“Periods are important.”
That’s the love-soaked mantra of Stefanie Kleinburd, a women’s health coach in New York. She shares it with her clients around the world, and makes it central to The Flow Down, the podcast she hosts with Jessica Weiss, a Miami-based journalist.
“Periods are a vital sign,” says Kleinburd. Through the podcast, she and Weiss encourage women to share stories about their cycles. “If our friends, mothers, and doctors are telling us we have to settle when it comes to our period problems, we won’t know that we have the power to make changes.”
Getting Her Period Back
Kleinburd had some big changes to make. She had gone three years without a period, and knew it was time to address it. “I was working in the fashion industry in New York, with crazy long hours and a lot of stress. I was training for marathons.” Kleinburd saw that her perfectionism was sabotaging her cycle and her health.
“I started swapping some of my runs for yoga sessions. I started saying no. I took back my weekends.” She began to feel like herself again, but still didn’t get her period. Knowing she wanted to get pregnant someday, Kleinburd went back to school to study nutrition and a process called Psych-K, which re-wires limiting beliefs. “I realized that my body has the answers,’” she says.
She learned to listen to those answers, and her period returned. When she and her husband decided they were ready to conceive, she got pregnant the first month. Now the mother of a four-year-old daughter, Kleinburd says, “When we get to know our cycle, we can make choices that can increase our chances of conceiving, whether that be for now, for later, or if you simply want to keep your options open.”
Dealing with Yeast Infections
Jessica Weiss, Kleinburd’s Flow Down co-host, didn’t think she had any problems with her period. “I went to Stef because I kept getting yeast infections, and I didn’t want to keep taking antibiotics.” Kleinburd encouraged her to look at her food combinations. “It turned out I was overloading my body with sugar by eating a bowl of fruit for breakfast on an empty stomach.” She learned to combine fruits with a healthy fat, like a nut butter.
Though Weiss had recovered from an eating disorder years earlier, she was still operating under a notion many of us still have, that a low-fat diet is best. Her healing was a process, and by making the choice to do things like add healthy fats—ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado—to her diet, the yeast infections disappeared. Says Weiss, “There is something really beautiful about how we can set up our bodies for optimal healing.”
Her cycle became a reliable source of information about her overall health. “I love talking about my period now!” laughs Weiss. “Stef and I knew we had to share all these stories with other women who were facing similar challenges.”
Managing Hormonal Acne and Preparing for Pregnancy
Kleinburd helps clients with a range of period-related issues. Dr. Michelle Casarella, a forensic psychologist in New York, had been struggling with hormonal acne for years. She wanted to be proactive about preparing for pregnancy. “It worried me, what was potentially going on inside my body.”
Following Kleinburd’s advice, she began structuring her meals differently, including both complex carbs and proteins for breakfast, concentrating on dark leafy greens plus protein and healthy fats for lunch, and making dinner the smallest meal of the day. “I slowed down while eating,” says Casarella, “started doing only one thing at a time, and incorporated more feminine energy into my life rather than the masculine energy of always doing.” It took a year to balance her hormones and get rid of her acne.
When Casarella and her partner began trying to conceive, the first three months were a no-go. “When you want to be pregnant, every period is a disappointment,” she says. Turning to Kleinburd for guidance, she made diet tweaks and focused on assuring herself that her body was ready. The following month, she became pregnant. Her son recently turned one.
Embracing Major Life Changes
In 2016, Meghan Lewis was living abroad and running two businesses. She had always had a short cycle—about 22 days—and worried that she might be anovulatory. Having just ended her first serious relationship with a woman, she had mixed feelings about having children. “But I realized that if I did want to have kids, I needed to start changing a lot in my life.”
Lewis gave herself a year to consider her options and focus on her health. Working with Kleinburd, she started to put herself first. “I’d never thought of nurturing myself as something important or even really allowed,” she admits. The new choices extended her cycle by several days.
At her 20-year high school reunion, her childhood best friend mentioned that he and his partners were looking for an egg donor. “My ears perked right up,” remembers Lewis. “Because I had learned to trust myself—my body, my sensations, my emotions—I paid attention to that possibility and how I felt about it.” After careful consideration, she offered to be a donor. Her biological daughter was born last year, and a baby brother is expected in June.
Now, Lewis lives in Chattanooga with her wife, Emily Kate Boyd, a performing songwriter. Though she had always pictured having a traditional family, Lewis finds her parental role deeply satisfying. “I’m definitely ‘the mom,’ and I share such a strong bond with ‘the dads,’” she says, describing their frequent visits and almost-daily communication. She and Boyd are grateful to enjoy a lifestyle with free time for travel and personal projects. “And,” she adds, “I get to love these children in an intimate way, with deep curiosity and a sense of awe.”
Lightening the Load of a PCOS Diagnosis
Cinthia Pacheco, an SEO expert based in Buenos Aires, was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Disease) as a teenager, when her period didn’t start until she was 16. Going to doctors frequently was a tough experience for her. “I felt like I was being treated as the disease rather than a person.” She started seeing a naturopath. “It was so helpful to have a different perspective about what was going on in my body.”
A few years later, she began working with Kleinburd. “I needed sustainable solutions to manage my PCOS, and I knew it would require a more complex approach than simply taking a pill,” says Pacheco. The first thing she tackled was her diet. “From one point of view, it’s quite simple—maintaining blood sugar, eating the right foods—but it’s actually complex. There are a lot of things that help; there’s no single solution.”
Pacheco bought a circular calendar that helped her visualize her cycle, and started journaling. “I saw the darkest parts of my psyche—the negativity and sense of letting myself down by not having a consistent period.” She let go of needing immediate results. Looking back, she says, “I have a completely different way of eating and living now, and a whole different set of tools to use.”
Learning about her cycle motivated Pacheco. She now invests in herself by learning as much as she can. “With information,” she says, “and my healthy relationship with my cycle, I can try new things, and continue to do what’s best for me in the different seasons of my life.”
All five women have changed their lives by embracing their periods. “You don’t know where it might lead,” says Lewis, “but getting to know your cycle is always a powerful choice.”