HA recovery meal plan (my secret project!)

It’s been a bit quieter around here for a while, and for a very good reason! For a long time I have wanted to create a tool to support women with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA for short) who are trying to recover their missing period. I know that learning a completely new way of eating was one of the hardest things parts of my period recovery journey. So.. my secret project that has been keeping me busy the last couple of months is that I have created a HA recovery meal plan. Aka the period recovery meal plan!

I am so excited to finally have this ready to go. I hope that it will be a helpful tool for all of you beautiful readers who are on this exciting but challenging journey of recovering your period. I know this is not all of you but I know that a large percentage of my readers are women who are were I was 5 years ago when I was trying to get my period back after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. If you haven’t read my story you can find out more in my previous post and video here. I have also shared many posts previously about the causes of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and how to get your period back which you can find here.

When I finally realised that my poor nutrition and crazy workout regime was the reason for my missing periods I was stunned. I remember being extremely confused and so unsure of how to eat more after years of restricting both the quantity and types of foods I ate. I know back then I would have loved to have a HA recovery meal plan to guide me on this new way of eating. I even went back to university to study nutrition and trained to become a Women’s Wellness Coach because I was determined to use this experience to help other women in the future. So I am very happy to have finally created this period recovery meal plan and to be able to offer it to you now!

What does the HA recovery meal plan include?

The HA recovery meal plan is 38 pages long and split into 10 sections:

HA recovery meal plan

I have created 20 simple recipes and combined these into a 7 day HA recovery meal plan to inspire you on your period recovery journey. As I highlight in the book, I am a Nutritionist and not a chef! All meals are super easy to make and take less than an hour to prepare. I have based this meal plan on a minimum of 2500 calories per day which is the recommendation of Dr Nicola Rinaldi, researcher and author of No Period Now What ( I highly recommend purchasing her book for more on the science of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and the recovery process). I know 2500 calories can sound scary if you are coming from the world of diet culture. I explain why this minimum energy intake is necessary within the guide.

How was the period recovery meal plan designed?

I have carefully designed the meal plan to ensure that each meal and snack contains a balance of macro-nutrients. This is to provide your body with the fuel and building blocks it needs to recover your hormones. In addition, I have chosen a wide variety of foods throughout the meal plan. This is to maximise the micro-nutrient intake and ensure that your nutritional needs are met. Nutritional rehabilitation is a major part of recovering your period if it has gone missing due to under eating, over exercising or excessive stress. Therefore this was an important element when designing the meal plan.

You want your body to finally feel safe and nourished. I hope that the recipes in the HA recovery meal plan will do just that! The plan is designed around whole, unprocessed foods with a high nutrient density. Not because these are the ONLY foods you should eat. Rather to give a strong nutritional foundation from which you can play around with other foods. It is designed to inspire you and give you a launch pad from which you can get creative. The sample 7 day period recovery meal plan includes different recipes for each meal, every day of the week. However you can use the 20 recipes in which ever way you choose.

Personally I like to consume the same lunch and breakfast for a whole week to make meal preparation easier. Then I switch it up to ensure variety throughout each month. I have provided a full macro and micro nutrient breakdowns of the 7 day meal plan. Additionally, each recipe comes with a summary nutrient breakdown in EU label style. I know not everyone likes to focus on numbers. However it can be a useful tool to understand how different foods can support your body. Full macro and macro nutrient breakdowns for each recipe are available as additional pdfs on request (email me following your purchase for this option).

Will I definitely get my period back if I follow this plan?

Of course there can never be any guarantee that you will get your period back. I would be lying if I told you that, however it is very possible and so many women have made this journey and regained a natural cycle even after many years of HA. It is important first to confirm the diagnosis of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea with your doctor. You want to rule out any other medical issues which could be causing your missing period as the treatment plan could be different. However, the rates of recovery for confirmed Hypothalamic Amenorrhea are very promising when following a healing lifestyle.

One survey concluded that after making lifestyle changes (including adopting a period recovery diet and reducing exercise), 57% of women recovered their period within 6 months. For some women the process can take longer, sometimes up to 2 years. What I can say is that regardless of the outcome, adopting the period recovery diet set out in this HA recovery meal plan will NOURISH you. Eating this way will ensure that your body gets plenty of energy from nutrient dense sources which will improve your overall health and vitality.

Remember to focus on the process and not the outcome. Your body is intelligent and knows how to heal itself when it has the resources it needs.

How can I purchase the HA recovery meal plan?

So, is this is something you are interested in? Would you like to invest in the HA recovery meal plan as a tool for your period recovery journey? Well I have an exciting offer until the end of the year! I will be selling the plan at a 20% discounted price until 31/12/2021. So if you want to have this as a tool for the new year to start or continue your period recovery journey then go ahead and grab your copy!

NOTE – If you do purchase the plan and you find it helpful, I encourage you to please leave a review and to share the product link with other ladies who might benefit from this tool (please don’t forward the pdf directly as I have put much time and effort into creating this work).

Over to you…

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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.

Over to you…

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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.

Over to you…

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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!

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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When low calorie density diets don’t work

Back in January I shared a post about how eating more lower calorie density foods can help you to lose weight. In many cases this can be a very useful strategy as consuming more low calorie high volume plant-based foods can be an easy way to reduce your calorie intake and lose weight without feeling deprived. However, as always, health advice is very individual and what works for one person’s goals will not necessarily work for another. Today I want to share my perspective on when a low calorie density diet is not appropriate and may actually be the cause of unexplained health problems. If you have been following a low calorie density diet and are not feeling your best then keep reading!

Something I have learned over the last 5 years is just how important metabolic rate is for our overall health and sense of wellbeing. Think of your metabolism as being the furnace that keeps you going and fuels all of your bodies functions. If that furnace is burning low you are going to feel that through low energy and fatigue and may experience other signs of a low metabolic rate such as low body temperature, constipation, insomnia, dry skin and hair and hormonal issues. On the other hand, when the furnace is running hot you are more likely to have good energy levels and digestion, sleep soundly and have well functioning hormones and healthy skin, hair and nails.

Metabolic rate is also important in maintaining a healthy body weight as a low metabolic rate means we are using energy more efficiently and are more likely to store calories as body fat than “waste” them on other bodily functions and generating excess heat. We are often told that if we are overweight we need to eat less and exercise more and in some cases this is true, as the society we live in pushes us towards more sedentary lives and over eating on processed foods. Although sometimes the problem is not a lack of exercise or eating too many calories but an issue of low metabolic rate. If you are exercising a few times a week and eating 1200, 1400 or even 1600 calories a day and still not losing weight then potentially it’s not forcing yourself to eat less and move more you need to focus on but rather healing and supporting your metabolism.

The problem with a low calorie density diet is that you can be unintentionally (or intentionally) providing your body with less calories than it needs over a long period of time and triggering your body to reduce your metabolic rate. This is the same thing as entering “starvation mode” which is not an urban myth but actually a very real phenomenon. Eating a diet made up of predominently water and fibre rich fruits, vegetables, legumes and starches may seem like a healthy way to eat but if you are not consuming enough energy to support a healthy metabolic rate you are unlikely to feel well. Because of the high volume of these foods, it is very easy to under eat whilst truly honouring your hunger and fullness signals and feeling like you are eating a lot of food. Trust me I have been there! And the worst thing is, I didn’t realise that it was my healthy diet making me feel that way.

Left… stuck in a low metabolic state, confused and exhausted
Right… on the road to recovery, feeling more energised and happy

There is nothing wrong with eating these kinds of foods, but also adding in high calorie density, metabolism supporting foods to your diet and eating enough calories can go a long way in resolving systemic health issues. I have been following the work of researchers such as Broda Barnes and Ray Peat who really focused in on the symptoms of a slow metabolism and how rehabilitative nutrition can help to restore metabolic health and create robust, healthy individuals. For a long time I thought that eating the healthiest diet possible and avoiding certain unhealthy foods was the way to restore balance and create a healing environment in the body, but over the years I have come to realise that if there is not enough energy available, the body simply cannot heal.

A couple of quick ways you can check your metabolic rate at home:

  • Check your armpit temperature first thing in the morning. Do this every day for a week (preferably the week after your period for women) and if it is consistently below 36.6°C (97.8°F) you may be experiencing a lower metabolic state
  • Check your resting pulse rate. If it is consistently below 70BPM, it’s a sign your metabolism may not be functioning optimally. Even though we are told that a low pulse rate is healthy and a sign of fitness, this is not always the case.

If both of the above tests show a lowered metabolic rate and especially if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a low metabolic rate described above, then a low calorie density diet is unlikely to be appropriate and maybe it’s time to reconsider and try something new. If you are following this approach, loving it and feeling energetic and healthy then keep doing what your doing. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find what works for you and remember, be healthy to live, don’t live to be healthy!

Over to you…

If you found this post interesting, like and follow along with my blog for more real health and nutrition adive. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on you health journey, please contact me for information on the nutrition and holistic health coaching packages I offer. I would love to work together with you to get you feeling your best again.

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Diet dogma, food and morality: why diet identities are unhelpful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

Anyway, that’s enough of me ranting for one day! Please leave a comment below if you have any thoughts on this topic, I’d love to hear your opinions and have a discussion. If you found this article interesting, please like this post and follow my blog to be notified when I post something new.

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

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Why we should NOT use BMI to diagnose eating disorders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you

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

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

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

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

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

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Real health #30 Is obsessing over your health ruining your life?

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

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

Be healthy to LIVE rather than live to be HEALTHY

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

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

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