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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why diets don't work

Real health #7 Why calorie restricted diets don’t work long term

The fact that restrictive dieting works for weight loss is one of the most widespread myths of the western world. We are made to believe that to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, we need to restrict our calories to 1800, 1500 or even 1200 calories a day, cut out all treats and always choose low fat or low carb options. I remember being a young teenager and reading the pages on weight loss and celebrity diets in women’s magazines and thinking this is how I need to eat to be beautiful and successful.

Yes, dieting works in the short term but what happens a few months or years down the line? The fact is that most diets don’t work long term. It’s estimated that 95% of people who lose weight on a diet gain it back within 5 years. So many women (and men!) are stuck in this constant cycle of calorie restriction and deprivation followed by rebound overeating and weight gain. Not only is this bad for your physical health but the dieting cycle is bad for your mental health too.

The problem is that we don’t see the yo-yo dieting as a cycle. We see it as lots of separate, successful diets with periods of failure on our part in-between. We see the diets as being successful due to our initial weight loss and then blame ourselves for “falling off the wagon” and gaining back the weight. Then of course, we see the only solution as starting a new diet. What we don’t realise is that with every cycle our body builds it’s defenses against the perceived famine. Your body does this by:

  • Slowing down your digestive system in an attempt to squeeze every last calorie out of the food that you eat, leaving you feeling bloated and sluggish.
  • Turning down your metabolic rate so that you waste less energy as heat, resulting in a drop in your core body temperature and symptoms such as cold hands and feet and sensitivity to cold.
  • Growth of your nails and hair also slows down as your body tries to conserve energy by limiting unnecessary functions and women may experience disruption to their menstrual cycles.
  • Even you slow down as you start to feel the effects of being in a chronic energy deficit such as fatigue, brain fog and muscle aches and pains.

Basically, everything slows down when you are on a calorie restricted diet! Not only that, your body develops ways to persuade you to eat more when you diet, including decreasing the hormones which make you feel full and increasing your hunger signals. Your body is smart and it remembers where the the highest sources of calories are. Calorie restriction can lead to intense cravings for sweet and fatty foods making you feel like you just don’t have the willpower that you used to. Often, we feel like we have no control around food and start to think about it wayyyy too often. We blame ourselves and try to diet harder but in reality it is the restrictive dieting that is causing the problem!

Even though our society views dieting as the healthy and often even the moral thing to do, chronic calorie restriction and yo-yo dieting are some of the most damaging habits for our bodies long term. Really, calorie restriction can go one of two ways:

  1. Sustained weight loss / chronic calorie restriction

Yes there is a small percentage of people who lose weight through dieting and successfully keep it off. However, it is important to realise that those who lose weight through dieting need to eat less and less over time in order to maintain their weight. Sometimes this is referred to as “metabolic damage” but in reality it is actually our bodies getting super efficient. Naturally our energy requirements decrease as we get older so it’s much better to keep our metabolic rate as high as we can while we are young.

Restrictive dieting doesn’t only mean you are eating less calories but you are also taking in fewer nutrients putting you at risk of deficiencies. Remember, weight loss doesn’t always equal health! Being in a calorie deficit is also a stressor for our bodies, causing levels of stress hormones such as cortisol to sky rocket. Short term, this has the effect of raising your blood sugar and increasing the breakdown of lean tissue for fuel. Long term, chronic stress affects all systems of the body causing digestive issues, a suppressed immune system and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease… and you thought going on a diet was healthy??

  1. Weight cycling / Yo-yo dieting

Cycling between extreme calorie restriction and rebound overeating is a trap that many dieters fall into. One of the issues with this is that we can still end up depriving our bodies of essential nutrients. In the dieting phase, we might be eating healthy food but as I said earlier, if we are not consuming enough calories then it is unlikely we are getting the nutrients we need. In the rebound phase, our bodies are desperate for energy so we are much more likely to reach for calorie dense, processed foods that provide that quick surge of energy but still don’t provide enough of the essential nutrients for a healthy, thriving body.

Of course, this is another survival mechanism as if we were in a true famine it is much better to survive with a nutrient deficiency than to waste away from lack of energy. But when we are practicing this pattern of yo-yo dieting and calorie restriction again and again throughout our lives we can get into trouble. In addition, each weight loss cycle results in loss of muscle as well as fat which can change our body composition significantly over time. Reduced lean mass leaves us with a lower resting metabolic rate (i.e. the amount of energy we burn in a day with no activity), meaning that each time we fall of the wagon we seem to regain weight quicker and each time we diet it gets harder and harder to lose weight.

So if dieting is off the cards, what is the solution?

As I said in a previous post, you can definitely lose weight on restricted diets such as a paleo, keto or vegan diet if you need to. I don’t think these diets are doomed to failure but it’s important to make sure you are eating enough to keep your metabolism healthy and your body feeling safe. If you aren’t feeling full and satisfied after your meals and are constantly wanting more, it’s unlikely you are eating enough. That said, I think jumping off the diet wagon altogether and learning to eat intuitively is one of the healthiest things you can do for your long-term health. I really recommend the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole as a guide to escaping the diet cycle and tuning into your body’s needs. It is definitely a journey rather than a quick fix as it take time to unpick old habits and form new ones but one that is so worth it!

Right now, I am in the healthiest place I ever have been with food. I probably weigh 15-20lbs more than my old “goal weight” but in time I am realising how warped my view of ideal actually was. Now I am at a healthy weight for my body where my hormones are balanced, my hunger levels are in check and I feel fit and strong. Plus, I have maintained this weight for the last 4 years on probably twice as many calories than I used to eat which is so liberating. I eat food that I love and that I know is nourishing for my body and eat plenty of it. And when I want to treat myself I do. I go out to eat knowing that I can have whatever I want with no guilt and I eat until I am satisfied (sometimes more and that is ok too!).

If you are currently stuck in the dieting cycle, today’s challenge is to take a moment to write down a timeline of your dieting history and look at the patterns.

I know for me it really helped to see on paper how long I had been chasing my tail – just how many times I had lost and gained the same 5lbs and just how many “fresh starts” I had had. Sit and really think about the emotions that you feel during each phase of the cycle and ask yourself whether it is worth it. And if not, know that there is a way to step out of all of that and into food and body freedom.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on calorie restriction and whether it works long term.

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

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how to have a healthy christmas - move your body

Staying healthy during the holidays / How to have a healthy Christmas

I want to start by saying this won’t be the typical health blog about how to restrict yourself and avoid temptation at Christmas. If you have been reading my posts for a while you will know I am all about seeing the big picture of health, listening to your body and building sustainable habits rather than extreme dieting and intense workout regimens! Nonetheless this is a post about how to stay healthy during the holidays and these are my top tips for how to have a healthy Christmas.

Relax and surrender

Whatever you do, now is not the time to be stressed about not meeting your health goals. If you are trying to lose weight or improve your fitness and you feel like the holidays are getting in the way, try not to stress as it will only slow down your progress. If you want to have a healthy Christmas, I suggest you focus on allowing your body and mind to truly relax. If you have time off work, use the time to have fun and do things that you enjoy. I know it’s tricky this year with not being able to see friends and family but there are lot’s of things you can do at home like watching cosy movies, starting creative projects or playing games with people you live with. Try to take your mind out of the information overload that is the internet and be present and mindful throughout your day. Let your thoughts slow down, your breathing become deep and the tension in your body melt away. A couple of weeks of true relaxation will help your body to recharge, your metabolism to restore itself and be ready to hit your health and fitness goals in the new year.

Enjoy your treats

Like I said, Christmas is really not the time to deprive yourself and stick 100% to your diet. Who wants to spend the holidays constantly restraining themselves and avoiding temptation? Who wants to be counting the calories in Grandma’s Christmas dinner or saying no to their piece of the Christmas pudding? Dietary restraint has been shown to lead to over eating later on so it is much better to have a yummy treat here and there and truly enjoy it. The days are short and the weather is cold and there’s nothing like a comforting hot chocolate and Christmas cookies to make you feel warm inside. BUT if you want to stay healthy during the holidays, I’d say really be mindful about the treats you are eating and go for quality over quantity. That doesn’t mean spending a fortune on expensive chocolates, but it is more about choosing treats which are made with real ingredients rather than cheap, mass produced boxes of biscuits that don’t even taste that great. Choose things that you genuinely enjoy and savour them when you eat them. And brownie points if you can make them your self!

Keep moving

This one is especially important this year as most of us are stuck inside unable to go out and socialise or travel. We are spending more and more time in front of our screens and this sedentary lifestyle is not the best from our health. If you want to stay healthy over Christmas, try to incorporate a bit of movement every day. It doesn’t have to be anything extreme but 60 minutes of low intensity exercise like walking or yoga or 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise like jogging, cycling or body weight exercises will help to keep your body mobile, release mood boosting hormones and help to keep your blood sugar stable. Establishing a good routine with moving your body now means you will have a solid fitness foundation to build on in the new year if that is your goal. Outdoor sports are the one thing we are allowed to do right now so take advantage of the opportunity to go on winter walks with people you live with or maybe try out an online fitness class if that’s not your cup of tea. Find a way to move your body that you genuinely enjoy and you’ll be well on your way to a healthy Christmas.

Enjoy seasonal fruits and veggies

Even those there are lots of produce that isn’t available over the winter, especially if you live in a colder climates like the UK where I am from, there are still plenty of seasonal fruits and veggies to enjoy over Christmas and into the New Year! Here in Greece we have lots of citrus fruits and pomegranates right now and in the market there are plenty of root veggies and dark leafy greens. Two things I haven’t seen yet which I’ll miss this year are brussels sprouts and parsnips! Wherever you live, Christmas is a great time to lookout for local and seasonal produce and experiment with new recipes like Deliciously Ella’s maple roasted sprouts or BBC good food clementine winter leaf salad. When we eat intuitively, we naturally crave fresh and earthy tastes to balance out the holiday treats so go for it and eat your 5 a day to stay healthy during the holidays.

Stay connected

Even though we might be stuck at home and not able to be out and about as usual this year, it’s so important to stay connected as best as you can. Whether that is through phone calls or video chat with friends and family, joining online groups and virtual meet ups or even by sending Christmas cards. It’s a tough time for many people, especially when we are forced to be alone and it’s so easy to isolate ourselves when we are struggling and feeling down. So don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones to get support and to talk about how you are really feeling over Christmas. Staying connected is such an important part of staying healthy during the holidays so see if you can make it a priority to connect with others in whatever way feels best for you. Personally I am sad to not be able to make it home for Christmas for the first time in my life but we will be having our Christmas dinner tradition via Skype!

Over to you…

I hope this post helps you to have a healthy Christmas and enter the New Year feeling happy and refreshed. Let me know in the comments below if you have other top tips for staying healthy over the holidays!

  • Like this post and follow my blog to for more posts on holistic health and how to reach your health goals in a sustainable way.
  • If you are interested in working with me 1-2-1 I am taking on new health coaching clients in January. Check out my services and send me a message through the contact form and we can work together to reach your health goals whatever they may me

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heart opening yoga - wild thing

Yoga and body image / Yoga for women

I’m really enjoying teaching my online Yoga for Women classes on Sunday evenings, it’s a really cosy way to end the weekend and to connect with other women whilst we are in lockdown here in Greece. If you’re interested in joining the class contact me and I will send you the joining details. This week the class theme was about how yoga can help to develop a healthy body image. Especially nowadays with social media, so many of us have a distorted view of our bodies and waste our precious energy critisising ourselves for the way we look. We hold ourselves to such high standards, often comparing ourselves to images we see in the media which have been carefully crafted and edited to the point where even the person in the photo doesn’t look like that in real life (if you don’t believe me try following Beauty.False on Instagram!).

In my experience, yoga can be an amazing tool in our self-care kit on our journey to overcoming body shame and developing a healthier relationship with the way that we look. Yoga is one of the things that helped me the most in recovering from disordered eating and developing self-acceptance and a more positive body image. However there are also some pitfalls along the yoga path that can make us feel worse about ourselves. In this article I want to share 5 ways yoga can help to improve your body image and 5 body image traps to avoid.

How can yoga help with body image?

  1. Yoga teaches us to be still and to turn our attention inwards. Even if it is only for the short time of the practice, we can shut out the outside world and let our true inner voice become louder. This means tuning out the external voices of societies’ beauty standards, other peoples opinions of us and our own interpretation of how we should be and instead letting the inner knowing that we are fine just as we are come through.

  2. Yoga is a great way to get your body moving and improve your strength and flexibility. Heart opening postures such as back bends and cleansing twists can really help to get energy moving through your body making you feel more alive and good in your body. Standing postures help to improve your posture so you can stand tall and confident and feel good about yourself as you move through your day.

  3. Unlike other types of exercise, yoga is not focused on weight loss or burning calories but on uniting movement and breath to create a more calm, positive mindset and a strong, agile body. During my eating disorder recovery, switching out my gym and running sessions for walking and yoga did wonders to change my relationship to exercise. I started to move my body in a way that felt good, pay attention to how I felt and rest when I felt tired instead of pushing through in an attempt to achieve “results”.

  4. Practice of yoga asana (postures) gets us very acquainted with our bodies in all sorts of weird positions! We are forced to look at our belly rolls in forward folds, our thighs in downward dog, our double chin in shoulder stand.. any part that we might feel shame about we are going to come up close and personal with through yoga. And that’s a good thing! Yoga helps us to become used to seeing our bodies and to normalise the things we might not like and cultivate acceptance over time.

  5. Yoga is a personal journey. Yoga encourages not to compare our progress to others but to arrive on the mat each practice ready to try again and observe what our body can do on that day. We realise over time that nothing is constant and progress is not linear. Our bodies change from day to day depending on what is going on in our lives, how much stress we feel, how much sleep we got and also the with the seasons. We learn to accept these fluctuations and even come to love watching things unfold.

5 body image traps in yoga

  1. Beating ourselves up or negative self-talk. As I said, yoga helps us to turn inwards and let our inner voice become louder. But what happens when your mind is ruled by your inner critic? Sometimes we can let this critical voice seep into our practice and tell us we are not good enough, we are weak or our bodies aren’t flexible enough instead of just accepting what is and feeling grateful for the progress we are making. If you catch yourself spiraling down into self-criticism, pause for a moment to ask yourself why things should be different.

  2. Comparison with others. Although yoga encourage us to focus on our own practice, it can be tempting to compare our bodies or progress in yoga with others around us. This is the worst possible thing we can do when we are trying to develop a healthy body image, especially if those others are people we see online and not in real life. I have definitely fallen into this trap, comparing myself to other yoga teachers online and feeling shame for not being as flexible or as beautiful as them, as if this made me any less of a teacher. Simply not true! A home practice can be a great way to explore yoga without the temptation to compare with others around you. There are plenty of diverse teachers offering free online classes that you can try out.

  3. The perfectionist mind-set. If we have a tendency towards perfectionism we can also bring this attitude into our practice having very high expectations of our selves and holding ourselves to extreme standards. Whether that is how our bodies look or being able to achieve the perfect yoga pose, perfectionism harms us more than helping us. It can cause us to injure ourselves because we are being driven by an external ideal rather than focusing on what’s going on inside. I encourage you to let go of the idea of creating a shape with your body and instead focus on lines of energy and sensations within your body.

  4. Feeling shame about our bodies. Again this is the other side of the coin of becoming aware of our bodies, we can also become more aware of the things we don’t like about our bodies. If we are not careful we can bring our body shame onto the mat and instead of accepting what we see we can magnify the things we don’t like and start to pick ourselves apart. If you catch yourself doing this during your practice, take a big deep breath in and as you exhale imagine you are breathing out the toxic belief that is making you feel something about your body is wrong.

  5. Pushing ourselves too hard. There are many different types of yoga, from relaxing yin and restorative practices to more intense ashtanga and vinyasa practice. For anyone with a history of excessive exercise or body image worries, it can be tempting to use the more active, physically challenging practices as a way to continue to try to lose weight or change your body. If you fall into this trap, work on expanding your mind by bringing more pranayama and meditation into your practice as well as challenging your body through asana practice. Set the intention of awareness with every practice and listen to your energy levels and emotions

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on yoga and body image, please share with anyone else who this could help!

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more on yoga and holistic health. My next post will be a short yoga sequence you can practice at home to help boost your confidence and improve your body image.
  • If you are interested in joining my yoga class or you are looking for a nutritionist and health coach, contact me and we can work together to help you achieve your health goals!

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what to eat on your period - banana oat pancakes

Recipes for your period: Banana oat pancakes

As promised, here is the recipe for the banana oat pancakes I made on the first day of my period. I’m not much of one for complicated recipes so this one is simple and quick. I’m sure you can find many pancake recipes out there but this is one that worked for me. I love eating energy dense meals like this during my period as it helps me to get in plenty of nutrients without feeling too full and bloated. I also don’t have as much of an appetite during the first couple of days of my period (after being super hungry the days before!) so making tasty meals, especially with a bit of sweetness is perfect!

Ingredients

2 eggs**
2 small ripe bananas
1/2c oats
1/4c milk (or non-dairy alternative)
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch salt
1 tbsp coconut oil for cooking
Toppings of choice!

**To make the recipe vegan try replacing the eggs with 2 “chia eggs

what to eat on your period - banana oat pancakes

Instructions

  • Start by blending the oats on high speed into a flour (I used a nutri-bullet but any blender should do the trick)
  • Add the rests of the ingredients and blend for about 10 seconds until combined well
  • Let the mixture rest for about 10 minutes to thicken up
  • Heat approx. 1/2 tbsp coconut oil on a frying pan on medium heat
  • Pour the pancake mix into small circles on the surface of the pan, trying to keep them separate
  • Heat until bubbles start to appear on the surface of the pancakes
  • FLIP to the other side and cook for a few more minutes
  • Serve the pancakes and repeat with any remaining mixture (this batch did 2 pans of 3 pancakes each)

I topped mine with honey this time but you can do any combination you like. Chopped nuts or nut butter, tahini, chocolate syrup or fruit are all great options so experiment and find your favourites!

Over to you…

Let me know in the comments if you try this recipe and what your favourite toppings are!

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more recipes and posts on how to eat to support your menstrual cycle.
  • If you’re interested in reading more about nutrition and the menstrual cycle check out the posts linked below.
  • If you want to work with me to get healthy and balance your hormones, contact me for more information about the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer.

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cycling exercise during period recovery

Can exercise stop your period coming back? 5 ways exercise can slow recovery

A common question from women trying to recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is “can I exercise while trying to get my period back?”. I wrote about my tips for exercising during HA recovery but if you are thinking about taking a break and need some motivation, here are 5 ways exercise can work against your recovery.

1.Exercise burns calories which could otherwise be directed towards healing and repair of damage caused by dieting. The point of eating a lot more food during recovery is to flood the body with energy and nutrients to use for healing and repair. Exercise burns up some of these precious resources which will only prolong the healing process. Often women find it hard to meet the minimum recommended calorie intake for recovery and if you choose to exercise you should eat even more to compensate which can be a challenge.

2. Many women use exercise as a way to compensate for “over-eating” and it can be temping to start to move more when we allow ourselves to eat in abundance. We don’t want to exchange one control mechanism for another, we want to be completely free of all restrictions and compensations around food. We want to get to a place where we let go of any toxic beliefs around exercise and let go of guilt for resting. Exercising to make up for eating more is just another form of disordered eating behaviour.

3. Intense exercise is perceived as a stress by our hypothalamus, the brain master control centre. This means it can continue to feel it is unsafe to reproduce and not send the signal to restart our cycles. Although exercise is a good way to relieve mental stress, it is a physical stress on the body as it depletes glycogen reserves, increases the heart rate and damages muscle tissue. Exercise is healthy for a healthy body but if you don’t have your period you are not healthy right now and rest and recuperation will be your medicine.

4. For many women with HA, exercise has long been used as a way to manipulate their body and separating exercise from weight loss is difficult. We want to get to the point were we can exercise for fun and well being, regardless of the impact that it has on our physical appearance. If we continue to exercise during recovery, we might not do some of the mental work that is needed to fully break free of the weight loss mindset. It’s likely that you need to gain weight if you have lost your period and exercising could make this more difficult.

5. Exercise can be used as an appetite suppressant or a distraction from hunger. Exercise puts our nervous system in “fight or flight” mode when our body is stimulated and running on adrenaline which decreases hunger. You might find that you are more hungry on rest days because your body has calmed down and this is exactly what we want for healing. If you are hungry on a physical or mental level you should eat. Don’t fall into the trap of being “too busy to eat” as this will only delay your recovery.

Once you have recovered your period and have accepted your healed body, you might want to start exercising again from a much better headspace but at least it will be a conscious choice rather than because you feel you have to control your body in some way.

Over to you…

I hope this article gave you something to think about! It’s a personal choice whether you decide to stop exercising all together during your recovery. Women have recovered successfully from HA whilst still exercising but it is my opinion that we recover faster and more completely if we give our bodies chance to rest and fully repair.

  • Let me know in the comments, how do you feel about taking a break from exercise? Does it feel scary or a relief? For those in recovery, are you still exercising or taking a break?
  • If you are looking for support, guidance and accountability on your period recovery journey, please contact me for further information on the health coaching packages I offer. Together we will set you up with a plan to get your hormones balanced and you feeing your best mentally and physically.

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exercise and hypothalamic amenorrhea

What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea? Why have my periods stopped?

What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) or Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (FHA) is when a woman has no period for 6 months in a row or more, despite having no anatomical or disease-related reason for lack of menstruation. Functional means behaviour related and we will come to what those behaviours might be later in this post.

Primary vs. Secondary Amenorrhea

Amenorrhea is the medical term for missing periods or the absence of a menstrual cycle. HA and FHA are known as secondary amenorrhea, which is when a woman’s periods have stopped or she has missed several periods in a row. Primary amenorrhea is when a woman has reached reproductive age (usually considered to be 15 or 16) and her periods have not yet started. Primary amenorrhea can be due to genetic conditions affecting the ovaries, hormonal issues relating to the pituitary or hypothalamus glands or structural problems with the reproductive system. The most common causes of secondary amenorrhea are pregnancy, breast-feeding and menopause but it can also be due to birth control methods such as the contraceptive pill or implant as well as functional conditions such as Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea symptoms

Aside from missing periods, there are many other symptoms which can occur with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. I have listed some examples below although not all (or even any!) of these symptoms have to be present and every woman’s body is different.

  • Thinning hair or hair loss
  • Feeling cold, especially cold hands and feet
  • Excessive tiredness or low energy
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Low sex drive or no libido
  • Abnormal appetite
  • Low bone density or osteopenia

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea explained

**If you aren’t interested in the science-y part then feel free to skip to the next section!

Hypothalamic refers to the hypothalamus, an area of the brain sometimes called the “master controller”. The hypothalamus has many functions, the main ones being regulating hormone levels and maintaining stable conditions inside the body including temperature, blood pressure and appetite. It does this sending out correcting signals responding to changes in internal and external factors.

One of these signals relevant to HA is the release of Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) which causes another gland, the pituitary to release Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing hormone (LH) which are responsible for maturing a follicle in the ovaries and releasing it in ovulation which is the main event in the menstrual cycle. Watch the short video below if you want to learn more about how the hypothalamus and pituitary glands work together.

The ovaries are the reproductive organs which release the sex-hormones estrogen and testosterone which also play a role in regulating the menstrual cycle. The hypothalamus and the pituitary are connected to the ovaries along what is called the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Ovarian (HPO) axis. In HA, there is disruption to the HPO axis due to some sort of stress on the body resulting in low levels of FSH, LH and estrogen. This means no ovulation and a missing period.

What causes Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?

There are several factors at play when it comes to missing periods:

  • Under eating, chronic or restrictive dieting or poor nutrition
  • Over-exercise, especially endurance sports
  • Low body weight or rapid/extreme weight loss
  • Stress and excessive worry

The typical woman suffering from HA is a type-A personality and over-achiever in all areas of life. Especially when this perfectionism extends to diet, exercise and body weight. Extreme examples are women who are constantly on a diet, restricting calories or types of foods and go running 7 days a week. Those who maintain a very low weight even though they are fighting against their body to stay there. Or women who work or study long hours expecting nothing but the best from themselves at all times.

But HA can also affect women in less extreme circumstances who might have lost weight in a “healthy” way or who have been accidently under-fueling over a long period of time (I’m talking to you busy working mums!). Or women who have gone through a stressful life transition. Basically our bodies are trying to keep us safe and alive by conserving calories during a stressful time.

Treatment for Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

There has been a steady increase in the number of searches for “how to get my period back” over the last 10 years. In the case of HA recovery the formula is pretty simple!

EAT REST RELAX REPEAT

  1. Eat plenty of food and I’m talking a surplus of calories
  2. Let go of any diet restrictions and consume all food groups
  3. Take a break from intense exercise
  4. Rest or focus on low intensity movement such as light yoga
  5. Remove as many stressors from your life as possible
  6. Take time to relax and de-stress every day
  7. Consider therapy to help with making the changes above if they feel challenging

Over to you…

I hope this article helped you to better understand HA and why your periods might have stopped. If you want to read more on how to get your period back and recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, check out the posts linked below. Like this post and follow my blog for more like this!

  • Let me know in the comments, what is the most difficult part of the recovery formula for you?
  • If you are looking for support, guidance and accountability on your period recovery journey, please contact me for further information on the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer. Together we will set you up with a plan to get your hormones balanced and you feeing your best mentally and physically.

Other posts you might like


Information sources

Gibson S, Fleming N, Zuijdwijk C, Dumont T. Where Have the Periods Gone? The Evaluation and Management of Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. J Clin Res Pediatr Endocrinol. 2020;12(Suppl 1):18-27. doi:10.4274/jcrpe.galenos.2019.2019.S0178

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You can check out my credentials on the home page and if you are interested in hearing more then contact me via the form on the Work with me page. I will be offering discounted rates on all services for the first 3-6 months so go ahead and take the leap if you are looking for support in developing a healthy lifestyle that allows you to reach your goals whilst being kind to your body and remaining sane in the process!

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walking exercise for period recovery

Tips for exercising during HA recovery

If you have read my last post on Why has my period stopped and how do I get it back?  you will know that I recommend to take a break from intense exercise when you are trying to balance your hormones and get your period back. This includes any form of intense cardio such as running or HIIT as well as heavy weight lifting. 

What types of exercise are ok during Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery?

Low intensity is always the way to go. Walking, easy cycling, yoga, stretching, swimming, dancing.. all of these can be great ways to move your body and feel good without increasing your heart rate too much. If you use a heart rate device I would suggest to stay below the “light” zone of 60-70% HR max which should be an easy pace and not too tiring on your body. You should be able to exercise without pushing yourself and afterwards you should feel energised and happy, otherwise you are likely overdoing it.

That said, if you are tired and you don’t feel like exercising. It is totally ok to rest and do nothing! Actually this is the fastest way to recover so don’t feel guilty if you want to relax on the sofa all day. It’s much better to take a complete break for a month or two than try to continue exercising and the process take much longer, right? Feeling tired is common once you start to eat more and your body goes into repair mode. It’s a good sign that inner healing is happening so don’t freak out and let your body guide you to when it’s time to start moving again.

How long and how often can I exercise during HA recovery?

I really think that the way to recover your period is to take a total break at least for a few months. In the beginning I took a break from all exercise except walking to work and back and gentle yoga for 4 months until I got my period back.

Although I had got my period back, I was still addicted to exercise and I missed the “stress relieving” effects of getting a good sweat on. So once I had 3 regular monthly periods I thought I was good to go and I joined a gym. I started going to exercise classes and lifting weights again.. bad idea! My next 3 periods were 50-60 days long and a lot of the healthy fertile signs I had vanished again. I thought because I wasn’t doing long runs or intense cardio sessions I would be fine but not the case. So I was back to zero exercise for another few months until my hormones balanced out.

Can I exercise again once I get my period back?

Once you have recovered your period, if you decide you want to exercise more, you can experiment until you find the sweet spot where you get the benefits of moving your body but without over-stressing your body. I experimented with exercise a lot throughout my hormone healing journey. In the first couple of years, I found that to maintain a regular cycle I could do moderate intensity exercise a few times a week but I had to keep my workouts to 30 minutes or less and I had to pay attention to my energy levels and stop if I started to feel fatigued. I could walk and practice yoga daily with no issues but I keep these activities to an hour or less.

Now I am 3 years into recovery, I am back to a much more active lifestyle again although nowhere  near the obsessive gym-rat I used to be. Now I can cycle, run or do at home circuits a few times a week and still get a regular period. I also walk a lot and go to dance classes like salsa and zumba. I recently tried a couple of times to go back to weight lifting because I genuinely enjoy it but I could feel that my body felt exhausted afterwards and my recovery was very slow. I got moody and irritable for no reason and eventually I realised it was my workouts that were depleting my energy reserves and I had to stop. This whole process has definitely given me a greater awareness of my how my body reacts to different things. This year I started “cycle-syncing” my exercise routine which I am finding really beneficial and I will share about this once I have a few more months of experience with it.

So if you are just starting out on this hormone healing journey, know that the decisions you make now are not forever but just a step on the road towards better health. Sometimes if you have taken things to the extreme (e.g. exercising like a fiend) then the pendulum has to swing right to the other side (e.g. sitting on the couch all day) for you to eventually find a healthy balance. Give yourself the gift of rest and learn to enjoy it. Chances are if you are over tired and stressed, you aren’t reaching your fitness goals anyway and taking a break may actually help you come back stronger than ever. Even competitive athletes take off seasons for recovery and repair and this is all part of their fitness journey.

Over to you…

I hope this article was useful and you feel more confident about how to exercise during your period recovery. Please like this post and follow my blog for more posts on healthy hormones, HA recovery and holistic health.

  • Let me know in the comments, if you are trying to recover your period, do you think exercise was part of why you lost your period and how do you feel about taking a break? If you have recovered your period, have you started exercising again? Are you doing the same types of exercise or have things changed?
  • If you are looking for support, guidance and accountability on your period recovery journey, please contact me for further information on the health coaching packages I offer. Together we will set you up with a plan to get your hormones balanced and you feeing your best mentally and physically.

Other posts you might like

diet and hypothalamic amenorrhea

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

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 Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery diet? What should you eat to get your period back of it has gone awry? In those 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.

How much should I eat to recover my period?

It is recommended to eat 2500 calories or more to recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Yes, even for those who aren’t exercising (and I don’t recommend that you do exercise if you are trying to recover your period). Your body needs to be in an energy surplus right now which means taking in more energy than you are burning through being alive and any activities you do. If you have been dieting for a long time, your body will have a whole list of things it wants to repair, not just your hormones, and this energy will 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 recovery I spent a good few months eating at least 3000-4000 calories a day because that was what my body needed. Sometimes way more than that. Did I gain weight? Yes! But again, that was what what my body needed. Over time my appetite settled down but even now I never eat below 2000 calories and I have maintained a healthy period for over 3 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 meal.

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

Especially in the beginning, it doesn’t matter too much where these calories are coming from, it is the energy that is most important. As a nutritionist of course I am all about eating well and getting plenty of micro-nutrients into your diet but this is something that should be done over the long term and 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”. My recommendation is to get plenty of nutritious food into your body but don’t obsess over having a perfectly healthy diet. Make sure you eat foods that taste good and bring you pleasure. I mean, if you are going to eat lots of food and gain weight you might as well let go and enjoy it! 

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 fats 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. On the other hand, if you are following a high-fat low-carb paleo or keto style diet, adding more carbs may be the answer. Eating carbs produces an insulin response which helps our bodies feel safe that there is plenty of food around and come out of energy-saving mode.

I fully agree that these diets can be beneficial for overcoming certain diseases and provide benefits for otherwise healthy people, but if you have lost your period you are not a healthy person right now and something needs to change. So no, there is no specific 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! We need salt to maintain a healthy water balance in our body and drinking too much water can flush out electrolytes leaving us 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. If you notice yourself feeling warmer, especially your fingers and toes, and sleeping better then you know you are on the right track to recovery. Especially at the beginning of recovery, or if you are feeling very cold, replace all zero calorie drinks including with water with things like milk, juice, smoothies or even sports drinks. Add a pinch of salt to every glass for bonus points.

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. What I will say is not to 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 and should think about adding an extra snack before you get to that point. Often 3 meals with 3 snacks is recommended as a good eating structure and if you have no clue then this can be a good place to start.

One thing I don’t recommend is intermittent fasting. Again, this has been shown to have lots of health benefits for “normal people” but it is really not a good idea in recovery. 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 and 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 recover my period 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 and 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 when 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, just make sure you are allowing yourself to eat plenty of food and find suitable alternatives for foods that are off-limits.

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

If the reason you are avoiding certain foods is due to digestive issues, it is for you to decide whether you want to add them back into 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 and is a signal to increase the quantity and variety of foods in your diet not to continue to restrict further. I know that for me personally after following a high fruit vegan diet for over a year, I initially struggled with stomach pain, bloating and gas when adding grains and legumes back into my diet.

Unfortunately it takes time for our stomach acid, digestive enzymes and gut microbiome to re-establish after a period of “starvation” and it can take a while to settle out. Again, this is where eating processed foods comes in handy as they are much easier on our digestive systems. Things like crackers or rice cakes with nut butter, jam, molasses or hummus spread on top were so helpful in the early days of my recovery. I also ate a lot of cookies (dark chocolate hobnobs mmmm!), cereals and sandwiches and found they digested really well. Later on I drifted back towards a more whole foods diet but still ate plenty of these foods on a daily basis. The best thing is to listen to your cravings and experiment.

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

What I will say is that processed foods are your friend and there is no need to be afraid of them. Foods such as bread, crackers, pasta, nut butters, milk, cereals and jams are easy to digest in large quantities and 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. The reason that a whole foods diet is so successful for weight loss is because your body can feel full on fewer calories due to the higher amounts of fibre and water in foods such as fruits and vegetables. This is great for people who need to lose weight and overcome conditions such as diabetes and heart disease but you are not one of those people. You need to give your body the energy it needs to repair and feel safe again and in this case 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 that can digest and thrive on a wide range of foods, 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 what you want from your recovery journey and focus on that every day to help you get through difficult choices ♥️

Over to you…

I hope you found this helpful and feel confident in how to eat to get your period back. Like this post and follow my blog for more period recovery content like this.

  • Let me know in the comments, what is the most difficult part of the “recovery diet” for you? And what is your favourite food that you added back in since starting recovery?
  • If you are looking for support, guidance and accountability on your period recovery journey, please contact me for further information on the nutrition and health coaching packages I offer. Together we will set you up with a plan to get your hormones balanced and you feeing your best mentally and physically.

Other posts you might like