Diet dogma, food and morality

This is a tricky subject but something that has been on my mind lately. As someone who has been in the health and wellness field for several years, I have seen this reoccurring pattern of almost a cult-like mentality around various diets. As a former vegan I have certainly fallen for this idea that there is “one diet to rule them all” and experienced this almost religious dedication to my diet dogma of choice. But this doesn’t only happen with veganism, I’ve also seen the same aggressive preaching, tunnel vision and exclusionary mentality amongst followers of the paleo, raw food, keto and carnivore diets as well as those who believe that gluten, dairy or sugar are the devil.

Why do we do this? Why does following particular way of eating give us this feeling of safety and superiority? Why do we cling onto the idea that a particular diet will save us, take away all of our suffering and lead us to an infinite nirvana of perfect health? I think advertising definitely plays a role as health, youth and beauty have become aspirational products that can be marketed and sold. This used to be a tactic adopted by food manufacturers to sell us products like diet coke and special k but now with social media, anyone can become a diet “guru” and make millions selling the new version of sermons and religious texts (aka recipe e-books and courses), sometimes without any qualifications to back up their claims, other than personal experience.

When we are struggling, either with a chronic health condition or with the belief that we aren’t good enough as we are and need to somehow improve ourselves, we become the perfect customer. These gurus become our idols and we are vulnerable to believing everything that we see and trusting what we are told. We see people sharing about how cutting out all carbs or adopting a raw vegan diet cured them of every symptom and disease and improved their life in every way and of course, we want a piece of that! But we always have to remember that we don’t see everything about people’s lives and especially when someone has a product to sell, they have an investment in promoting perfection and sweeping any issues under the rug.

We all know in theory that social media is a highlight reel and that people tend to share what is going well or their success stories in overcoming their problems, myself included! I’ve often shared stories of my past struggles and how I have managed to balance my hormones and fix my relationship to food and my body. I try to be transparent and also share the process when I am in the messy place of trying to figure something out but of course I don’t write about every single thing going on in my life. Partly because I don’t want to bore people but mostly because when you’re in the eye of the storm, you don’t have the clarity and understanding that comes with hindsight and enables you to write about your struggles. So I don’t believe that anyone does it on purpose but we all tend to show more of the positive and less of the negative aspects of ourselves. It’s human nature to want to show our best side but our shadows and struggles are what make us human.

There has been a trend over the last couple of years on social media, with vegan influencers coming out and sharing “why I’m no longer vegan” stories. Often these are people who spent years declaring to the world how good they felt, how energetic they were and how amazing their hair and skin had become on this diet, only to admit a few months later that they were struggling all along and didn’t feel able to talk about it because they felt trapped by the web they had weaved around themselves. Their online identity and professional reputation had become so tied up in their diet dogma that they found it so hard to change their diet for their health, never mind tell their audience that they were doing so. And the ones that did share this experience received so much backlash and abuse from the community for being selfish or hypocritical.

This public shaming behaviour was so shocking to me and made me realise just how far this moralising of food and diet <cult>ure has become. Food is no longer just fuel and nourishment for the body and soul but it is now a way for people to express their status as a good citizen. Yes it’s great that we are now becoming more aware of the ethical issues surrounding our food system, especially now the size of the global population is leaving our planet straining at the seams. Making more ethical choices is is a good thing and something I am totally on board with and often talk about on this blog. It’s amazing that companies are now looking at their supply chains, consumers are seeking out more sustainable, fair trade products and we want to see this trend continue. However, this is work in progress and all we can do is make the best choices where possible to meet our conflicting objectives.

A healthy diet isn’t always sustainable or ethical and a sustainable diet isn’t always healthy. And no food or diet is perfect. You eat meat and dairy and contribute to climate change and potentially animal cruelty and pollution. So you cut out animal products and instead end up eating vegan products that are shipped from all over the world, produced on farms that cause large scale eco system damage or exploit bonded labourers in developing countries. You try to eat all organic, local, plant-based food and end up with a myriad of health issues due to your overly restrictive diet. We all have a responsibility to make better choices where we can, even though with the way the food system operates right now some of this is out of our hands. But we certainly shouldn’t feel guilt or shame for our food choices when they are not perfect, or shame others who do not have access to or cannot afford to make these better choices, because let’s be honest, choosing high-quality, organic, local produce is often a privilege rather than the easy option.

Moving away from ethics and towards health and wellness, when it comes to the macro-nutrient wars of the HCLF (high carb low fat) vs. the LCFH (low carb high fat) communities, it just gets silly. Each camp has their own key pieces of research that they cite and doctors that they follow who claim that this way of eating is the perfect human diet. Each has their armies of followers with stories of healing and longevity who battle against each other in pointless debates and who circle in their own communities, brainwashing themselves and proving each other right. In reality how can we possibly know what the perfect human diet is? Humans developed all over the planet and survived on so many different diets: hunter gatherers, agricultural communities and now industrial societies like the ones most of us live in today. There is so much conflicting research out there that it’s possible to find evidence to back up almost any claim.

There is so much variety in our genetics, environment and physical health status that there’s no way there is one truth when it comes to food and diet. Plus, health is about so much more than what we eat. When we look at the blue zones (the places with the highest number of centenarians), they don’t all follow the same diet but one thing they have in common is their sense of community, slow pace of life and connection with the natural world. I think there comes a point when you have to accept that perfecting your diet can only get you so far and the simple act of trying can be a stress on the body that causes health issues to continue. It’s much better to eat food that makes you feel strong and energetic, keeps your metabolism functioning at it’s best but also brings you joy and connection with the community you live in than keeping yourself in an isolated bubble, trying to consume the optimal diet for humans.

I am saying this as much for my past self as I am for all of you out there. I have been through phases where I was so desperate to heal my body that I put all of my energy into eating what I believed was the best diet for my body as well as the planet and it only made things worse. Letting go of the diet dogma was what finally helped me to heal. Now I definitely make the effort to make ethical and healthy food choices. I buy from local markets when I can, experiment with growing my own food, eat lots of plant-based meals and choose organic, fair trade products where its available and affordable. But I’m refuse to obsess over it or feel anxious when I can’t make the ideal choice. I eat plenty of things that aren’t sustainable or health promoting just because they taste good. I also now eat animal products again as for me, veganism didn’t work out and I experienced health issues despite being very careful with my diet and supplementation (I’m sorry to any vegans reading this but this was my experience).

I would never recommend to a client that they should eat a certain way and exclude particular food groups or foods, unless they have their own ethical or medical reasons to do so. I am a strong believer in paying attention to your bodies’ response to certain foods and choosing a diet based on what makes you feel your best. One of the best ways to do this in my experience in using a food diary, not to restrict your intake but to record how you really feel, physically and mentally, after eating certain foods or meals. This way you are totally in control and rather than relying on external information, you can listen and respond to your own bodies’ signals which is what we are designed to do. And even when you do find something that works, remember that this can change! Our bodies are never stagnant, we are constantly aging and adapting to the changing seasons and environment so we can’t expect that what works for us today will work 10 or 20 years down the line.

Over to you

Anyway, that’s enough of me ranting for one day! 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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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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Real health #26 Calorie density of foods and weight loss

It’s been a while since we focused on nutrition in this series! And that’s for a reason, health is about so much more than what you eat. And it’s pretty easy to search for healthy foods to eat these days but if it were so simple, why isn’t everyone eating a healthy balanced diet? Why are so many people struggling to maintain a healthy body that they feel good in? As a public health nutritionist, I am always on the lookout for new patterns in the world of health and nutrition and the “low calorie density” trend is another one that seems to be gaining popularity this year. But what exactly is calorie density and how can the calorie density of foods affect your weight loss attempts?

Calorie density is the amount of energy (calories) per unit of a food. This can be based on volume e.g. calories per cup or on weight e.g. calories per lb. The idea of a low calorie density diet for weight loss has been made famous by the book The Starch Solution by Dr John MacDougall and his suggestion is to consume low calorie desnity foods that have less than 700 calories per lb (around 154 calories per 100g) in order to lose weight easily and effortlessly without counting calories. Sound interesting? Wondering how this works?

I will start by saying that all foods are made up of macronutrients which have a different amount of energy per 100g:

Carbohydrates – starches and sugars (400 calories per 100g)
Proteins (400 calories per 100g)
Fat (900 calories per 100g)

Don’t worry! I know it looks like NO foods are under 154 calories per 100g but this is because there are two other components in foods that we need to take into account that don’t have any calories: water and fibre (actually fibre does have calories but we can’t absorb them so they pass through our bodies). Low calorie density foods such as fruits, vegetables, starches and legumes have more fibre and water which fill you up without providing calories. High calorie density foods usually have more fat or sugar and less water and fibre.

The premise is that the calorie density of foods affect how filling a meal is. To understand this we can look at a couple of examples. Firstly take a bar of chocolate that has around 200 calories. Chocolate is a high calorie density food which provides a lot of energy in a very small package. On the other hand, a huge salad with low calorie density vegetables such as lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and cucumber, could also provide 200 calories. Which is likely to be more filling? Probably the salad! But does this mean we should fill up on low calorie density foods and only eat salads and veggies to lose weight?

No, it’s a bit more complicated than that because in order to feel fully satiated by our meals we need to have two elements:

  1. Enough volume to stretch our stomach and we have eaten enough food (fullness)
  2. Enough calories and/or fat to release fullness hormones and signal to our brains to stop eating (satisfaction)

Going back to the example above, if you eat the huge salad you will likely feel full but not necessarily satisfied. I mean who wants to just eat watery raw salad for a meal?! That’s not very sustainable long term and is only going to lead you to overeat and binge once your body has had enough. On the other hand, if you go for the bar of chocolate, you might be satisfied but you are unlikely to feel full as it is so tiny. We need to create meals which provide both fullness and satisfaction so that we are truly satiated by our meals and not left dreaming about when we get to eat next.

One of the easiest ways to do this is by including a combination of food groups to provide a moderate calorie density at every meal. Low calorie density fruits and vegetables provide BULK, starches such as potatoes, beans and grains provide ENERGY to make you thrive and high calorie density fats and proteins such as nuts, seeds and dairy provide SATISFACTION and make your meals taste better. If you include all of these elements in the right proportions, you will be able to eat to complete satiation and not worry about counting calories ever again. Finding the combination of these food groups to meet your specific goals is what I help my health coaching clients do! The table below shows the approximate calorie density of typical foods.

FoodCalories per lbCalories per 100g
Vegetables60 – 19513 – 42
Fruit140 – 42031 – 93
Potatoes, Pasta, Rice, Barley, Yams, Corn, Hot Cereals320 – 63070 – 138
Non-fat dairy (milk, yoghurt)180 – 450 40 – 99
Beans, Peas, Lentils (cooked)310 – 78068 – 171
Seafood, lean poultry, lean red meat400 – 87088 – 191
Breads, Bagels, Fat-free Muffins, Dried Fruit920 – 1,360202 – 299
Sugars (i.e. sugar, honey, molasses, agave, corn syrup)1,200 – 1,800264 – 395
Dry Cereals, Baked Chips, Fat-free Crackers, Pretzels, Popcorn1,480 – 1,760325 – 387
Nuts and seeds2,400 –  3,200527 – 703
Oils4,000879

As a start, you can start to focus your diet on the first 5-6 rows of the table and especially include more fruits. vegetables and starches. So many people worry that “carbs make you fat” and are afraid to eat rice and potatoes but in reality these foods are very filling and satisfying and will give you the energy to live an active, healthy life! I want to keep it simple and not put too much attention on micro-nutrients in this article but you will notice that the foods towards the top of the table tend to be mostly whole foods which also provide a lot of vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy. Eating plenty of these foods will help to you stay well and also to maintain your ideal body weight.

I’m not one for extremes and I definitely don’t think you should never include higher calorie density foods or more processed foods such as bread, pasta and sweets. I think they do have a place in a balanced healthy diet and it’s good for your mental health to eat fun foods and enjoy eating with friends and family. I’m all about focusing on what you do most of the time and including more low calorie density foods in your diet is definitely a great step towards improving your overall health and losing weight if that’s your goal.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on how the calorie density of foods affects weight loss and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts or experiences if you have experimented with a low calorie density diet.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again!

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Real health #19 Common nutrient deficiencies and the benefits of eating MORE FOOD

As usual, I want to go against the typical health and fitness industry advice and this time talk about the benefits of eating more food. We are so often told we need to eat less if we want to be fit and healthy but is this really the case? In my opinion, this obsession with eating as little as possible is harmful for your body and your mind. We need to eat plenty of food to survive and thrive as as a fully functioning human being! Even if you are trying to lose weight, it is still important to nourish your body and give it the energy it needs. Maybe I sound like a broken record but I will keep shouting this message as I know it can benefit a lot of you out there. If you have been on the yo-yo dieting rollercoaster, bouncing between restricting your diet to lose weight and overeating on unhealthy foods, then keep reading as I am talking to you!

Now for the science part, if you hate numbers then feel free to skip to the next part. But if you’re a number geek like me, stick with it. I want to explain a bit about energy balance and caloric flux. If you are maintaining your weight on 2000 calories a day, you are taking in 2000 calories in food and burning 2000 calories through your metabolic processes and physical activities. This is known as your caloric flux (see the work of Ari Whitten if you want to learn more about this). If you want to lose weight you need to create an energy deficit by eating less than you burn. If you burn 1800 calories and eat 1500 calories, that’s a 300 calorie deficit. If you burn 2500 calories and eat 2200 calories, that’s still the same 300 calorie deficit but at a higher caloric flux. Make sense?

Whether you are trying to maintain your weight or lose weight, in my opinion you will feel better if you do it at at a higher caloric flux. Naturally, the amount of calories we burn will depend on factors such as our age, height, gender but there are ways to increase your caloric flux. You can do that either by boosting your metabolic rate or by increasing your activity, not through intense exercise but by moving more often throughout the day. Also just by eating more food you will increase the amount of energy you burn as your body actually uses energy to digest food and assimilate nutrients.

In general, eating more and not worrying about eating too much will reduce your stress levels and help you to feel healthier and happier overall. I’m not talking about aiming for 10,000 calories a day here, but more about getting yourself out of a metabolic hole and maintaining or losing weight on a reasonable, sustainable amount of food for your body where you don’t feel deprived or like you have to constantly restrain yourself in order to maintain a healthy weight.

Caloric intake and nutrients

The main benefit of increasing your food intake is that more calories = more nutrients. This is assuming you are eating mostly nutritious foods of course! Many of us, especially women, have dieted their way down to maintaining their weight on 1800, 1500 or even 1200 calories. Eating so little makes it harder to get in the nutrients you need unless you are very careful about the foods that you eat which doesn’t leave much wriggle room for less nutrient-dense fun foods. The less you eat, the more important nutrient density becomes.

Every food contains macro-nutrients (carbs, fats, proteins) and micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) in varying amounts and our bodies need these nutrients to keep us healthy and our metabolic, digestive, immune and reproductive systems working as they should. Macro-nutrients give us energy to fuel our bodies, amino acids for repair and growth and fats to keep our hormones balanced and to help us absorb the micro-nutrients in the food that we eat. Not taking in enough macro-nutrients can lead to a slowing down of your metabolic rate as your body becomes more efficient at using the energy it is provided with.

Micro-nutrients are essential meaning that we have to take them in through food as our bodies can’t produce them by themselves. What happens when you don’t get the micro-nutrients you need? Nutrient deficiencies can develop over time leading to all sorts of problems from feeling fatigued and run-down to dry skin and slow growing hair and nails. Below I’ve listed some of the most common nutrient that we lack in our diets, some of the signs to watch out for and foods to eat to prevent and overcome deficiencies. This is based on advice from the NHS and British Dietetic Association but you can look up your own government advice if you live outside of the UK.

NutrientSigns of defiencyFoods to eat
Iron– Tiredness and/or insomnia
– Hair loss and pale skin
– Shortness of breath
Kidney beans, black beans, red meat, liver, blackstrap molasses, dried fruits
Calcium– Weak bones and teeth
– Dry skin and hair
– Twitching or muscle cramps
Dairy (milk, cheese, yoghurt) or fortified dairy alternatives, sesame seeds (tahini), oily fish
Vitamin D– Weak bones and teeth
– Low immune system
Dairy or fortified dairy alternatives, egg yolks, oily fish, red meat, fortified cereals
Folate– Tiredness or lack of energy
– Muscle weakness
Leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards), broccoli, brussels sprouts, chickpeas, kidney beans
Iodine– Tiredness or lack of energy
– Muscle weakness
– Hypothyroidism
Dairy, most types of seafood and fish, sea vegetables, nori, iodized salt
Magnesium– Muscle cramps
– Constipation
– Insomnia and fatigue
Whole grains, nuts, leafy greens, dark chocolate or cacao, black beans, avocado
Omega-3 fatty acids– Poor memory and depression
– Slow growth of skin, hair, nails
Oily fish, hemp seeds, flax seeds or flax seed oil, eggs, chia seeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds

A lot of these symptoms are pretty vague and can creep up over time so you might not even realise until something extreme happens to catch your attention like a broken tooth or patches of hair falling out. Prevention is always better than cure! If you are reading the list and feel like you have multiple of the symptoms mentioned, you can always contact your doctor to get your nutrient levels checked if you are unsure. Depending on the severity of the deficiency, you might need supplements to help boost your levels alongside eating the foods listed above.

How to eat more food and maintain your weight

So how do you go about eating more food and getting in the nutrients you need? You can either go “all in” and ramp up your calories suddenly or you can take a more gentle reverse dieting approach by gradually increasing the amount you eat each week until you reach a sustainable amount for your body. If you aren’t exercising at all, start to gradually increase the amount you move your body. Try going for a walk every day and build it up from there. Even day to day tasks like laundry and washing the dishes help to get in that body movement which will increase the amount of calories you burn so that you can eat more food and maintain your weight. No need to obsess over it or track anything, just try to become more aware of how often you move your body throughout the day.

Reverse dieting can help to minimise weight gain as your body has more time to adjust your metabolic rate to the increased calories but it takes longer and it relies on you tracking your food or eating similar meals day to day. If you are afraid of weight gain, know that you probably won’t gain as much weight as you think you will. Especially if you eat more of the nutrient dense foods listed above, you will likely feel better and your body will thank you for it. And if and when you decide you want to lose weight, you will be at a much healthier starting point which will make the process a whole lot easier! If you are interested about learning more about what to eat or how to reverse diet, let me know in the comments below and I can write a future post on that topic.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January blog series, like this post and follow my blog for daily updates. And please share with anyone you think might be interested!
  • 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.

Other posts you might like

Follicular phase recipes: Berry smoothie bowl

I know it’s so stereotypical for a health blogger to share a smoothie bowl recipe. At this moment there are over 2 million posts on Instagram with the hashtag #smoothiebowl. But hey.. they taste good and they can be a great healthy breakfast so why not! This recipe is great for the follicular phase (i.e. the week or so after your period) as it is light and hydrating and supports your natural fresh and vibrant energy during this time. It’s more of a summer recipe, especially if you live in a cold climate, but here in Greece the winters aren’t too harsh so I’m still enjoying cold breakfasts when I feel like it.

Ingredients

  • 200g frozen bananas (make sure they are ripe before you freeze for the best taste and texture)
  • 100g frozen raspberries
  • 1 cup milk or non-dairy alternative
  • 10g protein powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1-2 tbsp pumpkin seeds to top

Instructions

Simply place all ingredients, except the pumpkin seeds, in a high speed blender until you get a thick creamy texture then serve in a bowl with the seeds sprinkled on top.

For any of you health nerds out there, I plugged the recipe into Chronometer so that you can see the nutritional value of the recipe. It has a good balance of carbs, protein and fat to keep your energy levels supported throughout the morning. Smoothies with only fruit can cause a blood sugar spike followed by a crash leaving you starving and irritable an hour or 2 later so it’s much better to add in some nuts or seeds and a milk which contains protein to slow down the release of the natural fruit sugars. The recipe does have 40g sugar but these are natural sugars from the fruit and milk, it’s much better to satisfy your sweet tooth in this way than over-doing it on processed sweet treats later in the day.

This recipe also provides half of your recommended daily intake of fibre, great for keeping your digestive system moving and flushing out any excess hormones such as estrogen during the follicular phase. Other highlights are the B vitamins which support a healthy metabolism and energy levels, vitamin C to support your immune system and detoxification processes. The milk and seeds also provide plenty of minerals including phosphorous and calcium to keep your bones and teeth strong and zinc and selenium to support healthy hormone production, ovulation and fertility.

The protein powder is optional but can be a good addition, especially if you are working out to help with performance and muscle recovery. I like the Sevenhills vanilla flavoured vegan protein powder but you can experiment and find one that you like. You can top your bowl with any seeds that you like. I chose pumpkin seeds for this recipe but flaxseeds or hemp seeds are also especially good for the follicular phase of your cycle. A method called “seed cycling” involves eating flax and pumpkin seeds in the first half of your cycle, from day 1 of your period until ovulation, and switching to sesame and sunflower seeds during the luteal phase. It’s not scientifically proven but it is an old remedy to help with hormone balance and if nothing else it is a fun way to mix things up and get a range of healthy fatty acids and nutrients throughout the month.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this recipe, let me know in the comments below if you try it out!

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on nutrition, yoga and holistic health to support your menstrual cycle.
  • If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below.
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

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what to eat on your period - banana oat pancakes

Recipes for your period: Banana oat pancakes

As promised, here is the recipe for the banana oat pancakes I made on the first day of my period. I’m not much of one for complicated recipes so this one is simple and quick. I’m sure you can find many pancake recipes out there but this is one that worked for me. I love eating energy dense meals like this during my period as it helps me to get in plenty of nutrients without feeling too full and bloated. I also don’t have as much of an appetite during the first couple of days of my period (after being super hungry the days before!) so making tasty meals, especially with a bit of sweetness is perfect!

Ingredients

2 eggs**
2 small ripe bananas
1/2c oats
1/4c milk (or non-dairy alternative)
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
1 tbsp coconut oil for cooking
Toppings of choice!

**To make the recipe vegan try replacing the eggs with 2 “chia eggs

what to eat on your period - banana oat pancakes

Instructions

  • Start by blending the oats on high speed into a flour (I used a nutri-bullet but any blender should do the trick)
  • Add the rests of the ingredients and blend for about 10 seconds until combined well
  • Let the mixture rest for about 10 minutes to thicken up
  • Heat approx. 1/2 tbsp coconut oil on a frying pan on medium heat
  • Pour the pancake mix into small circles on the surface of the pan, trying to keep them separate
  • Heat until bubbles start to appear on the surface of the pancakes
  • FLIP to the other side and cook for a few more minutes
  • Serve the pancakes and repeat with any remaining mixture (this batch did 2 pans of 3 pancakes each)

I topped mine with honey this time but you can do any combination you like. Chopped nuts or nut butter, tahini, chocolate syrup or fruit are all great options so experiment and find your favourites!

Over to you…

Let me know in the comments if you try this recipe and what your favourite toppings are!

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on how to eat to support your menstrual cycle.
  • If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below.
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

Other posts you might like

what to eat during the ovulatory phase - fresh fruit berries

What to eat during the ovulatory phase

Final post in the how to eat to support your menstrual cycle series! This time we are looking at the ovulatory phase aka the “inner summer”. 

What is ovulation? When is the ovulatory phase?

For those who enjoy being active and productive, ovulation can be the phase of the cycle where you feel most at home. For others, the high energy can be overwhelming and unsteadying and hormone imbalances may cause symptoms such as acne or anxiety. But whatever your experience, nourishing your body with the right foods can bring balance and harmony.

Once we finish bleeding, our hormones and energy levels steadily rise during the follicular phase and peak around ovulation. At this time we experience a surge in estrogen as well as luteinizing hormone which causes our ovary to release an egg. For a 28 day cycle, ovulation typically occurs at the mid point of the cycle, around day 14. Depending on your unique cycle, the ovulatory phase itself can begin a couple of days before ovulation and last for 4-7 days.

What is the ovulatory phase diet?

The ovulatory phase diet is designed to:

  • Help you to feel fresh and light in your body
  • Support your natural detoxification processes
  • Flush out excess estrogen from your system
  • Cool your body during this “hot” phase of the cycle

How much should I eat during the ovulatory phase? What to eat during the ovulatory phase?

Similar to the follicular phase, around ovulation we usually have more energy and need less support from heavier calorie dense foods. What we want here is nutrient dense foods like fruits and veggies, lighter grains and proteins. Up until ovulation, we are still in the “yin energy” part of our cycle meaning that cooling, water rich foods will help to support our body. Juicy fruits, fresh salad greens and herbs are all great at this time. The fibre in these foods will also help to keep your digestive system moving and flush out any excess estrogen which can lead to symptoms such as acne showing up at this time. Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and kale are the best for clearing out estrogen.

Now is a time to choose lighter ways to prepare your food such as steaming and include more raw foods. Think about the types of foods you might crave in actual summer! Big rainbow salads and smoothies are great at this time to provide our bodies with all the nutrients it needs and to help with detox and cleansing of the system. If you live in a cold climate, your digestion can’t handle too many raw foods or you just don’t enjoy them, go for lighter soups or salads with lightly cooked veggies instead and you will still get all of the health benefits. Raw fruits are amazing as snacks just check whatever is in season locally to save money and maximise health benefits.

We need less of the density from fats and proteins during this time but it is still important to include them in your diet. Think cold pressed oils on a salad or seeds sprinkled on a soup during the winter. If you want to experiment with a plant-based or vegan diet, ovulation is a good time to give it a go or for a mini-cleanse each month to give your system a break from animal products. You could get your protein from the veggies you are eating plus beans and seeds such as pumpkin and flax seeds. Otherwise, white meat and yoghurt are good sources of protein for the ovulatory phase.

What are the best foods to support ovulation?

My top recommendations:

  • Fruits – berries, citrus
  • Veggies – salads, tomatoes, spinach, asparagus, peppers, courgette
  • Carbs – quinoa, sweetcorn, wheat (small amounts)
  • Proteins – white meat, yogurt, beans, pumpkin/flax seeds
  • Fats – nuts and seeds especially pumpkin and flax seeds

Meal ideas for the ovulatory phase

Any finally some examples of some easy meals for inspiration. Some of these are repeated from my last post and that’s because there are no fixed phases of the cycle.. in reality they flow from one to the next and aren’t clearly defined. The most important thing is to learn to tune into your body and see what it needs each day.

  • Fresh fruit salad – strawberries are great during this phase. Add ground seeds for some healthy fats and proteins
  • Zuccini noodles aka “zoodles” with creamy or tomato based sauce
  • Pasta salad with peas and green beans

Foods to avoid during ovulation

In the same way as during the follicular phase, we can also consume less fatty foods during this time to give our digestive system a break and choose healthy plant fats such as avocado, seeds and olive oil. Save the roasted foods or higher fat animal products for later in the cycle when you might need that comfort and warmth. Experiment with cooking styles that feel light and fresh in your body and keep it simple! Enjoy the natural tastes of plant foods without too many added condiments and spices and this can be a great time to connect with nature and re-sensitise your taste buds each month.

Over to you…

I hope this article gave you some inspiration on how to eat to feel fresh and light during the ovulatory phase! If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below. Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on how to eat to support your menstrual cycle.

  • Tell me in the comments below what are your favourite foods or meals to eat during this part of your cycle?
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

Other posts you might like

What to eat during the follicular phase

Next in the nutrition for healthy hormones series is the follicular phase or the “inner spring” of your cycle. Learn how to eat during this phase to support your body and to feel light and fresh as you move into a new cycle.

What is the follicular phase?

The follicular phase is the part of the cycle after you finish bleeding and lasts till ovulation, usually around 7-10 days depending on your individual cycle. Women’s experience of this part of the cycle can be really different. For some women who have a rough time during the luteal and menstrual phases with a lot of PMS symptoms, heavy bleeding or intense cramps can find the follicular phase a relief and like they are “back to normal”. For women who don’t or can’t allow themselves to rest during their bleed, they might come into this phase feeling drained and exhausted. For me, the follicular phase changes a lot each month but often feels kind of like I am ungrounded and I can’t feel into my cycle like I can in other phases. The book Wild Power explains this really well and the reasons it can happen.

What is the follicular phase diet?

After our period we can change up the way we eat to help us to:

  • Boost estrogen production
  • Support egg maturation and healthy ovulation
  • Feel light, fresh and vibrant
  • Promote gut health and detoxification

How much should I eat during the follicular phase?

Physically, this is a time when our energy is rising again along with all of our sex hormones.  After menstruation when warming, comforting foods support us really well, we naturally crave fresher, lighter foods like we tend to do in spring season! So think lots of fruits and vegetables either raw, lightly steamed or stir fried. Salads and smoothies are great (unless you live in a super cold climate that is). Our metabolism is lowered slightly which I know sounds counter-intuitive when we feel more energetic but actually our body is doing less work than in the later parts of the cycle and so we don’t need as much of a boost from heavier grains and can go for lighter carbs such as quinoa or corn.

On the other hand, this natural energy boost might mean you feel like exercising more than usual and in that case make sure you are listening to your body and fueling yourself properly. Cycle syncing your diet should feel natural so if it feels like you are forcing yourself to eat less during this time, take a step back and listen to what your body needs. By eating less energy-dense foods and using lighter cooking methods, you will already be lowering your calorie intake so you might need to eat a larger volume of food to feel satisfied. Trust that your body knows what it needs and you can go with the flow.

What to eat during follicular phase of your cycle?

Estrogen starts to gradually rise during the follicular phase, bringing with it higher energy levels, positive mood and rising libido. So the follicular phase is a good time to boost it with some natural sources of phytoestrogens such as such as soy milk and tofu. Phyto-estrogens are plant-based compounds which mimic estrogen within the body and are found in small quantities in many plant-based foods such as vegetables and legumes. You don’t want to overeat them all throughout your cycle as this could disrupt hormonal balance but consuming them during the follicular phase works well with your natural rhythms.

Fermented foods like kimchi or sauerkraut are another source of phytoestrogens which are also a good source of healthy pro-biotics. It is a good idea to take care of your gut health during the follicular phase to help to eliminate waste, toxins and excess hormones hanging around in the system. Include pro-biotic “good bacteria” foods such as yogurt or kefir or supplement with pro-biotics. Then make sure you’re feeding those bacteria by eating plenty of pre-biotic foods such as asparagus, artichoke, banana and flax seeds and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy, happy gut. Having a good balance of bacteria in the gut helps you to digest and absorb more nutrients from the food that you eat and also to flush out excess hormones from the body.

Spring is seen as a time of cleansing and renewal. During the follicular phase or our “inner spring” our bodies are also ready to cleanse and detox. In traditional Chinese medicine, the follicular phase is a “yin” energy part of the cycle meaning light, cooling, water-like. After a week or more of focusing on heavier foods and higher fat and protein during menstruation, you can now start to really support the liver by eating lots of detoxifying fruits, veggies, lighter leafy greens and fresh herbs rather than spices. Citrus is also great for detoxifying the body and flushing out the system so enjoy lemon water, oranges or grapefruits, especially first thing in the morning after your body has been cleansing and processing over night.

During the follicular phase you can experiment with eating lighter protein sources such as chicken or white fish rather than red meat or oily fish. Eggs are also an excellent vegetarian source of protein and vitamin D which supports healthy ovulation and fertility, especially in women with PCOS. For vegans, tofu and soy-products are a great option at this time as well as peas and sprouts.

My top recommendations:

  • Fruits – lemons, oranges, grapefruits, limes, avocado
  • Greens – lettuce (romaine, cos), baby spinach, fresh herbs such as parsley, coriander, dill
  • Veggies – courgette, peppers, green beans, broccoli, carrots
  • Grains – corn, quinoa, cous cous
  • Proteins – tofu, eggs, white fish, chicken, peas, sprouts

Meals for the follicular phase

As always I recommend keeping it simple and making a plate or bowl by combining foods from each of these categories but if you love cooking and trying new recipes then go for it! The only thing I would recommend is to go light when cooking with oil here. If you do want to use oil for stir frying etc. go for a small amount of coconut or sesame oil or for salads a small drizzle of olive oil is perfect. But save the heavier roasted foods for later in the cycle when your body will thank you for it. And finally some examples of meals for the follicular phase:

  • Fresh fruit salad with yoghurt – whatever is in season is best
  • Lentil salad with yellow peppers and pumpkin seeds with balsamic olive oil dressing
  • Tofu or egg stir fry with peppers, broccoli, mung bean sprouts

Over to you…

I hope this article gave you some inspiration on how to eat to feel fresh and light during the follicular phase! If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below. Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on how to eat to support your menstrual cycle.

  • Tell me in the comments below what are your favourite foods or meals to eat during this part of your cycle?
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

Other posts you might like

Sources

Abuzeid Y. 2020. Impact of Vitamin D Deficiency on Reproductive Outcome in Infertile Anovulatory Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Literature Review. Current Developments in Nutrition. 4

In the Flo by Alissa Vitti 2020

what to eat on your period - chocolate smoothie hemp seeds

What to eat during your period/menstrual phase

I got a lot of positive feedback on my last post about how to eat to optimise the pre-menstrual phase so I thought I’d carry on to the other phases of the cycle. Next up is the bleed itself.. the menstrual phase.

What is the menstrual phase?

Your period represents the start of a new cycle and it’s usually around 5-7 days.  At this point all of our sex hormones are at their lowest point and our core body temperature drops again. We often have low energy during this part of our cycle, we might have physical symptoms such as pain, bloating and fatigue as well as psychological symptoms such as feeling low or anxious. This is unique to YOU though! Some women actually really enjoy this phase as it can be extremely nurturing and a time to relax and reflect.

What is the period diet plan?

The period diet plan is designed to:

  • Support the blood building process with minerals
  • Provide enough energy and nutrients whilst being easy on digestion
  • Reduce inflammation to minimise painful cramps
  • Keep your body warm during this “cold” phase of the cycle

Why do you eat more on your period?

It’s not actually clear if women do get hungrier during menstruation, it really depends on the woman! Some women find they are extremely hungry in the days before their period and once they start to bleed their appetite drops off a cliff. Those who experience bloating or digestive issues might find they feel very full around this time of the month and don’t get as hungry. Others have more cravings during this time and tend to eat more, especially sweet stuff.

Scientifically, our metabolism drops slightly after being higher for the last couple of weeks. Often we are less active but we still need to eat to make sure we are supporting our body and restocking our nutrient stores for the cycle ahead. The best thing to do is to listen to your body and if you are hungrier than usual, try to nourish your body with healthy foods as much as you can. If you aren’t hungry, don’t worry you will make up for it sometime in your next cycle – this is the beauty of cycle syncing your diet!

What should you eat on your period? Carbs, fats, proteins?

The way I recommend to eat during your period is slightly different as our bodies go through a huge shift at this time. The key macro-nutrients we need at this times are fats and proteins which are the building blocks for repair of our tissues. Now is the time to get those omega-3 fats in as these are anti-inflammatory and have been shown to reduce menstrual pain. Think eggs and oily fish such as sardines and salmon for non-vegans or seeds such as chia and hemp for anyone on a plant based diet. These foods will also provide complete proteins which supports healthy hormone production – win, win! Other great sources of plant-based proteins are lentils, kidney and black beans. A cup of black beans contains 14g of protein, 22% of your daily iron and 10% of your daily calcium needs.

As well as oily fish, other seafoods such as mussels, squid and oysters are great to eat during menstruation as they If you don’t consume seafood, I recommend adding some sea vegetables or seaweed into your diet during this phase to boost your iodine and zinc levels, nutrients are used up during menstruation and they are more difficult to get in on a plant-based diet. You can try nori sheets in sushi rolls or add kelp or dulse flakes to any savory dish. If you have access to an Asian supermarket you will find lots of other sea vegetables to experiment with.

We still need a good source of carbs in our diet although maybe not as much as in the pre-menstrual phase as we are more in the rebuilding phase, turning our energy inwards rather than outwards. Dried fruits such as prunes, figs, apricots and dates can be really good as they provide a source of potassium and other minerals to help with muscle cramps and support building of the blood. A 100g serving of dried apricots can provide 15% of your daily iron needs too! Dried fruits are also more dense and less water rich than other fruits which means you can take in more calories with a smaller volume of food, great if you have little appetite and are struggling to meet your daily energy needs

I still recommend including grains and complex carbs in your diet but going for lighter options such as sweet potatoes or buckwheat and leaning more towards the proteins and fats during this phase. If you struggle with digestion during this time, choosing more processed grains such as white rice and pasta might feel better than wholegrain options during the menstrual phase (bet you never thought you’d hear a nutritionist say that!)

What foods should you eat on your period?

My recommendations for the best foods to eat during your period:

  • Proteins – lentils, kidney/black beans, red meat, eggs, oily fish
  • Seeds – pumpkin, flax, hemp or chia seeds
  • Veggies – sea vegetables, dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, chard, beetroot and mushrooms
  • Fruit – dense fruits such as bananas, dates and antioxidant rich dark fruits such as blueberries, blackberries and cherries
  • Chocolate or cacao!

Making soups or stews with veggies, carbs and proteins is a really good way to eat during your period as these are super warming and nourishing and easier on the digestion. Especially if you feel bloated or have slower digestion during your menstrual phase, this can be a really nice way to eat. You can also include warming spices such as chili, cinnamon and cloves. Menstruation is the “inner winter” of our cycle so think about the ways you eat during the outer season of winter and you’ll be on the right track.

Why do you crave chocolate on your period?

We need minerals such as iron, magnesium and calcium to rebuild the blood and reduce muscle cramping which causes period pains. My favourite source of magnesium and iron is chocolate! Go for good quality dark chocolate or add cacao/cocoa powder to oats, smoothies or hot chocolate to satisfy chocolate cravings and get a boost of feel good neurotransmitters. I love treating myself with chocolate based meals during my period as it just cheers me up and makes me feel like a queeeen.

We can get also iron from plant-based sources such as beans/lentils, blackstrap molasses and vegetables such as beetroot or from red meat including as beef and lamb. When we think of calcium most people think of milk, cheese and yogurt but I actually don’t recommend dairy products for women with hormonal imbalances. Other sources of calcium are green veggies such as kale, broccoli and spinach as well as fortified non-dairy milks, tofu and sesame seeds or tahini.

What foods should you avoid during your period?

Another question is what should you not eat on your period? Even though its tempting to give in to cravings for sweet and fatty foods during this time (especially when we feel low and need a boost!) try to nourish your body with healthy foods first and have these small treats on the side. There is no such thing as good and bad foods but some foods will support you more than others and help to reduce symptoms and help you to feel better if you are struggling during this phase.

Same goes for stimulants and relaxants such as caffeine and alcohol. They can help you to feel better in the short term but they can leave you feeling worse afterwards. Using coffee to power through when our bodies are crying out for rest will only dig us deeper into that energy deficit. It’s much better to give your body the rest it needs, even if its only a 10 minute nap, than carry on regardless and end up crashing later. I am speaking from experience here and its a hard lesson to learn! I recommend not to drink coffee during your period, or to switch to decaf

Over to you…

I hope you found this article helpful to learn how to nourish your body and feel better during your menstrual phase! If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below. Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on how to eat to support your menstrual cycle.

  • Tell me in the comments below what are your favourite foods or meals to eat during this part of your cycle? I’d love to know what is your best way to eat chocolate on your period?
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

Other posts you might like

Sources

Skolmowska, D., & Głąbska, D., (2019). Analysis of the possibility to compensate menstrual blood loss in young Polish women by the dietary iron intake. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 78

Rahbar N., Asgharzadeh N. & Ghorbani R., (2012). Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on intensity of primary dysmenorrhea. International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics. 117(1)

Mahmoud, A. Makhdoom A. et al. 2014. Association between menstrual disturbances and habitual use of caffeine. Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences. 9(4).

what to eat before your period - whole grains

What to eat during the luteal phase (pre-menstrual phase)

The pre-menstrual phase, the days before our period, is often the most tricky for us women. It’s when we are more likely to have symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, mood swings and definitely.. CRAVINGS. Choosing the right diet to support your body during the pre-menstrual phase can go a long way to reducing annoying PMS symptoms and helping you to sail through these dreaded days with ease.

What is the luteal phase?

The luteal or pre-menstrual phase is the after ovulation and before your period starts. During this time progesterone is the dominant hormone which is important to maintain the thick lining of your womb and support a potential pregnancy. Progesterone has a calming affect on the brain which is why you might notice lower energy and a more chilled out mood during this phase compared to earlier in your cycle. If you don’t get pregnant, progesterone production falls rapidly towards the end of the luteal phase and this is what triggers shedding of your womb lining (i.e. your period) and can also lead to those dreaded PMS symptoms such as irritability, anxiety and cravings.

What is the PMS diet? The pre-menstrual phase diet

The pre-menstrual phase diet is designed to help you:

  • Stabilise your blood sugar to maintain healthy hormone balance
  • Reduce cravings, especially for sweet foods
  • Provide your body with minerals to build the blood
  • Reduce bloating and water retention
  • Support a calm, relaxed mental state

So how can we eat to satisfy our hunger and support our body with the energy and nutrients it needs during this time? I’ll start by saying there is no perfect one-size-fits-all diet for anyone. We all have different needs, health history, culture, tastes and ethics. But there are certain principles to apply which can help us hugely with maintaining our health during this part of our cycle which I will explain throughout this article.

How much should I eat during the luteal phase? Why am I more hungry before my period?

Our metabolism naturally raises slightly after ovulation During the pre-menstrual phase of our cycle we burn up to 10% more calories therefore we need to fuel ourselves properly. If we don’t eat enough, our bodies can start to crave sweet or fatty processed foods as a way to get us to eat more and give it the calories it needs – sneaky! The pre-menstrual phase is not the best time to start a new restrictive diet. Maybe we can get away with this during the early phases of our cycle (although I never recommend it) but it’s especially important to provide our bodies with enough energy and nutrients at this time.

If you are trying to lose weight, I recommend cycling your calories throughout the month by eating less during the follicular and ovulatory phases and increasing your calories during the pre-menstrual phase. You mind find that you are less hungry in the start of your cycle and that it feels natural to eat this way. Even if you are eating the same amount of food throughout your cycle, focusing on the foods and cooking methods I recommend for each phase of the cycle will automatically have this calorie cycling effect as we focus on lighter foods during the follicular and ovulatory phases of your cycle and more energy dense foods in the luteal and menstrual phases. Working with your body in this way, rather than against it, can help to avoid binge eating and “falling off the diet wagon”.

What should you eat during the luteal phase? Carbs, fats, proteins?

During the pre-menstrual phase it is important to include sources of complex carbohydrates in your diet. Getting plenty of foods such as wholegrains, root vegetables and legumes can help to sustain our blood sugar and energy levels and reduce cravings for sweets. We want to try to stabilize our blood sugar as much as possible during this phase and combining complex carbs with fibre from veggies is a great way to do this. Unstable blood sugar sets off a cascade in the body leading to hormonal chaos – think acne, mood swings and fatigue!

When we are craving something sweet, fruit is a great option. Especially sweet fruits such as apples, pears, dates and raisins. You can also pair fruits with vegetables or nuts/seeds to slow down the release of these natural sugars into the bloodstream even further. Even some proponents of extremely low-carb diets such as keto recommend that women need to make adjustments to avoid hormonal imbalances by carb-cycling and consuming more carbohydrates at this time of the month.

Fats and proteins are also important during this time, to provide additional minerals and to build the blood. If you eat animal products, the days before your period are a good time to eat a bit of red meat, especially beef. Oily fish like salmon or sardines are also great to provide a source of anti-inflammatory omega-3s. For veggies and vegans, chickpeas with tahini such as in hummus is a perfect combo to add protein and fat to your meals.

Dark leafy greens are another great way to boost your iron, magnesium and calcium which can help to reduce cramps and bloating towards the end of the luteal phase. These vegetables also provide B vitamins which support a healthy metabolism and fertility. Especially vitamin B6 which helps to support healthy progesterone levels, great if you are trying to lengthen your luteal phase. Just 100g or a half cup cooked dark leafy greens provides 10% of your daily B6 requirements!

What foods should you eat during the luteal phase? Best foods for PMS?

  • Root veggies – potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, parsnips, squash
  • Grains – whole grains such as oats, rice, bread, pasta
  • Proteins – red meat, oily fish, chickpeas, navy beans
  • Sweet fruits – apples, pears, dates, raisins
  • Veggies – cooked dark leafy greens e.g. kale, collard greens, spinach, chard
  • Seeds and nuts – sesame (tahini), sunflower, hemp, walnuts

You can create super satisfying and healthy meals by combining these with a variety of veggies of your choice, a source of animal or plant-based protein such as meat, fish or beans and a small amount of fat from high quality olive/coconut oil, nuts or seeds.

How should I cook during the luteal phase of my cycle?

Depending on your system, you might find it better to eat less raw food during this time and opt for more comforting cooking methods such as baking or roasting. This can be especially useful for anyone who struggles with digestive issues such as gas and bloating during the luteal phase. It’s quite common as progesterone can lead to slowing down of the digestive process leading to constipation and in some case heartburn. You might find that a grazing style eating i.e. little and often feels better in your body than big meals. Watching your salt intake can also help to reduce symptoms of fluid retention such as bloating and swollen breasts, although there is no need to cut it out altogether. Drinking peppermint tea is also a great option to reduce bloating and digestive discomfort.

Foods to avoid in the pre-menstrual phase?

In the days before our period, it’s better to avoid alcohol and caffeine such as black tea and coffee wherever possible as they can stress out our system and affect our sleep at a time when rest and relaxation is most needed. For anyone prone to PMS this is especially important as both alcohol and caffeine can worsen symptoms such as headaches, anxiety and mood swings. Same goes for sugar, eating some chocolate or sweets now and again is unlikely to do much harm but indulging our sugar cravings too much can send us on a blood sugar roller coaster. It might seem harmless but if you struggle with severe PMS, irregular periods or any other hormonal imbalance I’d strongly recommend to make sure you are eating plenty of fruit and starches, especially during the pre-menstrual phase of your cycle.

If you do consume these things, try keeping a journal to see how they affect you at different parts of your cycle and you might be surprised. I know sometimes I am caught off guard with this if I’m not paying attention to my cycle day and end up completely frazzled after 1 coffee.. eek! Switching to green tea is a great option during the pre-menstrual phase. Or if you crave chocolate during this time, a warming hot chocolate can be a good way to satisfy your cravings and get a little caffeine boost without over doing it.

Summary of nutrition tips for the pre-menstrual phase

  • Make sure you are eating enough to meet your bodies energy needs
  • Consume plenty of complex carbs e.g. root veggies and whole grains
  • Replace sugary snacks with sweet fruits such as bananas, apples and dates
  • Consume more cooked vegetables to help with digestion
  • Reduce salt intake if you struggle with bloating or water retention
  • Cut down or avoid alcohol and caffeine

Over to you…

I hope you found this article helpful in learning how to eat to minimise PMS and feel better during your pre-menstrual phase.

I hope you found this article helpful to learn how to nourish your body and feel better during your pre-menstrual phase! If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below. Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on how to eat to support your menstrual cycle.

  • Tell me in the comments below what are your favourite foods or meals to eat during this part of your cycle?
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

Other posts you might like

Sources

Krishnan S., Tryon R., et al. 2016. Estradiol, SHBG and leptin interplay with food craving and intake across the menstrual cycle. Physiology & Behavior. 165

Soheila S.,  Faezeh K, et al. 2016. Effects of vitamin B6 on premenstrual syndrome: A systematic review and meta-Analysis. Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 9 (3).

Behboudi-Gandevani S., Hariri F. & Moghaddam-Banaem, M. 2018. The effect of omega 3 fatty acid supplementation on premenstrual syndrome and health-related quality of life: a randomized clinical trial. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology. 39:4,