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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pro-metabolic diet ray peat orange juice

Top foods for increasing your metabolism and restoring hormones

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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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 #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.

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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.

Other posts you might like

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