There seems to have been a shift of late and more people are having open conversations around women’s health and what exactly that means. I am of the generation where talking about periods was ‘gross’, buying tampons along with that night’s dinner offering was awkward, especially if you were doing the shopping with your new beau. Thinking back to the day my period started I remember embarrassment and hushed voices as my mother whispered through the portaloo door – only I could get my first period at Pony Club whilst wearing white jodhpurs – “make sure the pad is in the right place, god knows we don’t want a leak”.
We have come along way since then but there is still not enough being done to educate both girls and women as to how their cycle really works. Too few of us know how our cycle can work for us, not to mention the hormonal contraception we are all put on quicker than you can say “but what about condoms” from a young age and then wonder why there are so many issues with mood, libido and even fertility further down the line.
In my early thirties I started to become a lot more aware of my body both mentally and physically and realised I had been on contraception without a break for 17 years, and never thought to question it. Despite living with M.E. and depression no conversation was ever had to see if there was any correlation. I am not saying there definitively is, but maybe it would have been good to explore whether the pill was affecting my mood rather than just whack me on some antidepressants and be done with it.
I decided enough was enough and had my implant removed so I could at least see what it felt like to have a natural cycle. It took a while for my body to get used to the natural way of life but once it did, the changes were incredible. More energy, being able to feel the highs and lows of progesterone and estrogen spikes rather than a base level plateau of ‘meh’, better skin and weight loss. Sounds great huh? But the one thing that wasn’t so fun was the rage. This sounds dramatic but believe me it was like clockwork, five days before my period I became a she devil, screaming at my long-suffering partner, hating everything and everyone. I could tell this was to do with a hormonal surge but I wanted to gain a better understanding of what was happening and if there was anything I could do to help it. Enter Menstrual Cycle Coach, Carly Procter of Nourish and Flo. We worked together over a six week period (no pun intended) to really help me understand my cycle and how to work with it, rather than against it. Each weekly session centered around a different topic including nutrition, exercise, working methods eg, when to plan meetings, pitch work, admin; and as we uncovered more and more it all started to make sense – of course I’m absolutely knackered on this day, my body is trying to gear me up for menstruation and here I am asking it to get to the gym, pitch to a new client, make a three course meal and write a column. Menstrual Cycle Coaching is not about reinventing the wheel it is about learning how your body works and small changes that can be made to increase productivity, to rejoice in rest and to honour the absolute miracle us women go through monthly.
I took some time to talk to Carly further to get an understanding of what she hopes to help women achieve moving forward.
- Before we dive in, could you give me a bit of background as to how you came to be here? Have you always worked in coaching / women’s health?
I have always been interested in health and well-being but had no idea what I wanted to do as a career. While I was figuring it out I trained as a beauty therapist in Brighton and then moved up to London and found work in a Kensington spa. I then decided I wanted a career as a nurse. After 3 years of training I really wanted to go into women’s health in some way. Things didn’t work out that way, and ended up working in the busiest ICU in London. I still had this itch to coach people, particularly women, and guide them to better health and well-being so I went part time in my nursing job and trained as a Nutritional Therapist. I specialised in women’s health, teaching women how to find the root cause of their health issues, eat better, and live a more fulfilling and healthy life. As time went by I wanted to go a little deeper and I started geeking out on all things menstrual cycles and periods. I am now a certified Menstrual Cycle Coach, teaching women how to work with their hormonal ebbs and flows, and not against them, to achieve better health and smoother periods.
- And what was it that made you want to make the transition from nursing and nutrition to focusing more on women’s health?
The more I learnt, the more passionate I became. After my own experience of coming off hormonal contraception, I realised how little I knew about my own body. The more conversations I had with other women, the more I realised how little they also knew about their own physiology. Through no fault of their own, most didn’t know the basics of how their menstrual cycle worked. It is something that is only briefly touched on at school and then barely spoken of again, yet it is the very foundation of womanhood. For too long women have been done a disservice when it comes to their bodies and their health and I feel so passionate to be a part of what I see as a revolutionary time for women reclaiming themselves.
- As a woman, and this is something we touched on during our coaching sessions, I feel there is still a lot of shame around discussing periods and it is all a bit taboo (even though the year is 2022) why do you think this is and what ramifications do you think that has had on women in general?
Unfortunately, we have been socially programmed for years to see periods as unpleasant, painful and disgusting. If that is all you hear then that is what you’ll believe, even if it’s untrue. It was a subject that even our own mothers or grandmothers wouldn’t talk about. It means women feel embarrassed to talk about it to the point that even buying sanitary products is a shameful experience for many. If you are reading this and feel this way, ask yourself this: why are we embarrassed about something that is so natural and the very reason we are all on this planet? How can something so incredible be seen as anything other than beautiful? Your menstrual cycle should be celebrated and not something to feel shame about!
- When you began your journey into this subject, what did you find the most interesting or surprising aspect?
The game changer was learning the power of cyclical living. Cyclical living is about learning to adapt your life according to the phases of your menstrual cycle. Each phase has a hormone shift which enables menstruators to experience variety in their cycle. We are taught that the ups and downs of hormones are a negative thing. Where actually, if you learn how to listen to your body and adapt your life accordingly, you can use these ebbs and flows to your advantage.
- We have spoken a lot about how we think girls should be educated about their periods and everything that surrounds them – if you could go back and talk to pre pubescent Carly, what would you say and do you have any suggestions / advice on how mothers can support their daughters through the transition?
The most valuable thing you can offer someone starting, or about to start their period is your unwavering support and an open ear. Whether it’s a daughter, a niece, or a friend’s daughter, let them know they can talk to you or come to you with any questions. Secondly, a girl’s very first period should be celebrated! This could be something simple like a girly day out, or a gift box of goodies filled with things like period products, nail polish, bubble bath and their favourite snack. Whatever you do, make it a special occasion to make their experience as positive as possible.
- Can you give me a snapshot of how to celebrate your cycle to show how we should be using our femininity as a reason to celebrate rather than hide away?
Let’s use day one of your period as an example. Your reproductive hormones are lower in this phase, which means your energy might be less, you might have an increased appetite and you might feel a little groggy. Check in with yourself and listen to what your body is telling you. How do you feel? What feels natural and instinctive to you?
You want to focus on being as nurturing and nourishing to your body as possible. This might be allowing yourself a little extra time in bed in the morning. It might be putting on your favourite comfy clothes or lounge wear. It might be turning your phone to aeroplane mode while you sit mindfully with a warm cup of tea and a nourishing bowl of porridge. It might be running yourself a bubble bath and treating yourself to your favourite chocolate (yes, at the same time!). Your period is also the time of high intuition, so you may enjoy reflecting on the past month and journaling your thoughts and feelings. This phase is all about you and celebrating the arrival of your period with indulgence and down time.
After menstruation we move into the follicular phase, our hormones are starting to rise – this is the perfect time for earlier mornings, girly dates with friends or just treating yourself to something feminine such as flowers.
Once we move into ovulation everything is at a high – oestrogen is giving us all the good vibes and great energy. This is the perfect time to hit PB’s at the gym, putting your favourite outfit on and going dancing, flirty dates with your partner and nourishing yourself with fresh, colourful foods. Think of this time as summer solstice and that feeling of letting loose and dancing in the fields – that’s what this is about.
The fourth phase is the luteal phase, things are slowing back down ready for menstruation. We start to retreat and hibernate. I like to do things like hunker down and read my favourite book, say no to things, put boundaries in place. This is the time for boujee candles, nights in, getting cosy and preparing ourselves for the next stage.
If women can work in restructuring their cycles in this way and even look forward to each phase and what it represents, the results will be amazing.
- If you had five minutes to educate our male counterparts – I know, it’s not much – what message would you drive home to try and get them to think about women’s health a little differently?
That their support is crucial for us to be the very best version of ourselves we can be. Men and women have very different hormone cycles. Women’s are a lot more complex, with several transitions throughout our lives. Therefore, all we ask is for your patience and understanding. Encouraging your female partners, family and friends by letting them know you are open to conversations around their hormones and menstrual cycle really is the most incredible thing you can offer a woman.
- Do you think it is possible to restructure your life in a way that works in harmony with your cycle?
Absolutely! For too long many women have lived their lives fighting against their biology. Let’s start using what we have, by listening to our bodies, paying attention to our hormones and learning the art of cyclical living to enhance your health and well-being.
- What do you hope to achieve as a coach when working with your clients?
I teach women how to tune into themselves to become more intuitive with their bodies to give them back control of their health and well-being. My clients learn how to eat, move, handle stress, manage their lives and celebrate their menstrual cycles for more ease and flow in their lives.
- What is next for Nourish and Flo?
I am just so proud to be a part of a menstrual revolution that is happening right now! My focus is on working with amazing women and menstruators to inspire them to own their hormones and to embrace their menstrual cycles. I want to drive the message home that women don’t need to be suffering with problematic periods. It is completely possible and within your reach to have enjoyable menstrual cycles and I’m excited to teach you how!
To find out more about what Carly has to offer visit her IG here or drop her an email firstname.lastname@example.org