Top tips to improve your sleep

Sleep is one of the major players when it comes to transforming your health. Not only can a better nights’ sleep help you to feel more energised and happier but it also has a knock on effect on your other decisions throughout the day. Ever experienced that feeling of being constantly hungry after a night tossing and turning? Research shows that poor sleep affects blood sugar regulation which can cause increased cravings for sweet foods and a tendency to over eat. Feeling tired is also not exactly conducive to a good workout either, we are less likely to want to move our bodies when we haven’t slept well and even the best intentions can go out of the window.

That said, here are my top tips to improve your sleep and wake up feeling rested and refreshed!

1. Create an evening routine

Allowing yourself time to wind down before bed is one of the best things you can do to improve your sleep! It might seem obvious but how many times have you found yourself lying awake in bed after checking emails one last time or watching an intense TV show? Our body and mind need time to shift into relaxation mode before bed and an evening routine can help to send the signal that the day is over and it is time to sleep. It doesn’t matter what you do for your evening routine but spending at least half an hour, or an hour if you can spare it, on a relaxing evening routine can reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep and greatly improve your quality of sleep. Some examples of calming activities you can do before bed include gentle yoga, meditation or breathing exercises, journaling, reading or listening to music. You can also build in another self-care habit by using this time for a relaxing skin-care routine or epsom salt bath. Having a set sleep window has been shown to help you fall asleep faster and spend more time in supporting deep and REM sleep so try to start your sleep routine within the same hour each night for optimal results.

2. Say no to technology

One of the most challenging but most supportive things you can do to improve your sleep is to have a cut off point for technology at least one hour before bed. Phones, laptops, TV can all be stimulating for the mind and the blue light that they emit can also confuse our brains into thinking it is still day. Ideally, switching off all devices and wi-fi before bed will help you to get a better nights’ sleep and improve your sleep pattern. However, if you cannot avoid using technology before bed, a good option is to install a red light filter such as Flux onto your phone or computer which will block the disruptive blue light which is so harmful to your sleep cycles. You can set them to gradually shift to red light from sunset to mimic the natural changes in sunlight throughout the evening which I find really useful. Avoiding sleeping with your phone by your bed will also help you to feel more relaxed and avoid the temptation to check social media or browse the internet if you find you can’t sleep. If you use your phone as an alarm you can still keep it in the room but move it far away from the bed. This will also help you to get out of bed in the morning so it is a win-win!

3. Manage your blood sugar

Instable blood sugar has many consequences and is a hidden but common factor in insomnia, particularly early morning waking or sleep maintenance insomnia. This is a condition where you are able to fall asleep but unable to stay asleep and find yourself awake in the early hours of the morning. When there is no acute or chronic psychological stress present, insomnia can be caused by the physical stress of poor nutrition and imbalanced blood sugar. When our blood sugar levels drop low during the night, either because we haven’t eaten enough during the day, limiting carbohydrates (e.g. keto diet) or due to raising our blood sugar too high during the evening resulting in a blood sugar crash, the stress hormone cortisol is released to bring our blood sugar levels back up. This is a normal process that also happens during the day but in some cases the cortisol levels can raise to the point where it wakes you up and gives you a “wired but tired” feeling where you are unable to fall back to sleep. Having a small, balanced snack containing carbohydrates, fat and protein before bed or if you wake up during the night is often enough to resolve this issue and improve sleep duration and quality.

4. Avoid stimulants in the evening

Any food or drink containing caffeine act as stimulants in your body which can prevent you from falling asleep or getting good quality sleep. Most people know that coffee, energy drinks and black tea both contain caffeine but green tea, some herbal teas, cola and chocolate also contain this sleep disrupting chemical! We are very individual when it comes to caffeine metabolism and some people have a higher tolerance and faster clearance of caffeine than others so it’s best to experiment yourself and find out where your limits are when it comes to consuming these foods. Generally it’s a good idea to avoid high caffeine food and drink after 2pm and limit even low caffeine food such as chocolate in the evening hours. You might find though that you sleep better avoiding caffeine all together so if insomnia and low energy are a problem for you, maybe give going caffeine-free a shot for a week or two. Aside from caffeine, other stimulants include heavy TV shows and movies, loud music and stressful conversations so where ever possible try to avoid these in the hours before you sleep and opt for your relaxing evening routine instead.

5. Supplements for better sleep

Natural substances which help your body to relax can be a helpful ally in getting better quality sleep. One of my personal favourites is herbal teas containing chamomile, passion flower and valerian root. These are traditional remedies known to support a calm nervous system state and help to improve sleep. Another useful remedy is aromatherapy, especially lavender oil which can been used for centuries to aid relaxation and help to overcome sleep problems. You can use this as part of your evening routine in the form of essential oils, scented candles or a pillow spray to create a calming environment in your bedroom. When it comes to supplementation, I prefer to keep it simple. One of the key nutrients which aids in relaxation of the physical body is magnesium and it is becoming more popular to use magnesium supplements to support a better nights’ sleep. Again there are several ways to use magnesium including liquid or pill-form oral supplements, body sprays or oils and also as bath salts.

As you can see, these are 5 tips but they can also fit together very nicely. You can create an evening routine which includes avoiding technology, drinking herbal tea or eating a healing snack and using sleep supporting supplements to create the perfect environment for a deep and restful sleep. Reflect on which of the tips you think work best with your lifestyle and your current situation and test them out to see if you can improve your sleep and wake up feeling happier and ready for the day ahead!

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and feel inspired to give these tips a go. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you. Please like this post and follow along with my blog for more post on nutrition, yoga and holistic health practices to support balanced hormones and overall better health.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

How to eat for healthy teeth. How I healed my teeth after veganism

After my last post about teeth issues I experienced whilst following a plant-based diet and how I healed my teeth after veganism, I wanted to explain in more detail how to eat for healthy teeth. This is not something that gets talked about enough in the nutrition world and dietary advice is usually simplified to “eat less sugar and acidic foods” which is absolutely not enough to maintain healthy teeth.

Tooth decay and de-mineralization

Modern dentistry usually puts the blame for tooth decay on bacteria in the mouth which feed on sugars in the diet and cause cavities. However, this is only part of the picture and a major component has been forgotten! That is that in order for bacteria to attack the teeth, a weakness needs to already be present. To understand this, we need to look at the structure of the teeth:

  1. The enamel layer on the outside of your tooth is what gives them a white colour and shiny, hard appearance. It is made up of minerals, primarily calcium-phosphate
  2. The dentin layer is less hard than enamel but also made up of calcified minerals. It usually has a yellow or grey colour. If the dentin is more exposed, you can experience tooth sensitivity and less white colour
  3. The pulp contains all the nerves and blood and is the most sensitive part of the tooth.

Strong enamel protects the dentin below from acid erosion and bacteria attacks. But enamel itself can also be worn down by acid, grinding the teeth or if minerals are leached from the teeth in a process called demineralization. Generally, minerals are constantly being lost and replaced via the blood supply to the tooth pulp and also the saliva. If the rates of mineralization and demineralization are equal, we have a stable tooth condition. In tooth decay, demineralization is generally occurring at a faster rate. Once enamel is worn down, it cannot be reformed but minerals can be deposited to strengthen the dentin and enamel layer. To heal the teeth we need to increase the rate of remineralization (more on that later).

Dietary causes of tooth de-mineralization and decay

In the 1930s, a dentist called Weston A Price discovered another theory for tooth decay. He studied indigenous people and found that many tribes living on traditional diets did not experience tooth decay, despite not having access to modern dental care and in some cases not even brushing their teeth! Once they switched to a more modern diet including refined carbohydrates and processed foods, they started to develop cavities and other dental issues. According to Price, there are three main dietary causes of tooth de-mineralization and decay:

  • Inadequate amounts or imbalanced ratio of minerals (mainly calcium and phosphorous)
  • A lack of fat-soluble vitamins (primarily vitamins A and D)
  • Imbalanced blood sugar levels

As teeth and bones are made of similar material and go through the same process of building up and breaking down, these factors also play a major role in bone mineral density. Two key minerals for maintaining healthy bones and teeth are calcium and phosphorous. Calcium is a key component of enamel which gives the teeth strength and protects from decay. Phosphorous helps the body absorb calcium and also helps to release energy from food. The ratio of these nutrients in the blood is also important.

Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K are those that need fat to be present in order to absorb and store them in the body. They are also generally found in fat-containing foods such as dairy, meat or nuts and seeds. For healthy and strong teeth, vitamin A and D are particularly important. Vitamin A supports healthy saliva production which is important to maintain a neutral pH in the mouth and to kill harmful bacteria. It is also forms keratin in the tooth enamel layer and the gums. Vitamin D also helps with calcium absorption and plays a key role in remineralizing of teeth and bones.

Blood sugar stability is also important because high blood sugar levels trigger leaching of minerals such as calcium from the bones to neutralize the blood. Constant snacking or bingeing on sweet foods or processed carbohydrates as well a diet inadequate in protein and fat can lead to chronically high blood sugar or instability with peaks of high and low blood sugar several times throughout the day. This could be experienced as erratic energy levels, energy crashes throughout the day, constant or sudden hunger and cravings for sweet foods.

How a vegan diet can lead to tooth decay

Based on the above three factors, we can easily see how a vegan diet can lead to tooth demineralization and tooth decay. Let’s consider a typical, healthy vegan diet made up of primarily whole foods: fruits, vegetables, starchy carbohydrates, legumes and nuts/seeds. Plant-based sources of calcium could include fortified dairy-alternatives such as soy or almond milk, green leafy vegetables, beans, tofu and sesame seeds (tahini). With some attention, it is fairly easy to get enough calcium from consuming these foods as long as you are consistent day to day. The problem I see is in three areas: incomplete digestion, detoxification and the high carb low fat trend.

Firstly when it comes to digestion, you are not what you eat but what you digest and assimilate. By this I mean just because the foods you eat contain enough calcium, it doesn’t mean that your body is able to extract and use all of that calcium. Plants contain certain compounds which bind to minerals in particular making them more difficult to absorb. The bio-availability of nutrients in certain plants is therefore lower than in animal products meaning that you need to eat more to meet your nutritional needs. Many plant-based dieters are not aware of this and can unknowingly consume below their nutritional needs for a long period of time. Because we have a certain amount of nutrient stores in our body, it can take months or even years for deficiencies and symptoms to arise, at which point it becomes difficult to question the diet which has “worked” for so long.

Another common mistake with vegan and plant-based diets is the idea that we need to be detoxing or cleansing on a long-term basis. I am all for short-term cleanses to support the body e.g. on an annual or seasonal basis but I see many vegans attempting to live in a state of detox and this is a recipe for mineral deficiencies in particular. For anyone in the detox world, you may be familiar with the problems of tooth sensitivity, decay and even tooth loss than can occur with heavy detox. Rather than being just a part of the detox process, I see this as a major flag that the detox has been too prolonged and a period of rebuilding with mineral rich foods is essential to support the body.

Finally, there is also the risk of deficiencies in fat soluble vitamins that can occur with high carb low fat vegan diets. By nature, vegan diets are higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat compared to omnivorous diets and some plant-based doctors recommend as low as 5% fat in the diet for optimal health. Vegan diets particularly are low in saturated fats as all sources of meat and dairy are avoided and the only real source of saturated fat on a vegan diet would be from coconut. Without adequate fat in our diet, we cannot absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It is also not possible to obtain vitamin D from plants (other than a small amount in mushrooms) and therefore supplementation is necessary. Vitamins A and K are present in plant-based diets but they are again found in a different and less usable form compared to retinol and vitamin K2 found in animal products.

The best diet for healthy teeth and tooth healing

The UK national dietary guidelines suggest for adults aged 19-64 we should be consuming a minimum of 700mg of calcium and 550mg of phosphorous per day from either plant or animal sources. The recommended daily amount of vitamin A is 700mg (2300IU) for men and 600mg (2000IU) for women, for vitamin D it is 10mg (400IU). This can easily be achieved by following the Eat Well Plate and including a variety of foods in your daily diet. However, if you already are experiencing tooth demineralization or decay, these minimum intakes may not be adequate. In his book Cure Tooth Decay, which is based on the work of Weston A. Price, Ramiel Nigel proposes the nutrient intakes below to support tooth repair and remineralization which are significantly higher than our dietary guidelines recommend!

He recommends consuming foods from several categories on a regular basis for overall health, including for supporting healthy and strong teeth:

  • Full or half fat dairy such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, butter
  • Fish and sea food (especially small fish with bones such as sardines)
  • Organ meats (including liver 1x per week)
  • Bone marrow and broths or stews
  • Variety of green vegetables (cooked or raw depending on tolerance)
  • Moderate amount of cooked fruit and 1 glass orange juice per day

He also recommends to supplement with 1/2 tsp butter oil and 1/2 tsp cod liver oil daily.

You can use a food tracking app such as Chronometer to get a rough idea of your daily nutrient intakes and where you could be falling short. As an example, to consume approximately 1.5g of calcium you could include: 1c fortified cereal, 1c milk, 1c yoghurt, 1/2c ricotta cheese, 1c broccoli, 1c cooked greens, 1tbsp tahini, 1tbsp blackstrap molasses and 1 portion steamed salmon. You can see it’s quite a lot! You could try this as a vegan but you would need to ensure you are eating several portions of fortified dairy alternatives per day and exchange the salmon with 1/2c tofu or a whole cup of beans.

For blood sugar balancing, it is recommended to eat meals containing all three macro-nutrients as well as fibre. Fats, protein and fibre help to slow down the digestive process and rate of absorption of carbohydrates (glucose) into the blood stream. This prevents blood sugar spikes and crashes and maintains even energy levels as well as preventing mineral leaching from the teeth and bones. You can play around with the macro-nutrient ratios and see what supports your optimal mood and energy levels but try to incorporate at least some fat and protein at each meal or snack.

A note on fruit.. whilst fruit contains fibre and has a lesser effect on blood sugar levels compared to processed carbohydrates and sweets, it is still a high glucose food and can lead to blood sugar spikes if consumed alone or in too high quantities, especially dried fruits or juices. As there are so many health benefits from including fruit in your diet, I don’t recommend cutting it out completely unless your teeth are in a very serious condition. I usually recommend to my clients to consume fruit as part of a meal or if eaten as a snack to combine with raw vegetables or protein/fat source such as cheese or nuts for better blood sugar balancing. It is also helpful to neutralise your mouth after eating sweet or acidic foods such as fruit by rinsing with water or salt water.

Meal ideas for healing tooth decay

Breakfast

  • Full fat yoghurt with stewed fruits and seeds
  • Sardines on whole grain toast
  • Porridge made with 2% milk and blackstrap molasses
  • Smoothie with kefir, berries and 1 tbsp cocoa powder

Lunch/Dinner

  • Meat and vegetable stew
  • Green vegetable omelette cooked in butter
  • Liver and onions with rice or potatoes
  • Salad with olive oil dressing chickpeas
  • Vegetable and tofu curry
  • Roasted sweet potato with broccoli and tahini sauce

Snack

  • 1 apple or 1c grapes with cheese
  • 1c orange juice with 2 boiled eggs
  • Fruit with 1c cucumber or celery
  • 1c milk with 1tbsp blackstrap molasses

My experience shifting from a plant-based diet

For anyone like me in the past who is currently following a vegan or plant-based diet, reading this can come as a shock. I know, I was there. I was convinced that a vegan diet was the healthiest and most sustainable way to eat and that animal products were toxic and should be avoided. Honestly, it took me several years, including studying for a degree in Public Health Nutrition and doing my own research and experimentation to realize that yes we can survive on a vegan diet but not everyone can thrive.

I really wasn’t thriving on a vegan diet so in the end it was not difficult to reintroduce animal products, once I had made the mental shift. I was expecting to struggle with digestive issues after not eating meat and dairy for so long but honestly, it felt like my body absorbed them right away. The first few meals with fish and cheese tasted amazing and the craving that had been suppressed for so long (making me feel like I didn’t miss or need animal products) finally resurfaced. I started to have more energy and mental clarity and just feel more like myself which was not something I thought could be impacted by the diet.

If you are suffering from tooth decay or demineralization on a vegan diet, take it as a sign that you are not getting everything that you need from your food. It’s very common to experience black and white thinking and feel like it is either fully vegan or nothing when in reality there is a spectrum. It is possible to follow a mostly plant-based diet and add in some of the above foods and meals to give your body a healthy dose of concentrated nutrition. I did introduce things gradually over a period of two years and for a long time my diet was mostly plant-based. Even now I eat a lot of plant-based foods but I would consider myself a true omnivore and I make sure to eat at least dairy every single day!

Healing teeth on a vegan diet

I really didn’t start to see improvements in my teeth until I went all in and consumed dairy every day and ate meat and fish more regularly. But if after reading this you are still determined to remain vegan, here are a few tips on how to eat for healthy teeth as a vegan. Something which helped prevent further deterioration of my teeth was cutting back on some of the foods which I thought were contributing to my dental problems including oats, dried fruit and acidic fruits. Now I have added them back in without seeing any reversal of the progress with my teeth but in the beginning it was necessary to keep them to a minimum.

You can also make sure to include high calcium sources mentioned such as tofu, tahini, blackstrap molasses and green vegetables along with plenty of plant fats to help with absorption. Avoid restrictive diets or cleanses and really focus on eating balanced meals which support blood sugar stability. You can also consider taking a vegan calcium supplement but always consult with your doctor first as with any medication. The most important thing overall is to listen to your body rather than your mind when it comes to making food choices. Our bodies are extremely intelligent and know what they need to remain healthy and balanced, we just need to remember how to listen!

Over to you…

I really hope this post helps any of you who are struggling with teeth issues after veganism or any other restrictive diet. Please let me know if you found these tips and information useful or if you have any questions. Like this post and follow along with my blog for more posts about nutrition and yoga for holistic health and balanced hormones!

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

Is a vegan diet bad for your teeth? My experience

I rarely write about my experiences with the vegan diet because I know it is such a controversial topic. I have previously shared my history with health and nutrition and my experience recovering my period on a vegan diet. Earlier this year I also posted an article Veganuary: Is a vegan diet best for the planet? where I mentioned that I no longer follow a vegan diet and my current thoughts about what an environmentally sustainable diet is. I haven’t spoken in detail about the health issues I experienced as a vegan because I know it can create strong emotions in some people and I understand that those still in the paradigm that a vegan diet is optimal for humans can take it quite personally when others decide it isn’t right for them.

At some point, I will speak in depth about how a vegan diet impacted my health and if this is something that interests you, you can leave a comment below this post or send me a personal message. In this post however, I do want to speak about one specific problem I had whilst following a vegan diet and that is dental issues. I visited the dentist yesterday which is what has inspired this post which has been a long time coming! Prior to adopting a plant-based diet, I never had any issues with my teeth. I had some slight crowding of my front teeth since childhood but other wise I had zero cavities or teeth removed in my whole adult life. I looked after my teeth well, visited the dentist regularly and never had any reason to worry about my teeth.

But after 3 years as a vegan and 2 years mostly plant-based, I started to have problems with my teeth. First with increased tooth sensitivity and feeling of weakness in my teeth and then the appearance of my teeth also started to change. It was my boyfriend that first noticed a difference visually. He came back after being away for a couple of months and he straight away asked what was wrong with my teeth. I looked in the mirror and noticed that they had a slight transparent, almost greyish tinge to them. I also checked my back teeth with a mirror and saw lots of small pinholes in my molars. As well as this, I had been told by my dentist a year previously that some of my gums had started to recede which he thought was a result of brushing too hard, now I’m not sure whether it was due to that or it was a result of nutritional deficiencies.

I was very worried but we were in the middle of a stressful time with the COVID pandemic and also preparing to leave the UK and move to Greece so I let it slide. I made some small changes like changing my toothpaste. rinsing with salt water after every meal and reducing the amount of acidic fruit I was eating but nothing too serious. But once we were settled in our new place, I noticed that things were not getting better and I also developed a dark spot on one of my front teeth. This really freaked me out and I immediately vowed to change my diet. One of the arguments against veganism is that it is bad for your teeth because it cuts out all dairy which is known to support strong teeth and bones.

Up until this point, I was so far into the vegan agenda that I believed dairy was acidic for the body and actually caused leaching of minerals from the teeth. I believed that plant-based sources of calcium such as broccoli, kale and sesame seeds (tahini) were adequate and even optimal for humans. However, this experience finally shocked me into the decision to completely let go of the idea that a fully plant-based diet is best for health and to start experimenting with adding in animal products on a more regular basis. I was already eating meat and fish a few times a week but I still avoided dairy thinking it was bad for my hormones and for the environment.

I was very closed minded and in the “vegan bubble” where I was listening mainly to sources promoting a vegan or plant-based diet as the healthiest and most sustainable diet. As a yoga teacher, I also have many friends and colleagues who are vegetarian or vegan and so it felt very difficult to step outside of this world and I wondered whether I could still consider myself a true yogi if I was harming animals by eating them. At this point though I was extremely concerned and I didn’t want my ethical ideals to lead to me becoming malnourished or losing my teeth! I started drinking organic goats milk daily, added cheese back into my diet and also started to take an Osteocare supplement which includes calcium and vitamin D, both good for building strong bones and teeth.

I think anything that affects our physical appearance can be the most scary and something that our ego struggles to deal with as our identity is so tied to how we look. I am all for separating our value and self-worth from appearance but in this case I knew that my physical appearance was also sending a message about potential problems on the inside too. Tooth decay is a major sign of dietary imbalances or more serious health conditions. Although it was very difficult emotionally and I had to do a lot of brain rewiring to let go of my previous beliefs, I managed it and I began to see positive changes. Luckily, I found plenty of research available on the impacts of a vegan diet on your teeth and how to heal cavities naturally through a healthy diet which contains plenty of bio-available nutrients.

Surprisingly, after about 6 months on this new way of eating, the spot on my front tooth had completely disappeared and my teeth were looking much whiter. Not only that the sensitivity was hugely reduced and my teeth felt stronger overall. I finally felt comfortable biting into an apple rather than chopping it into small pieces. Yesterday I went to the dentist for a check up and clean and she told me that my teeth are in great health and the amount of plaque build up on my teeth was also much less than my previous visit. The pinhole cavities that had developed have now hardened and they no longer pose a problem. Unfortunately the gums that have receded will never grow back and I will have to manage them to make sure they don’t get any worse.

I know this is a very heavy topic but I think it’s necessary for me to share with anyone who is vegan and experiencing dental problems or who is considering adopting a vegan or plant-based diet. It is very important to be fully informed when making decisions for your health and choosing to adopt a vegan diet is not something that should be taken lightly. According to the UK National Health Service:

“With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs. If you do not plan your diet properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12.”

Personally, I believe I was very careful with my diet as a vegan. I ate a good variety of foods and consumed fruit, vegetables, starches, beans, nuts and seeds as the base of my diet. I definitely ate more fruit and starchy carbs than the average person but I never went to extremes with my diet like some you see in the online world such as cutting out all fats or eating only one type of fruit for weeks at a time. For a while I did fall into the trap of believing I need to detox to overcome my health issues and I had periods where I would attempt a raw vegan cleanse for a few days but overall my diet was pretty balanced and I always tried to cover my nutritional bases.

I did my research and ate specific foods to obtain nutrients that are harder to find in plant foods such as fortified plant-milks for calcium and vitamin D, nutritional yeast for iron and vitamin B12 and hemp and flax seeds for omega-3 fatty acids. I also took supplements to make sure I was getting what I needed. The problem is that just because a food in theory contains a certain amount of a nutrient, it doesn’t mean this is the amount that your body can absorb and utilise. Depending on your personal health status and genetics, you may be less able to extract particular nutrients from foods. For example, nutrients found in plants are often in a less bio-available form than those in animal foods and also found up with fibre which can make it more difficult for your digestive system to process.

I am writing this post not to say that no one should ever follow a plant-based diet or that veganism always causes tooth decay but rather to share a side of the story that is less often talked about. By no means am I saying that vegans are the only ones who suffer with dental problems, there are plenty of omnivorous diets lacking in nutrients which lead to tooth decay and sensitivity. I am just sharing my personal experience as I want to help people make informed decisions about their health, understanding the risks involved with restrictive diets of any kind. If you have experienced similar problems with your teeth after following a vegan diet, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post about what a vegan diet did to my teeth. Please share with friends and family who may be interested and like this post and follow my blog for more posts on nutrition and yoga for holistic health and balanced hormones!

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

Other posts you might like

Signs of holistic health for women (non weight related!)

For the last 5 years, I have been very focused on women’s health and in particular exploring the signs of good health which are not related to body shape and size. In the society that we live in, we are hyper focused on appearance and weight in particular. This leads many women to assume they are healthy just because they look like the typical fitness model or believe that they are unhealthy because they are carrying a few extra pounds. We mistake behaviors such as restricting our calories, eating clean or exercising a ton for true health which in reality comes in many forms. In this post I want to highlight some of the health indicators that I use for monitoring my own and my clients health. I have also included a health assessment form that you can download at the end of the article to understand where you currently are with your health and to track your progress if you are embarking on a journey to improve your health.

Energy

High energy levels or an aura of vitality is something we intuitively recognize in others and want for ourselves. Our energy and enthusiasm for life says a lot about our state of health. Unfortunately fatigue is something that many of us deal with at some point in life, whether we are going through a stressful period or our lifestyle isn’t exactly on point. When our energy levels are low, we feel tired and unmotivated for our work, social life and creative hobbies. On the other hand, when we eat well, get good sleep, spend time outdoors and move our bodies, we tend to feel more energised and radiate good health. Assessing your energy levels is an excellent way to understand whether your current health regime is working for you. If you are doing all of the “right” things yet still feeling tired, then perhaps it is a sign that something is not quite right for your individual situation.

Mood

Our mood says a lot about both our inner and outer world. When we are in a good state of health, we generally feel more relaxed and stable emotionally. That isn’t to say we don’t experience emotions which are the natural reaction to our life experiences, but when we are healthy they are much less extreme and easy to manage. Experiencing constant states of fear, depression or anxiety is a sign that something is not quite right with your lifestyle. Similarly, if you feel extremely sensitive or fly off the handle more easily than usual then perhaps your health is not as good as it could be. Perhaps this can be solved by simpler lifestyle changes such as eating a more nourishing diet, adopting a supportive exercise routine or getting better quality sleep. In other cases it is more complicated and could be related to wider aspect of health such as your family, work, self-worth and social life. Either way, a generally content mood and capacity to absorb daily stresses is a good sign of robust health.

Sleep

This is always an interesting point as in order to be healthy we need good sleep but equally, problems with our health can limit our ability to get a good night of rest. Chronic insomnia, unrelated to acute stressful events, is a major red flag that your health is suffering in some way. This is something that I personally suffered with for many years and I shared some of my tips for dealing with sleep disturbances in a previous post. Our quality of sleep can be impacted by many factors including our physical and mental stress levels, caffeine intake and also our diet as sleeping through the night requires good blood sugar regulation. It is very common for people on restrictive diets or who exercise excessively to experience sleep issues due to dysregulation of various hormonal pathways. Having a regular sleep schedule and getting adequate, restful sleep that your body needs is one of the best things you can do for your overall health.

Hair

Our hair is another one of the ways in which we can see our health history. We are all different in how our hair looks but whether is it naturally curly or straight, long or short, thick or thin we can still observe our hair quality to understand something about our health. If your hair appears to be thinning, becoming dry or brittle or is slower growing than usual, this good indicate an underlying health problem. If your hair is growing fast and looks healthy and strong this is one of the typical signs of good health! Our hair is also affected by many factors but most noteably diet and stress levels. Because it takes so long to grow, analyzing the mineral content of your hair can show nutrient deficiencies dating back years. It is common sense to associate hair loss with stressful periods of life but this can also be caused by physical stresses such as undereating or exercising excessively. For women, loss of hair around the hair line or unusual hair growth on the body can be a sign of hormone imbalance.

Skin

Along with our hair, our skin can be an excellent visual map of our internal health. Again, there are genetic factors at play when it comes to our skin and some people are more prone to skin issues than others. However, observing changes in your skin can be a good way to understand how your lifestyle is impacting your overall health. Sudden appearance of acne, rapid aging or unusual dryness or redness on the skin are all things to take note of. On the other hand, supple, moist, acne-free skin is one of the signs of good health that you want to focus on. If you suffer from acne, chinese face-mapping can indicate where in the body this imbalance could be stemming from. For example, acne around the chin and jawline tends to be related to hormone imbalance whereas acne on the forehead is more likely to represent digestive issues.

Digestion

Nowadays it is so normal to experience digestive issues and sensitivities that we rarely question it. Problems such as IBS, constipation and reflux are extremely common and sales of medications have sky-rocketed in recent years. It is almost trendy to exclude foods such as gluten and dairy and the amount of free-from products is growing exponentially. I used to believe that digestive issues were a sign that we need to eat a “cleaner diet” and avoid foods which cause us problems but my opinion on this topic has changed drastically over the last few years. Of course, in some cases people have genuine intolerances and allergies in which case yes, avoiding these foods is a good idea. But in most cases, what is really needed is support and strengthening the digestive system to increase the range of foods we are able to eat. When the digestive fire is strong, a healthy person can handle a wide variety of different foods, does not experience excessive bloating, gas or heart burn after a meal and goes to the toilet regularly.

Hormones

As a holistic health coach, this is something I focus on a lot with my female clients. Our menstrual cycle can be considered our 5th vital sign and having a regular, relatively symptom-free menstrual cycle with a consistent red colour and moderate flow as well as a healthy sex drive is ideal. Issues such as intense pre-menstrual syndrome, painful periods, PCOS, endometriosis, amenorrhea and infertility are all signs that something could be not quite right with your health. Our hormones affect all our bodily processes and imbalances can be linked to fatigue, skin issues, insomnia, and low libido, just to name a few. It also works in the opposite direction as our hormone balance can also be impacted by lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep and stress levels. Tracking your menstrual cycle is an excellent way to become aware of your natural rhythms and understand how your choices impact your hormones and therefore your overall health.

Creativity

This is another point mainly for the women and perhaps a controversial one. Our creative power is strongly linked to our feminine energy and a strong creative spirit can be a sign of good health and vitality. That isn’t to say you have to be a passionate musician or incredible artist but having the drive to create things, whether that is innovative solutions in your work, a tasty meal from scratch or expressing yourself through journal writing is a sign that energy is flowing freely in your body and that you are connected to your inner world. Feeling stagnant or blocked creatively is a common experience but rather than writing it off as that, it can be a chance to question and explore what is going on in your life and how you are feeling. One thing I observe is that in women who are trapped in the cycle of rigid dieting and exercise routines, is that their feminine energy is suppressed and this rigidity prevents the flow of their creative energy. Relaxing and surrendering more to the flow of life leads to an opening and blossoming which to me is a sign of a healthy woman.

So, if you are currently on a journey to improve your health, remember that this is about so much more than weight! It is possible to have a healthy lifestyle, thriving body and balanced hormones without dietary restriction and extremes or punishing exercise routines. If you have made positive changes to your lifestyle and you feel caught up in the weight-loss trap, come back to this list and see if your health is improving in other areas. As promised, here is a holistic health assessment that I use with my clients. You can use this assessment to determine your current health health status and set personal goals to improve your health!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post on the non-weight related signs of health. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and share with friends and family who may be interested. Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on nutrition and yoga for holistic health and balanced hormones!

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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Let it shine: Embracing inner summer aka the ovulatory phase

It’s been a while since I shared my experiences with menstrual cycle awareness practice and part of the reason is that it has become such a habit for me to live this way that I don’t consciously think about it as much as I used to. Menstrual cycle awareness is exactly that, living with a conscious awareness of your menstrual cycle. I’m not sure I really like the term but at least it does what it says on the tin. In their book Wild Power, Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Wurlizter use the term “Menstruality” which I also love as it brings in the elements of spirituality and mysticism which are directly tied to this practice.

Today I want to share about my experience with inner summer aka the ovulatory phase. Usually the second half of our cycle gets the most attention because PMS and difficult periods can be the most disruptive to our lives and therefore the luteal and menstrual phases are the ones we tend to focus on. Ovulation is usually forgotten about, until we decide we want to get pregnant and then it becomes the holy grail and something to be measured, analysed and hunted down. However, I think there is such a beauty in the ovulatory phase even for women like me who are not ready to have children yet, or those who have already passed this phase of life.

To begin with the science, ovulation is the process of releasing an egg from one of our ovaries. Ovulation itself can be considered as the main event of the menstrual cycle because if we do not ovulate, we do not menstruate. Yes, you can still experience a bleed during an an-ovulatory cycle but you will not be fertile and it is not considered to be a true period. To me, ovulation is the creative miracle of feminine energy and something to be celebrated. Ensuring healthy ovulation is an important part of my holistic health coaching practice as it brings so many benefits on all levels of our being: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

The ovulatory phase begins a few days before ovulation and lasts until a few days after. It can also be considered the “fertile window” for women practicing fertility awareness method as these are the days when we are most likely to get pregnant if we aren’t using contraception. At the beginning of the ovulatory phase, we are dominated by the hormone estrogen but we also experience spikes in Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinising Hormone (LH) which cause a mature egg to be released. Progesterone levels remain low until after ovulation as this hormone is released from the ovary at the site the egg was released.

Image credit: Hello Clue app

For me ovulation brings with it this sense of expansion and super-human capacities. In a good month, I can feel energised and radiant and like I can handle anything life throws at me. There is this almost fizzing creative energy where I feel inspired and have many ideas for creative projects, my business and life in general. It’s also a time when I feel most social which as an introvert I embrace whole-heartedly. Often I find being around other people exhausting and I need time to recharge afterwards but around ovulation my social capacity increases a lot! I feel like I have more energy for my close relationships and a greater capacity to put myself out there in challenging social situations.

It’s also a time when I feel my most physically attractive and confident. At this time of my cycle I love wearing clothes which feel feminine and taking the time for self-care routines which make me feel beautiful like taking time to style my hair or painting my nails. At other times in my cycle my self-care is more focused on the emotional level like meditation, journalling and relaxation. During ovulation I feel more liberated and comfortable in my body but there is also this sense of magnetism which I think runs even deeper than the physical level. I think as women we just have this energy during ovulation that attracts others, whether that is sexual partners, friends, work connections or even children.

Before I started to practice menstrual cycle awareness, I did notice these subtle differences but I didn’t understand what I was experiencing. I distinctly remember one week feeling on top of the world and the next feeling it come crashing down around me. I would wonder what was going wrong and point the finger of blame towards others or towards my own body. In reality the shifts we experience are perfectly natural and more gradual like a tide moving in and out throughout each month, the waxing and waning of the moon or the changing of the seasons. When we have present awareness and consciously go with this flow rather than fighting against it, life can be a truly beautiful experience.

Although awareness is always the best place to start, actually making lifestyle changes can be tough. One of the ongoing problems I have with this phase of my cycle is that I think that I can do it all. I start multiple projects at once and then either don’t finish them or burn myself out trying to finish what I started. I struggle to decide how to spend my energy, whether to focus on work or play. I fill up my diary for the next few weeks without realising that once my inner autumn aka pre-menstrual phase arrives I am more likely to want to chill at home with a book or spend time writing rather than going out dancing or hosting workshops. This is why using a period tracker app or calendar can be a useful tool because it helps you to think ahead and plan accordingly!

I find that channeling the increased energy of the ovulation phase into one or a few projects is the best way to feel fulfilled rather than overwhelmed by the end of the cycle. It can be extremely satisfying to see a creative project or a specific task through from start to finish over the course of the month. If we germinate ideas and set goals after our period and focus our energy throughout the cycle, we really can achieve great things. Just like we have this sense of closure and preparation for hibernation at the end of summer, it brings us a sense of fulfillment to tie up lose ends as we approach our next bleed and we can surrender to relaxation knowing that we have put our creative energy to good use.

If you are interested in learning more about living in sync with your menstrual cycle, take a look at my other posts in the menstrual cycle awareness category and definitely consider reading the book Wild Power which I recommend to all of my female health coaching clients. Discovering and syncing with this inner rhythm has helped me so much to understand and connect with my body, my feminine energy and nature itself. It’s something that is rarely talked about and we are not taught in school but yet it is a current that runs under the river of our lives and affects everything we do. Living in a female body comes with many challenges but I would never change it for the world.

Over to you…

Do you currently track your menstrual cycle? What is your experience of ovulation aka inner summer? Is it a time you are consciously aware of or would like to be in the future? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on nutrition and yoga for healthy, balanced hormones!

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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How I finally let go of dietary rules and let myself eat more food

One of the hardest things for me in my recovery from disordered eating and Hypothalamic Amenorrhea was finally being able to let go of control around food. I went from restricting the amount of calories I ate and recording every bite in a calorie tracking app to various phases of restrictive diets including dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo and finally all varieties of veganism. Whole foods, high-carb, low-fat, raw foods you name it, I tried it. I was addicted to manipulating my diet in some way or another but now, 3 years later I can honestly say that I eat whatever I like and however much I like. And the ability to not overthink food and trust in my bodies’ signals is one of the most beautiful things about being recovered.

Now as a nutritionist and health coach, I support women through this process of escaping dietary prison to find food freedom, true health and a regular menstrual cycle. With so much information available online and in books, I find that most women know exactly what they need to do but the problem is actually doing it. What seems so simple (eating more food and resting) becomes extremely difficult when we factor in all of the emotional ties and conditioned beliefs around food and body image. We have been brainwashed to believe that we aren’t good enough if we don’t look a certain way and that certain foods are bad for us or even toxic. I found this to be especially prevalent in the raw vegan community where everything is considered toxic, even cooked food.

When I first realised how important it was for me to recover my menstrual cycle and the damage I could have caused to my body through 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, the first hurdle I had to jump was allowing myself to eat more food. I was so used to dieting and living life with this restrictive mindset that to suddenly jump to eating 2500 calories a day (the minimum recommended for recovery) seemed nearly impossible. One thing that terrified me was this idea of losing control. During this time of restrictive eating, I experienced a lot of binge eating episodes where I would accidently eat more than I intended to or something “unhealthy” and this would trigger a huge overeating spree where I would eat everything in sight. I felt like I had to control every bite or my appetite would over take me.

However, at some point I realised that the more I tried to restrict my food, the stronger the urge to binge became. When I purposely ate less food after a big binge episode, it would only make it more likely to happen again a few days later. Over a period of a few months, I started to entertain the idea that maybe if I just ate more food on a regular basis, the binge eating would stop. I think I even did a calculation of the average number of calories I ate in a week , taking into account days of restriction and binges (see the graph below for a visual!) and I realised that actually I would probably be much happier and my body would be more stable if I just ate that amount consistently each day. I also finally accepted this idea that food is fuel and that our bodies need a certain amount of energy each day just to function and keep all our systems going, even if we are completely sedentary.

And it worked, this was the first step towards letting go of control. That said, I still had a long way to go! Even though I was eating more food and feeling healthier, I was still consciously controlling the amount I ate and the idea of stopping tracking my food or increasing my calorie intake made me extremely anxious. I still avoided certain foods that I believed were unhealthy like bread, dairy and processed foods. Then a funny thing happened. I discovered the idea of a vegan diet, first through watching documentaries about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and then through the world of Vegan YouTube which was booming at that time. Back in 2015, everyone in this community was promoting the idea that you can “eat as much as you want, as long as it is plant-based” and stay slim and healthy. I was so desperate to be free of this restrictive mindset, but I still was so attached to maintaining a low body weight that I fell straight for it.

This led to a weird couple of years where on one hand I felt extremely free and I allowed myself to eat more food than I ever had, without tracking. However this control that I had around food hadn’t disappeared, it had only shifted to another form. I no longer checked the calories for every food I ate, but I would rarely eat anything that wasn’t vegan or a whole-food e.g. fruit, vegetables, starches, nuts and seeds. I did get my period back during this time because I was finally providing my body with enough fuel, but I still suffered with signs of hormonal imbalance and other chronic health issues like insomnia and fatigue. Because I had allowed myself to be brainwashed by the idea that a vegan diet cures everything I thought that I needed to be more strict with my diet if I wanted to heal. Actually it was an illusion of freedom and abundance that took me a while to identify and break free from.

Don’t get me wrong, the foods I ate when I was vegan were very healthy but as PART of a balanced diet, not the whole diet!

So fast forward 3 years, I started to realise that some health problems I was trying to heal from via my vegan diet could actually be a result of this very diet which was really quite restrictive. I also started to experience new health issues out of nowhere which I couldn’t explain like dry skin, hair loss and constipation. I never considered that it could be the vegan diet but once I started to research online, I discovered a whole community of people talking about how their vegan diet had impacted their health in a negative way. I read stories of people who had done a complete U-turn and adopted a high-fat, animal-based keto or even carnivore diet and were claiming to have healed their chronic health issues. I could have fallen down this rabbit too but luckily, this really opened my eyes to the real situation, that humans can survive on many different diets and that we thrive on a variety of foods.

I had believed for years that animal products caused all sorts of health issues and here were people healing using these exact foods. Same with calorie restriction, for years I had thought this was the healthy thing to do until I found out about the impact of dieting on our hormones and our overall health. Finally, I started to open my mind and see that when it comes to nutrition and I discovered that there is so much conflicting information out there and you can find research to back up any claim that you want. The online health and wellness sphere is a minefield and it is almost random which hole you fall down. The problem with social media is that once you fall down a hole and adopt a certain mindset, you only see information which supports these views. If you want to question your beliefs you really have to make the effort to seek out new information because everything that is fed to you is more of the same.

(Side note – I recommend the documentary The Social Dilemma if you are interested in learning more about how social media sells our attention as it’s main product!)

Luckily, this was also the time that I decided to go back to university and study for a Masters’ degree in nutrition because I knew I wanted to help women heal their hormones using food. This gave me a much better understanding of human nutrition and metabolism and an understanding of the damage that extreme or restrictive diets in any form can do to the body. During my years of study, I adopted a much more balanced diet. I reintroduced animal-based foods and processed foods in moderation. I completely let go of all my conditioned beliefs around food and stared to understand both the health and environmental benefits of eating more seasonal and traditional foods. It’s funny because my diet is definitely much less like the typical “healthy diet” now and yet I am healthier than ever. I feel like we are given the false idea that we are either following the typical SAD junk-food diet or that we are on some super restrictive clean diet when in reality there is a huge grey areas between those extremes where, I believe, true health can be found.

Now I eat ice-cream and crisps but also salads, fruits and organic meat. I realised that foods are not inherently good or bad, they just has more or less energy and nutrients. Even processed foods with additives are fine in moderation our body can handle them and, despite what healers in the detox world say, they do not build up in our tissues and need to be purged by colonics and fruit fasting. Sure, if you only eat processed foods and don’t provide your body with enough nutrients, it will be overloaded. Plus, such cleansing practices have been used by ancient cultures on an annual basis for example but you only need to look at long-term detox practitioners to see that this restriction and stress actually ages the body causing premature skin damage and thin, poor quality hair, never mind the likely damage to internal organs. Perhaps it is vain, but seeing this reality really helped me to let go of some of my lingering fears around certain foods.

Some examples of foods that I had written off as unhealthy which are actually very nourishing for the body and soul!

I think to finally let go of dietary rules and surrender to the unexplored territory that is your natural appetite, a key thing is to really explore this idea of control. Why do you need it and what does it really mean to be in control? My idea of control has shifted dramatically over the last few years. I used to feel in control when I ate clean and resisted my hunger. I now see control as taking my health into my own hands and making decisions based on what works for my unique body, rather than listening to the advice of others who claim to have found the holy grail in terms of food and lifestyle. It also helps to consider your idea of health and what it means to be healthy. For me health is a feeling, having energy, a strong and fertile body and feeling free to live my life and have fun. No restrictive diet ever gave me health in these terms but I never considered that at the time.

This post is perhaps a bit long and jumbled but I think it is really important to talk about this subject and I wanted to write without editing. I speak to clients and female friends and so many have been indoctrinated into some dietary cult or another. Whether it is an attachment to the low-fat, low-calorie diet and the idea of being skinny or whether it is an obsession with clean eating and having a cupboard full of supplements at home, it’s so unnatural and is so far away from true health. Breaking free of whatever dietary rules and restrictions you have become attached to is a personal journey and a decision that only you can take but I hope that my story at least helps you to see that there is another way to find health and it is one that can include chocolate!

Over to you…

Please leave a comment below if you have any thoughts on this topic, I’d love to hear your opinions and have a discussion. If you found this article interesting, please like this post and follow my blog to be notified when I post something new.

If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me or check out the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I am a qualified Public Health Nutritionist and hatha yoga teacher and my specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after restrictive dieting. I would love to work together with you to move past any health blocks and get you feeling your best again!

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International Yoga Day: 10 things I learned in 10 years of yoga

Yesterday marked the annual International Yoga Day as named by the UN in 2015 to celebrate the many benefits of this ancient Indian practice. This year the theme was “Yoga for Wellness” which is especially appropriate for 2021 as we are approaching two years of a global health crisis. COVID19 has affected us all, whether we caught the virus or not we have seen the impacts of the pandemic on our physical and mental health. Being stuck at home for months at a time, spending more time in front of our devices and out of our usual routine has meant for many a loss of physical fitness and vitality. The anxiety caused by the virus and the endless stream of fear-inducing news stories has affected many people’s sleep, eating habits and lead to increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other substances. Adding to this the emotional stress of the loss of loved ones or livelihoods, we have a perfect recipe for poor mental health and wellbeing.

Throughout all of this upheaval, the practice of yoga has kept me going and helped me to stay grounded and feeling fairly well, considering the circumstances. Practice of yoga asana (postures) helps to keep our bodies strong and flexible and can be practiced easily at home so it has been a lifeline during the lockdowns when gyms were closed and outdoor activities limited. The pranayama (breathwork) and meditation aspects of yoga help us to regulate our nervous system, calm the stress response and enable us to relax and sleep well even during times of stress. I really believe that a solid yoga practice is one of the best things we can do for our overall health and wellbeing. Personally, I am so grateful for the practice of yoga and it has helped me so much to develop into the person I am today. In this article, I want to share 10 benefits I have experienced through practicing yoga over the last 10 years.

1. Body acceptance

I am including this one first as it really has been the most impactful on my life! When I was younger I struggled with constant self-criticism, hating my body and punishing behaviours such as over-exercising and disordered eating in an effort to try and look the way I thought I needed to in order to be accepted and loved. I originally started to practice yoga as a way to rehabilitate my body and heal from injuries but it ended up becoming much more than that. Yoga is so much more than a workout and through the practice I ended up developing an acceptance and appreciation for my body that I never thought was possible. It helped me to stop focusing so much on the external appearance on my body and instead learn to feel myself from the inside out and develop an energy and confidence that I now see is way more important than the size of my thighs or the number on the scale. Of course I still have days when I feel down about myself or compare myself to others, as everyone does, but it no longer controls my life and when these types of thoughts and feelings arise I know how to move past them.

2. Building strength

When I tell people my main physical activity is yoga, I often get the response that “I like yoga but it isn’t intense enough for me”. This makes me laugh because when practiced with intention, yoga asana can be one of the most intense physical experiences there is. With every yoga posture, you aim for full body awareness and engage every single cell. Even Tadasana (mountain pose), one of the foundations of a beginners’ yoga practice, an be extremely challenging when you really focus on perfect alignment and engaging all of the small muscles that keep you standing tall with a good posture. Other standing postures such as the Virabhadrasana (warrior pose) series, Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) and arm balances like Bakasana (crow pose) help to develop strong muscle tone in the legs, core and upper body. Modern yoga comes in many different flavours from the more fiery and intense Astanga practice to total relaxation and bliss of Yin. I like to incorporate many different styles of yoga into my routine and through the practice I have developed a strong and agile body that helps me to make the most of life.

3. Cultivating flexibility

One of the first things most people associate with yoga is flexibility. It is definitely true that yoga practice helps to open up your body and create a sense of lightness and freedom in your physical vessel. I actually don’t consider myself very physically flexible considering the number of years I have practiced yoga. This is comparing myself to others though and compared to myself before I started to practice yoga, I have come a long way. I was very sporty as a kid and I developed quite a rigid, inflexible body. Now I can touch my toes and I am pretty mobile but I am nowhere near the splits and many other advanced poses are still just a dream for me at this point. But one thing that yoga has really helped me to cultivate is mental flexibility and the ability to let go and go with the flow of life. I remember being so rigid when I was younger, completely attached to my habits, routines and my conditioned beliefs. Over these last 10 years, yoga has helps me to loosen my grip on life and be more accepting of the natural ebbs and flows and the uncertainty that is the only certain thing we have. In particular, pranayama and meditation have been the tools that helped me to release tension and tightness in my mental and emotional bodies and create this feeling of flexibility beyond the physical.

4. Finding balance

With the modern society we live in and the fast-paced, stimulating, information heavy lifestyles we lead, it can be so easy to get carried away and burn ourselves out. Perhaps we are prone to over-working, over-exercising, over-eating, over-consuming… Whatever it is yoga can help us to find that point of balance where we are not doing too much or too little, but always “playing the edge”. Through tuning into my physical sensations and becoming aware of my inner world, I was able to stop damaging my health and happiness with destructive behaviours and create a lifestyle that was truly condusive to wellness. For me that looked like exercising at a lower intensity and taking more rest days, syncing with my menstrual cycles, allowing myself breaks from work and realising that I can’t do it all and letting go of rigid dietary rules and allowing myself food freedom. It might seem strange that yoga could lead to all of these seemingly unrelated changes but I really do believe that practice yoga starts a domino effect in your life. Once you start to become more self-aware and you engage with the intelligence within, you see clearly what is working and where things could be improved. Plus, you cultivate more energy through the practice which you can then direct towards making positive changes in your life and in the world.

5. Overcoming perfectionism

Learning to let go of perfectionism has been a key part of my journey with yoga. There is something to be said about aiming for perfectionism in yoga, particularly if you follow the thought school of B.K.S. Iyengar who is known for his focus on detail, precision and alignment in the postures. However, I think developing a healthy relationship with perfection is very important and something that yoga has helped me significantly with. There is nothing wrong with having lofty goals, in fact this can help to motivate us and challenge us to grow. But we shouldn’t let our perfect vision create dissatisfaction with where we are right now or lead to beating ourselves up for not being good enough. It is the same thing when it comes to comparison with others. It isn’t inherently bad to admire others or use their achievements for inspiration but it should be exactly that, a spring board for our own success and a way to open up our minds to greater possibilities. There have been times in my yoga practice when I believed I should be more advanced, but these days I accept my current limitations and I know that overcoming them is a matter of personal choice and priorities. I am not a full-time yogi, I have many other interests and commitments and my level of practice reflects that, which is fine

6. Developing compassion

One of the skills I have learned through practicing yoga is compassion, both for myself and for others. Through practicing yoga asana, you really see yourself and your physical vulnerabilities laid out on the table. Even the strongest, fittest person can have their ego cut down by simple yoga postures when you realise just how much tension and emotional stress is stored in the body. Yoga teaches us to be firm yet gentle with ourselves, to push ourselves when we need it but also to create a nurturing and supportive environment for growth and healing. Yoga also helps us to connect to something larger and feel like a part of nature as a whole. Through practicing with many different teachers and leading my own classes, I also realised just how alike we are as humans, even if we seem different on the surface. We share so many fears, insecurities, thoughts and emotional patterns and knowing this allows us to have more compassion for others and the struggles they are going through. Connecting with other yogis in the two teacher trainings I have been through was an amazing experience as everyone was so open and available to connect on an emotional level. I am forever grateful to these groups as they helped me to feel loved and supported through some very difficult times in my life.

7. Facing fears and embracing discomfort

Our bodies and minds both have habitual patterns and set ways of being that it can be very difficult to break. A big part of advancing in your yoga practice is learning to face the fears and overcome resistance that arises when you step out of your comfort zone. Whether this is surrendering into a deeper backbend or forward fold or letting go of the resistance towards inversions and balances, yoga helps us to locate our edges and push through those boundaries. When we find what we think is our limit and we are able to push ourselves that tiny bit further (with integrity and compassion of course) we discover new territory and expand our capacities which is a thrilling experience. My yoga practice has helped me to see the areas I hold myself back and where I resist feeling certain sensations and emotions. I always say to my students that learning to embrace discomfort and avoid bracing yourself against it is one of the important lessons that yoga can teach us. Not just on a physical level but this can help us mentally to deal with challenging situations and feelings without hardening and building a protective armor around ourselves which might reduce pain but also blocks out joy and connection.

8. Letting go

This one goes along with developing flexibility, but a huge benefit I have receive through my yoga practice is learning to let go. Letting go of the stress that builds up throughout the day, letting go of unhelpful thoughts, beliefs and conditioning, letting go of harmful habits and behaviours, letting go of past hurts and regrets.. a mindful, intentional yoga yoga practice can help with all of these and create a clean slate on all layers of your being. Not that this happens every time, I have to say. Sometimes a yoga practice highlights all of your pain points and for whatever reason you aren’t ready to move past them. Howver anyone who practices yoga regularly will understand that squeaky, shiny state of consciousness you experience after a focused asana practice and deeply relaxing Savasana. I find that yoga has allowed me to develop the ability to see when I am holding onto things past the point of usefulness (which yes I still do often) and use my breath and other yogic techniques to let them go. Without this ability, we can easily remain stuck in negative mindsets and moods for longer than necessary or hold onto outdated beliefs that no longer serve us.

9. Learning to relax

It should be the easiest thing in the world but somehow, we humans find relaxation so difficult! Perhaps it is the stress of living in society with all of it’s distractions and expectations but often it can be so hard to switch off, to stop doing and just be. Yoga, in particular Yin yoga and Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) has really shown me the importance of and the path to true rest and relaxation. I have always been an active and busy person and prone to burn-out as I get so passionate with everything that I am involved in and end up doing too much. Even this year with the pandemic and becoming unemployed I feel like I haven’t stopped and I am rarely bored. Carving out time for a regular yoga and conscious relaxation practice has been one of the best decisions I ever made. Sometimes I even write it on my to do list so that I don’t skip it, it’s that important. Relaxation allows our bodies and nervous system to rest and recover physically, it stills our minds so that we can think more clearly and creatively and it allows us to get better sleep so that we can recharge our batteries for the next day. Although it might seem like doing nothing, relaxation is an art and a skill that we need to work on to truly reap all of its

10. Following my heart

Last but not least, my yoga practice has helped to me connect with my intuition and realise that sometimes the right thing to do is to follow your heart. Since starting my yoga practice, I have made some big decisions with regards to where I live, the work that I do and the relationships I have in my life. I am a rational and logical person (for those of you who don’t know me well I actually have a degree in Chemical Engineering) so I always take my time with decisions and think things through, but there are times when you have to listen to your heart and make choices that might seem irrational to others but feel true for you. It can be so easy to keep plodding along the same path all of your life because it is what is expected of you or because you don’t know what is to be found off the beaten path, but sometimes there can be very beautiful things waiting! The appreciation for life I discovered through practicing yoga and the connection with my inner wisdom and deeper emotions where the reason that I left my engineering job and moved into environmental-protection and health related work, the reason that I moved to Greece and the reason I no longer chase relationships where I feel unappreciated and question myself.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post in celebration of International Yoga Day! Let me know in the comments below if you have experience these benefits or others from practicing yoga. Like this post and follow my blog for more content on yoga, nutrition and healthy living in Greece.

If you want to learn more about Yoga for Women you can check out my others posts here and you can also find my current class schedule here. Currently I am only teaching one online class a week but I will be updating the schedule in September and (hopefully) starting a face to face class here for any of you in Athens! I also offer online private and small group classes at a very reasonable price, just reach out by email if you are interested and I can put together a package that meets your needs.

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Can you get your period back following a vegan diet?

One of the questions I am often asked by women who are trying to heal from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and recover their period is whether it’s possible to heal your hormones and regain a healthy menstrual cycle whilst still following a vegan diet. If you haven’t read my previous posts on the HA recovery diet and how I got my period back, I’d recommend to check those out first before going ahead with this one because I explain all about the factors that can cause your period to disappear or become irregular and the strategy to recover. This is a topic I have researched extensively over the years and I have personal experience with so I wanted to share my advice from a public health nutrition perspective.

So to return to the initial question: can you get your period back whilst following a vegan diet? The short answer is yes, it’s absolutely possible and I did it myself. After watching documentaries about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the health benefits of a vegan diet I was committed and I chose to maintain my vegan diet whilst trying to recover my period. I did manage to get my period back after 4 months of going “all-in” with my diet and no exercise so it is definitely possible! However does this mean I recommend a vegan diet to my clients or that I believe a vegan diet is optimal when try to get your period back? Definitely not! In fact I am no longer vegan and although I have no regrets, if I could go back in time with the information I have now I would definitely choose differently. Here are a few reasons why…

1. Calories

One of the important factors for many women with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is eating enough calories. When you lose your period due to an energy imbalance, i.e. not eating enough to support your activities, increasing your energy intake is very important. You can definitely do this on a vegan diet simply by eating more food but as many plant-based foods are more calorie dilute this can be a struggle! Especially if you eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, starchy carbs and legumes which all have a high amount of water and fiber, you might find that you get full before you consume the amount of calories that your body really needs. This makes a plant-based diet great for weight loss but not so much when boosting your energy intake is your goal.

Of course, you can add in more energy dense vegan foods such as nuts and seeds, nut butters, oil and processed foods which take up less space in your stomach and are easier on your digestive system, but in my experience, bloating and other digestive issues are likely even when consuming the minimum calorie intake for healing your hormones. Actually I had forgotten how it felt not to be bloated until I finally reduced the amount of fibre I was consuming from beans, vegetables and nut butters. If you are extremely committed to recovering your period on a vegan diet, you can opt for easy to digest foods such as bread or crackers with jam, processed cereals and plant-based milk. However, as I will come to in the next point, these are not the most nutritious foods and you might find that your body needs ALOT of them to satisfy your nutrient needs for healing.

2. Nutrients

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is an issue primarily of energy imbalance, but as all foods contain both macro and micronutrients, not eating enough food can easily lead to nutritional deficiencies. Part of recovering your menstrual cycle is nutritional rehabilitation which means flooding the body with as many building blocks for repair as possible. Nutrients that can be difficult to obtain and absorb in a vegan diet include iron, calcium, vitamin A (retinol) and vitamin D. Under stress our bodies also use some nutrients at a much faster rate than usual. Yes, it is theoretically possible to eat a well planned vegan diet which meets all of the recommended daily amounts. However, we don’t have control of our internal processes and if digestion is compromised, which is often the case with hormonal imbalance, then we can’t be sure we are really absorbing and benefitting from all of these nutrients.

It’s important to reflect on your history with dieting and if your past experience with restricting your food intake or the types of foods you eat could put you at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Or if you are unsure and you have the budget you can also ask your doctor to run a blood test for the key nutrients. The problem with this is that, there may also be additional compounds present in animal products which we don’t yet fully understand and for that reason, I think it’s just not worth the risk. Personally, I would suggest that if you are determined to follow a vegan diet, it’s better to heal the body with a high nutrient, omnivorous diet then, once the body is healthy and functioning optimally, consider adopting a more plant-based diet.

3. Fat and cholesterol

In general, the vegan diet tends to be higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat compared to diets including animal-based products. In addition, the fats available in plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds and avocados are generally poly-unsaturated fats and there is some research to suggest that these fats are actually less supportive to metabolic health compared with saturated fats which are found in meat and dairy. Losing your period is commonly a sign of being in a lower metabolic state and so you really want to be eating a metabolism supporting diet to get your period back. I am by no means saying nuts and seeds are unhealthy and that we should avoid them, but when we want to send the body the signal that the famine is over and its safe to rev up the metabolism and reproductive system, we want to make sure we are consuming enough saturated fat.

Adding in more fat from coconut is a good step towards a more metabolically supportive vegan diet but getting more variety of fats and nutrients from animal based sources will take your diet to the next level. Animal fats also contain cholesterol which is another nutrient you want to be consuming when you are trying to get your period back. Often cholesterol is demonised and we are told to avoid high-cholesterol foods if we want to be healthy. But when it comes to hormone balancing and especially recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea when hormone production is lower than it should be, having some cholesterol in your diet can actually be beneficial and speed up the healing process. Cholesterol is a building block for reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone which are necessary for a healthy menstrual cycle and regular period. Cholesterol cannot be synthesised by plants and is only found in animal-based foods such as meat and eggs, therefore consuming even a small amount of these foods on a regular basis can support your hormone healing process.

4. Mental restriction

This is a tricky one because personally, adopting a vegan diet was what finally enabled me to let go of restrictive dieting and allow myself to eat an abundance of food. Because I was no longer focusing on choosing food to maintain a low body weight but rather on sourcing ethical food, it took the focus away from calories and allowed me to eat more. That said, once I finally decided to let go of veganism and re-introduce animal products, whilst still allowing myself to eat the amounts of food my body asked for, I experienced a whole new level of food freedom which I didn’t know I was missing, especially in social situations where I had always felt isolated being the only vegan. I think you have to be very honest with yourself about the reason you want to follow a vegan diet and whether there is a chance that a desire to restrict your food is influencing your decision.

Unfortunately, there are also many rabbit holes to fall down when it comes to the vegan diet which can lead to some pretty extreme dietary restriction: raw vegan, starch solution, high carb low fat, 80 10 10, vegan keto just to name a few! So while it is possible to regain your period on a vegan diet, I’d say that for a full mental recovery following a balanced diet that includes all foods is optimal. Coming back to the idea of safety, you want to create an environment of abundance to really allow your body to relax and heal and this means abundance both in terms of quantity and variety of foods. If you are 100% sure that you are choosing a vegan diet for ethical reasons only, you can support your body better by eating a varied and balanced vegan diet and not being seduced by the health claims of these more restricted diets.

Over to you…

So those are my thoughts on why a vegan diet is not optimal when trying to recover your period. I understand that for some, eating animal products is simply not an option so I hope the few tips for how you can modify your vegan diet to be more hormonally supportive were also helpful. Please like and share this post to support my channel and share with anyone who might benefit from this article.

If you are interested in this topic and would like me to talk more about my experience with getting my period back on a vegan diet or the process of reintroducing animal products back into your diet after long-term veganism, leave me a comment or drop me an email and I will do my best to help! If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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pro-metabolic diet ray peat orange juice

Top foods for increasing your metabolism and restoring hormonal balance

After my last post about when low calorie density diets don’t work, I got a few email questions asking what foods are best for increasing your metabolism. I have to admit, this is something I am still in the process of figuring out as I went way off in the wrong direction during the first years of my recover. This field of pro-metabolic nutrition was NOT something I was taught in my nutrition degree and in fact, often goes against public health advice. I am not saying this is the way that everyone should eat, but myself and many other people have had success with improving metabolism and eradicating some of the signs of a poor functioning thyroid (e.g. insomnia, fatigue, cold hands and feet, dry hair and skin, constipation) by following this somewhat controversial nutrition advice. If you have been struggling with these symptoms and want to try something new then read on.

I first discovered the research of Ray Peat and Broda Barnes whilst trying to recover my period 5 years ago. After many years of restrictive dieting, I definitely was showing signs of a reduced metabolic rate and my main goal was to balance my hormones and get my period back after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. However, at the time I had decided to become vegan for environmental and “health” reasons so much of the dietary advice was so outside of my nutrition paradigm that I discarded it. I did take on some of the principles though which included:

  • Eating more food overall and listening to my true hunger cues
  • Cutting down on intense exercise and only walking and practicing yoga
  • Drinking less water and adding more salt to my diet
  • Including more root vegetables in my diet e.g. potatoes, carrots, parsnips
  • Adding in saturated fat in the form of coconut oil and dark chocolate
  • Consuming natural sugars e.g. ripe fruits and honey

These things definitely helped me to improve my energy levels and some of the symptoms I was experiencing, as well as to recover my period and have a regular menstrual cycle. But in truth, it wasn’t till I added animal products back into my diet that the real healing began. I will write another post at some point on my experience shifting from a vegan diet back to a omnivorous diet and how I dealt with the transition both mentally and physically. For today I will share my current top foods for increasing metabolism and restoring hormones.

1. Fruit

Ripe, sweet fruit is rich in natural sugars which will support a healthy metabolism and energy output. If you have been stuck in the mindset that carbs are bad and will make you fat, think again. Every cell in your body runs on carbs and prefers glucose as an energy source, especially your brain. Yes, we are adaptable beings and we have mechanisms to enable us to convert fat to energy (via ketosis) when carbs are not available. However this is a stressful process for the body and is not sustainable in the long term. The best fruits are the more dense, sweet fruits such as banana, mango, pineapple, dried fruits, figs, papaya etc.

2. Orange juice

I know oranges are a fruit but OJ is so amazing that it deserves it’s own category. I made a post on Instagram the other day about how OJ is life and it is so true! Drinking a glass of freshly squeezed OJ is like pouring life directly into your body, it makes you happy and floods your body with energy. As you are trying to improve your metabolism, replacing your water intake with juice or other metabolism supporting fluids is a great technique. If you are really struggling, adding a pinch of salt to your juice is even better and though it might sound counter-intuitive it will help with hydration as it helps you to better absorb the liquids rather than having them pass straight through you.

3. Cheese

OK so here we go with the non-vegan foods. I used to be so afraid of cheese. I thought it would mess up my hormones, give me acne and digestive upsets, not to mention it’s high environmental impact. Now I take a more pragmatic view. Cheese is a nutritionally dense food which provides high quality minerals and proteins and is extremely supportive for metabolic health. I’m not saying to go and eat a block of cheese every day but including a small amount of cheese as part of a balanced diet is a very healthy thing. Try to source organic cheese if possible with little additives. Cheese with fruit or OJ is a perfect, pro-metabolic snack and melted cheese on toast is the perfect warming meal.

4. Coconut oil

The keto community got one thing right and that is that the medium-chain triglycerides (MCT oils) in coconut oil are great for supporting the metabolism and providing your body with easily accessible fuel. Even the bulletproof coffee as a concept is not bad, although I would argue that in order to prevent a stress response from your body, a big spoon of honey or a splash of milk is needed and it’s always better to consume coffee with food rather than on an empty stomach. Coconut oil is a great option for cooking, it has a strong taste but goes well in asian style dishes like curries and stir fries or my personal favourite coconut oil roasted sweet potatoes – yum!

5. Root vegetables

Potatoes and starchy vegetables such as parsnips, beetroot and carrots are a great option to provide carbohydrate fuel for your body. The pro-metabolic community advise against grains and I am still on the fence with this one as personally, I had a lot of success with keeping oats and bread in my diet. Nonetheless, potatoes and sweet potatoes are perfect metabolism boosting foods and very versatile. For the best results try baking to bring out the natural sweetness and adding salt to taste. If you struggle with feeling cold, try eating a bowl of salty mashed or potatoes or home-fries and notice the warmth spreading to your fingers and toes.

6. Liver

Yes I said liver.. this is definitely not a food for every day but it really is a “super food” and eating liver either with onions or as pate once every 10-14 days will do wonders for your overall and metabolic health. I know it’s extreme to go from eating a vegan diet to including organ meats but it is something that our ancestors have eaten for many years, knowing about the health benefits and I personally think it is better than eating chicken breast on the daily or only eating prime muscle meats. Liver contains the highest and most absorbable amount of iron, vitamin A and B12 as well as many other vitamins and minerals. Since eating liver regularly my eyesight has improved to the point that I no longer wear glasses to watch TV or use the computer.

7. Chocolate

Eating chocolate or cacao is great for improving the metabolism and something I craved daily when healing from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Chocolate is a dense source of calories which is exactly what your body needs to dig it’s way out of a metabolic hole. I personally prefer dark chocolate but actually chocolate with milk and sugar (or smoothies made with cacao, ripe bananas, milk and honey) is optimal for boosting your metabolism. Chocolate contains some caffeine and theobromine which give you a natural energy and mood boost. Eating chocolate mindfully and truly savouring every bite is a way to send your body that signal that it is safe and the “famine” is over which is necessary to move out of the stress response and into a relaxed, high metabolic state.

8. Eggs

These were one of the first animal proteins I added back into my diet as I think many ex-vegans do. Of all of the animal products, it was actually boiled eggs with a runny yolk that I started to crave. Eggs are another great source of vitamin A and a complete protein so they are great to include as part of a vegetarian meal or snack. If you are trying to heal your hormones after restrictive dieting, you need cholesterol as it is a building block for your reproductive hormones and including eggs in your diet is actually a very healthy thing. Eggs may not be the best protein for improving metabolism (some red meat is most likely better) but for restoring hormone health or recovering your menstrual cycle, eggs are a great food to include.

9. Ice cream

My current favourite! I am in a phase of eating ice cream a few times a week because here in Greece there are so many amazing quality ice cream shops and with the hot weather it is the perfect snack. Unfortunately many of the ice creams in the supermarkets these days are heavily processed with additives and fillers which are not designed to be consumed by humans and are not healthy for us. However, ice cream in its natural form with simple ingredients (mainly milk, sugar, cream, eggs) is actually a great pro-metabolic food and a delicious way to boost your calories without feeling bloated or over-stuffed which is often one of the main hurdles for women trying to recover and raise their metabolic rate. A small bowl of ice cream is a great after dinner dessert or bedtime snack to keep your blood sugar up during the night and avoid those 2-4am wake ups that can occur with a low metabolism.

10. Honey/molasses

Both excellent sources of carbohydrates with the added benefits of nutrients and anti-oxidants. The pro-metabolic community often recommend eating white sugar as a way to boost the metabolism and although I am not against including sugar in the diet (I don’t think that any food should be completely restricted), I don’t consider it a health food and prefer natural sweeteners such as honey to use on a daily basis e.g. adding to tea, coffee or smoothies. Molasses has the added benefits of a great mineral profile, providing iron and calcium in particular. Drinking 1-2tbsp of molasses in hot water with lemon was a strategy that helped me to boost my iron levels and recover from iron deficiency.

As well as these top foods for boosting your metabolism, some foods to reduce during the initial phases of metabolic recovery include:

  • Raw vegetables and large salads
  • Low sugar fruits (unless consumed along with other higher calorie fruits or foods)
  • Cruciferous vegetables e.g. broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower
  • Vegetable oils e.g. sunflower, rapeseed, sesame oil
  • Nuts and seeds (including tahini and nut butters)

I am not saying these foods are unhealthy, far from it. But if your goal is to boost your metabolism, repair your hormones or get your period back, then these foods won’t be the most supportive to your goals and consuming them in large quantities will only prolong your recovery process. Once things are more balanced you can of course add them back into your diet in balance with some of the more pro-metabolic foods. As you become more acquainted with your body and the signs of a strong healthy metabolism (e.g. warm hands and feet, good energy, regular menstrual cycle), you will be able to adjust your diet as you go to keep you feeling your best.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed these tips on how to increase your metabolism and balance your hormones. Let me know in the comments below if you have already discovered the work of Ray Peat and other researchers in this field and what you think of this pro-metabolic way of eating. I have to say, for me it has done nothing but good although everyone will have their own unique experience.

If you found this article interesting, like the post and follow along with my blog for more real health and nutrition advice. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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When low calorie density diets don’t work

Back in January I shared a post about how eating more lower calorie density foods can help you to lose weight. In many cases this can be a very useful strategy as consuming more low calorie high volume plant-based foods can be an easy way to reduce your calorie intake and lose weight without feeling deprived. However, as always, health advice is very individual and what works for one person’s goals will not necessarily work for another. Today I want to share my perspective on when a low calorie density diet is not appropriate and may actually be the cause of unexplained health problems. If you have been following a low calorie density diet and are not feeling your best then keep reading!

Something I have learned over the last 5 years is just how important metabolic rate is for our overall health and sense of wellbeing. Think of your metabolism as being the furnace that keeps you going and fuels all of your bodies functions. If that furnace is burning low you are going to feel that through low energy and fatigue and may experience other signs of a low metabolic rate such as low body temperature, constipation, insomnia, dry skin and hair and hormonal issues. On the other hand, when the furnace is running hot you are more likely to have good energy levels and digestion, sleep soundly and have well functioning hormones and healthy skin, hair and nails.

Metabolic rate is also important in maintaining a healthy body weight as a low metabolic rate means we are using energy more efficiently and are more likely to store calories as body fat than “waste” them on other bodily functions and generating excess heat. We are often told that if we are overweight we need to eat less and exercise more and in some cases this is true, as the society we live in pushes us towards more sedentary lives and over eating on processed foods. Although sometimes the problem is not a lack of exercise or eating too many calories but an issue of low metabolic rate. If you are exercising a few times a week and eating 1200, 1400 or even 1600 calories a day and still not losing weight then potentially it’s not forcing yourself to eat less and move more you need to focus on but rather healing and supporting your metabolism.

The problem with a low calorie density diet is that you can be unintentionally (or intentionally) providing your body with less calories than it needs over a long period of time and triggering your body to reduce your metabolic rate. This is the same thing as entering “starvation mode” which is not an urban myth but actually a very real phenomenon. Eating a diet made up of predominently water and fibre rich fruits, vegetables, legumes and starches may seem like a healthy way to eat but if you are not consuming enough energy to support a healthy metabolic rate you are unlikely to feel well. Because of the high volume of these foods, it is very easy to under eat whilst truly honouring your hunger and fullness signals and feeling like you are eating a lot of food. Trust me I have been there! And the worst thing is, I didn’t realise that it was my healthy diet making me feel that way.

Left… stuck in a low metabolic state, confused and exhausted
Right… on the road to recovery, feeling more energised and happy

There is nothing wrong with eating these kinds of foods, but also adding in high calorie density, metabolism supporting foods to your diet and eating enough calories can go a long way in resolving systemic health issues. I have been following the work of researchers such as Broda Barnes and Ray Peat who really focused in on the symptoms of a slow metabolism and how rehabilitative nutrition can help to restore metabolic health and create robust, healthy individuals. For a long time I thought that eating the healthiest diet possible and avoiding certain unhealthy foods was the way to restore balance and create a healing environment in the body, but over the years I have come to realise that if there is not enough energy available, the body simply cannot heal.

A couple of quick ways you can check your metabolic rate at home:

  • Check your armpit temperature first thing in the morning. Do this every day for a week (preferably the week after your period for women) and if it is consistently below 36.6°C (97.8°F) you may be experiencing a lower metabolic state
  • Check your resting pulse rate. If it is consistently below 70BPM, it’s a sign your metabolism may not be functioning optimally. Even though we are told that a low pulse rate is healthy and a sign of fitness, this is not always the case.

If both of the above tests show a lowered metabolic rate and especially if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a low metabolic rate described above, then a low calorie density diet is unlikely to be appropriate and maybe it’s time to reconsider and try something new. If you are following this approach, loving it and feeling energetic and healthy then keep doing what your doing. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works for you and remember, be healthy to live, don’t live to be healthy!

Over to you…

If you found this post interesting, like and follow along with my blog for more real health and nutrition adive. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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