Bedtime snack ideas for better sleep

In my recent post top tips for better sleep, I mentioned that low blood sugar during the night can cause sleep disturbances, in particular waking up in the early hours of the morning and not being able to get back to sleep. This is because when blood glucose drops and liver glucose stores have been used up, it is the stress hormone cortisol which is produced to allow stored glucose to be released into the blood stream. When we are in a stressed state and more sensitive to cortisol, this extra dose can raise our levels to the point where we are awoken from sleep. Not only is this annoying and frustrating but a poor night of sleep can also can cause further blood sugar instability the following day leading to a vicious cycle and chronic insomnia.

Signs that blood sugar instability is affecting your sleep include waking up feeling “tired but wired”, waking up with a headache, experiencing heart palpitations or sweating during the night or consistently waking up between 2 and 4am or 8 hours after your last meal which is when your liver glucose stores typically run out. Of course, some of these symptoms can also be signs of other health conditions so it is always important to consult with your doctor and rule out other possibilities but if you are suffering with unexplained insomnia and some of these symptoms, blood sugar could be to blame. There are many reasons why this can happen including a restrictive or unbalanced diet, not eating enough to support your activity or stress levels or an irregular eating schedule, particularly skipping meals or intermittent fasting.

If you struggle with insomnia and sleep distrubances, eating a small, balanced snack before bed can be just the trick needed to improve your sleep quality and help you to sleep through the night. Just think about how we take care of children, often we will give them a small snack before bed to help them to relax and calm down so that they can sleep. For some reason we think this only applies to children and for ourselves we prefer to adopt strict rules such as no carbs after 4pm or no food or drink after 7pm in the hope that this will bring us better health and weight loss. Sometimes it is the things that go against conventional ideas that can really support our health. Especially if you are currently under stress or following a strict diet and exercise program and finding that you are having trouble sleeping, why not try simply adding a small bedtime snack to your routine and observe how you feel in your body.

So what are the best foods for a bedtime snack? There are two things to reconsider here:

  1. Digestibility
  2. Balanced macro nutrients

Firstly you want to make sure that your snack is not too heavy and contains foods that are easy on the digestive system. The last thing you want is to be going to bed with a full stomach after a heavy meat meal or difficult to digest foods such as raw vegetables. Only you know what works best for your digestive system but generally easy to digest carbohydrates such as cereals, milk, honey and fruit work well along with a small amount of fat and protein to support blood sugar balance. Fats and proteins slow down digestion whereas carbohydrates tend to be absorbed much more quickly. Therefore eating a snack containing a balance of carbohydrates, fat and protein should prevent a high blood sugar spike followed by a low blood sugar crash and provide a more stable and even energy source for your body as you sleep.

Some examples of bedtime snacks for better sleep include greek yoghurt with honey, 2 boiled eggs with a piece of fruit, a slice of wholegrain toast with cheese or hummus, a small handful of trail mix or hot porridge oats with a spoon of peanut butter. If you prefer not to eat solid food before bed, you can go for a sustaining drink instead such as milk with honey, homemade hot chocolate or chocolate milk, a protein shake made with berries, milk and a half scoop of protein powder or orange juice with added gelatin. These are just some suggestions but feel free to play around with different types and ratios of foods in your bedtime snack to see what supports you in getting your best sleep and feeling energised and refreshed the next day!

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and feel inspired to give these tips a go. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences, I’d love to hear from you. Like this post to support my business and follow along with my blog for more post 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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Why and how I include treats as part of a healthy diet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

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Foods for healthy hormones and weight loss

A quick post for you today with some of my top foods for healthy hormones and weight loss. Include these foods in your diet to nourish your body, balance your hormones and reach your healthy, happy weight. If you haven’t already, check out yesterday’s post on how the calorie density of foods affects weight loss. Lots of the foods on the list below are “low calorie density” meaning that they will help you to feel full and satisfied when combined with other foods. At the end of the article I will give you some examples of how to put simple meals together including these foods.

Top 15 foods for healthy hormones and weight loss

  1. Potatoes (any variety, especially sweet potatoes)
    Potatoes have to be my top food on the list. Mainly because they are so demonised in the dieting world and I want to throw the idea that potatoes are bad for you out of the window! Potatoes are a super filling food which will give your body the energy to function at it’s best and also provide a good dose of vitamin C, vitamin B6 and also vitamin A for sweet potatoes. Eat them with the skin and you’ll get the added benefits of a fibre boost to aid digestion and keep you full for longer.

  2. Oats
    Oats are another great source of complex carbohydrates which will give you the fuel to lead a healthy, active life. Eat them raw in muesli, blended in a smoothie or cooked as porridge with whatever toppings you like. Oats are a good source of minerals such as manganese, zinc and biotin and also provide you with fibre and protein to keep you feeling full and satisfied for hours.

  3. Greek yoghurt
    I just loooove greek yoghurt! It makes such a tasty, satisfying breakfast or dessert and also provides plenty of protein to help with repair and growth and fats to support healthy hormone production and absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Yoghurt is also an excellent source of calcium to keep your bones and teeth strong and to maintain healthy thyroid function.

  4. Tahini (sesame seed butter)
    Another food I love from the Mediterranean culture is tahini. I was first introduced to this liquid gold when I started to make my own hummus but now I love it on toast, on porridge oats and in salad dressings. The bitter taste isn’t for everyone but it is a great mineral dense food providing calcium and iron as well as a dose of fat and protein to make your meals tasty and satisfying.

  5. Broccoli
    Now onto the veggies.. broccoli is definitely a winner. Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale all have a component called DIM which helps to detoxify excess estrogen from your system and improve your hormonal balance. Broccoli also has plenty of fibre to aid digestion and lots of vitamin C. Top tip – pair with iron rich foods to aid with absorption.

  6. Leafy greens
    Maybe I am cheating here by grouping them together but a healthy diet is not complete without those leafy greens. Whether it is soft baby lettuce in a salad or cooked dark greens such as collards or chard, getting those leafy greens into your body will do wonders for your hormonal and overall health. They provide a huge amount of vitamins and minerals as well as fibre to help sweep out excess hormones from your system.

  7. Courgette (zuccini)
    Courgette is another low calorie density food that can add bulk to your meals and help you feel satisfied. It’s not the most nutrient dense vegetable but it does offer vitamin C and B6 as well as smaller amounts of iron and calcium. But the mild taste of courgette makes it a vegetable that most people can include into their diet and it is less likely to cause bloating and gas like the cruciferous veggies can which makes it a winner for me.

  8. Berries
    How could I forget about the fruits?? It’s hard to limit myself to just a couple of fruits as I love them all but berries definitely make the top of the list. They are packed full of anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals and water rich helping to hydrate your body so you can feel your best. They are delicious hot or cold and are usually available year round fresh or frozen. My favourites are raspberries and blackberries – yum!

  9. Bananas
    Another fruit that has to make the list is the humble banana, another fruit that people tend to be afraid of. Don’t be – I wouldn’t like to try and count the amount of bananas I have eaten over the last 5 years but trust me it’s a lot! Bananas are such a versatile fruit and can be enjoyed as a snack or used as a sweetener to your meals. They give you a good dose of carbs to boost your energy and mood and are a good source of potassium, vitamin C and B6.

  10. Hemp seeds
    Now these is a real nutrient power house. Hemp seeds are a great plant-based source of omega-3 fats, zinc, iron and magnesium so if you’re veggie or vegan definitely include these in your diet for hormonal balance and overall health. They are also a complete protein to support muscle growth as well as healthy skin, hair and nails. You can eat them sprinkled on porridge or salads or blend them into a smoothie for extra creaminess.

  11. Black and kidney beans
    Kidney beans and black beans are another great plant-based source of iron and calcium as well as magnesium and vitamin B6. These are great to eat before and during your period to support healthy blood iron levels. They also provide some calcium as well as protein and plenty of fibre. Top tip – if you are just starting to include beans in your diet, take it slow, add in small amounts and let your digestion adjust over time to avoid gas and bloating!

  12. Red lentils
    Red lentils are softer and generally easier on your digestion compared to beans but they too are a good plant-based source of iron and vitamin B6. Lentils also provide folate which is an essential vitamin for women who are trying to conceive. Lentil soups are a warming, filling meal especially for the cold months. You can mix it up by adding different veggies, herbs and spices to change the flavour.

  13. Chickpeas
    Last one of the legumes is chickpeas! They have a similar nutritional profile to kidney beans but with the added benefit that they can be blended with tahini and lemon to make humus. This is great for anyone who doesn’t like the texture of beans as it can be added to wraps and sandwiches or used as a dip for veggies or tortilla chips. Chickpeas are also great baked as a crisp snack or added to veggie curries as a protein source.

  14. Salmon
    Fish and seafood are an amazing source of zinc for healthy hormones as well as iodine. Salmon and other oily fish such as mackerel or sardines also provide those omega-3 fats to support your brain health and lower inflammation as well as being essential for healthy hormone production. The NHS recommend including one portion of oily fish in your diet every week for optimal health.

  15. Eggs
    Last but not least, we have eggs. I have included these because they are such a dense source of nutrients, especially vitamin A, B12 and selenium. Just adding one boiled egg to a salad can make it so much more satisfying but they also make a quick and easy meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Go for organic free-range eggs where possible to avoid hormone disrupting anti-biotics and chemicals

Meals including foods for healthy hormones

Here are some simple meal ideas including foods for healthy hormones to give you inspiration.. enjoy!

Breakfast foods for healthy hormones

  • Porridge oats cooked with mashed banana and tahini
  • Greek yoghurt topped with oats, lots of berries and a sprinkle of hemp seeds
  • Oat and banana pancakes topped with berries and tahini

Lunch foods for healthy hormones

  • Leafy green salad with salmon and boiled potatoes
  • Omelette with broccoli and courgette
  • Red lentil and sweet potato soup with side of wilted spinach and courgette

Dinner foods for healthy hormones

  • Black and kidney bean chili with a side of grilled courgettes
  • Sweet potato and chickpea curry with a side of steamed broccoli
  • Roasted or baked potatoes with grilled salmon and veggies

Over to you..

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Masculine vs. feminine energy approach to weight loss

I touched on masculine energy and the over-controller in a previous post about goal setting. If you have read that post, maybe you can relate! Today I want to talk about the masculine vs. feminine energy approach to weight loss.

What is the masculine energy approach to weight loss?

Think about the last time you tried to lose weight? Did you have a structured meal plan, count calories or track macros? Did you think that carbs were the devil or “the fat you eat is the fat you wear”? Or did you stick to a regimented workout plan from a coach or personal trainer and never miss a day no matter how tired you were? Perhaps you had an expectation to lose Xlbs in 12 weeks and felt disappointed with anything less than that?

The thing that these strategies have in common is that they are all a masculine energy approach to weight loss. Masculine energy is great, we all need a dose of it in our lives. It is logical and rational, it gives us structure and helps to build discipline. All excellent things!

The problem with masculine energy approach to weight loss though is that it forces us into this micro-managing mindset where we believe that controlling every aspect of our lifestyle will get us the results that we want. All that calculating and measuring is tiresome and you need a lot of motivation and will power to keep it up long term. Not only that but our bodies hate to be restricted and deprived and it won’t be long before they fight back with increased hunger and cravings. This is why most diets fail and you end up gaining the weight back, plus some.

What is the feminine energy approach to weight loss?

So if these are masculine energy approaches, what does a feminine energy approach to weight loss look like? Feminine energy is that flowing, surrendering quality that brings beauty and mystery into our lives. When it comes to weight loss, a feminine approach is much more intuitive.

Rather than relying on external factors to determine how much to eat and how to move your body, you turn inwards and listen to your own body .You learn to work with it rather than against it. No more rules or restrictions. Instead a flexible approach that is adapted to your needs and preferences. Rather than being your own boot camp trainer you take on a caring, nurturing approach. You cultivate compassion and acceptance for yourself rather than criticism and shaming. You understand that health is about more than just weight loss. Best of all, you are open to seeing all of the holistic improvements in your health rather than being focused only on the number on the scale.

Masculine vs. feminine energy approach to weight loss

Here I will explain a masculine vs. feminine energy approach to weight loss in the areas of diet, movement, stress, mindset and their impact on your hormones.

Masculine vs. feminine energy approach to diet

When it comes to diet, the masculine energy approach is numbers focused. This could look like counting calories, macros or points such as Weight Watchers or Slimming World. Conversely, intuitive eating is the foundation of the feminine energy approach. With intuitive eating, you learn to tune into your hunger and fullness cues. You come to trust your body and allow yourself to eat till satiation. Rather than stopping because you think you should or because you have eaten your allotted calories for the day.

Alongside this, with the masculine energy approach to weight loss, there might be strict diet rules. This could look like labelling foods as good or bad or excluding food groups. With the feminine energy approach, you learn to tune into your cravings rather than fight them. You see cravings as a signal from your body of a physical or emotional need. Food cravings become an opportunity to listen to your body and engage in self-care. Choosing the right foods and the way you build your plate plays a big role in how satiated you feel. This is something I dive into with my health coaching clients.

Additionally, the masculine energy approach has high expectations and can be rigid and inflexible when it comes to diet. Often the thinking is very black or white and can lead to a binge-restrict cycle. With the feminine energy approach to weight loss, you understand that you are human, not a robot! You developing an awareness of why you eat the way you do and do not expect perfection. You expect life to get in the way and always have a plan B. Neither do you panic and completely give up when you can’t prepare your meals yourself. A feminine energy approach to weight loss fits in with your life so that you don’t have to worry about social situations, events, travelling etc.

Masculine vs. feminine energy approach to movement

The masculine energy approach to movement generally includes a regimented workout plan. Whether that is one you design for yourself or you work with a coach. Often this is the same routine week in week out. You push yourself to get it done even when you are tired or injured and have a no pain no gain mentality. With the feminine energy approach to movement, you make movement a part of your daily life rather than separating out your “workouts”. You move your body throughout the day in ways that you genuinely enjoy rather than forcing yourself to do something you hate.

The masculine energy approach sees movement as a chore and something you do for the results. With the feminine energy approach, you exercise for fun and pleasure. You see movement as a way to connect with and enjoy being in your body. Remember that it’s the only one you’ll get so you might as well make the most of it. We are designed to be active and we feel good when we move. The active couch potato model of sitting down all day then going hard-core with high intensity exercise for an hour is not aligned with how our bodies work. This can cause excess stress and even weight gain long term. Some of my favourites are walking, dancing and yoga but you can try anything that is fun for you.

An important element of the feminine energy approach is to listen to your energy levels and be flexible with your routine. Skipping a day of exercise is not going to harm your weight loss efforts and might actually be just what you need. Pushing yourself to the extreme is a recipe for burn out, hormonal imbalance and even weight gain as it is a physical stress on your body even if it does feel good in the moment. Rest and relaxation is a necessary part of weight loss too and might actually improve your results.

Masculine vs. feminine energy approach to mindset and stress

When it comes to mindset, the masculine energy strategy is a tough love approach. You see your body as something to be manipulated and controlled using your mind. You push your limits and set lofty goals. The masculine energy approach is analytical and you might track data and progress towards your goals in a regimented manner. You have strict routines and rituals to boost your productivity and bio-hack your way to success. If you slip up you might criticise yourself and vow to do better next time.

On the other hand, the feminine energy is focused on self-care and self-compassion. You listen to your body and try to meet it’s needs. Routines and rituals that you create in your life are there to make yourself feel better rather tan to achieve more or maximise your time. You focus on reducing stress and tension from your mind and body, knowing that this is the ultimate path to health. Understanding that true health is holistic and cannot be defined by a number or a particular appearance. Slip ups are an opportunity to reflect on whether your lifestyle is working for you. Not in the sense of whether is it helping you reach a specific goal, but if it is helping you to feel how you want to feel.

Journaling or any other reflective practice is a key part of the feminine energy approach to weight loss. You pay attention to how you feel each day and adjusting accordingly. You recognise the signs of stress or disturbance in your body and allow your emotions to come up and to be released. With the masculine energy approach, you are more likely to create additional stress in your body through your diet or exercise. You ignore your body’s signs of stress and suppress any resistance or emotions that come up rather than taking the time for active relaxation.

Masculine vs. feminine energy approach impact on hormones

For women, our hormones affect everything about the way our body functions! Our mood, energy levels and capacities vary throughout the month. I will save the details of that for another post. Here I will give an overview of how the masculine vs. feminine energy approaches to weight loss impact your hormones.

The masculine energy approach completely ignores your hormones. You basically treat yourself like a man who is the same day in day out, week in week out. There is no consideration of your menstrual cycle in your diet or workout routines. You squash down PMS cravings or beat yourself up for giving in to them. And you push yourself to workout during your period, even if you are in pain or tired. If you push yourself hard enough, you might even lose your period altogether or develop signs of hormonal imbalance.

On the other hand, with the feminine energy approach, your hormones are at the centre of your self-care routine. You are fully aware of your menstrual cycle and which phase you are in each week. And you use this information to adjust your diet, exercise and self-care routine accordingly. You know when it’s ok to push yourself and when you need to rest and take more care of your inner world. Rather than criticising yourself when you don’t see linear progress, you accept that being cyclical is the beauty of being a woman!

Summary of masculine vs. feminine energy approach to weight loss

The table below gives a summary of the masculine vs. feminine energy approach to weight loss.

MASCULINE ENERGYFEMININE ENERGY
DIETStrict diet rules
Counting calories or macros
No room for slip ups
Intuitive eating
All foods allowed
Flexible and fluid
MOVEMENTPlanned workout regime
Pushing limits
Over-riding body signals and energy
Movement from daily activities
Fun workouts to bring joy
Listening to energy levels
STRESSCan create additional stress
No space for self-care
Unaware of stress in the body
Self-awareness of stress signs
Active relaxation strategies
Self-care built in to routine
MINDSETTough love no pain no gain
Punishing and critical
Outcome focused goals
Self-compassion
Nurturing and caring approach
Behaviour focused goals
HORMONESIgnoring menstrual cycle
Same routine through-out the month
Physical stress can disrupt hormones
Menstrual cycle tracking
Adjust diet and movement to cycle phase
Supports hormonal balance

Above all, remember that all bodies are different and focus on YOUR PROGRESS rather than comparing to others. A huge part of feminine energy is surrender and acceptance of what is. Building healthy habits so you can look and feel like the best version of yourself but knowing when to stop pushing and how to find your balance.

Over to you…

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What to eat during the follicular phase

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

What is the follicular phase?

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

What is the follicular phase diet?

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

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

How much should I eat during the follicular phase?

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

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

What to eat during follicular phase of your cycle?

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

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

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

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

My top recommendations:

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

Meals for the follicular phase

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

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

Over to you…

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

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

Other posts you might like

Sources

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

In the Flo by Alissa Vitti 2020

what to eat on your period - chocolate smoothie hemp seeds

What to eat during your period/menstrual phase

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

What is the menstrual phase?

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

What is the period diet plan?

The period diet plan is designed to:

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

Why do you eat more on your period?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What foods should you eat on your period?

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

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

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

Why do you crave chocolate on your period?

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

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

What foods should you avoid during your period?

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

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

Over to you…

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

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

Other posts you might like

Sources

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

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

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

what to eat before your period - whole grains

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

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

What is the luteal phase?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foods to avoid in the pre-menstrual phase?

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

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

Summary of nutrition tips for the pre-menstrual phase

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

Over to you…

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

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

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

Other posts you might like

Sources

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

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

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

ha recovery diet icecream

The HA recovery diet: How to eat to get your period back

If you have read my posts in the period recovery series on Why has my period stopped and how do I get it back? and What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea? you will know that chronic or restrictive dieting is one of the major reasons for missing periods.  So what is the perfect HA recovery diet? What should you eat to get your period back if it has gone awry? In my previous posts I stated that good food and lots of it is the way to go. In this article I want to give a few more tips on exactly how to eat to get your period back.

Just a quick note before we start, I am a qualified Nutritionist, Yoga teacher and Women’s Wellness Coach. My specialty is helping women to balance their hormones and heal their body and metabolism after chronic or restrictive dieting (see My Certifications page for further details). The information shared here is a combination of my nutrition and health education, my personal experience with getting my period back after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. I also learned a lot from the research of Dr Nicola Rinaldi, author of No Period Now What. If you are looking for guidance, support and accountability on your HA recovery journey, please contact me or check out the holistic health coaching packages I offer. 

Now, on with the article!

How much should I eat to recover my period? How many calories in the HA recovery diet?

It is recommended to eat 2500 calories or more to recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Yes, even if you aren’t exercising 2500 calories is the minimum for HA recovery diet. Your body needs to be in an energy surplus right now. This means you need to take in more energy than you are burning through being alive. Plus extra calories for any physical activities you do and to support your body to heal. If you have dieted for a long time, your body has a whole list of things waiting to repair. I don’t just mean your hormones, this energy will also go towards building healthy bones, teeth, hair and nails just to name a few!

I will stress though that this is a minimum and if you are hungry for more than this then you should listen to your body and eat. When I first started following a HA recovery diet I spent a good few months eating at least 3000-4000 calories a day. Sometimes way more than that. Because that was what my body needed and asked for. Did I gain weight? Yes! I gained 20lbs in the first 4 months of recovery. But again, that was what what my body needed to heal my hormones and restore my menstrual cycle. Over time my appetite settled down. However, even now I rarely eat below 2000 calories and I have maintained a healthy period for nearly 5 years.

I don’t recommend counting calories long term but it can be a good idea in the beginning to get an idea of how much you need to eat. Especially if you have been under-eating for a long time, you will need to recalibrate your idea of a normal quantity of food.

What should I eat to fix my period? What is the perfect HA recovery diet?

When you start recovery, it matters less where these calories are coming from. When you are in a serious energy deficit, it is the calories and macro-nutrients that are most important. As a nutritionist of course I am all about eating well and getting plenty of micro-nutrients into your diet. However, this is something that should be done over the long term. What you do for a few months of recovery is less important. You can choose to re-feed with only “healthy foods” or you can choose to add in more “fun foods”.

Consume a good variety of foods from the different groups and eat enough calories and you will be fine. If you are concerned about nutrient deficiencies, you can work with a nutritionist or dietician. They will help you to check your levels and ensure your HA recovery diet is appropriate to restore balance. My recommendation is to get plenty of nutritious food into your body without obsessing over having a perfectly healthy diet. Make sure you eat foods that taste good and bring you pleasure. If you are going to eat lots of food and gain weight you might as well let go and enjoy it! 

(edit – see my more recent post on the best foods to eat to raise your metabolism and heal your hormones!)

Will eating more fats bring my period back? What about carbs? What is the best macro ratio for HA recovery?

The first question women often ask is do I need to eat more fat to get my period back. The answer here is maybe! Check what you are eating right now. Are you following a low-fat diet? Our bodies need  fats to function optimally and produce hormones so eating more fats could be exactly what you need. The HA recovery diet is definitely not a low-fat diet. Your body needs fats to produce hormones and to protect your nervous system.

On the other hand, the HA recovery diet is also not a high-fat low-carb diet. If you are following a high-fat paleo or keto style diet, adding more carbs may be the answer. Restrictive carbohydrates can lead to hormonal imbalance and missing periods. When you eat a low carb diet, your stress hormone levels are elevated and your body enters a survival state where it can rely on fat for fuel. Eating carbs produces an insulin response which helps our bodies feel safe that there is plenty of food around. This sends the signal to your hypothalamus that it can come out of energy-saving mode.

I fully agree that special diets can be therapeutic for overcoming certain diseases. Metabolically healthy healthy people might also experience benefits when experimenting with restricted diets. However, if you have lost your period, this is a major sign that you are not a healthy person right now. So in short, no, there is no specific HA recovery diet or macro-nutrient ratio to follow. Just make sure you are getting plenty of carbs, proteins and fats and listen to your cravings.  Trust that your body knows exactly what it needs and don’t be afraid to go with the flow.

What about liquids? How much water should I drink?

On that note, I want to talk about water consumption. Many of us fell for the myth that you need to drink lots of water to be healthy. We also listened to the same people who told us to eat less salt to be healthy. For many of us with a perfectionist, all or nothing mindset we took this too far and drank several litres of water per day and ate hardly any salt. This is a recipe for disaster! You need salt to maintain a healthy water balance in your body. Drinking too much water flushes out electrolytes leaving you feeling cold, dizzy and “washed out”.

If you have been doing this, I recommend experimenting with reducing the amount of water you are drinking and increasing your salt consumption. This is something I only learned way after my period recovery journey but it has been extremely beneficial for my overall health. I learned this from reading book Eat for Heat, a book written by Matt Stone, an expert on raising metabolism. He describes a symptom of restrictive dieting that I experienced myself. In particular, needing to pee all of the time as well as a low body temperature and cold extremities.

Especially at the beginning of recovery, or if you are feeling very cold, replace all zero calorie drinks including water and diet soda with things like milk, juice, smoothies or even sports drinks containing electrolytes and glucose. Your body actually needs salts to properly absorb the water which explains why plain water often feels like it goes straight through you. You can even add a pinch of salt to every glass if you are really struggling with hydration. If you notice yourself peeing less frequently, feeling warmer, especially your fingers and toes, and sleeping better then you know you are on the right track to recovery.

Does it matter when I eat during recovery? Can I get my period back whilst intermittent fasting?

There is also is the question of when to eat? Again, there is no strict rule on this but consistency is key. You can eat 3 square meals or you can graze throughout the day. As long as you are getting in plenty of calories it doesn’t matter how you do it. The trick is to not let yourself get too hungry as low blood sugar is perceived as a stress by the body. If you are getting cranky, anxious or panicky before your next meal you have probably left it too long. The solution is to add an extra snack before you get to that point. Often 3 meals with 3 snacks is recommended as a good eating structure. If you have no clue then this can be a good place to start.

One thing I don’t recommend as part of a HA recovery diet is intermittent fasting. Again, there is some research showing fasting to have lots of health benefits but it is really not a good idea when you are trying to get your period back. If you want to practice intermittent fasting I would suggest to do no more than 12 hours fasting e.g. 7am to 7pm eating window. This gives your digestive system a break to heal and repair but doesn’t leave you going for long periods during the day without food. Personally I got really hungry at night during my recovery. Sometimes I would wake up during the night starving and need to eat. It really depends on where you are coming from, how long and how intensely you have been dieting. So, do what you need to and don’t set any rules as really anything goes.

Can I get my period back on a vegan or vegetarian diet? What about gluten-free?

Another question women ask is if it is possible to recover on specific diets such as vegan or vegetarian, gluten-free. The answer to this is yes it is possible! However, I would recommend to examine why you are following this diet. If it is a way for you to continue to restrict then maybe it is time to reconsider. I personally recovered my period on a vegan diet but later decided to incorporate animal products back into my diet. I realised that this was still a way for me to control my food intake and keep my eating disorder alive.

If you are following a particular diet for ethical reasons or due to a health condition then this is fine. But make sure you allow yourself to eat plenty of food and do not restrict any macro-nutrients. Find suitable alternatives for foods that are off-limits so that you don’t feel deprived mentally.

(edit – see my recent post about can you get your period back following a vegan diet?)

What if my diet is limited by digestive issues? Can I still get my period back on a restricted diet?

If you are avoiding certain foods due to digestive issues, it is for you to decide whether you want to include them in your recovery diet. If you have allergies or intolerances then by all means stay clear of foods you are sensitive to. However, I will say that many people on restrictive diets find that they develop food sensitivities over time and end up eliminating more and more foods from their diet. This is a sign of your digestive system shutting down rather than of food sensitivities. It is a signal to increase the quantity and variety of foods in your diet not to continue to restrict further.

Personally after following a high fruit vegan diet for over a year, I struggled with stomach pain, bloating and gas. This happened when I added grains and legumes back into my diet and it was an uncomfortable phase to pass. Funnily enough, this didn’t happen with animal products, despite my fear that dairy and meat were toxic and difficult to digest. Unfortunately it takes time for our stomach acid, digestive enzymes and gut microbiome to re-establish. After a period of restriction it can take a while to settle out.

Again, this is where eating processed foods comes in handy as they are much easier on your digestive system. Things like crackers or rice cakes with nut butter, jam, molasses or hummus spread on top were a big part of my HA recovery diet in the first few months. I also ate a lot of cookies, cereals and sandwiches and found they digested really well. Later on I drifted back towards a more whole foods diet but still ate these foods on a regular basis. The best thing is to listen to your cravings and experiment freely without judgement or guilt.

Do I have to eat processed food to get my period back?

What I will say is that processed foods are your friend, there is no need to be afraid. Foods such as bread, crackers, pasta, nut butters, milk, cereals and jams are easy to digest in large quantities. Eating these foods will help you to get the calories you need into your body without over-stressing your digestive system. Basically you want to increase the energy density of the food you are eating i.e. more calories per volume. I know this is counter-intuitive to everything you hear in the health world but it is a necessary part of healing your hormones and getting your period back.

The reason that a low calorie-density, whole foods diet is so successful for weight loss is because your body can feel full on fewer calories. This is due to the higher amounts of fibre and water in foods such as fruits, legumes and vegetables. This is great for people who need to lose weight and overcome conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. But again, you are not one of those people. You need to give your body the energy it needs to repair and feel safe again. With this goal in mind, processed foods are extremely helpful.

Something that helped me with adding “fear foods” back into my diet was realising that a healthy system is a robust one. A healthy system can digest and thrive on a wide range of foods. A healthy body is not one that can only function on a very specific, limited list of foods. The aim of the recovery process is to rebuild a healthy metabolism so that your body can function optimally again. A person with a healthy metabolism can consume a lot of food and has energy to live an active fulfilling life. Visualise your recovery, the person you want to be and the life you want to lead. Focus on that every day to help you get through difficult choices!

Over to you…

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