comparing your body with others on social media

Comparing your body to others on social media

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

Self-comparison and social media

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

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

Comparing your body to others on social media

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

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

How to stop comparing your body to others online

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

Practice mindfulness

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

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

Use critical thinking skills

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

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

Cultivate body appreciation

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

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

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

Summary of how to stop comparing your body with others

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

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

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

Over to you…

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Weight gain in HA recovery, my tips

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

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

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

Why is dealing with weight gain in HA recovery challenging?

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

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

My weight gain in HA recovery

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

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

Tips for dealing with weight gain in HA recovery

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

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

Wear comfy clothes which fit

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

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

Hide the full length mirror

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

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

Do a social media purge

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

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

Over to you…

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How I finally let go of dietary rules and let myself eat more food

One of the hardest things for me in my recovery from disordered eating and Hypothalamic Amenorrhea was finally being able to let go of control around food. I went from restricting the amount of calories I ate and recording every bite in a calorie tracking app to various phases of restrictive diets including dairy-free, gluten-free, paleo and finally all varieties of veganism. Whole foods, high-carb, low-fat, raw foods you name it, I tried it. I was addicted to manipulating my diet in some way or another but now, 3 years later I can honestly say that I eat whatever I like and however much I like. And the ability to not overthink food and trust in my bodies’ signals is one of the most beautiful things about being recovered.

Now as a nutritionist and health coach, I support women through this process of escaping dietary prison to find food freedom, true health and a regular menstrual cycle. With so much information available online and in books, I find that most women know exactly what they need to do but the problem is actually doing it. What seems so simple (eating more food and resting) becomes extremely difficult when we factor in all of the emotional ties and conditioned beliefs around food and body image. We have been brainwashed to believe that we aren’t good enough if we don’t look a certain way and that certain foods are bad for us or even toxic. I found this to be especially prevalent in the raw vegan community where everything is considered toxic, even cooked food.

When I first realised how important it was for me to recover my menstrual cycle and the damage I could have caused to my body through 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, the first hurdle I had to jump was allowing myself to eat more food. I was so used to dieting and living life with this restrictive mindset that to suddenly jump to eating 2500 calories a day (the minimum recommended for recovery) seemed nearly impossible. One thing that terrified me was this idea of losing control. During this time of restrictive eating, I experienced a lot of binge eating episodes where I would accidently eat more than I intended to or something “unhealthy” and this would trigger a huge overeating spree where I would eat everything in sight. I felt like I had to control every bite or my appetite would over take me.

However, at some point I realised that the more I tried to restrict my food, the stronger the urge to binge became. When I purposely ate less food after a big binge episode, it would only make it more likely to happen again a few days later. Over a period of a few months, I started to entertain the idea that maybe if I just ate more food on a regular basis, the binge eating would stop. I think I even did a calculation of the average number of calories I ate in a week , taking into account days of restriction and binges (see the graph below for a visual!) and I realised that actually I would probably be much happier and my body would be more stable if I just ate that amount consistently each day. I also finally accepted this idea that food is fuel and that our bodies need a certain amount of energy each day just to function and keep all our systems going, even if we are completely sedentary.

And it worked, this was the first step towards letting go of control. That said, I still had a long way to go! Even though I was eating more food and feeling healthier, I was still consciously controlling the amount I ate and the idea of stopping tracking my food or increasing my calorie intake made me extremely anxious. I still avoided certain foods that I believed were unhealthy like bread, dairy and processed foods. Then a funny thing happened. I discovered the idea of a vegan diet, first through watching documentaries about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and then through the world of Vegan YouTube which was booming at that time. Back in 2015, everyone in this community was promoting the idea that you can “eat as much as you want, as long as it is plant-based” and stay slim and healthy. I was so desperate to be free of this restrictive mindset, but I still was so attached to maintaining a low body weight that I fell straight for it.

This led to a weird couple of years where on one hand I felt extremely free and I allowed myself to eat more food than I ever had, without tracking. However this control that I had around food hadn’t disappeared, it had only shifted to another form. I no longer checked the calories for every food I ate, but I would rarely eat anything that wasn’t vegan or a whole-food e.g. fruit, vegetables, starches, nuts and seeds. I did get my period back during this time because I was finally providing my body with enough fuel, but I still suffered with signs of hormonal imbalance and other chronic health issues like insomnia and fatigue. Because I had allowed myself to be brainwashed by the idea that a vegan diet cures everything I thought that I needed to be more strict with my diet if I wanted to heal. Actually it was an illusion of freedom and abundance that took me a while to identify and break free from.

Don’t get me wrong, the foods I ate when I was vegan were very healthy but as PART of a balanced diet, not the whole diet!

So fast forward 3 years, I started to realise that some health problems I was trying to heal from via my vegan diet could actually be a result of this very diet which was really quite restrictive. I also started to experience new health issues out of nowhere which I couldn’t explain like dry skin, hair loss and constipation. I never considered that it could be the vegan diet but once I started to research online, I discovered a whole community of people talking about how their vegan diet had impacted their health in a negative way. I read stories of people who had done a complete U-turn and adopted a high-fat, animal-based keto or even carnivore diet and were claiming to have healed their chronic health issues. I could have fallen down this rabbit too but luckily, this really opened my eyes to the real situation, that humans can survive on many different diets and that we thrive on a variety of foods.

I had believed for years that animal products caused all sorts of health issues and here were people healing using these exact foods. Same with calorie restriction, for years I had thought this was the healthy thing to do until I found out about the impact of dieting on our hormones and our overall health. Finally, I started to open my mind and see that when it comes to nutrition and I discovered that there is so much conflicting information out there and you can find research to back up any claim that you want. The online health and wellness sphere is a minefield and it is almost random which hole you fall down. The problem with social media is that once you fall down a hole and adopt a certain mindset, you only see information which supports these views. If you want to question your beliefs you really have to make the effort to seek out new information because everything that is fed to you is more of the same.

(Side note – I recommend the documentary The Social Dilemma if you are interested in learning more about how social media sells our attention as it’s main product!)

Luckily, this was also the time that I decided to go back to university and study for a Masters’ degree in nutrition because I knew I wanted to help women heal their hormones using food. This gave me a much better understanding of human nutrition and metabolism and an understanding of the damage that extreme or restrictive diets in any form can do to the body. During my years of study, I adopted a much more balanced diet. I reintroduced animal-based foods and processed foods in moderation. I completely let go of all my conditioned beliefs around food and stared to understand both the health and environmental benefits of eating more seasonal and traditional foods. It’s funny because my diet is definitely much less like the typical “healthy diet” now and yet I am healthier than ever. I feel like we are given the false idea that we are either following the typical SAD junk-food diet or that we are on some super restrictive clean diet when in reality there is a huge grey areas between those extremes where, I believe, true health can be found.

Now I eat ice-cream and crisps but also salads, fruits and organic meat. I realised that foods are not inherently good or bad, they just has more or less energy and nutrients. Even processed foods with additives are fine in moderation our body can handle them and, despite what healers in the detox world say, they do not build up in our tissues and need to be purged by colonics and fruit fasting. Sure, if you only eat processed foods and don’t provide your body with enough nutrients, it will be overloaded. Plus, such cleansing practices have been used by ancient cultures on an annual basis for example but you only need to look at long-term detox practitioners to see that this restriction and stress actually ages the body causing premature skin damage and thin, poor quality hair, never mind the likely damage to internal organs. Perhaps it is vain, but seeing this reality really helped me to let go of some of my lingering fears around certain foods.

Some examples of foods that I had written off as unhealthy which are actually very nourishing for the body and soul!

I think to finally let go of dietary rules and surrender to the unexplored territory that is your natural appetite, a key thing is to really explore this idea of control. Why do you need it and what does it really mean to be in control? My idea of control has shifted dramatically over the last few years. I used to feel in control when I ate clean and resisted my hunger. I now see control as taking my health into my own hands and making decisions based on what works for my unique body, rather than listening to the advice of others who claim to have found the holy grail in terms of food and lifestyle. It also helps to consider your idea of health and what it means to be healthy. For me health is a feeling, having energy, a strong and fertile body and feeling free to live my life and have fun. No restrictive diet ever gave me health in these terms but I never considered that at the time.

This post is perhaps a bit long and jumbled but I think it is really important to talk about this subject and I wanted to write without editing. I speak to clients and female friends and so many have been indoctrinated into some dietary cult or another. Whether it is an attachment to the low-fat, low-calorie diet and the idea of being skinny or whether it is an obsession with clean eating and having a cupboard full of supplements at home, it’s so unnatural and is so far away from true health. Breaking free of whatever dietary rules and restrictions you have become attached to is a personal journey and a decision that only you can take but I hope that my story at least helps you to see that there is another way to find health and it is one that can include chocolate!

Over to you…

Please leave a comment below if you have any thoughts on this topic, I’d love to hear your opinions and have a discussion. If you found this article interesting, please like this post and follow my blog to be notified when I post something new.

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

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

Women often ask me whether it’s possible to heal your hormones and get your period back on a vegan diet. In this post I will give my opinion and explain my reasons why. If you haven’t read my previous posts on the HA recovery diet and how I got my period back, I’d recommend to check those out first before going ahead with this one. There I explain all about the factors that can cause your period to disappear or become irregular. I also explain in detail and the nutrition strategy to recover your menstrual cycle after Hypothalamic Amenorrhea.

So to return to the initial question: can you get your period back on a vegan diet? The short answer is yes, it’s absolutely possible and I did it myself. I went vegan in 2015 after watching documentaries about the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the health benefits of a plant-based diet. At the time I was committed and I chose to maintain my vegan diet whilst trying to recover my period. I did manage to get my period back after 4 months of going “all-in” with my diet and no exercise. So it is definitely possible to get your period back on a vegan diet!

However, does this mean I recommend a vegan diet to my clients? Or that I believe it is optimal to get your period back on a vegan diet? Definitely not! In fact, I am no longer vegan and re-introduced animal products to my diet 3 years ago. Although I have no regrets, if I could go back in time with the information I have now I would definitely choose differently. Here are a few reasons why it might be more difficult to get your period back on a vegan diet. This is a topic I have researched extensively over the years and I have personal experience with.

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

Eating the calories needed to heal

One of the important factors for many women with Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is eating enough calories. When you lose your period due to an energy imbalance, increasing your energy intake is very important. You need to eat enough to support your bodily functions and daily activities. Plus extra for healing and repair of damage caused by malnourishment. You can definitely do this on a vegan diet simply by eating more food. However, as many plant-based foods are more calorie dilute this can be a struggle!

Fruit and vegetables, starchy carbs and legumes all have a high amount of water and fiber. If you base your vegan diet on these healthy whole foods, you might find that you get full before you consume the amount of calories that your body really needs. This makes a plant-based diet great for weight loss! Unfortunately, it’s counter-productive when boosting your energy intake is your goal. If you want to get your period back on a vegan diet you need to eat a lot of food!

How to eat more calories on a vegan diet

Adding in energy dense vegan foods such as nuts and seeds, nut butters, oil and processed foods helps. These foods are lower in water and fibre. This means they take up less space in your stomach and are easier on your digestive system. But in my experience, bloating and other digestive issues are likely. Even when consuming the minimum calorie intake for healing your hormones. As a vegan I ate a lot of beans, vegetables and nut butters which are all super high in fibre. Actually I forgot how it felt not to be bloated until I finally reduced the amount of fibre I was consuming.

If you want to try to get your period back on a vegan diet, focus on lower fibre foods. Don’t get caught up in the low fat trend. Eat fats from nuts, seeds and coconut. Opt for easy to digest foods such as bread or crackers with jam, processed cereals and plant-based milk. However, as I will come to in the next point, these are not the most nutritious foods. Therefore, you might find that your body needs a large quantity of them to satisfy your nutrient needs for healing.

Getting adequate nutrients

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea is an issue primarily of energy imbalance, but as all foods contain both macro and micronutrients, not eating enough food can easily lead to nutritional deficiencies. Part of recovering your menstrual cycle is nutritional rehabilitation. This means flooding the body with as many building blocks for repair as possible. Nutrients that can be difficult to obtain and absorb in a vegan diet include iron, calcium, vitamin A (retinol) and vitamin D.

Under stress our bodies also use some nutrients at a much faster rate than usual. Yes, it is theoretically possible to eat a well planned vegan diet which meets all of the recommended daily amounts. However, we don’t have control of our internal processes. Often hormonal imbalance and compromised digestion go hand in hand. If your digestion is poor, you can’t be sure you are benefitting from all of these nutrients.

Nutritional rehabilitation

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

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

Quantity and type of fat

In general, the vegan diet tends to be higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat compared to diets including animal-based products. In addition, the fats available in plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds and avocados are generally poly-unsaturated fats. There is some research to suggest that these fats are actually less supportive to metabolic health. Conversely, saturated fats which you mostly find in meat and dairy, are pro-metabolic.

Losing your period is commonly a sign of being in a lower metabolic state. So you really want to be eating a metabolism supporting diet to get your period back. I am by no means saying nuts and seeds are unhealthy and that you should avoid them entirely. But when you want to send the body the signal that the famine is over and its safe to rev up the metabolism and reproductive system, you want to make sure you are consuming enough saturated fat. Adding in more fat from coconut is a good step towards a more metabolically supportive vegan diet. Eating coconut oil, milk or flakes will make it easier to get your period back on a vegan diet. However, consuming more variety of fats and nutrients from animal based sources will take your diet to the next level.

Cholesterol sources

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

Cholesterol is a building block for reproductive hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are necessary for a healthy menstrual cycle and regular period! Cholesterol cannot be synthesised by plants and is only found in animal-based foods such as meat and eggs. Therefore consuming even a small amount of these foods on a regular basis can support your hormone healing process.

Overcoming mental restriction

This is a tricky one because personally, adopting a vegan diet was what finally enabled me to let go of restrictive dieting and allow myself to eat an abundance of food. Because I was no longer focusing on choosing food to maintain a low body weight. I was focused on sourcing ethical food which took the focus away from calories and allowed me to eat more. That said, once I finally decided to let go of veganism and re-introduce animal products, I experienced a whole new level of food freedom which I didn’t know I was missing.

Especially in social situations where I had always felt isolated being the only vegan. I think you have to be very honest with yourself about the reason you want to follow a vegan diet. Is there is any chance that a desire to restrict your food is influencing your decision? Are you consuming a balanced vegan diet or are there still rules and restrictions present? Do you still fear certain foods because you believe they are toxic or will make you gain weight?

Restrictive vegan diet rabit holes

Unfortunately, there are also many rabbit holes to fall down when it comes to the vegan diet. This can lead to some pretty extreme dietary restrictive diets. Raw vegan, starch solution, high carb low fat, 80 10 10, vegan keto just to name a few! So while it is possible to get your period back on a vegan diet, I’d say that for a full mental recovery following a balanced diet that includes all foods is optimal.

Coming back to the idea of safety, you want to create an environment of abundance. You need to really allow your body to relax and heal. This requires abundance both in terms of quantity and variety of foods. If you are 100% sure that you are choosing a vegan diet for ethical reasons only, support your body better by eating a varied and balanced vegan diet. Don’t be being seduced by the health claims of these more restricted vegan diets!

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

So those are my thoughts on why a vegan diet is not optimal when trying to recover your period. I understand that for some, eating animal products is simply not an option. So I hope the few tips for how you can modify your vegan diet to be more hormonally supportive were also helpful. Are you interested in this topic? Would you like me to talk more about my experience with getting my period back on a vegan diet? Leave a comment below or drop me an email at moonlifeyoga.mail@gmail.com!

Over to you…

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

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foods to increase your metabolism orange juice

Top foods to increase your metabolism

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

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

How I discovered foods to increase your metabolism

I first discovered the research of Ray Peat and Broda Barnes whilst trying to recover my period 5 years ago. After many years of restrictive dieting, I definitely was showing signs of a reduced metabolic rate. My main goal was to balance my hormones and get my period back after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. However, at the time I had decided to become vegan for environmental and “health” reasons. For this reason, much of the pro-metabolic dietary advice was so outside of my nutrition paradigm that I discarded it.

I did take on some of the pro-metabolic diet principles though which included:

  • Eating more food overall and listening to my true hunger cues
  • Cutting down on intense exercise and only walking and practicing yoga
  • Drinking less water and adding more salt to my diet
  • Including more root vegetables in my diet e.g. potatoes, carrots, parsnips
  • Adding in saturated fat in the form of coconut oil and dark chocolate
  • Consuming natural sugars e.g. ripe fruits and honey

These things definitely helped me to improve my energy levels and some of the symptoms I was experiencing. I also was able to recover my period and have a regular menstrual cycle. But in truth, it wasn’t till I added animal products back into my diet that the real healing began. I will write another post at some point on my experience shifting from a vegan diet back to a omnivorous diet, Especially how I dealt with the transition both mentally and physically.

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

Top 10 foods to increase your metabolism

1. Fruit

Ripe, sweet fruit is rich in natural sugars which will support a healthy metabolism and energy output. If you have been stuck in the mindset that carbs are bad and will make you fat, think again. Every cell in your body runs on carbs and prefers glucose as an energy source, especially your brain. Yes, we are adaptable beings and we have mechanisms to enable us to convert fat to energy (via ketosis) when carbs are not available. However this is a stressful process for the body and is not sustainable in the long term. The best fruits are the more dense, sweet fruits such as banana, mango, pineapple, dried fruits, figs, papaya etc.

2. Orange juice

I know oranges are a fruit but OJ is so amazing that it deserves it’s own category. I made a post on Instagram the other day about how OJ is life and it is so true! Drinking a glass of freshly squeezed OJ is like pouring life directly into your body. It makes you happy and floods your body with energy. Orange juice is one of the best foods to increase your metabolism! As you are trying to improve your metabolism, replacing your water intake with juice or other metabolism supporting fluids is a great technique. If you are really struggling, adding a pinch of salt to your juice is even better and though it might sound counter-intuitive it will help with hydration as it helps you to better absorb the liquids rather than having them pass straight through you.

3. Cheese

OK so here we go with the non-vegan foods. I used to be so afraid of cheese. I thought it would mess up my hormones, give me acne and digestive upsets, not to mention it’s high environmental impact. Now I take a more pragmatic view. Cheese is a nutritionally dense food which provides high quality minerals and proteins and is extremely supportive for metabolic health. I’m not saying to go and eat a block of cheese every day but including a small amount of cheese as part of a balanced diet is a very healthy thing. Try to source organic cheese if possible with little additives. Cheese with fruit or OJ is a perfect, pro-metabolic snack and melted cheese on toast is the perfect warming meal.

4. Coconut oil

The keto community got one thing right and that is that the medium-chain triglycerides (MCT oils) in coconut oil are great for supporting the metabolism and providing your body with easily accessible fuel. Even the bulletproof coffee as a concept is not bad. Although I would argue that in order to prevent a stress response from your body, a big spoon of honey or a splash of milk is needed and it’s always better to consume coffee with food rather than on an empty stomach. Coconut oil is a great option for cooking. It has a strong taste but goes well in asian style dishes like curries and stir fries or my personal favourite coconut oil roasted sweet potatoes – yum! Coconut oil is one of the best vegan foods to increase your metabolism.

5. Root vegetables

Potatoes and starchy vegetables such as parsnips, beetroot and carrots are a great option to provide carbohydrate fuel for your body. The pro-metabolic community advise against grains and I am still on the fence with this one. Personally, I had a lot of success with keeping oats and bread in my diet so I have never excluded them. Nonetheless, potatoes and sweet potatoes are perfect metabolism boosting foods and very versatile. For the best results try baking to bring out the natural sweetness and adding salt to taste. If you struggle with feeling cold, try eating a bowl of salty mashed or potatoes or home-fries and notice the warmth spreading to your fingers and toes. Potatoes are definitely one of my favourite foods to increase your metabolism!

6. Liver

Yes I said liver.. this is definitely not a food for every day. But it really is a “super food” and eating liver either with onions or as pate once every 10-14 days will do wonders for your overall and metabolic health. I know it’s extreme to go from eating a vegan diet to including organ meats but it is something that our ancestors have eaten for many years. They knew about the health benefits and I personally think it is better than eating chicken breast on the daily or only eating prime muscle meats. Liver contains the highest and most absorbable amount of iron, vitamin A and B12 as well as many other vitamins and minerals. Since eating liver regularly my eyesight has improved to the point that I no longer wear glasses to watch TV or use the computer.

7. Chocolate

Eating chocolate or cacao is great for improving the metabolism and something I craved daily when healing from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Chocolate is a dense source of calories which is exactly what your body needs to dig it’s way out of a metabolic hole. I personally prefer dark chocolate but actually chocolate with milk and sugar (or smoothies made with cacao, ripe bananas, milk and honey) is one of the optimal foods to increase your metabolism. Chocolate contains some caffeine and theobromine which give you a natural energy and mood boost.

Eating chocolate mindfully and truly savouring every bite is a way to send your body that signal that it is safe and the “famine” is over. This is necessary to move out of the stress response and into a relaxed, high metabolic state.

8. Eggs

These were one of the first animal proteins I added back into my diet as I think many ex-vegans do. Of all of the animal products, it was actually boiled eggs with a runny yolk that I started to crave. Eggs are another great source of vitamin A and a complete protein so they are great to include as part of a vegetarian meal or snack. If you are trying to heal your hormones after restrictive dieting, you need cholesterol. It is a building block for your reproductive hormones and including eggs in your diet is actually a very healthy thing. For for restoring hormone health or recovering your menstrual cycle, eggs are a great food to include.

9. Ice cream

My current favourite! I am in a phase of eating ice cream a few times a week. Here in Greece there are so many amazing quality ice cream shops. And with the hot weather it is the perfect snack. Unfortunately many of the ice creams in the supermarkets these days are heavily processed with additives and fillers. These chemicals are not designed to be consumed by humans and are not healthy for us. However, ice cream in its natural form with simple ingredients (mainly milk, sugar, cream, eggs) is actually a great pro-metabolic food.

Ice cream is a delicious way to boost your calories without feeling bloated or over-stuffed. This is often one of the main hurdles for women trying to recover and raise their metabolic rate. A small bowl of ice cream is a great after dinner dessert or bedtime snack to keep your blood sugar up during the night and avoid those 2-4am wake ups that can occur with a low metabolism.

10. Honey/molasses

Both excellent sources of carbohydrates with the added benefits of nutrients and anti-oxidants. The pro-metabolic community often recommend eating white sugar as a way to boost the metabolism and although I am not against including sugar in the diet (I don’t think that any food should be completely restricted), I don’t consider it a health food and prefer natural sweeteners such as honey to use on a daily basis e.g. adding to tea, coffee or smoothies. Molasses has the added benefits of a great mineral profile, providing iron and calcium in particular. Drinking 1-2tbsp of molasses in hot water with lemon was a strategy that helped me to boost my iron levels and recover from iron deficiency.

Reduce these foods to increase your metabolism!

As well as these top foods for boosting your metabolism, some foods to reduce during the initial phases of metabolic recovery include:

  • Raw vegetables and large salads
  • Low sugar fruits (unless consumed along with other higher calorie fruits or foods)
  • Cruciferous vegetables e.g. broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower
  • Vegetable oils e.g. sunflower, rapeseed, sesame oil
  • Nuts and seeds (including tahini and nut butters)

I am not saying these foods are unhealthy, far from it. But if your goal is to boost your metabolism, repair your hormones or get your period back, then these foods won’t be the most supportive to your goals and consuming them in large quantities will only prolong your recovery process. Once things are more balanced you can of course add them back into your diet in balance with some of the more pro-metabolic foods. As you become more acquainted with your body and the signs of a strong healthy metabolism (e.g. warm hands and feet, good energy, regular menstrual cycle), you will be able to adjust your diet as you go to keep you feeling your best.

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When low calorie density diets don’t work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

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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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Drinking too much water is unhealthy?

Most people worry about drinking enough water these days and getting in their “8 glasses a day”. There are even water bottles with markers on showing how much water you should have drank by this time of the day. This really freaks me out! Are we really so detached from our bodies that we need to rely on a plastic bottle to tell us when to drink water?! In this post I want to talk about problems you might encounter with drinking too much water and how much water you should drink to stay healthy. If you are reading this thinking you hardly drink any water and don’t have any issues then maybe click away but I’m talking to the health and fitness enthusiasts here who can’t leave the house without their trusty water bottle by their side (and this used to be me!).

Of course we need to drink water to stay alive. Dehydration can cause all sorts of issues from headaches and poor concentration to dry and dull skin. But do we really need to be chugging water non-stop all day to avoid dehydration? The thing that many people don’t realise is that we also take in water from the food that we eat, especially water rich fruits and veggies. The recommended 2L of water a day also includes this water, not just the water that we drink. It also includes the water in other liquids such as juice, tea and coffee. If you are already following a healthy diet with plenty of fresh food, you might already be taking in all of the water you need without drinking any water at all.

What are the downsides of drinking too much water?

You might think that water is pretty harmless and it’s not possible to drink too much but it is actually possible to run into health issues from drinking too much water. The problem is that water, especially tap or filtered water, doesn’t include the same amount of electrolyte salts as the water in your body. Over-hydration can dilute the levels of salts such as sodium, calcium and potassium levels in your body causing all sorts of problems. On the extreme end there is water intoxication where someone who drinks too much water too fast can cause damage to their brain and even death. But this is extremely rare and not something you could do by accidently drinking too much water during the day. More likely is a chronic, low level dilution of the electrolytes in your extra-cellular fluid which can cause:

  • Low core temperature and cold hands and feet
  • Muscle weakness and cramps
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Constipation and digestive issues
  • Dry skin and lips (this can be because you’re not truly hydrated, more on this in a moment)

If you read yesterday’s post on the signs of a low metabolism, you’ll recognise some of these symptoms. Drinking too much water can affect the metabolic rate as you are effectively throwing water on your metabolic fire. That’s not to say you should stop drinking water to speed up your metabolism but it is about finding a good balance.

How to know if you’re drinking too much water?

  • You drink excessively including when you’re not thirsty
  • Your pee is completely clear
  • You are peeing frequently (e.g. every 1-2 hours and once or more during the night)
  • You have a sudden urge to urinate
  • You feel cold all of the time, especially in your hands and feet
  • Your basal body temperature is below 36.5 degrees C

How much is drinking too much water? How much should you drink to stay healthy?

Really that isn’t a question I can answer because how much water you need depends on your body, your diet and your activity level. But if you are drinking a litre of water when you wake up, walking around all day with a water bottle and refilling it several times throughout the day then there’s a chance you are overdoing it. Unless you live in a desert or do crazy amounts of exercise you probably don’t need that much water. There is a myth that once you’re thirsty you are already dehydrated so you should avoid being thirsty at all costs. But our body has a thirst mechanism for a reason, to tell us when it needs water! So put simply, only drink water when you’re thirsty.

The other problem is that plain water is not really hydrating for the body. As I said earlier it contains minimal electrolytes which means it isn’t easily absorbed and utilised by your body. Inside the water can go “straight through you” putting pressure on your kidneys because they have to work even harder to maintain balance. One thing you can also try is drinking mineral water, coconut water or adding electrolytes to tap water to make it more hydrating for your body. You want to have a good balance between the glucose (sugar) and salts (sodium and potassium) that you are taking in through your diet and the amount of water that you drink. Think about when someone is in hospital and they are put on a drip. This fluid is the perfect ratio of fluid to salts and glucose to be absorbed by the body.

Warming foods and cooling foods

To understand this food/water connection further, we can think about foods as cooling or warming for the body. By this I don’t mean cold or hot foods but rather the effect that different foods have on your core body temperature. Herbal tea is a cooling food and ice cream is a warming food – confused? Try drinking a pint of plain tea and eating a pint of ice cream and notice how you feel an hour later once the initial effect of the food temperature has worn off. Generally speaking, cooling foods are high in water and low in calories and salt e.g. fruits, vegetables and low calorie liquids. Warming foods have a lower water content and are more energy dense and salty e.g. crackers, bread, cheese, chocolate. The more cooling foods in your diet, the less water you need to drink. If you eat a more warming diet, then you’ll want to drink more water to balance it out. Simple!

Cooling foods (L) vs. warming foods (C, R)

For example, if you eat a heavy takeaway meal or a bag of salty crisps, your body is going to send you signals to drink more water. In this case the water helps to dilute the salts you have take in. But if you eat a big fruit salad followed by a glass of water, you will probably be running to the bathroom to pee afterwards and might start to feel cold. Make sense? This is a problem with a lot of “healthy” diets which encourage restricting salt and sugar and focusing on cooling foods (ahem raw vegans…). If you are following this kind of diet and have signs of over-hydration above, add some salt to your diet, reduce your water intake and focus on more warming foods for a while until you feel more balanced. And if you are a healthy person aim for a balance of the two and drink whenever you are thirsty.

Summary

If you want to learn more about this I highly recommend the book Eat for Heat by Matt Stone. His writing style might put some people off but what he has to say is very interesting and following his protocols helped to get me out of a metabolic slump and recover the symptoms described above. Remember, my point with these posts is to make you question some of the common health myths out there and not to tell you what to do. There’s no need to throw your water bottle away and eat loads of salty foods without drinking any liquids. No extremes here, there is such a thing as too little water! Listen to your body and you will find your balance.

Today’s challenge: Are you drinking too much water?

Your challenge for today and the week ahead is to start to pay attention to how you feel after taking in different foods and liquids. Maybe play around with the amount of water you are drinking and your balance of warming and cooling foods and see how you feel.

Over to you…

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calorie restricted diets don't work

Why calorie restricted diets don’t work long term

Most people believe that dieting is the only way to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight. We are told we need to restrict our calories to 1800, 1500 or even 1200 calories a day. Or that we need to cut out all treats and always choose low fat or low carb options. I remember as a young teenager reading the pages on weight loss and celebrity diets in women’s magazines. I thought that restriction and deprivation was the price to pay for beauty and success. In this article I want to talk about 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. Yes, dieting works in the short term but what happens a few months or years down the line? The fact is that calorie restricted 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 without seeing any results.

Most “successful” diets are 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 most people don’t see the yo-yo dieting as a cycle. They don’t realise that calorie restricted diets don’t work. Instead, they view things as lots of separate, successful diets with periods of failure on their part in-between. Often people see the diets as being successful due to an initial weight loss. They then blame ourselves for “falling off the wagon” and gaining back the weight. Of course, the only solution is starting a new diet.

Why calorie restricted diets don’t work: your bodies’ response

What most people don’t realise is that with every dieting cycle your 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. Creating symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog and muscle aches and pains.

Basically, calorie restricted diets don’t work because everything slows down when you don’t have enough energy input! Not only that, your body develops ways to persuade you to eat more when you diet. This includes 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. And it knows exactly which chemicals to create to make you go ut and eat them!

For this reason, calorie restriction can lead to intense cravings for sweet and fatty foods. This makes you feel like you just don’t have the willpower that you used to! It is normal after dieting to feel like you have no control around food and start to think about it wayyyy too often. You blame yourself and try to diet harder. When in reality it is the restrictive dieting that is causing the problem. I repeat, calorie restricted diets don’t work long term!

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 your energy requirements decrease as you get older. So it’s much better to keep our metabolic rate as high as while you are young.

Restrictive dieting doesn’t only mean you are eating less calories. 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. Calorie restriction causes 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.

Chronic stress can lead to digestive issues, a suppressed immune system and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It can also cause your body to hold onto extra “survival weight”, especially around your mid-section. And we are told that calorie restricted diets are healthy??

2) 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 you can still end up depriving your body of essential nutrients. In the dieting phase, you might be eating healthy food. However, if you are not consuming enough calories then it is unlikely you are getting the nutrients you need. In the rebound phase, your body is desperate for energy. This means you are much more likely to reach for calorie dense, processed foods.

These foods that provide that quick surge of energy. Unfortunately they often don’t provide enough of the essential nutrients for a healthy, thriving body. Of course, this is another survival mechanism. If you were in a true famine it is much better to survive with a nutrient deficiency. Better than to waste away from lack of energy. But when you are practicing this pattern of yo-yo dieting and calorie restriction again and again throughout your life, you can get into trouble.

In addition, each weight loss cycle results in loss of muscle as well as fat. This can change your body composition significantly over time. Reduced lean mass leaves you with a lower resting metabolic rate i.e. the amount of energy you burn in a day with no activity. This means that each time you fall off the wagon you seem to regain weight quicker. Each time you diet it gets harder and harder to lose weight. Sound familiar?

So if calorie restricted diets don’t work, what is the solution?

As I said in a previous post, you can definitely lose weight on any diet in the short term. This includes diets which restrict types of foods you eat, such as a paleo, keto or vegan diet. I don’t think these diets are doomed to failure. However, 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. Or if you 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!

My story, evidence that calories restrictive diets don’t work!

I grew up believing that I needed to restrict my calories and fight my hunger to stay slim. It worked for a while but once my body learned my tricks, it fought back! I was tired, cold and miserable. My hair thinned and my periods stopped. Not only that, I had a huge appetite and craved carbohydrates all of the time. I spent years struggling with binge eating at night and restricting my calories the next day to compensate. I was baffled and could not understand why I was having such intense cravings. Why I could “be good” with food all day and then go crazy at night. I saw various doctors seeking help for my binge eating problem and no one could help me.

Eventually I realised that calorie restricted diets don’t work and that restriction was the root cause of my binge eating. By letting go of calorie restriction I was able to heal my body and my relationship with food. Right now, I am in the healthiest place I ever have been. I probably weigh 15-20lbs more than my old goal weight. But in time I am realising how warped my view of my ideal body weight actually was. Now I am at a healthy weight for my body. 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. I eat until I am satisfied, sometimes more and that is ok too! My story is living proof that calorie restricted diets don’t work and I would never go back to that hell.

Today’s challenge: Reflect on your history with dieting and calorie restriction

Today’s challenge is to take a moment to write down a timeline of your dieting history. Look at the patterns and see what there is to learn. What worked and what didn’t? Think about what might be the best approach for you and your specific preferences, tastes and lifestyle.

I know for me it really helped to see on paper how long I had been chasing my tail. 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 dieting cycle. Then ask yourself whether it is worth it? If not, know that there is a way to step out of all of that and into food and body freedom.

Over to you…

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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!

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