Finding Balance After Birth Control
Around 40% of women in Australia currently take the birth control pill for contraceptive or other purposes. That's 5 million women, and yet education on the aftermath of coming off the pill (or any other form of birth control) is practically non-existent. We know that our bodies may do some 're-adjusting' and our skin may break out, but no one tells you about the common waves of anxiety and depression, headaches, bloating, a lack of control over your weight and a myriad of other symptoms. These are symptoms of your body trying to re-adjust and re-balance your hormones, which for some can take up to 2 years.
This sucks, and it sucks especially for those who experience this and can't correlate it back to coming off the pill. In that case it's scary - you have no idea what's going on with your body and countless trips to the doctor do nothing to help you understand or feel much better. Women's hormones are extremely powerful (we grow and carry humans around in us for 9 months?!), so when they're tipped even slightly out of balance, we really feel it. I've come off and gone back on birth control more than once, and it was harrowing for me. But along that journey I figured out a lot of ways to help myself, and in my studies I've focused heavily on female hormones, so that I can understand how they are influenced by things both within and outside of our control. Here's what I've learnt about some things we can do to help ourselves along in the process of coming off birth control.
What do I do in preparation for coming off birth control?
Focus on nourishing your body as best you can, with a significant upcoming change you want it to be ready to fight for you, and the best way to do that is give it armour. Your body will work to detox your body of synthetic estrogen when the time comes, so focus on foods that promote healthy detoxification like leafy greens and root vegetables, as well as fresh fruits and whole foods to increase your fibre intake. Practice methods to reduce stress like yoga and meditation. Ensure you get at least 7 hours sleep each night. Prepare yourself mentally for the symptoms you might experience, it's your body working for you to find equilibrium, try and practice gratitude for the efforts your body is going to for you.
Supplementation for coming off birth control:
- Magnesium (Glycinate): Most women are magnesium deficient because during stress, our cells dump it out. This process activates and charges the central nervous system and produces cortisol in an abundance. So in order to prevent this and calm the body, supplementing with magnesium is really important.
- B Vitamins: Magnesium works with B6 to produce progesterone, reducing inflammation and calming the CNS. So supplementing these together can be even more helpful. B-vitamins are crucial for your liver to be able to detox excess estrogen, something really important when looking at re-balancing after birth control.
- Probiotic: There's a strong scientific link between gut health and hormone balance. The colonisation of the good bacteria from a good probiotic can improve production and regulation of a lot of your key hormones. Probiotics also work to reduce inflammation, aiding with bloating and promoting more frequent bowel movements.
- Vitamin D3: D3 can act like a hormone within your body and can aid in reducing levels of inflammation. Researchers have found that vitamin D helps regulate adrenaline, noradrenaline and dopamine production in the brain, as well as protecting against serotonin depletion. So this can be a great supplement to help you handle mood-associated symptoms.
What does a 'hormone healthy' diet look like?
It's difficult to hold up a perfect diet. Don't stress about every meal being 100% 'hormone-healthy' (after all you want to avoid too much cortisol at all costs). But try your best to listen to your body and feed it what it's asking for. Focus on healthy fish for Omega 3's, leafy greens, root vegetables. For some women, you may not get your period and it's hard to then identify what week is what, but Alissa Vitti has done some amazing work on identifying our bodily changes during our 4 'cycles' and for each she recommends the below:
- Follicular phase (before you ovulate, after your period)
Artichoke, broccoli, carrot, parsley, green peas, string beans and zucchini
- Ovulatory phase (when you’re ovulating)
Asparagus, brussels sprouts, chard, escarole, scallion, spinach
- Luteal phase (before you have your period)
Cauliflower, collard greens, daikon, onion, parsnip, radish, squash, sweet potato
- Menstrual phase (your period)
Beet, kale, kelp, mushrooms
If you're unable to identify your four phases, do you best to eat all these foods on the regular. Ensure you also focus on proteins for energy. For an in-depth look at eating for your infradian cycle/for healthy hormones, we highly recommend Alissa's In The Flo:
Focus on a balanced exercise regime:
Switch up your excercise between yoga, pilates, and every now and then higher intensity exercise like boxing, spin or HIIT. Getting just enough (and not too many) high intensity workouts can help balance your insulin levels to feel more control over your weight and hunger levels during this time. Yoga can work to reduce your cortisol and calm the body, helping the detoxification of synthetic eostrogen. When your eostrogen is higher in the first two weeks of your cycle, help to balance it out by engaging in strength training. And of course, endorphins. Any kind of exercise has been time and again proven to boost your mood and brain function. Most importantly, just listen to your mind and body. Each day will bring a different kind of motivation or lack thereof, understand what you're capable of, push yourself just enough, and not too much. Whatever you do, get moving.
Can I completely prevent or eliminate the symptoms I get from coming off birth control?
Work to accept the side effects of coming off birth control. Birth control is a really great option for women for many reasons, we don't recommend avoiding it completely (only if you can). So coming off the pill is just a given, and these symptoms you experience are your body working really hard to find equilibrium for you again. A woman's body is a truly incredible thing, and it's very good at speaking to us. Sometimes it's just a little too loud, so focus on calming and nourishing it to help it do it's job.