Can you get your period back following a vegan diet?

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

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

1. Calories

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

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

2. Nutrients

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

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

3. Fat and cholesterol

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

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

4. Mental restriction

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

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

Over to you…

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

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

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pro-metabolic diet ray peat orange juice

Top foods for increasing your metabolism and restoring 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 we should NOT use BMI to diagnose eating disorders

Today’s post is a bit different from my usual content but I saw a story on BBC news yesterday which really stirred up emotion in me and inspired me to write. It was a young woman sharing her experience with disordered eating and being told by doctors that her BMI “wasn’t low enough to be anorexic” when she went to seek help. Here is the short video clip:

For those of you who haven’t read my previous posts about my struggles with disordered eating, I had an undiagnosed eating disorder throughout my teens and early twenties and lost my period for nearly 10 years due to being underweight for my body type. During this time I too was told by doctors that I was healthy because my weight was within the normal range and was led down the road of more and more tests to figure out why I wasn’t menstruating. This definitely prevented me from getting the help I needed and delayed my recovery by several years as I was able to keep kidding myself that I was healthy and continue with my unhealthy behaviours around food and exercise.

I still have anger inside me towards the medical system for failing to help me and I think it’s so important to share stories like these in the hope that they can help someone else who might be going through something similar. Disordered eating is something that so many women go through at some point during their life and often it is brushed under the carpet because obsession over our bodies, chronic dieting and exercising to lose weight is seen as just part of being a woman in today’s world. Using the BMI scale as a measure of disordered eating is so outdated and only continues this issue. Women and girls, like me in the past, who do become aware that perhaps they have a problem around food are often made to believe we “aren’t sick enough” to seek or receive support.

The BMI scale was developed around 200 years ago by a mathematician as a quick way of determining whether an individual is at a healthy weight for their height. It is usually seen as a chart of height vs. weight like the one below with marked ranges for underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese. However, it was never intended to be used as a formal diagnosis of health. It wasn’t developed by doctors but for some reason it has been adopted by the medical system and is still used, often without question, to this day.

According to most doctors, a BMI within the range 18.5-25 is considered “normal” but there are several major problems with using the BMI scale. The main one I want to highlight is that it doesn’t take into account the percentage of lean mass which consists of bones, organs and muscle tissue. So someone with a larger bone structure or more muscle mass can quite easily be considered overweight or even obese. Think football players or figure skaters who are often lean but extremely athletic and muscular, according to the the BMI scale many would probably need to lose weight to be considered healthy.. really?! How can a basic mathematical formula know what it healthy for your body type. All it is is statistics. On average, humans have less than 2 arms but does that mean that the typical human has less than 2 arms? Of course not!

What is healthy for our bodies depends on so many factors, including our genetics, the environment we are currently living in and what stressors we have in our lives. At certain times it’s healthier for us to hold more fat and at others it might be more advantageous to be leaner. Our bodies are smarter than we give them credit for. I look at photos of myself at my lowest weight when I was around a BMI of 18.5 and I wonder how any doctor could have thought I looked healthy. I was 20 years old but I looked like a child. There was nothing womanly or fertile about how my body looked at that time. I had hardly a scrap fat on my body, no breasts at all without a padded bra and my knees stood out a mile on my stick legs.

Of course, I didn’t look like the completely skeletal anorexic figures that you see, but I was clearly not at a healthy weight for my frame. It’s obvious to me now why I didn’t have my period. As women we need fat on our bodies to support a healthy pregnancy and to nourish a growing baby. I definitely was not eating enough to support my activity level and I was restricting food groups and specific “unhealthy” foods. I had a high level of cognitive dietary restraint meaning that I thought a lot about food and I was constantly controlling and denying my cravings. My body was sending me all the signals that it wanted to be at a higher weight, I would have crazy binge eating episodes because my body was starving for calories but I saw this as a lack of motivation or as emotional eating. I wasn’t underweight for my height so I didn’t see the problem.

This is the issue with the BMI scale, it lumps everyone in the same category and doesn’t account well enough for our bio-individuality or our bodies’ natural intelligence. Personally, I had to workout excessively and restrict my diet in order to maintain this weight which should have been a major red flag that it wasn’t my natural set point. Perhaps another woman could maintain this same weight naturally with little effort and could be healthy but that is not how my body was designed to be. But because I was so attached to the BMI scale and trusted doctors when they told me I was healthy, I carried on this delusion for too long. I’m sure there are so many other women (and men) stuck in this same false narrative, believing that their behaviours around food are healthy when in reality it is causing more harm than good.

When it comes to eating disorder diagnosis, I think using the BMI scale can be extremely dangerous. Especially today as the trend online is not just to be skinny but also to be fit and lean. There must be so many girls and women out there who are suffering in order to achieve a “perfect body” either by being overly rigid and restrictive around food or by over-exercising but they are at a normal BMI so they must be healthy, right? Wrong. Eating disorders are about so much more than physical appearance, they are mental disorders. Diagnosis should be based on thought patterns and behaviours and not on weight alone. If someone is focused on food to the point it is affecting their life, if they are afraid of certain foods or obsessed with losing weight, it doesn’t matter what BMI they are, they deserve help.

I understand that the NHS has limited resources and that they have to prioritise those who are at the highest risk. Being dangerously underweight can cause so much damage to the body and of course these people need to be under medical care, but for those who fall into the grey area of not being sick enough to receive support this can be a real problem. Disordered eating develops over time and generally the earlier it is diagnosed, the easier it is to recover. Eating disorder thoughts are like a fungus that enters your brain, sets down roots and spreads a network across your psyche. Rooting out all of the false beliefs, stories around food and your body and replacing them with healthy, helpful thoughts takes a lot of time and effort.

Putting off treatment because your weight isn’t low enough yet means falling further down a slippery slope and it can become harder if not impossible to achieve a full recovery. Eating disorders are already such a secretive disorder, drenched in shame and denial. Even when part of your mind realises there is a problem and wants to seek help, the disordered part wants things to stay as they are and will hold tightly onto any excuse to stay stuck. A healthy BMI is exactly that, a lifeline of denial for the eating disorder voice. I still have to deal with these thoughts today, even though I can recognise them and not act on them. I think this is partly because of my disordered eating being hidden and allowed free reign of my sub-conscious mind for so long.

I do believe that full physical and mental recovery is possible but it’s much more likely when these things are caught early and don’t go as deep. I definitely consider myself fully recovered now and have for many years but I don’t think that quiet voice will ever completely go away. As a nutritionist and yoga teacher, healthy and wellness is still a big part of my life but I am fully aware that I have to stay vigilant as it can be a fine line between looking after your health and obsessing over your health. It’s not like recovering from alcohol or drugs where you can completely abstain, you can’t recover from obsession with healthy eating by avoiding healthy foods.. that’s a recipe for disaster! However, my motto now is be healthy to live, don’t live to be healthy. Eat vegetables but also eat chocolate cake. Move your body but know when to rest. It might be cliche but balance is the way!

Over to you

Please like and share this post and help to spread awareness of this issue. Follow my blog for more posts on balanced health, yoga and nutrition for healthy hormones.

If you feel like you or someone you know is suffering with disordered eating, please please reach out for support. Don’t let having a healthy BMI get in the way of getting the help you need.

YOU DESERVE TO HAVE A HEALTHY, ACCEPTING RELATIONSHIP TO FOOD AND YOUR BODY NO MATTER WHAT!

BEAT: https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/support-services/helplines

NHS: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/eating-disorders/

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Why and how I include treats as part of a healthy diet

The last couple of weeks we have had lots of celebrations! Valentines’ day, pancake day, my birthday and my boyfriends’ mums’ birthday all within the space of ten days. Considering the three of us have been in lockdown together for nearly four months now we are making the most of every opportunity to be festive. And with everywhere closed that has pretty much meant one thing.. FOOD. Here’s a sample of the tasty treats we have been making. We have crepes, carrot cake, kourou (Greek feta pastries) and lemon drizzle cake curtesy of the one and only Mary Berry. Yum!

I think it’s such a gift to be able to enjoy tasty foods and share the experience with loved ones. Food can be such a sensual experience and a way for us to connect with ourselves and other beings. As humans we are designed to enjoy food as it is essential for our survival and preparing and eating delicious food can be a ritual that brings us a lot of pleasure. Of course we can survive on simple foods and that is great too but there is something about biting into a delicious homemade cake or warm pastry that gives us such satisfaction. Cooking for or with our friends and family is often a way that we show our love and memorable mealtimes are moments that we remember many years later. Passing on recipes down generations is a way to keep cultural traditions going and remember generations before.

It’s such a shame to reduce food to only fuel. Especially now the world is closed it is even more important to take enjoyment from our food. And by that I don’t mean we should be eating emotionally and using food to numb out. Or that we should be indulging in artificial junk foods that harm our bodies. I mean that we should take the time to buy and prepare delicious, nourishing food for our bodies and souls. And that includes sweet and savoury treats! There is a huge difference between baking some cookies at home and eating a few round the table with loved ones vs. buying a packet of cheap biscuits from the supermarket and eating ten in one sitting whilst watching TV alone. One bring genuine pleasure and enjoyment and the other is just a mindless habit. I think that part of including treats in a healthy diet is really to take the time to eat them mindfully and savour every bite.

I remember the days when I used to be afraid of celebrations because I was so anxious around food. If I was invited to a party I’d be worried about what food would be there and if I’d be tempted to eat foods that were unhealthy or off my diet. I’d be so focused on food that I’d forget to enjoy myself or I’d get really drunk to make the food anxiety go away for a few hours and then not remember the party the next day. If I went to a restaurant I’d have to triple check the menu beforehand to make sure there was something I could eat otherwise I’d freak out at the table and not be able to decide at all or I’d end up over eating to the point of feeling sick and spend the next week trying to burn it all off. It sounds so crazy now I look back but I know this is a reality for many others too. It’s so freeing now to be able to eat whatever I want and know that it all fits within a healthy diet. I am allowed to enjoy food without feeling guilty about it.

But I’m still a nutritionist and I still want to remain fit and healthy so how do I balance the two? The key is that I base my diet on whole plant foods. This means that most of what I eat is unprocessed and comes from the earth. I’m not vegetarian (I was vegan for nearly 3 years but that’s a story for another day) but lots of my meals are plant-based and this makes up the foundation of my diet. I don’t restrict the amount of these foods that I eat and try to “save calories for later”, I just eat until I am satisfied at each meal and move on. I follow “balanced plate method” which is something I teach to my health coaching clients, a way to create filling, satisfying meals every time. I eat lots of fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds and on a day to day basis I try to keep processed foods to a minimum. When I want to eat a treat I just do it and because I’ve already met my needs for calories and nutrients I don’t have a need to go overboard.

I think an important thing to note here is that I also don’t allow myself to eat emotionally anymore. By that I mean that if I am feeling sad, stressed or angry, I focus on understanding and processing that emotion rather than stuffing it down with food. If I have a craving for a food I will ask myself first if it is because I am trying to avoid feeling a certain way. If it is then I will turn to other self-care tools rather than food which will help me to soothe myself and actually feel better rather than distracting myself and pushing the feeling down until later. But if the craving is not emotional but just a natural desire to eat something tasty for whatever reason then I’m ok with giving my body what it is asking for. I’ve learnt to trust my body around food and listen to it’s hunger and fullness cues and in return it has learnt to trust me and no longer sends out urges to eat insane amounts of food.

Something I realised is that the thing driving my fear of over eating was the fact that I was constantly hungry. I was always on a diet an maintaining a body weight that was below my body’s natural set point which meant that I was always fighting against my body’s hunger signals. When I did give in and eat what I was craving I wouldn’t be able to stop. I thought that this was just a normal part of being healthy and that giving in to it showed my lack of willpower. It was only after I went through a period of extreme binge eating, when I could no longer fight my hunger and decided to just surrender to it that I realised that this was genuinely my body telling me it needed more fuel. And once the hunger was satisfied and my body reached it’s set point weight the food obsession gradually went away.

Whatever we resist persists and I think that putting food into categories of good and bad only makes us go more crazy around the “bad” foods. As soon as I let myself eat whatever I wanted, the cravings went from mountains to molehills. After years of trying to figure out why my binge eating was happening, I was shocked! So now I am maintaining a healthy weight that my body likes, but not necessarily what my mind wants and I’ve learned to be ok with that. It’s so worth it to be a few lbs heavier and not have the constant fear of gaining weight. I’ve learned that I don’t have to be perfect to be healthy and that health is about way more than what you eat or how much exercise you do. Holistic health includes mental wellbeing and in my opinion, eating treats and not depriving myself means I feel so much better psychologically and emotionally. Living an overly controlled, restricted life is not fun and definitely does not lead to long term happiness. Balance is always the way!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post and it gives you the confidence to allow yourself treats as part of your healthy diet. Let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

  • If like this post, hit the like button and follow my blog for regular posts on health, nutrition and yoga. 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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Real health #30 Is obsessing over your health ruining your life?

We are nearly at the end of this Real Health January series and for this penultimate post I want to bring it back to where we started in post #1 What does it mean to be healthy?. Today’s topic might be another controversial one and also one that is close to my heart! I want to talk about how an obsession with health and wellness can ruin your life.

When it comes to health there are definitely two clear extremes. There of course are many people who could benefit from making lifestyle changes to improve their health and reduce their risk of disease. But there are also those on the opposite end of the spectrum who are so focused on being healthy that it actually starts to negatively impact their life. I am all about promoting balance and I really do think the meaning of true health is learning how to make healthy choices and look after your body without obsessing over it and letting it take over.

Be healthy to LIVE rather than live to be HEALTHY

When I was younger, I definitely fell into the trap of letting health take over my life. I was obsessed with clean eating and afraid to eat foods that were “bad for me” or would make me gain weight. I went to the gym religiously, sometimes exercising more than once a day and I was constantly thinking about how I could get in those extra active minutes. I would walk to the gym, do a zumba class followed by pilates and then walk home. All of this fuelled by soups, salads and low-fat ready meals. People thought I was crazy but in a good way and would praise me for my commitment and discipline. As I’ve shared before, all of this led to a lot of anxiety and totally messed up hormones.

Fast forward to my early twenties and the arrival of the wellness scene. At the time I was looking for a way to heal my body, get my period back and fix my relationship with food. I found the online vegan community where everyone seemed happy and healthy following a “whole foods plant-based” diet and I jumped right in. I was eating insane amounts of fruits and vegetables and all sorts of super food powers claiming to detoxify and cleanse my body. Thank god I let go of the crazy amounts of cardio I was doing but instead discovered weight lifting and still had this fixation on body control and fitness in the back of my mind. At the time I thought I was doing the right thing and it was almost like there was a moral value attached to this healthy lifestyle.

It alienated me from my friends and kept me focusing on health above all. I was probably pretty boring as that’s all I talked about for a while! And yes, I am aware this is a health blog and I am writing about wellness here every day. I really enjoy healthy living and sharing my knowledge and experience but the difference is it is no longer my life. My work, relationships and hobbies get much more of my attention these days. Yes I eat lots of fresh, nutritious food but I also eat cake and chocolate on the regular. I no longer buy superfoods just for the health benefits and focus on real, local foods instead. I like moving my body but I won’t push myself through HIIT routines that I hate and if I am tired or on my period I will take a break from exercise altogether without feeling guilty about it. And I feel so much healthier for it!

The one thing I am really happy about my venture into wellness obsession is that I also started practicing yoga and meditation at this time, habits that have stuck with me to this day and really changed my life. I think the question you have to ask yourself honestly when it comes to health choices is: “Will this thing make my life better or worse?”. If your diet consists mostly of pasta and takeaways, eating more fruit and vegetables will probably give you more energy and reduce your risk of disease. But if you are already eating salads and smoothies all day long, restricting yourself from having pizza with your friends once a week probably won’t do much for your health and might leave you feeling isolated and lonely. Are the benefits of a healthy diet worth it if all of your thoughts are consumed by what and when you will eat and you lose connection with your friends and family?

Same for exercise, there is no point following a strict workout regime if you hate it the whole time and feel exhausted and stressed. Chronic stress is terrible for your body and actually increases your risk of many diseases. If you find yourself saying no to social events just to go to the gym, all of your days revolve around your exercise schedule or if you find it hard to rest even when you are injured or tired, maybe it’s time to look at your relationship to exercise. No criticism here, I am saying this from experience. Like with everything it’s all about balance. We are sold this image of fitness as the ultimate ideal but is it really necessary to train like you’re going into the military or look like a fitness model in order to be healthy? I’d argue not.

You might be reading this and thinking it is unrealistic or extreme but orthorexia (obsession with healthy eating) and exercise addiction are real and genuinely impact the lives of many people. I want my contribution to the wellness industry to be a voice of reason and realism. I want to inspire you to make positive changes that help you to feel your best without all of the rules and rigidity. I want you to feel motivated and empowered by my posts and not like you have to go ahead and do all of these things otherwise you won’t be healthy. The most important thing is to stay aware of your body keep asking yourself how you feel. I recently posted a video on healing fatigue through yoga and self-awareness which is all about this if you’re interested. And stay tuned for the last post of the Real Health January series tomorrow!

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and enjoyed the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences with health and wellness obsession.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health 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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hypothalamic amenorrhea

Real health #20 Why your period is so important for your health

It’s been a while since I talked about my favourite topic.. the menstrual cycle aka your period. Specifically why your period is important for your overall health and the problems associated with not having a regular menstrual cycle. Any guys out there, maybe this isn’t the article for you but feel free to read on and you could just learn something to help the ladies in your life!

We usually think of our menstrual cycle as two phases: bleeding and not bleeding. In reality it is a menstrual cycle with levels of several reproductive hormones shifting throughout the month. The amount of these hormones your body produces is sensitive to stress, including both physical stress from under-eating and over-exercising and mental and emotional stress. When you lose your period because something is off in your lifestyle is it called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA). I wrote all about this in a previous post so you can check that out if you are interested in learning more. But here I want to focus on the problems that come with not having your period.

The problems with not having a period

The most obvious reason to have a regular, healthy period is of course your fertility. The whole point of your menstrual cycle is to prepare your body for pregnancy and allow you to have a baby. If you don’t have your period, it’s very unlikely you are going to be able to get pregnant. But what if you have decided you don’t want children or you’ve already had children? It’s still important for you to have your period too! I spent many years believing it was “fine” that I didn’t have my period and it was actually pretty convenient to be honest, not to have to buy tampons, worry about getting pregnant or have my period ruining my plans but once I found out what it means to not have a period and how unhealthy it is for your body I was shocked and I wished I’d been told sooner.

One of the key hormones that drives your menstrual cycle is estrogen. Apart from it’s role in your menstrual cycle, did you know that estrogen also helps to build your bones? When women enter the menopause and stop producing estrogen they start to lose bone mineral density and are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis or brittle bones. Not having a regular period is a sign that your hormone balance is off and estrogen levels could be low. Girls who don’t have their period due to hypothalamic amenorrhea during their teenage years are at risk of developing early onset osteopenia which can lead to osteoporosis if not treated. This might not mean much when you are young but trust me, you want to make sure you are building strong bones while you can! And don’t forget that your if your bones are losing minerals then it’s highly likely that your teeth are suffering too putting you at increased risk of cavities and teeth sensitivity. Who thought that periods and teeth were related??

Another surprising link is between hypothalamic amenorrhea and heart disease. Estrogen has an anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory effect in the body and also acts as a vasodilator meaning it causes your blood vessels to expand and low levels of estrogen have been linked with an increased risk of developing heart disease. Even though most of the research is in post-menopausal women, there have also been studies linking low estrogen levels in younger women with build up of plaque in the arteries and increased risk of heart disease in later life. And yes this is even for those who exercise! You might think you are being super healthy and boosting your cardio-vascular system but if you are exercising excessively and you have lost your period then you are undoing all of that hard work. Another thing I wish I’d known about sooner..

Other problems with hypothalamic amenorrhea

Not only does hypothalamic amenorrhea put you at risk for issues later in life, it can also cause problems in the here and now. Low estrogen can also be the explanation for fatigue, headaches, low sex drive, vaginal dryness, anxiety, depression and insomnia just to name a few. And as well as your reproductive hormones, not having your period could be a sign that other things are off in your body. We often think of our body systems acting in isolation but in reality, all of these things are connected and if one falls down it can have a domino effect throughout your body.

Often women with hypothalamic amenorrhea have higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol which also has been associated with bone loss as well as anxiety, insomnia and lower thyroid hormones. In hypothalamic amenorrhea, your metabolism is suppressed which could explain symptoms of hypo-thyroidism such as feeling cold all of the time, hair loss and low energy levels. Many women who develop hypothalamic amenorrhea due to restricting their food intake also experience digestive problems like bloating, stomach pain, constipation and food intolerances. If you don’t have your period and you feel like you are constantly struggling with digestive issues, then maybe the two could be related.

What should you do if you’ve lost your period?

So if you have made it to the end of this post, well done and I hope I didn’t scare you too much. If this is you, don’t worry, now you know you can do something about it! First you can read my blog posts about hypothalamic amenorrhea, how to recover and my recovery story. I’d also recommend buying the book No Period Now What by Nicola Rinaldi if you want an in depth explanation of all things hypothalamic amenorrhea related. If you need that final push to commit to getting your period back, definitely buy her book. If you think you have hypothalamic amenorrhea, visit your GP to get your hormone levels checked and Nicola also offers blood test results analysis through her website if you’re unsure. Three steps you can take right now:

  1. Eat more food and let go of any dietary rules and restrictions
  2. Take a break from intense exercise for at least a month
  3. Reduce the stress in your life and add more stress relieving activities

Easier said than done I know, but I believe in you! It’s never too late to recover your period and undo at least some of the damage to your body from hypothalamic amenorrhea. Recovery is challenging but so worth it.

References

Emma O’Donnell, Jack M. Goodman, Paula J. Harvey, Cardiovascular Consequences of Ovarian Disruption: A Focus on Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea in Physically Active Women, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 96, Issue 12, 1 December 2011, Pages 3638–3648, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-1223

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on why it’s important to have your period and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you.

  • 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

Shufelt, C. L., Torbati, T., & Dutra, E. (2017). Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and the Long-Term Health Consequences. Seminars in reproductive medicine35(3), 256–262. https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0037-1603581

the problem with fitspo

Real health #16 The problem with fitspo and fitness influencers

I actually wrote this post about 5 years ago for my first ever blog site! This was before fitness influencers were a huge thing, or at least they weren’t really on my radar, but I think it is more relevant than ever today. I’ve updated it a little but the core message is still the same. Enjoy!

This morning a friend posted this image on Facebook..

fitspo

I know she had the best intentions behind the post but it really got me thinking about the “fitspo” trend, fitness influencers and their effects on viewers’ body image.  The Urban Dictionary definition of the word fitspo is:

“Images of active, strong, and fit women that promote proper exercise and diet. May also include images healthy foods. Much like thinspo (images of dangerously thin women used by people with eating disorders to motivate) but healthier.”

From the definition it sounds like a great thing. Replacing the horrible trend of “thinspo” and encouraging women to be healthy and active.. both of those things get a great big TICK from me. However, what can’t be escaped is the fact that images like this still encourage women to focus on their body shape and size. They still provide a body ideal, a goal for women to aim for. They still encourage women to base their self-worth on their appearance and attach morality to food and exercise. And this results in the same feelings of unworthiness and disappointment for those women who don’t follow the rules and don’t look like the picture-perfect Instagram fitness models.

The image above does an amazing job at showing us that the number on the scale is, well only that really. A number. The point here is that body weight and BMI are pretty meaningless and bodies of the same weight can have completely different body shape and composition. That’s all well and good, but what does the image imply? That we should be focusing on getting lean and toned instead of skinny? That it’s much better to be heavier and look like the photo on the right? Yes it may be successful in shifting the focus away from the scale and obsessing over how much you weigh but to what… the way your body looks in the mirror or a photo?

Lots of women (myself in the past included) have fallen into the trap of shifting their health and fitness goals from trying to weigh as little as possible to eating clean and looking lean and muscular. Maybe it’s getting abs or building a booty. But what the fitspo images like the one above don’t show is how the woman is feeling in each photo and what her life really looks like. What kind of behaviours is she engaging in to maintain her body? What is her overall health like? How are her relationships and social life? Is she following her passions or is she spending every waking minute obsessing over eating healthy food, exercising and comparing her body to others online?

There could be a whole range of things going on behind the scenes. We often assume that just because someone looks “normal” that they are not suffering and this is not always the case. Disordered eating can take on so many shapes and sizes. Bulimia and exercise bulimia, orthorexia, food fears, laxative abuse, binge eating, compulsive exercise. All of these can often go unnoticed as people can maintain a normal BMI and not end up looking like the skeletal eating disorder stereotype. I am not saying by any means that the girl in the photos is suffering from any of these issues but what I am trying to say is not to take photos like this at face value. Images mean nothing unless we know the full story behind them.

For me personally, looking extremely lean and fit came at a great cost. I did all of the healthy things. I worked out daily. I ate clean. I drank plenty of water. But I didn’t feel good and I didn’t know why. I wasn’t healthy. My periods were totally absent. I started to wake up in the early hours of the morning for no reason. I felt fatigued all of the time and had to rely on more and more caffeine to get through the day. I know not everybody will have the same experience but I am sure I am not the only one. It took a lot of effort to unlearn all of the so-called healthy habits I had developed and get back to focusing on feeling good. Finally after going back to university to study public health nutrition, diving into my yoga practice and becoming a qualified teacher I found a balance where I could feel good and maintain a slim, healthy body without taking it to the extreme or letting it take over my life.

For those of us in the health and fitness world, food and exercise and shaping our body can easily become the focus of our life. Yes it is fun to experiment with food and of course moving your body feels great. But it doesn’t have to be your sole purpose. It is very easy to get caught up in the social media bubble and forget that there is an outside world. Real life connections and meaningful relationships where you can be yourself can do so much more for your health and wellbeing than following some online fitness guru and feeling connected to others by the restraints of whatever lifestyle they preach. My point in this article is to let you know that you don’t need to idolize anyone and your body is perfect whether you feel more like the “before” photo or the “after”. Remember to focus on the things that keep you feeling happy and healthy above all!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article from 5 years ago Amy. I would say my opinions haven’t changed much since then. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on fitspo and fitness influencers, do you find watching them uplifting and motivating or does it make you feel bad about yourself and like you need to change?

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below 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 your 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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Real health #12 Signs of a low metabolic rate and how to speed up your metabolism

People always talk about metabolism but what does it actually mean?! Your metabolism is all of the processes which go on inside your body to keep you alive and functioning as a human. This includes digesting the food you eat into macro and micro-nutrients as well as using these nutrients to generate energy in your cells. So what does it mean to have a slow metabolism? In reality, your metabolism can’t be fast or slow, it just is what it is. Actually what people mean when they say this is that their metabolic rate is low. To “speed up your metabolism” you want to increase your metabolic rate.

Your metabolic rate is the rate is how quickly you burn energy to fuel all of these processes. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you burn at total rest and your total energy expenditure (TEE) is your BMR plus the energy you burn through daily activity, exercise and digesting foods. If you have a “slow metabolism”, your BMR is lower than optimal meaning that your body is in energy conserving mode and burning less calories at rest than it usually would. Slowing down your metabolic rate is actually a survival mechanism as it makes your body more efficient and able to keep functioning when less food is available. However, it isn’t the most enjoyable state to live in! A low metabolism affects the way your body functions and can prevent you from thriving and feeling your best.

Sometimes a low metabolic rate can be caused by being underweight, especially if you take extreme measures to get there. But if you are trying to lose weight to get into the healthy range, you want your BMR to be as high as possible so that you can lose weight whilst still eating plenty of food and getting all of the nutrients you need. It’s much easier to lose weight if you are maintaining your weight at 2000 calories compared to 1500 calories as you have that bit more wriggle room. And when your body is in a low metabolic state, it wants to hold onto it’s fat reserves to keep you safe. So if you feel like you’re doing everything right and the scales aren’t budging, a slow metabolism could be to blame. Read on to find out some of the signs of a low metabolic rate and tips for how to increase your metabolism.

Signs of a slow metabolism or metabolic rate

  • Feeling cold, especially in your hands and feet
  • Low energy, fatigue or lethargy
  • Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Dry, cracked skin and lips
  • Digestive issues e.g. bloating, gastroparesis
  • Thin hair or hair falling out more than usual
  • Sleep problems or insomnia
  • Hormonal imbalance, irregular period, no period
  • Low sex drive
  • Brain fog, difficulty concentrating or lack of clarity
  • Getting sick often
  • Feeling weak and/or stiff

Yes all of these things can be related to a low metabolism.. crazy I know. Of course there are other causes for these symptoms so you should always get checked out by your doctor, but if you have ruled out anything else then maybe a low metabolic rate is to blame. When I experienced this, I felt like my body was shutting down and it was terrifying. My sleep was terrible, I felt like a zombie all day, my digestion was a mess and my hair became brittle and thin. I had no menstrual cycle at all and zero sex drive either. Not much fun. I didn’t realise at the time just how many of my problems were related to the fact that my metabolism had tanked and once I followed a protocol to speed it up my symptoms gradually went away!


How to speed up your metabolism

I want to start by saying that we are all born with a different genetic rate, some people naturally have a “fast metabolism” and others tend to hold onto weight more easily. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I am talking about when your metabolic rate is slowed down and you experience any or all of the symptoms above. If your metabolism is low you might just not feel like yourself, like your energy has been zapped and you’ve lost your natural vibrance. There are many potential reasons for a slow metabolism, but here I am going to focus on one that we can do something about: stress. This can be physical stress due to calorie restriction or over-exercise or psychological stress. Any of these can put your body into a state of survival mode and cause your metabolism to slow down. The way out and to speed up your metabolism is to help your body feel safe and relaxed again. How can you do this? Try out the protocol below for a month and see how your body responds…

  1. Diet
    Even if your goal is to lose weight, if you think you have a slow metabolism, I’d suggest you focus first on getting your metabolism healthy. Fixing this first will make it much easier to lose weight down the line and keep it off. If you are on a restricted diet, take a break. Stop counting calories or macros. Stop weighing your food. Don’t restrict any food groups, eat plenty of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Focus on mainly whole foods but don’t stress out about eating some processed foods too. Basically you want to flood your body with energy and nutrients so that it feels a state of abundance. You can include meat and fish but you can also do this on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Go for energy dense foods such as bread, potatoes, dairy, chocolate, nut butters. Focus less on high water, high fibre foods such as fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry this is only for the short term! Allow yourself to eat till you feel fully satisfied but don’t stuff yourself when you aren’t hungry. Listen to your body and it will tell you what it needs.

  2. Exercise
    If you are currently following an intense exercise regime, please give yourself permission to take some time off. It might seem counter-intuitive to stop exercising to speed up your metabolism and yes you do burn calories through exercising. But exercise, especially chronic cardio can actually decrease your BMR and make your body more efficient at using calories. To speed up your metabolism you want to increase the amount of energy you burn at rest. Especially if you have been doing endurance exercise or high intensity interval training, let your body heal any underlying injuries and relax any built up tension. This is even more important if you are feeling chronically stiff and sore as it is a sign your body is feeling stressed and overloaded. Keep moving your body but try walking and gentle yoga or any other easy going activity that you like instead. Have fun and let go of any pressure to perform, burn calories or change your body. As your metabolism starts to improve and you feel better, you can add in some resistance training to build muscle which will help to boost your metabolic rate even further.

    Remember that this isn’t forever.. this is a protocol for helping your body to heal itself and your metabolism to recover. As you start to feel better and have more energy you can start to switch things up, maybe with the foods you eat or by adding in more exercise. But let this process be guided by your body rather than your mind.

  3. Relaxation
    This is a big one! If you are feeling stressed, anxious and on edge your metabolism is highly likely to suffer. Stress alone can be enough to prevent you from losing weight, so if you feel like you have tried everything and nothing works, take a look at your stress levels and you might understand. Identify the major stressors in your life and figure out a plan, maybe with a coach or therapist, for how you can reduce your stress from these things. If you are stressed about losing weight or comparing yourself to others, ask yourself why? Purge your social media of any accounts that make you feel down on yourself and replace them with interesting or uplifting things instead. Try to bring more relaxing activities into your day whether that is meditation, deep breathing, creative projects, reading, playing with your pets.. anything that helps you to get into a calm and relaxed state. Making relaxation a priority part of your every day self-care routine is a key step to getting your metabolism functioning optimally.

  4. Sleep
    This goes hand in hand with relaxation. There have been so many studies showing the impact of lack of sleep on the metabolism. Poor quality sleep is a stress on your body and can cause your cortisol levels to spike, putting your body into that energy conserving mode and making you more likely to gain weight. Not getting enough sleep has also been linked to changes in blood sugar control and release of the hormones that regulate appetite. Ever noticed that you crave more sweets and caffeine after a bad night’s sleep?! To speed up your metabolism, make sure you are getting as much sleep as you need to feel refreshed and energised. If you are struggling with sleep, try out my tips on dealing with sleep disturbances, especially taking care of your sleeping environment and having a solid evening routine to help you to relax and wind down. If you have chronic insomnia and signs of a low metabolism, focus on the tips here and you might just find your sleep improves naturally along with your metabolism.

How to know your metabolism has increased

Keep track of how you are feeling throughout this process. Look out for changes in your energy levels, sleep and motivation for life. Notice if you are feeling warmer and more relaxed, maybe your hormones and hunger levels become more balanced. Celebrate any small wins you observe and don’t worry if you gain a bit of weight along the way. You are in this for the long haul and setting your body up for future health and success. Enjoy the process as much as you can and take the chance to focus on other areas of your life outside of health and fitness. Pay attention to the signs from your body and when it tells you it is ready to start exercising again or to eat lighter foods, you can start to make gradual changes but remember to always let your body lead the way.

Over you to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post on signs of a low metabolic rate and how to speed up your metabolism. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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