Why (and how) women should approach health and fitness differently to men

Ladies, ever wondered why it seems so much easier for your boyfriend or husband to stick to a diet or fitness plan and get results? Why some weeks you are full of energy and others you hardly want to drag yourself out of bed? How you can go 2 weeks eating healthily then all of sudden all you want is chocolate and ice cream? If you’ve found yourself questioning whether you just have less motivation or your body just doesn’t function as well then you’re not alone. The answer is simple and something that we live every single day, often without even being aware of it. Can you guess?

IT’S

OUR

MENSTRUAL

CYCLE!

As women we are simply not the same from week to week. Our hormone levels are continuously shifting which has a huge impact on our energy levels, mood, cravings, sleep and so much more. This can make it hard for us to stick to a routine and often feel like a failure for being inconsistent. We can think of men as being like the sun and women more like the moon. The sun shines consistently day by day, sometimes there might be some clouds in the sky or even a huge storm that affects how brightly we see its rays but behind all of that it keeps on shining just the same. The moon however moves through it’s lunar cycle from the new or dark moon where the sky appears empty to the full moon where it shines big and bright.

The lunar cycle is such a good metaphor for our menstrual cycle. The new moon represents menstruation, the time of the month when we are much less energetic and physically need to rest. The full moon represents ovulation when our energy levels are at their peak and we are overflowing with creativity and physical energy. Don’t get me wrong though, just because the moon appears dark at the new moon, it doesn’t mean there is no light, the light is just on the other side so we don’t see it. This is the time when lots of inner work is being carried out including physical and mental healing and the seeds of inspiration for creative projects are being birthed.

Because for men, the hormonal shifts are much more subtle and occur mostly on a 24hr basis, they can more easily stick to a daily routine that works for them week in week out whereas us women have both our daily and monthly rhythms to take into account. Our bodies are also more sensitive to stress from working out or not eating enough food as they are constantly trying to maintain hormonal balance and fertility. We can choose to see this as a weakness or we can see it as a super power that we can work with. There are times of the month when our strength and stamina can feel unlimited and we can surprise ourselves with what we can achieve and there are other times when we can push ourselves through a grueling workout and actually cause ourselves more harm than good because our bodies have to rely on stress hormones and adrenal reserves to make it through.

Of course we all know this on some level but we often think of it as something we have to work against rather than work with. Often we feel like we are “normal” for a couple of weeks and then BAM our hormones come along to ruin everything and we fall off the wagon. But what if we became more aware of how our bodies change throughout the month and actually build this into our health and fitness plan? What a game changer that would be! No more beating yourself up because you got so hungry before your period that you ate a large bar of chocolate every day. No more dragging yourself through intense workouts on your bleeding says when your body is crying out for rest. Instead using self-awareness and self-compassion to create a health plan that truly works for you.

What could this cyclical approach to health and fitness look like? When it comes to nutrition, this would be truly trusting your body and allowing yourself to eat intuitively. This doesn’t mean allowing yourself to eat a large bar of chocolate every day because, “PMS”, but it does mean loosening up on the diet rules, understanding why those cravings might be there and making sure that you are well fed and nourished during the day. The quantities and types of foods you crave will likely change throughout your cycle and this is ok, in fact it is essential. Your metabolic rate and nutrient requirements shift with your hormones and so the foods that will support your body also change week to week. The simple overall guideline for a healthy diet of eating mostly whole, unprocessed foods applies throughout the cycle but the amount of energy, macro-nutrients and the ratio of raw vs. cooked foods can definitely change. It’s much better to tune into your body to find what works for you, but if you’re struggling with getting started I did write a series of posts on how to eat for each of the phases of your menstrual cycle.

With fitness and exercise, again it is very individual. Some women need to fully rest during their period otherwise they will feel like they are dragging throughout the month ahead. Others, me included, need a bit of easy movement to help manage painful cramps. I’m sure there are some women who can exercise intensely during their period without any issues but I think this is the exception rather than the rule. If you do workout during your period, ask yourself whether you are doing it because you feel like you should or whether it is what your body is genuinely asking for. In general, during your period and the few days before it’s a good idea to at least slow down, decrease the intensity of your workouts and create space for some more restorative activities like yoga, stretching and gentle walking to help your body recover and restore energy.

On the other hand, the rising energy and stamina in the couple of weeks after your period (the follicular and ovulatory phases) are a great time to really get out there and move your body. This is a good time for more intense cardio workouts as you can get all of the benefits of getting your heart rate up and sweating without feeling totally drained. Movement can also be a great way to boost your mood and reduce PMS symptoms as you approach your period, but our energy levels tend to start to drop off towards the end of the pre-menstrual phase so it’s good to be aware of this and be prepared to take it easier without feeling guilty for not performing at your best. In general it’s about understanding and accepting that as women we are not the same everyday and we can’t expect ourselves to show up, robot-like, in the same way every day. That is a recipe for disappointment, hormonal imbalance and burn out as I’ve learned the hard way!

Over to you

I hope you found this post interesting and it gives you a new perspective and understanding of why a traditional approach to health and fitness might not work perfectly for you as a woman. If you have any questions or want to share your experiences, let me know in the comments below! If you’re interested in health and wellness for women, follow along with my blog and please share with anyone else who might be interested. I’ll be making a post soon on my top book recommendations for learning more about synching with your menstrual cycle so watch out for that too.

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how to have a healthy christmas - move your body

Staying healthy during the holidays / How to have a healthy Christmas

I want to start by saying this won’t be the typical health blog about how to restrict yourself and avoid temptation at Christmas. If you have been reading my posts for a while you will know I am all about seeing the big picture of health, listening to your body and building sustainable habits rather than extreme dieting and intense workout regimens! Nonetheless this is a post about how to stay healthy during the holidays and these are my top tips for how to have a healthy Christmas.

Relax and surrender

Whatever you do, now is not the time to be stressed about not meeting your health goals. If you are trying to lose weight or improve your fitness and you feel like the holidays are getting in the way, try not to stress as it will only slow down your progress. If you want to have a healthy Christmas, I suggest you focus on allowing your body and mind to truly relax. If you have time off work, use the time to have fun and do things that you enjoy. I know it’s tricky this year with not being able to see friends and family but there are lot’s of things you can do at home like watching cosy movies, starting creative projects or playing games with people you live with. Try to take your mind out of the information overload that is the internet and be present and mindful throughout your day. Let your thoughts slow down, your breathing become deep and the tension in your body melt away. A couple of weeks of true relaxation will help your body to recharge, your metabolism to restore itself and be ready to hit your health and fitness goals in the new year.

Enjoy your treats

Like I said, Christmas is really not the time to deprive yourself and stick 100% to your diet. Who wants to spend the holidays constantly restraining themselves and avoiding temptation? Who wants to be counting the calories in Grandma’s Christmas dinner or saying no to their piece of the Christmas pudding? Dietary restraint has been shown to lead to over eating later on so it is much better to have a yummy treat here and there and truly enjoy it. The days are short and the weather is cold and there’s nothing like a comforting hot chocolate and Christmas cookies to make you feel warm inside. BUT if you want to stay healthy during the holidays, I’d say really be mindful about the treats you are eating and go for quality over quantity. That doesn’t mean spending a fortune on expensive chocolates, but it is more about choosing treats which are made with real ingredients rather than cheap, mass produced boxes of biscuits that don’t even taste that great. Choose things that you genuinely enjoy and savour them when you eat them. And brownie points if you can make them your self!

Keep moving

This one is especially important this year as most of us are stuck inside unable to go out and socialise or travel. We are spending more and more time in front of our screens and this sedentary lifestyle is not the best from our health. If you want to stay healthy over Christmas, try to incorporate a bit of movement every day. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme but 60 minutes of low intensity exercise like walking or yoga or 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise like jogging, cycling or body weight exercises will help to keep your body mobile, release mood boosting hormones and help to keep your blood sugar stable. Establishing a good routine with moving your body now means you will have a solid fitness foundation to build on in the new year if that is your goal. Outdoor sports are the one thing we are allowed to do right now so take advantage of the opportunity to go on winter walks with people you live with or maybe try out an online fitness class if that’s not your cup of tea. Find a way to move your body that you genuinely enjoy and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy Christmas.

Enjoy seasonal fruits and veggies

Even those there are lots of produce that isn’t available over the winter, especially if you live in a colder climates like the UK where I am from, there are still plenty of seasonal fruits and veggies to enjoy over Christmas and into the New Year! Here in Greece we have lots of citrus fruits and pomegranates right now and in the market there are plenty of root veggies and dark leafy greens. Two things I haven’t seen yet which I’ll miss this year are brussels sprouts and parsnips! Wherever you live, Christmas is a great time to lookout for local and seasonal produce and experiment with new recipes like Deliciously Ella’s maple roasted sprouts or BBC good food clementine winter leaf salad. When we eat intuitively, we naturally crave fresh and earthy tastes to balance out the holiday treats so go for it and eat your 5 a day to stay healthy during the holidays.

Stay connected

Even though we might be stuck at home and not able to be out and about as usual this year, it’s so important to stay connected as best as you can. Whether that is through phone calls or video chat with friends and family, joining online groups and virtual meet ups or even by sending Christmas cards. It’s a tough time for many people, especially when we are forced to be alone and it’s so easy to isolate ourselves when we are struggling and feeling down. So don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones to get support and to talk about how you are really feeling over Christmas. Staying connected is such an important part of staying healthy during the holidays so see if you can make it a priority to connect with others in whatever way feels best for you. Personally I am sad to not be able to make it home for Christmas for the first time in my life but we will be having our Christmas dinner tradition via Skype!

Over to you…

I hope this post helps you to have a healthy Christmas and enter the New Year feeling happy and refreshed. Let me know in the comments below if you have other top tips for staying healthy over the holidays!

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