffer with hormonal issues.
Women actually need 4 different morning routines based on the 4 shifts you go through each month during one turn of the infradian biological rhythm.
Here’s what I do and this is done alongside my morning mama duties, and the physical activity can be done at any time of day that feels good and works optimally with the intersection of your circadian and infradian rhythms, if one wanted to do it in the morning that’s fine, but not essential and optimal like it is for men:
A good morning routine has 2 parts:
Stress Management – meditation, movement, but doesn’t not always include a workout
Thought Management – directing attention/intention with visualization, journaling, intention setting
I’ve broken this down by each of the 4 phases of your cycle to take advantage and optimize your infradian rhythm and explained why.
Follicular phase – can do earlier morning waking and working out, this will look like what you are familiar with, hormone levels are low, but estrogen is rising, so gentle start, but early in the day will get oxytocin and dopamine going for optimal performance the rest of the day
Read or listen to something new/inspiring/learn something new
set or review intentions for the month
20-30 cardio at home/or 30 min walk – morning time is great, but lunch time is great as well
Ovulation phase – tons of early morning energy and all day energy with constant levels of testosterone introduced during this phase – can do earlier morning waking and can work out any time of day
Stress Management and Exercise: 2 Options
Early wake up and HIIT workout – 20 minutes
Then seated meditation – 20 minutes
If short on time in the morning:
Morning movement based meditation (dance to a few favorite songs and lose yourself) flushes cortisol, builds oxytocin, boosts dopamine – 10 minutes
And then do HIIT workout when it fits with your schedule – 30-60 minutes
set intentions of who to connect with – verbal and social centers are hormonally supercharged so each day focus on connecting with your community in some way
Luteal phase – cortisol is higher this whole phase, so a cortisol flush to start the day is critical for success
Stress Management: – maximize cortisol flushing:
Dance (movement based meditation)
Self pleasure session without a vibrator
Jumping on a mini trampoline for 5 minutes
review daily task list and cancel any unnecessary meetings, focus on solo work
Make list of gratitudes
Exercise: mid day or later in the day
Pilates, strength training – (no cardio or HIIT) 30 minutes max or cortisol disruption occurs
Menstrual phase –
journal about major life areas and reflect
Make gratitude list
Exercise: any time of day that works for you, typically not in the morning this phase
To learn more about the Infradian Rhythm and Alisa’s Cycle Syncing Method™, pick up her new book In the FLO! www.intheflobook.com
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.