hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

Hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

As a Nutritionist and Women’s Wellness Coach, I often work with women who want to balance their hormones. Hormone imbalances are actually very common and there are actually over 50 hormones at work in your body! But what are the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women that you should look out for?

10 hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

1. Missing or irregular periods

The most obvious of the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women is missing or irregular periods. A healthy woman will typically have a regular menstrual cycle lasting between 21 and 35 days. Anything outside of this is considered irregular (NHS). Irregular periods are normal during puberty, after pregnancy or after coming off hormonal contraception. However, irregular or missing periods can also be a sign of hormonal imbalance. Missing or irregular periods can be due to Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA), Hypothyroidism or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Irregular periods can also be a sign of early menopause in women under the age of 45. If you have not had a period for more than 3 months, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor to find out what is going on.

2. Excessive mood swings or PMS

One of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women is severe mood swings during the pre-menstrual phase. It is normal to feel slightly irritable, moody or fatigued in the days before your period. However, if you are experiencing extreme mood swings or excessively low mood during the pre-menstruum this could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. The endocrine system is complex and your hormones have systemic effects throughout the body. Imbalances in estrogen, progesterone, serotonin, thyroid hormones and cortisol can all have a negative impact on your mood and emotional regulation. It is important to check your hormone levels to understand what might be causing your symptoms.

3. Extreme period pain

Another of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women is extreme period pain. Again, it is normal to experience some level of pelvic pain during menstruation. The muscles of your uterus contract to shed the outer layers of it’s lining which is the blood you release during your period. This can cause a mild warmth and cramping sensation around the area of your womb and lower back. However, if you are experiencing intense pain, this is not normal. There are several reasons for painful periods including Endometriosis, cysts or fibroids and tension in the muscles of the pelvis. Hormonal imbalance, in particular high levels of estrogen, is associated with severe period pain.

4. Hormonal acne

Hormonal acne is something that most of us women deal with at some point in our lives. Whether is it having a face full of spots as a teenager or breakouts before your period each month, it is something you are likely familiar with. But what if your hormonal acne is excessive or chronic lasting way past your teenage years? This is one of the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women to look out for! Hormonal acne is usually found around the jaw and chin area but also on the cheeks and forehead. It can be a sign of hyper-androgenism (male hormones) as in PCOS. Hormonal acne can also arise with low progesterone. To understand the cause, you need to take a look at your symptoms holistically. You can also consider checking your hormone levels to identify any imbalances.

5. Trouble sleeping

A surprising hormonal imbalance symptom in women is insomnia. Most women wouldn’t associate their sleep troubles with their hormonal health. However, not sleeping well can also be a sign of an imbalance. Low levels of progesterone can lead to insomnia and poor sleep during the pre-menstrual phase. Imbalances in cortisol can also have a cascade effect throughout the body and cause disruption to sleep-wake cycles. In particular, sleep maintenance insomnia and early morning waking can be related to cortisol imbalances. Both progesterone and cortisol imbalance can be related to high levels of stress, whether than it physical, mental or emotional.

6. Low sex drive or sexual dysfunction

Perhaps a lesser talked about subject amongst women, or an overly normalised one depending who you ask! Low sex drive or low libido is another of the common hormonal imbalance symptoms in women. In addition, vaginal dryness and pain during sex can also be caused by hormonal imbalance. It is normal to experience fluctations in sex drive throughout your cycle with a peak during your fertile phase. Despite what we are made to believe, we are not expected to be ready to go at all times! But experiencing low libido for months on end may be a sign that something more is going on. Your reproductive hormones, especially estrogen and testosterone regulate your sex drive and your ability to be aroused. Low levels of these hormones can lead to disinterest in sex or pain during sex.

7. Changes to hair

Losing hair can be very distressing and is a sign that something is not right with your body. There are many reasons for hair loss in women including stress, anemia and dermatitis. However, hair loss is also one of the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women. Reduced levels of estrogen and progesterone, for example during menopause, can lead to hair shedding and thinning. Hypothyroidism, that is low levels of thyroid hormones, can also be an explanation for hair loss in women. When hair loss is in a male-pattern of balding this can be a sign of hyper-androgenism and PCOS. In this case, you might also experience hair growth on your face and body. Again, it is important to assess your symptoms holistically to understand the hormonal imbalance responsible for your hair loss.

8. Migraine or headaches

Many women experience headaches and migraines, especially during the pre-menstrual or menstruation phase of their cycle. This can sometimes be accompanied by nausea, dizziness and increased sensitivity to light. Rapid changes in hormones can trigger headaches, which is why they are more common around your period when your hormones levels drop suddenly. Studies show that it is likely in fluctuations estrogen which can trigger migraine headaches. This is why some women experience them more frequently during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. It may be that more women are more sensitive to headaches than others. However, adopting a healthy lifestyle to support hormonal balance may help to reduced the quantity and severity of headaches.

9. Unexplained infertility

A hormonal imbalance symptoms in women which might not be discovered until later is unexplained infertility. I recently wrote a post about infertility discussing some of the causes, risk factors and natural treatments. Infertility is not always caused by a hormonal imbalance. But having balanced hormones and regular ovulation increases fertility and chances of conception. Hormonal imbalances which can lead to infertility include high testosterone, low progesterone and low thyroid which can all affect ovulation. To check whether you are ovulating you can measure your basal body temperature and look for a sustained 0.5°C rise around the mid-point of your cycle. You can also look out for “egg white” consistency fertile mucus around the same time as a sign of healthy ovulation.

10. Weight gain and cravings

Finally, unexplained weight gain and cravings can both be hormonal imbalance symptoms in women. We all experience cravings from time to time. But if you feel like you are experiencing an insatiable hunger or desire for sweets, perhaps your hormones are to blame. Insulin and glucagon are hormones released from your pancreas which are involved in managing your blood sugar. Imbalances in these hormones can affect your appetite and cravings. Cortisol imbalances can also play a role in unexplained weight gain. When your body is stuck in fight or flight stress state, it may hang onto extra weight as a survival mechanism. If you are struggling to lose weight, despite reducing your calorie intake, you might want to focus on balancing your hormones first.

Summary of hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

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comparing your body with others on social media

Comparing your body to others on social media

Self-comparison is a natural human instinct. We are social creatures and self-comparison is one of the ways in which we form our identity within society. Your psyche has built in mechanisms to compare yourself with others in your community. You then use this comparison to make a judgement as to whether they are above or below you in the hierarchy. This could be in terms of comparing your body to others, your beauty or strength, intelligence or material belongings. Basically any other factor that might affect your ability to survive and reproduce. We also learn from others through role modelling and we based our self-image on the response we receive from those around us. We are primed to be hyper focused on others, what they think of us and how we compare to them.

Self-comparison and social media

Unfortunately, the people we tend to compare ourselves with are not those that we see in our daily lives. Rather it is those we see in the media, far removed from our own communities. We forget that the people we see in the media are usually in the spotlight because they are amongst the most beautiful, most successful or most wealthy people in society. We use them to benchmark our own worth and feel inadequate as a result.

Comparing yourself to others in this way often leads to negative self-talk and feelings of not being worthy or good enough. And since the explosion of social media, our exposure to visual media has sky-rocketed. Teens across the world are now spending around 3 hours a day on social media according to this report by Social Buddy. Instagram, the most visual social media platform, now has approximately 1 billion users, with almost 40% under the age of 25.

Comparing your body to others on social media

Based on the number of beauty and fitness influencers, it’s pretty clear that comparing your body to others is one of the ways that we compare ourselves to others. When I was a teenager in the early 2000s, I was already under the influence of media messages. I would compare myself to celebrities and models that I saw in the glossy photos in magazines or on TV. This led me to spiral into extreme body dissatisfaction and almost a decade spent chasing the thin-ideal. I believed that if I only looked like the women I saw in the media I would be happier and my life would be perfect. But at least this was only a small part of my life and most of the time I was in the real world with real people.

These days though, social media is full of “real” people showing us how beautiful and successful they are. We are constantly surrounded by advertisements whose sole purpose is to make us feel like we are not good enough as we are. Research into the impacts of social media on body image shows that social media use increases body dissatisfaction and self-objectification. Social media users are also are more likely to internalise body-ideals, that is adopting the belief that certain body types are more socially acceptable than others. It is a double edged sword as you open yourself up to feedback from others when you post images of yourself and you compare yourself to others in images that they post.

How to stop comparing your body to others online

I’m not saying that you have to avoid social media altogether if you want to stop comparing yourself to others, although it definitely could help! I simply want to raise awareness of this issue and share a few tips from my training in the Non-Diet Approach to Health Coaching on how to stop comparing your body to others online.

Practice mindfulness

Staying mindful is the first step as self-comparison is most toxic when we don’t see clearly what is happening. In particular, when we believe everything that we see online and we create a world view in our head that is different from reality. Exposure to images of ideal body types changes our perception of what is normal in society. We then raise the standard that we set for ourselves. If you spend too much time online comparing your body to others, you can easily start to believe that all women look like models and that you are the only one who doesn’t measure up. Your standards of what is healthy and normal become warped. Especially when you are constantly exposed to images that use posing, lighting and editing to curate a perfect image of beauty.

The simple act of becoming mindful that not everything you see online is real can really help. Stay aware that that social media can negatively impact your body image and self-esteem to reduce these negative effects. Pay attention to how you are thinking and feeling when you spend time on social media. Identify which channels trigger self-criticism or negative self-talk and work towards creating a healthier online space for yourself. Make the conscious effort to bring yourself back to reality and recalibrate your mind by spending time with real people. Observe the huge variety of body shapes and sizes that exist amongst normal, healthy women rather than only comparing your body with images you see on social media.

Use critical thinking skills

Alongside practicing mindfulness, start to think critically whilst you are spending time online. If you view content passively, you let it dictate your emotions and program your subconscious mind. Take a moment to question why that content is there and how it was supposed to make you feel. Remember you are in control of what information you feed into your mind. Question everything! Especially when someone has something to sell, don’t take anything you see or read at face value. Be aware that every image you see is possibly edited or airbrushed and may not represent reality. Even photos from “normal” people who are not trying to sell anything but still want to portray themselves in a certain way.

I had a discussion with a friend not long ago about why she was editing her photos for social media. Her opinion was that it is harmless and just a way to show your best self online. My opinion is that it can be extremely detrimental and create impossibly high standards that you and everyone who sees your photo then feels like they don’t measure up to. It is one thing to see a perfectly curated photo in a glossy magazine advert. In that case you are aware of the amount of work that went into creating the image. But it is entirely another thing to see a “casual” selfie on social media of someone looking completely flawless and suddenly become acutely aware of your own imperfections. So keep a critical eye when you are on social media knowing that everything may not be as it seems.

Cultivate body appreciation

Finally, develop an appreciation and gratitude for your body and all it can do for you. Body appreciation is a proven a weapon against comparing your body with others online. This study showed that women with low body appreciation were more likely to experience body dissatisfaction after watching media adverts. On the other hand, women with a higher body appreciation were more resistant to feeling bad about their body and were more likely to remain neutral. You can nurture a positive attitude towards your body by using techniques such as guided meditations and affirmations. These techniques work by planting the seeds of positive thoughts in your mind. For example by repeating to yourself or writing down statements such as:

  • My body is strong and capable
  • This physical body is unique and beautiful
  • My body enables me to experience the joys of life
  • I am more than my physical body
  • My body is a miracle of life
  • I deserve love and respect

Focus on qualities you like about your body. Perhaps the amazing things your body does everyday or the things it allows you to do. Cultivating respect and gratitude for your body can help to boost your self-esteem and create a more positive body image. Therefore enabling you to be more resistant to comparing your body with others in a negative way. This also gives you the freedom to stay in your own lane when it comes to improving your health. It allows you to focus on healthy behaviours rather than aiming for a particular weight or body shape goal.

Summary of how to stop comparing your body with others

Next time you are online, remember these 3 key points to protect yourself against negative self-comparison:

  1. Practice mindfulness
  2. Use critical thinking
  3. Cultivate body appreciation

In today’s world, with so many potential traps to fall into, it’s so important to be mindful of our thoughts. We need to actively work towards mental health, especially maintaining a healthy sense of self-worth and self-esteem. I try my best to be authentic and honest on my social media platforms. Perhaps that is why I don’t have a huge audience! Unfortunately perfection sells pretty well.. BUT I commit to empowering myself and finding my own path to true health. I encourage you all to give yourself this precious gift too.

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Weight gain in HA recovery, my tips

Hello everyone! Today I want to share my experience with dealing with weight gain in HA recovery. HA stands for Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and is when your periods stop because of under-eating or over-exercising. I am sharing this because I know a big proportion of my audience have found my page because you are trying to get your period back. You want to balance your hormones and find true health after years of restrictive dieting and/or over-exercising.

It has been 5 years since my recovery from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. I don’t talk about it here as much as I used to. However, I know so many women are still struggling with this and I want to offer support and inspiration. Dealing with weight gain in HA recovery was one of the most challenging aspects for me. I hear from many women the same thing! It was a struggle to let go of exercise and to eat more food. But accepting my changing body was very difficult.

If you haven’t already, you can read my story of how I got my period back after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. I also have written other posts about the reasons you can lose your period and the recovery process including how to eat to get your period back, exercise during HA recovery and can you recover your period on a vegan diet. In this article I want to focus on the weight gain aspect of recovery. Particularly my tips for dealing with weight gain in recovery.

Why is dealing with weight gain in HA recovery challenging?

Most of us who have experienced Hypothalamic Amenorrhea did so because of a fixation on maintaining a lower weight than is natural for our body type. A major part of the recovery process is therefore gaining weight. It sounds simple but for many not accepting weight gain is a major roadblock to recovery. I know for me this kept me stuck in “quasi recovery” for years. I was unable to allow myself to let go and let my body reach it’s natural set point.

Often with HA we become attached to a certain image and identity as the skinny one or the fit one. Our mind is corrupted with beliefs around our self-worth and our weight. We believe that gaining weight means letting ourselves go or giving up. We also compare ourselves to others. Especially those who are thinner and still have a healthy period. And we are hyper-critical of our bodies. We are constantly checking and assessing our body against our internalised ideals.

My weight gain in HA recovery

Accepting weight gain is one of the most important mindset shifts we need to make during HA recovery. Allowing yourself to gain weight can also be one of the most difficult. For me personally, I was never underweight according to the BMI scale. This made accepting that I needed to gain weight even more challenging. I am not going to share specific weight numbers as I don’t want to trigger any comparison. However, I will share that during my recovery I gained a total of 30lbs. This was 10lb during the initial “quasi recovery” stage then a further 20lbs in the space of 4 months when I went “all in” . By that I mean zero exercise and completely unrestricted eating.

On my 5ft 2 frame, this was quite shocking to me and I felt extremely uncomfortable in the beginning. My clothes didn’t fit and I felt like I didn’t recognise my body anymore. I also got tired more easily and I just felt this over all sense of heaviness and lethargy. Now I realise that my tiredness was partly because I had finally stopped exercising and started eating enough food. This allowed my body to go into a deep rest and healing phase. But at the time I blamed my recovery body. Every day it was a struggle not to give up and go back to my old ways.

Tips for dealing with weight gain in HA recovery

In this post, I want to offer my top 3 tips for dealing with weight gain in HA recovery. I also summarise these tips in this video on my Youtube channel, which I filmed earlier this year. These are physical actions you can take to support you through the weight gain process. Alongside this, it is also important to do the mental work of changing your beliefs around body weight and your self-worth. But I will save that for another post! So go ahead and watch the video and read my 3 tips below.

3 simple actions to help with dealing with weight gain in HA recovery

Wear comfy clothes which fit

My first tip for dealing with weight gain during recovery is to wear comfortable clothes which fit. It might seem obvious but how many times have you gone back and tried on old clothes during your recovery process? I know I did this a lot in the beginning and I was only torturing myself. I might have woken up in the morning feeling fine in my body. But then I’d try on an old dress or a tight pair of jeans and be totally crushed when they didn’t fit or no longer suited my body. It might seem superficial and I guess it is really. But at the time my mood and self-worth were so tied to my body image and to the thin ideal that I had internalised that it seemed perfectly normal.

So, wearing comfortable, loose fitting clothes that don’t bring awareness to the changes in your body can really help! For me that looked like soft yoga pants with loose tops or flowy, feminine dresses. I avoided tight waistbands, form-fitting dresses and crop tops. I have to say, once I had accepted my new body I went back to wearing these things without an issue. But at least in the beginning it helped to feel more relaxed and less self-conscious of my body as it changed. Also, I spent a lot of time relaxing during my recovery process. So it was really nice to feel comfortable and cosy.

Hide the full length mirror

My second tip for dealing with weight gain during recovery is to hide the full length mirror if you have one. I used to have a full length mirror in my bedroom. I would check my body in it several times a day, even more during recovery as I was anxious about the changes I was seeing. In my mind it would ease my anxiety. However, checking the size of my stomach or thighs only made me feel worse and focus on my body more. I am sure many of you can relate to this excessive body checking if you are experiencing Hypothalamic Amenorrhea…

One of the best things I did for my recovery was covering up the mirror with a big colourful scarf. This helped me to break the habit of body checking and shift my awareness to how I was feeling on the inside. After the initial period of fatigue I actually started to feel more energetic and alive and I think not focusing on my outer appearance helped to observe this positive change. I won’t say that it was easy, in in the beginning I found it tough not to just take a peek. Body checking was almost like an addiction and after quitting cold turkey it became much easier not to do it. It was exactly the same for weighing myself daily, I got rid of the scales and this helped immensely to let go of the fear of seeing those numbers creeping up.

Do a social media purge

My third tip for dealing with weight gain during recovery is to do a social media purge. If you are a social media user, you are trying to get your period back and you follow any diet, weight loss and fitness accounts, you are not helping yourself! I know I used to follow so many health and fitness accounts and I would be constantly negatively comparing myself to other people’s bodies online. Every time I opened up Instagram or YouTube, I would be feeding my mind with ammunition to beat myself up with later. I’d constantly find new things to dislike about my body or areas I didn’t measure up and needed to improve.

At one point it had to stop and I did a huuuuge purge of all of my accounts, unfollowing anyone that I compared myself to or anyone who shared content relating to weight loss or the diet mentality. Instead I followed normal people with normal, unedited bodies as well as accounts promoting body positivity and the non-diet approach to health which is what I now use with my health coaching clients. This was such a big step and helped me to shift my perspective and let go of some of the ideas about how I should look. I reprogrammed my brain to see what a healthy, female body should look like and this helped me to accept the changes I saw in my own body during recovery.

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natural fertility fertilisation

Causes for infertility and natural fertility treatments

What is infertility? What are the causes for infertility in both males and females? And what are the options for natural treatment of infertility? These are all questions I answer in this article so stay tuned!

I often support women who are looking to improve their health and lifestyle in preparation to start a family. In some cases this is women who just want to get healthier and learn how to take care of themselves. Women who want to learn how to nourish their mind, body and soul as they grow another human. For other ladies, the situation is more complicated and they are looking for support due to infertility.

What is infertility?

The majority of couples, that is around 84%, are able to fall pregnant within one year of having regular having unprotected sex. But unfortunately this is not the case for everyone. Infertility is when a couple cannot conceive, despite trying. Infertility is thought to affect around 1 in 7 couples in the UK. There can be many causes for infertility which can be due to the woman, man or both. Infertility can occur due to problems at any of the 4 main stages of conception:

  1. Ovulation i.e. the release of a mature egg from the ovaries
  2. Fertilisation of the egg by a viable sperm
  3. Transport of the fertilised egg to the womb
  4. Implantation of the fertilised egg into the womb lining

Problems with any of these processes can result in infertility and problems conceiving. Around a third of cases of infertility are attributed to female infertility and a third is due to male infertility. The remaining third is either due to both the male and the female or unknown causes of infertility.

natural fertility fertilisation

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What is primary vs. secondary infertility?

Primary infertility is the inability to conceive in a woman who has not given birth previously. Secondary infertility is when a woman has already given birth to at least one child. Often people wonder if fertility can be genetic. The answer is yes, approximately 50% of infertility cases are thought to be genetic. The remaining cases are caused by a combination of environmental and lifestyle factors.

What are the causes for infertility in females?

The menstrual cycle, which is responsible for female fertility, is regulated by a complicated symphony of chemical messengers aka hormones. An imbalance in these hormones can impact ovulation either by making ovulation irregular or stopping ovulation altogether. Other physical factors can affect the transport and implantation of a fertilised egg.

Female infertility can be due to a number of causes:

  • Physical – Hereditary problems, damage or trauma can lead to infertility by affecting the functioning of a woman’s reproductive organs
  • Reproductive disorders – Conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, hypothalamic amenorrhea and hypothyroid are all associated with reduced fertility in females
  • Hormonal imbalance – High stress, excessive exercise, poor nutrition and other lifestyle factors can lead to imbalances in the female reproductive hormones
  • Contraception – Use of certain contraceptives such as the pill or implant can lead to temporary infertility after stopping the contraception
OvulationHormonal imbalance, contraception, PCOS, hypothalamic amenorrhea
FertilisationLow sperm quantity or viability, timing of sex, ineffective mucus
TransportationBlocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis
ImplantationEndometriosis

What are the causes for infertility in males?

The quantity and quality of sperm is absolutely necessary for the second stage of conception, fertilisation to take place. Male fertility is usually assessed by checking the sperm count, mobility and viability as well as the volume of sperm produced.

Male infertility can occur for a number of reasons:

  • Physical – Damage to the testicles or structural problems can lead to reduced sperm count or affect transport of sperm
  • Impotence – Stress and other lifestyle factors can affect a man’s ability to achieve or maintain an erection
  • Contraception – Males who have been sterilised previously may experience reduced fertility even after reversal of the vasectomy

Risk factors for infertility in women and men

There are several factors which affect both female and male fertility:

  • Age – A woman’s fertility starts to decline after the age of 35 as the number and quality of her eggs decreases
  • Lifestyle – Factors such as poor nutrition, smoking, alcohol, stress can reduce fertility by affecting a woman’s ability to conceive and a man’s sperm quantity and quality
  • Body weight – Both obesity (BMI >30) and underweight (BMI (<18) are both associated with lower rates of fertility
  • Environmental – Excessive exposure to pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, PCBs and other toxic chemicals can affect fertility in both genders
causes of infertility

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Can infertility be treated?

The answer to this one is, it depends! As we have seen, infertility can be caused by a wide range of factors. Some of which can be treated and others which cannot. If you are struggling with infertility and you are unsure about the reason, it is a good idea to visit your GP for testing. This is the best way to find out the potential causes and your options for treatment.

In some cases, medically assisted reproductive procedures such as IVF may be the best path to take. In other cases, it may be possible to improve your fertility using natural methods. This includes improving nutritional status and other approaches described below. Natural methods of fertility treatment are particularly beneficial if no structural or hereditary conditions are present.

There is significant research to demonstrate the benefits of nutrition and lifestyle changes on fertility, however nothing is guaranteed. The good news is that natural approaches to improving fertility have no negative side effects and offer many other holistic health benefits. Even for couples who decide that medical intervention is the path for them, natural fertility methods are complementary. Healthy lifestyle changes support the couples health and wellbeing throughout this process and increase the chances of success.

Natural approaches to infertility

Natural approaches to fertility are holistic and varied. Here I will focus on the areas of my training which is nutrition, holistic lifestyle practices and menstrual cycle awareness. Other natural approaches you might want to research includes Traditional Chinese Medicine, Herbal Medicine and Acupuncture. I will be sharing more on this topic in the coming weeks and months. For now, here is a summary of the three main areas I focus on with my clients:

Menstrual cycle awareness

Despite what we were told in school, it is not possible to fall pregnant at any time but rather only at specific times in a woman’s menstrual cycle. Improving timing of sex to align with ovulation can improve chances of conception from 2-4% to 20%! This means getting to know your cycle and observing your natural hormonal rhythms and signs of fertility. These are signs such as your body temperature and cervical mucus consistency. Not only will this improve your chance of conception, it also helps you to become more connected and in tune with your female body. This will support you throughout your pregnancy, birth and life in general.

Nutritional therapy

Research shows that a healthy, balanced and varied diet improves fertility in both females and males. This includes ensuring you are taking in the right amount of energy and macro-nutrients. You need energy to support optimal functioning of your metabolism and reproductive system. A nutrient dense diet with plenty of fresh produce, adequate protein, complex carbohydrates and high quality fats promotes natural fertility. Similarly, reducing consumption of alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants improves chance of conception.

There are also specific nutrients which promote healthy egg maturation and boost your fertility naturally. You want to ensure you have these nutritional bases covered via your diet or through targeted supplementation. It is helpful to check nutrient status to determine potential causes for infertility and the appropriate nutritional strategy. Pregnancy requires a large amount of nutrients and without adequate stores can leave a woman depleted. Eating a healthy nutrient-dense diet during conception can also help to reduce the chances of deficiency post-partum.

Stress and mental health

Ensuring your overall lifestyle is supportive of your fertility is another key part of natural fertility treatment. This includes managing your stress levels and incorporating rest and relaxation into your daily routines. Stress alone is one of the causes for infertility in females and males so it is important for both partners to managed their stress!

Holistic health also incorporates maintaining a positive mindset towards your body and your fertility. Infertility can be a distressing experience therefore maintaining good mental health care throughout the process is important. Learning holistic health strategies prior to conception is also a great way to prepare for pregnancy and motherhood. Then you will need to take care of yourself and baby!

Physical activity

Natural fertility treatment also involves ensuring that the amount and type of exercise you do is appropriate to ensure optimal health and hormonal balance. A healthy amount of moderate exercise improves fertility but excessive exercise can lead to problems with ovulation. Over-exercise is one of the causes for infertility amongst athletes who otherwise seem very healthy. It is that you want to find that sweet spot of the right types and amount of exercise for hormone balance.

Finally, reviewing the products that you are using is important. You want to avoid exposure to potentially toxic or hormone disrupting chemicals that could impact your fertility.

natural fertility positive pregnancy test

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References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3885174/#:~:text=Infertility%20is%20a%20relatively%20common,are%20due%20to%20genetic%20defects.

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/infertility/

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/infertility#:~:text=Primary%20infertility%20is%20when%20a,diagnosis%20and%20treatment%20of%20infertility.

https://www.britishfertilitysociety.org.uk/fei/at-what-age-does-fertility-begin-to-decrease/

What is the perfect diet for humans?

The world of nutrition and diets can be a confusing place. There are so many different diets that claim to be the perfect diet for humans and the optimal way to eat. I remember once reading a quote, “If you are not confused about nutrition then you haven’t studied it enough” and I find this to be so true. If you have been in the world of health and wellness for a while, you will have seen many nutrition trends come and go and often competing with each other for attention. In the last ten years alone we have seen the rise of vegan and plant-based diets (high carb low fat), paleo, keto and carnivore diets (low carb high fat) as well as gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free diets..

I could go on but I’m sure you see my point. Each time a new nutrition paradigm is discovered there is a huge hype and a torrent of evidence to demonstrate that this is the perfect diet which will solve all of our health problems. Vegan nutritionists and doctors believe that animal products are the cause of all diseases of the modern world, including high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease and that eating a diet based on mostly plant-based foods will help us to live a long and healthy life. On the other hand, proponents of animal-based keto and paleo diets proclaim that sugar and carbohydrates are the devil and should be avoided at all costs. They believe that there are toxic compounds in plant-foods that wreak havoc on the body and that training your body to become a fat burning machine will help you to stay fit and lean and keep disease at bay.

Both sides have theoretical research, data and anecdotal evidence to support their ideas but how can this nutrition paradox exist? And what does this say about what is the perfect diet for humans? As I have said before, I believe that humans we are very adaptable creatures and we are able to survive in many different environments on a variety of diets. This is why we have been able to spread across the globe and build societies from the tropics to the snowy mountains of Siberia. When it comes to the perfect diet to thrive, I think this really comes down to the individual and the environment they live in. There are so many factors that affect what and how much you should eat to be healthy that it is truly impossible to state that one diet or specific way of eating is optimal for everyone, everywhere. Honestly, I think this idea is crazy!

According to Marc Davis in his book, Nourishing Wisdom, there are five key factors which can influence your dietary needs at any given time:

  1. Lifestyle
  2. Age
  3. Environment
  4. Season
  5. Health conditions

These things taken together account for changes in the quantities and types of foods that you need to eat at any time. For example, a male athlete living in California has very different dietary needs to a sedentary elder in Alaska or a pregnant working woman in London. There is no way that we can apply a one-size-fits-all diet to these cases. Perhaps these are extreme comparisons but even within the span of your own life there will be differences. Your activity and stress levels fluctuate as you move through your life and every year most locations in the world experience the natural shifts in weather and pace of life with the changing seasons. For women we also move through inner “seasons” each month following the hormonal rhythms of our menstrual cycle which changes our appetite and cravings as well as macro and micro-nutrient needs.

For many of us, trying to control our diets or our bodies is a natural response to the stresses of life. Change is always inevitable and often uncomfortable and we can turn to strict dietary rules or control of our bodies shape or size as a way to feel a sense of stability. Part of the holistic health journey is learning to accept and flow with these changes in our bodies and our diet rather that resist against them and create further stress and tension. When we learn to relax and listen to our bodies messages about what it needs at any given time, we take the pressure off ourselves and find that there is a natural intelligence that comes through. If we start a new exercise program, we may naturally feel hungrier and crave foods higher in protein. If we move house or change jobs, the stress may increase our appetite and cravings for sugar to calm the nervous system or on the contrary, shut down appetite all together. The body is always looking out for your and trying to do what it thinks is best for survival.

In my holistic health coaching practice, I have clients that come to me with a range of issues. Some want to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way, others have been through years of restrictive dieting and want to regain a monthly menstrual cycle or overcome symptoms of a low metabolism such as fatigue, low mood and other symptoms of hormonal balance. Some clients live very active lifestyles with work, family and regular exercise and others have lower energy requirements due to a slower paced lifestyle. Each case is different and the dietary suggestions I make depend on the individuals’ lifestyle, health data and history, current health status and their goals. This can involve changes in the recommendations for how much to eat, when to eat, which types of foods to consume and in what ratios. Working with clients over several sessions, we can tune into what works and what doesn’t and find what is the perfect diet for them.

As an example, a metabolically healthy person with a few extra lbs to lose can afford to increase the fruit and vegetable consumption and lower fat consumption to reduce the overall calorie density of their diet and help them to lose weight without feeling deprived. A low calorie density diet can be the perfect diet to lose weight for many people. However, someone who is metabolically compromised and suffering from digestive and hormonal issues due to not eating enough food or enough variety of food is likely to feel worse on a a low-calorie density diet and is more likely to need to eat less fibre and more calorically dense foods to support their body in healing and recovery. When it comes to plant-based foods, it is not as simple as more is better. If you are already consuming 8-10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, drinking 2L of water and wondering why you are still feeling rubbish then it is time to take a look and see what else needs to change.

I always recommend clients to keep a food diary, not to track calories or macro-nutrients but to see how their body responds to different foods and meals. A food diary is an amazing tool for anyone looking to improve their health and find the perfect diet as observing your bodies’ reactions can tell you a lot about your state of health and what you need to stay balanced. It is quite trendy nowadays to restrict foods such as gluten and dairy and to include “superfoods” like kale and spirulina but what if these foods don’t agree with you? Keeping a food diary can help you to understand the foods that digest well for you, keep you feeling full and energised for longer as well as any problem foods or combinations of foods that leave you feeling hungry an hour later or tired and sluggish for days. You might even find that certain foods work well in one situation and not in another, perhaps you can digest a particular meal but that same meal causes bloating and reflux if you eat in a stressful environment such as at your work desk.

I also encourage everyone to explore the local food culture in the area they live as traditional meals prepared with locally produced ingredients are more likely to support you in the environment you live in compared to copy paste recipes prepared by someone on the other side of the globe made with imported and mass-produced ingredients. Traditionally, people were more aware of the connection between us and our environment and more conscious of how different foods can be used to support us through environmental changes. Last year I moved from the UK to Greece and my diet completely changed. It was very disorientating but eating Greek cuisine daily and shopping for seasonal produce in the local market was very grounding and was a big wake up call for me to understand the importance of allowing changes in the diet and adapting to the climate that you live in.

I think this is one of the huge problems with the raw vegan movement. Yes it may work in certain locations where fresh, water-rich food is needed to keep your body cool and hydrated or perhaps for short periods of cleansing and detoxification for those with specific health conditions. But is a raw vegan diet is perfect for humans who live in colder climates or who are underweight and need to consume a higher amount of calories? I would argue not. Perhaps it is the perfect diet for a specific human in a specific life situation but no more than that. The same goes for the keto or carnivore diet. For someone who has deprived their body of nutrients present in animal products, maybe consuming large quantities of these foods can be therapeutic for a time to rebuild nutrient stores and rebalance their body but the problems arise when we hold on to these restrictive diets longer than necessary. Once our bodies start to react with cravings for foods outside of the diet, it is important to listen and not remain stuck in the idea that this is the perfect diet.

So where do you start with finding what is the perfect diet for you? I have lots of resources here on my website to help you assess your current state of health and find a nutrition path that works for you. If you need more tailored advice and a personalised holistic health and nutrition plan tailored to your current situation and your goals, you can reach out to me for support via my holistic health coaching program.

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and it gives you “food for thought”. Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. Like this post to support my business and follow along with my blog for more articles on nutrition, yoga and holistic health practices to support balanced hormones and overall better health.

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

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

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

Energy

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

Mood

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

Sleep

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

Hair

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

Skin

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

Digestion

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

Hormones

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

Creativity

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

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

Over to you…

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

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

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Let it shine: Embracing inner summer aka the ovulatory phase

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

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

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

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

Image credit: Hello Clue app

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

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

Other posts you might like

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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Get your period back on a vegan diet – is it possible?

Women often ask me whether it’s possible to heal your hormones and get your period back on a vegan diet. In this post I will give my opinion and explain my reasons why. 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. There I explain all about the factors that can cause your period to disappear or become irregular. I also explain in detail and the nutrition strategy to recover your menstrual cycle after Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.

So to return to the initial question: can you get your period back on a vegan diet? The short answer is yes, it’s absolutely possible and I did it myself. I went vegan in 2015 after watching documentaries about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the health benefits of a plant-based diet. At the time 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 to get your period back on a vegan diet!

However, does this mean I recommend a vegan diet to my clients? Or that I believe it is optimal to get your period back on a vegan diet? Definitely not! In fact, I am no longer vegan and re-introduced animal products to my diet 3 years ago. 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 it might be more difficult to get your period back on a vegan diet. This is a topic I have researched extensively over the years and I have personal experience with.

Why might it be hard to get your period back on a vegan diet?

Eating the calories needed to heal

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, increasing your energy intake is very important. You need to eat enough to support your bodily functions and daily activities. Plus extra for healing and repair of damage caused by malnourishment. You can definitely do this on a vegan diet simply by eating more food. However, as many plant-based foods are more calorie dilute this can be a struggle!

Fruit and vegetables, starchy carbs and legumes all have a high amount of water and fiber. If you base your vegan diet on these healthy whole foods, 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! Unfortunately, it’s counter-productive when boosting your energy intake is your goal. If you want to get your period back on a vegan diet you need to eat a lot of food!

How to eat more calories on a vegan diet

Adding in energy dense vegan foods such as nuts and seeds, nut butters, oil and processed foods helps. These foods are lower in water and fibre. This means they 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. As a vegan I ate a lot of beans, vegetables and nut butters which are all super high in fibre. Actually I forgot how it felt not to be bloated until I finally reduced the amount of fibre I was consuming.

If you want to try to get your period back on a vegan diet, focus on lower fibre foods. Don’t get caught up in the low fat trend. Eat fats from nuts, seeds and coconut. 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. Therefore, you might find that your body needs a large quantity of them to satisfy your nutrient needs for healing.

Getting adequate 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. This 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. Often hormonal imbalance and compromised digestion go hand in hand. If your digestion is poor, you can’t be sure you are benefitting from all of these nutrients.

Nutritional rehabilitation

It’s important to reflect on your history with dieting. Consider if your past experience with restricting the amount or types of foods you eat could put you at risk of nutrient deficiencies. If you’re unsure you can also ask your doctor to run a blood test for the key nutrients. If you have the budget, you can also order tests online via companies such as Thriva or Forth. What ever diet you follow, make sure to include foods containing these nutrients to rebuild your stores.

The only problem is that there may also be additional compounds present in animal products which we don’t yet fully understand and aren’t covered by tests. I think it is better to heal your body with a high nutrient, omnivorous diet. Then once your body is healthy and functioning optimally you can consider adopting a more plant-based diet long term if you desire. You want to make the healing process and simple as possible for yourself! You have a whole lifetime to follow a vegan diet once you get your period back and your body is healthy again.

Quantity and type of fat

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. There is some research to suggest that these fats are actually less supportive to metabolic health. Conversely, saturated fats which you mostly find in meat and dairy, are pro-metabolic.

Losing your period is commonly a sign of being in a lower metabolic state. 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 you should avoid them entirely. But when you want to send the body the signal that the famine is over and its safe to rev up the metabolism and reproductive system, you want to make sure you are consuming enough saturated fat. Adding in more fat from coconut is a good step towards a more metabolically supportive vegan diet. Eating coconut oil, milk or flakes will make it easier to get your period back on a vegan diet. However, consuming more variety of fats and nutrients from animal based sources will take your diet to the next level.

Cholesterol sources

Animal fats also contain cholesterol which is another nutrient you want to include daily when you are trying to get your period back. Often cholesterol is demonised and nutrition guidelines tell us to avoid high-cholesterol foods if we want to be healthy. When it comes to hormone balancing and especially recovering from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, hormone production is lower than it should be. In this case, having some cholesterol in your diet is actually beneficial and speed up the healing process.

Cholesterol is a building block for reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. These hormones 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.

Overcoming 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. I was focused on sourcing ethical food which 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, 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. Is there is any chance that a desire to restrict your food is influencing your decision? Are you consuming a balanced vegan diet or are there still rules and restrictions present? Do you still fear certain foods because you believe they are toxic or will make you gain weight?

Restrictive vegan diet rabit holes

Unfortunately, there are also many rabbit holes to fall down when it comes to the vegan diet. This can lead to some pretty extreme dietary restrictive diets. Raw vegan, starch solution, high carb low fat, 80 10 10, vegan keto just to name a few! So while it is possible to get your period back 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. You need to really allow your body to relax and heal. This requires 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, support your body better by eating a varied and balanced vegan diet. Don’t be being seduced by the health claims of these more restricted vegan diets!

Summary on whether it’s possible to get your period back on a vegan diet

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. Are you interested in this topic? Would you like me to talk more about my experience with getting my period back on a vegan diet? Leave a comment below or drop me an email at moonlifeyoga.mail@gmail.com!

Over to you…

Please like and share this post to support my business. Share with anyone who might benefit from this article and follow my blog for more posts on holistic health and hormone healing.

Contact me for guidance, support and accountability on your period recovery journey. I will make the process easy for you and help you to overcome any road blocks. I would love to work together with you to get your hormones balance and you feeling your best again!

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foods to increase your metabolism orange juice

Top foods to increase your metabolism

After my last post about when low calorie density diets don’t work, I got a few email questions asking about foods to increase your metabolism. I have to admit, this is something I am still in the process of figuring out. I went way off in the wrong direction during the first years of my recovery. Fortunately, I came a long way by following a high calorie and high carbohydrate plant-based diet. But it wasn’t until I reintroduced animal products and discovered a pro-metabolic diet that I really healed my body.

This field of pro-metabolic nutrition was NOT something I was taught in my nutrition degree. In fact, some of the advice goes against public health advice. I am not saying this is the way that everyone should eat. However, myself and many other people have had success with eradicating some of the signs of a low metabolism by following this somewhat controversial nutrition advice. If you have been struggling with these symptoms and want to learn about foods to increase your metabolism then read on.

How I discovered foods to increase your metabolism

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. 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. For this reason, much of the pro-metabolic dietary advice was so outside of my nutrition paradigm that I discarded it.

I did take on some of the pro-metabolic diet 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. I also was able 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, Especially how I dealt with the transition both mentally and physically.

For today I will share my current top foods to increase your metabolism and restore hormonal balance!

Top 10 foods to increase your metabolism

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. Orange juice is one of the best foods to increase your metabolism! 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! Coconut oil is one of the best vegan foods to increase your metabolism.

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. Personally, I had a lot of success with keeping oats and bread in my diet so I have never excluded them. 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. Potatoes are definitely one of my favourite foods to increase your metabolism!

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. They knew 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 one of the optimal foods to increase 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. This 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. It is a building block for your reproductive hormones and including eggs in your diet is actually a very healthy thing. For 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. 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. These chemicals 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.

Ice cream is a delicious way to boost your calories without feeling bloated or over-stuffed. This 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.

Reduce these foods to increase your metabolism!

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…

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