Quitting "The Pill"
DISCLOSURE: Hormonal birth control is something that I do not believe in for MYSELF. I truly never felt great while taking it, and the side effects of it outweighed the benefits for me. However, I realize that many women feel empowered while taking the pill, and they should! Each woman has the right to make a decision for her own hormonal health, and she should find freedom in doing so.
Hormonal birth control is something that I’ve fought with for years, said goodbye to and then hello again, tried 5 different brands of and never come to a complete consensus with. At certain points, it empowered me – making me feel like I had control of my body. At other points, it frustrated me and caused me to suffer from mental and physical side effects. My relationship with the pill has been a whirlwind, to say the least.
When I read WomanCode my senior year of college, my eyes were opened to an entirely new concept of womanhood – living in sync with my hormonal cycle. Truly, I didn’t even know that I had different phases throughout my monthly cycle – I just thought that PMS was one and my period was the other. Boy was I missing out on the knowledge and power that comes from understanding yourself as a true woman.
Alisa Vitti (author of WomanCode) introduces you to the awesomeness behind understanding your cycle from the inside out. She teaches you about your follicular, ovulatory, luteal and menstrual phases and guides you through the protocols, diets and self-care practices for each phase. While reading, I got so excited about the concept of cycle-syncing that I began to do so while I was on hormonal birth control, but I knew that I couldn’t fully sync with my cycle and understand the ebbs and flows of my womanhood unless I was willing to leave the pill behind.
When I graduated college, I was entering a phase of life where I truly began listening to my body. My diet changed, my exercise regimen became more in-tune to how I was feeling and what my body needed, my relationships became more stable and my self-care routine was prioritized. My skin was clearer, I was happier and I was finally making decisions that positively affected my mental health, skin clarity, gut health and physical wellness. However, there was one piece of my wellness journey that wasn’t progressing in parallel with everything else – my hormonal health.
I decided to say goodbye to the pill approximately 1 year after starting it up again (I made the decision to get the non-hormonal, copper IUD). WomanCode had inspired me so much that I had already read the book twice within 6 months, had started tracking my cycle as best as I could while on the pill and was taking supplements and incorporating self-care routines into my life that could benefit my hormonal balance. I saw saying goodbye to the pill as a win-win for me and my wellness journey, but unfortunately, there was more to the transition than I thought.
I had read that the transition off of birth control was a rough one. It’s a strong cocktail that you take each day, whether you recognize it or not. When a woman is taking birth control, her body stops producing progesterone and estrogen (the two hormones included in hormonal birth control) because she is receiving it artificially via the pill each day. So, needless to say, when a woman stops taking the pill, her body is like WHAT’S HAPPENING.
One month into being artificial-hormone-free, my period was light, normal and painless. “YES,” I thought. “I knew that my healthy lifestyle and self-care practices would pay off!” No acne, no mood-swings, just a few cramps during my luteal phase. “Quitting birth control must be a lot harder for people who don’t really take care of themselves.” Pretty entitled opinion, I’m aware; but also true to an extent.
The second month after being off of birth control, my anxiety sky-rocketed. I was getting my hair-cut one day and thought I was going to have to leave the salon because I couldn’t get out into open air fast enough.
2 ½ - 3 months into the transition and I was officially artificial-hormone-free; and I could feel it. I had acne, my anxiety was back, my periods were heavier and I felt more fragile both mentally and physically.
It was tough, and I must add that during this transition I was also finishing up my training and auditions to be a cycling instructor. Talk about a season of restlessness and uncertainty!
Here’s what I didn’t initially add though…
I had acne (not nearly as bad as I did in college when I wasn’t on the pill), my anxiety was back (not debilitating like it was my freshman year of college, but present), my periods were heavier (I had just gotten the copper IUD inserted) and I felt more fragile both mentally and physically (I was starting to experience the true ebbs and flows of my hormonal cycle – like I had wanted). Also, I kicked ass during my training and auditions to be a cycling instructor, and I ended up getting the position.
My passion for wellness and living a healthy lifestyle truly did make a positive difference in my transition off of BC, and I think that if I was still eating an inflammatory diet and living the way that I was in college, my transition would have been much worse, but it doesn’t mean that the whole experience wasn’t rough.
I don’t want to continue going into detail about what my symptoms were during the transition because it truly is different for every single woman. Instead, I’d rather talk about what it is that I did and continue to do to balance out my hormones, manage my anxiety, ward off PMS symptoms and live in sync with own ‘woman code’. Here is what my 6-month self-care routine looked like post-pill.
FOR MY GUT
The job of birth control is to regulate your hormones, so it makes sense that your body would have a hard time hormonally communicating with itself when it’s not even making its own hormones to begin with while you’re taking the pill every day. There are hormone receptors that exist within our digestive tract, so when a pill is regulating our hormones, our digestion doesn’t have a chance to exercise like it’s meant to. Not to forget, the bacteria in our microbiome is also affected.
Try taking a high-quality probiotic. Maintaining a healthy environment in your gut is important for so many reasons. Taking a probiotic for a month or so can help replenish bacteria that was wiped out by the pill.
Add fermented foods to one meal a day. Whether it’s sauerkraut, kimchi or pickled veggies, adding some fermented foods to your diet can also help maintain a healthy microbiome.
Triphala might be your next best friend. Triphala is a supplement that I take every single morning. It’s an Ayurveda herbal formulation made from three organic Indian fruits. My gut can be awfully stubborn, but taking Triphala has made a huge difference in my body’s digestive process. This is the brand that I use.
FOR MY HORMONAL HEALTH
Magnesium is magic. I take a magnesium supplement daily. Birth control pill aside – chronic stress, too little sleep, sugar and caffeine all affect our body’s ability to regulate magnesium production, but we all need it! Magnesium plays a huge roll in practically every bodily function, and because hormonal birth control effects magnesium levels in the body, supplementing your diet with it might be a good choice post-pill.
Slow the eff down. When my anxiety picked up, there were multiple weeks where I went caffeine and high-intensity-workout free. Slowing down makes a HUGE difference if you are someone that struggles with anxiety. Because birth control balanced my progesterone and estrogen levels, I felt less prone to anxiety while on the pill; so when my body finally re-regulated post-pill, some of my old symptoms came back. Slowing down always feels so good. Take baths, go for long walks, meditate, create relaxing playlists, light candles, draw, do yoga, read, listen to podcasts – do what you need to give your body and soul some love.
Cycle Syncing for real. I tried my best to track my cycle (or what was left of it) and eat and live in a way that supported my hormonal phases while I was on the pill. It just wasn’t entirely possible, though. Without the ebbs and flows of each phase throughout the month, I was unable to truly listen and respond to my body. Finally putting cycle-syncing into play has been so fun and rewarding for me. #ILOVEMYPERIOD
*to fully understand what cycle-syncing is and the benefits of it, you need to read WomanCode by Alisa Vitti
Vitamin D #please. If you work a 9-5 job, you likely aren't getting the correct amount of Vitamin D in your diet to begin with. Add in the transition off of hormonal birth control and your levels are definitely off. Vitamin D is somewhat regulated while on hormonal birth control, so when you quit the pill, your levels are thrown for a loop. I have genuinely noticed a difference in my mood after starting to take a daily Vitamin D supplement post-pill. This is the brand that I use!
FOR MY SKIN
This is honestly the biggest one. While on the pill, my skin was GLOWING. My change in diet and lifestyle + help from hormonal birth control had me at a rosy, clear-faced state. Coming off of the pill threw my skin for a loop, but here is what I did and continue to do to keep my skin healthy!
GOODBYE toxic products. I truly do not purchase skin, hair or makeup products that have toxic ingredients. Much of what I use is coconut-oil or citrus based. I also try my best to purchase organic or locally-sourced products, and I aim to find products that have a shorter list of ingredients rather than a longer. You can find my favorites in my recent ebook! Also, EWG’s “Top tips for safer products” article is really helpful for knowing what ingredients to avoid.
Say “no thank you” to dairy and refined sugar. First off, sugar and dairy aren’t excluded from my diet, but I definitely don’t have them often. I notice that when I treat myself to a bowl of ice cream or big chocolate chip cookie, I will not only have a racing heart from the sugar intake but also will break out within the next few days. Sugar and dairy are two acne triggers for me, so I try to say no to them. On a daily basis, I use almond and coconut milk instead of regular dairy, and I’ll opt for dairy-free ice cream if I really want some. Also, finding Eating Evolved dark chocolate has been life changing.
*Mind Body Green has a bunch of great articles about how to keep your skin healthy naturally
Hydrate all day long. I feel like I can’t get enough water into my life. Water helps every organ, cell and tissue in your body. Without it, your body can’t rid itself of toxins properly, and if toxins are lingering inside then you’re probably going to see some consequences on the outside (acne). Plus, drinking water keeps you energized, helps prevent brain fog, can regulate appetite and keeps things moving along in your digestive tract.
Limit alcohol intake. Although alcohol feels nice after a long day, it’s not the best option for true relaxation. Alcohol can mess with your hormones big time if you're not careful. Instead of having a drink during the week, I take baths, read, spend time with people that I love and drink A LOT of tea. After being sober throughout the week, it’s not too hard to say no to a 3rd or 4th drink on the weekend. Frankly, my tolerance is lower so I don’t really need more than 1 or 2 drinks to begin with, and I’m used to feeling good during the week so I always want to continue that through the weekend (NU-UH to hangovers).
All side-effects aside, going off of birth control was the best decision that I’ve made for my body and my interest in my hormonal health. I finally FEEL each feeling, each healthy sign of my hormonal cycle, and I love it. It’s something that I wanted for myself. And although stopping the pill wasn’t seamless, I truly am so glad that I made the decision to do so; and taking care of myself along the way with diet and exercise is what made the biggest difference.
When you are giving yourself healthy attention throughout each and every day, you’re bound to feel better and live a better life. So whether you’re quitting birth control, trying to lower your dosage of anxiety medication, hoping to clear your skin up or attempting to work out 4 times a week instead of 2, taking care of yourself is worth it. If you focus on your wellness and do what you can to ensure that you’re maintaining healthy vitamin levels, a good exercise regimen and healthy diet, then you will feel better during times of trial or times when you aren’t feeling 100%.
Is there anything in particular that helped you during your transition off of hormonal birth control?