“The 28 Days Lighter Diet” (Book Review)

This book by Ellen Barrett and Kate Hanley aims to help women manage their menstrual cycles, and not vice versa.

I’ve read a lot of books on women’s health, and particularly reproductive health, and I can honestly say that The 28 Days Lighter Diet is unlike any of them. I’m so excited about this new offering by Ellen Barrett and Kate Hanley. I found its unique approach to be engaging, informative, and highly entertaining.

If you’re not sure whether or not you should read this book, assess how you respond to this statement: “A normal, healthy menstrual flow comes every 28 days, lasts for 3 to 5 days, and doesn’t include pain of any kind.” If your first reaction is to think sarcastically, “Yeah, right, you’re dreaming,” then you need to read this book. The truth is, your menstrual cycle doesn’t have to be a monthly tragedy that makes your workouts, work, and significant other suffer. If it sounds too good to be true, then this is the book for you.

This book is based on the idea that a woman’s menstrual cycle is “…a major indicator of her state of health.” Rather than simply seeing the menstrual cycle as a the curse of Eve or a “super-concentrated concoction of germs,” as described in one of the historical accounts the authors reference, this book aims to educate women about the cues they can take from their cycles. “This is another way in which we women are the lucky ones: Mother Nature checks in with us every month and gives us obvious feedback regarding our state of being.” Rather than simply seeing symptoms like irregular bleeding, heavy menstruation, or debilitating cramps as normal and simply part of the chore of being a woman, the authors seek to provide simple, effective ways to manage and even prevent unpleasant symptoms from occurring.

One of my favorite chapters was the “Herstory” chapter, which provides a colorful historical analysis of changing perceptions of menstruation. I suppose if you were being picky, you could argue that this section isn’t absolutely necessary to the overall subject of the book, which is eating and working in rhythm with your cycle. However, I think this chapter did a great job of putting me in the proper mindset for talking about the finer points of diet and fitness as they pertain to menstruation.

Hanley goes on to divide the menstrual cycle into three phases, with chapters providing specific directives for each. Here is a brief rundown of those three phases and their corresponding areas of focus for nutrition and workouts:

  • Phase One: Menstruation, Days 1 – 7: The priorities during Phase One are rest, getting enough sleep, eating warming foods in small servings, and getting enough iron in your diet (and as a cast iron fanatic, I was thrilled to see the recommendation to use cast iron for cooking!). The nickname for this phase is “Wise Woman.”
  • Phase Two: Mega Phase, Days 8 – 21: Focus is on daily workouts, socialization, adequate protein intake, regular movement, and thyroid support. The authors call this phase “The Mother.”
  • Phase Three: Pre-Menstruation, Days 22 – 28: During this phase, women should exercise every other day, stay hydrated, practice meditation, and focus on vitamin D and magnesium intake. The best way to describe a woman’s mood during this time is the nickname for this phase, “The Vixen.”

To top it all off, there is also a yoga sequence provided for each of these three phases, with photos for guidance. At the end of the book, you’ll find an entire 28-day plan with suggested workouts, meals, and lifestyle tips. Keep in mind that despite the title, this book is not just about food. It’s a well-rounded, simple program that any woman can follow.

Hanley discusses common problems and how to address them in gentle, natural ways. I appreciated the many perspectives provided by alternative health practioners that you will find throughout the book, including several snippets by biomechanist Katy Bowman and tidbits detailing Traditional Chinese Medicine and ayurvedic principles from Laurie Steelsmith, ND. These insights flesh out the topic and add a unique layer of expert advice that is unfortunately lacking in most of the literature I’ve read.

For personal and health reasons, birth control is not an option for me, and I will definitely be referencing this book to manage the ups and downs of my own menstrual cycle. As the authors point out, “The female body changes from week to week, and traditional diet and workout programs never acknowledge this phenomenon, much less take advantage of it.” That’s a lot easier said than done, but this book will help you do it successfully.

“The 28 Days Lighter Diet” is available for $12.38 at Amazon.com.

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