This week, the New York Times published a profile about Alisa Vitti, a woman who’s created a women’s health business, Flo Living, dedicated to embracing and regulating the menstrual cycle by shaping one’s entire life around it. The best way to nurture the body’s chaotic hormonal fluctuations, she believes, is to eat a highly regimented diet, sleep like it’s your second career, and tailor your exercise routine to the phases of your menstrual cycle. But Vitti isn’t a doctor and doesn’t have a medical degree; the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, the “vocational school” where the New York Times asserts she studied, is not accredited by the U.S. Department of Education or any agency that assesses educational institutions, per an assessment by CredentialWatch. Vitti has no other relevant credentials.
Flo Living’s primary tenet is something called “cycle-syncing,” or tailoring your diet and exercise to the four phases of the menstrual cycle. Instead of fighting hormonal fluctuations and futzing with them via birth control pills (Vitti isn’t anti-birth control, she’s just anti-using it to treat hormonal imbalances, reports the New York Times), cycle-syncing is more about embracing those fluctuations. Vitti’s book, WomanCode, for example, recommends eating roasted vegetables and more leafy greens during the luteal phase to stave off sugar cravings and diminish bloating, the Times reports.
“Whole” foods and regular exercise are good; it would be hard to find a doctor who disagrees with this. But arguing that those habits can cure disorders like PCOS is murky. Cycle-syncing has no evidence-based science to back it up. If you Google “cycle-syncing,” the only results are wellness blogs. Major women’s healthcare organizations have nothing to say on the matter; neither Planned Parenthood nor the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has any published literature related to cycle-syncing. The New York Times, for what it’s worth, recognizes this distinction between wellness and science, having published the story on Vitti and Flo Living in the Styles section (under “Self Care”) rather than Health.
“IIN has been flooding the marketplace with graduates who market themselves as ‘board-certified health counselors.’ Their training is certainly not based on scientific nutrition as emphasized in the degree programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education,” writes Stephen Barrett, M.D., one of the editors of CredentialWatch. “That generally takes 4-7 years and includes basic sciences, dietetics, and closely supervised work with many clients.”
Vitti told the New York Times that she “discovered” cycle-syncing by using it in her own life for the past 20 years, saying it coincided with the relief of her polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) symptoms. Turning a thing that anecdotally worked for you, personally, into a business (despite a lack of science) is ethically thorny. Anecdotes can (and should) drive research, especially within reproductive care, which tends to lag behind because of, hmm, medical sexism. But $1,200 annual supplement subscriptions, and notions about cutting out entire food groups that target suffering women speak to the importance of taking women’s pain seriously within the medical establishment, otherwise, their time, money, and actual health and happiness are at risk of being chipped away by opportunists.
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