pro-metabolic diet ray peat orange juice

Top foods for increasing your metabolism and restoring hormones

After my last post about when low calorie density diets don’t work, I got a few email questions asking what foods are best for increasing your metabolism. I have to admit, this is something I am still in the process of figuring out as I went way off in the wrong direction during the first years of my recover. This field of pro-metabolic nutrition was NOT something I was taught in my nutrition degree and in fact, often goes against public health advice. I am not saying this is the way that everyone should eat, but myself and many other people have had success with improving metabolism and eradicating some of the signs of a poor functioning thyroid (e.g. insomnia, fatigue, cold hands and feet, dry hair and skin, constipation) by following this somewhat controversial nutrition advice. If you have been struggling with these symptoms and want to try something new then read on.

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 and 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 so much of the dietary advice was so outside of my nutrition paradigm that I discarded it. I did take on some of the 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, as well as 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 and how I dealt with the transition both mentally and physically. For today I will share my current top foods for increasing metabolism and restoring hormones.

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. 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!

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 as personally, I had a lot of success with keeping oats and bread in my diet. 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.

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, knowing 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 optimal for boosting 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 which 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 as it is a building block for your reproductive hormones and including eggs in your diet is actually a very healthy thing. Eggs may not be the best protein for improving metabolism (some red meat is most likely better) but 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 because 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 which 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 and a delicious way to boost your calories without feeling bloated or over-stuffed which 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.

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

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

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

Over to you

I hope you enjoyed these tips on how to increase your metabolism and balance your hormones. Let me know in the comments below if you have already discovered the work of Ray Peat and other researchers in this field and what you think of this pro-metabolic way of eating. I have to say, for me it has done nothing but good although everyone will have their own unique experience.

If you found this article interesting, like the post and follow along with my blog for more real health and nutrition advice. 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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Real health #29 The healing power of nature (plus our Greek lockdown adventures!)

We are heading into our 4th month of lockdown here in Athens and it’s getting pretty tough! Being forced to stay at home for so long has made me realise just how important nature is for our health and wellbeing. We go for walks around our local area every day but it’s just not the same as getting out “into the wild”. If we haven’t escaped the city for a week or so I start to feel suffocated and I crave fresh air and expansive landscapes. Being enclosed in a house, staring at a screen is definitely not how humans are designed to live and I’m sure we are going to start seeing the negative impacts of this type of lifestyle even more over the next few years.

But why is nature so good for our wellbeing? There have been many scientific studies proving that nature helps to reduces stress levels, calm anxiety and improve your mood. Fresh air in your lungs and sunlight on your skin can sometimes be just the medicine you need to recharge your energetic battery (plus the vitamin D boost of course!). I know whenever I leave my phone at home and head out for a hike or sit by the sea for a few hours I feel like a completely different person. There’s something about the natural beauty and slow pace of nature that makes me feel relaxed and at peace. My breathing becomes deeper and slower and the tension in my body melts away.

I become much more present and mindful of the world around me instead of being focused on my to-do list, the latest news alert or my own worries. When we leave technology and the constant influx of information behind, our minds are free to wander, daydream and process things on a deeper level. When I was writing my first research paper, my most creative times were when I was out walking by the river or at the local nature reserve. The beauty and mystery of nature is inspiring and helps you to see things from a new perspective when you feel stuck. Nature truly is healing on so many levels. I think it’s so important now more than ever to try and get out in nature as much as possible.

So I wanted to share some of the beautiful places I have been able to visit during this lockdown. Partly as a reminder to myself how good it makes me feel and to motivate me to get outside whenever I feel low. Also hopefully to inspire you to explore your local area and find some hidden gems too! Our lockdown rules say we have to stay within the region of Attica which is pretty annoying as I can’t wait to get out and explore the rest of Greece. Nonetheless I feel lucky to live in the area we do as it is pretty green compared to central Athens and we have access to the beach and the mountains within an hours drive. But where ever you live you can find your piece of nature whether it’s the local park or even your own garden.

The view of Athens from the top of the hill in our area..

And a couple of photos from our hike at Mount Parnitha in December..

Playing on the beach at Saronida on the South coast of Attica..

Same coastline, a much sunnier day..

And a couple of weeks later snow! (a hike isn’t complete without some the yoga poses)

Finally what would nature be without some cute lil’ animals?

And I can’t leave out my own crazy fur baby who is always keeping us smiling

It makes me happy looking back at the fun adventures we’ve had over the last few months, even if we are stuck at home 90% of the time. The only thing missing is family and friends to share it with which saddens me a lot. I think this lockdown is harder for everyone, partly because of the winter but also because it’s gone on so long now. I just can’t accept the idea of the “new normal”. But I am staying optimistic, hoping that this passes soon so we can all get back to enjoying our lives. And for now we will continue to make the most of things and escape to experience the healing powers of nature as much as we can!

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this more fun style of article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your favourite place in nature to escape to.

  • 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 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 diets don't work

Real health #15 The epidemic of burn out and adrenal fatigue

Long before COVID19, there was already another epidemic silently over-taking the world. Adrenal fatigue aka burn out or the “21st century stress syndrome” is a condition which probably affects millions of people but often goes undiagnosed or untreated because it is just seen as normal in our busy society. Have you ever felt totally exhausted, overwhelmed and like you just can’t handle the stresses of life? Maybe you have experienced it already. Burn out is a phrase people often use lightly but it can actually be pretty serious and have a huge impact on your life and health.

Adrenal fatigue or burn out is the effect of being too stressed over a long period of time. Our nervous systems are only supposed cope with a certain amount of stress and pressure and usually for only a short duration. Our fight or flight responses are designed to give us a quick burst of stress hormones to help us to get out of a dangerous situation and then to relax and go back to baseline once the danger has passed. These days we are constantly bombarded with stressors, from news alerts direct to our phone to high-pressure jobs which demand us to be switched on and ready to respond for most of the day. Our adrenal glands are constantly pumping out cortisol and adrenalin to help us to cope and survive the day. Combine this with too much caffeine, unhealthy habits and poor self-care and you have a recipe for burn out.

I shared my own experiences with adrenal fatigue and insomnia in a previous post. It really is something that is close to my heart as it had a huge impact on my life. I couldn’t sleep, I was experiencing all sorts of weird physical symptoms and I had nearly constant brain fog. I was able to push through and keep up my job, studies and some form of a social life but everything felt like so much effort. On the outside I probably seemed like I had it altogether but I looked completely exhausted and inside I felt drained. Even fun things became a chore and I just wanted to hide away. Luckily I was able to get myself out of the hole and now I want to help others who are struggling with the same thing as I know it’s such a dark place to be.

How to recognise burn out or adrenal fatigue

Often the symptoms of burn out start gradually. You hit snooze a couple of extra times in the morning, you feel more tired throughout the day and you start to lose interest and motivation for your work or your daily activities. Over time it can gradually get worse to the point where you don’t feel like yourself anymore. Some symptoms to watch out for:

  • Feeling tired even after a good nights sleep
  • Not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep (insomnia)
  • Low energy and lethargy
  • Loss of interest in work and hobbies
  • Feeling heavy and achy, especially in your legs
  • Not wanting to socialise and preferring to be alone
  • Blood sugar issues, craving sweets and crashing an hour after a high carbohydrate meal
  • Craving salty foods more than usual
  • Relying more on coffee and tea to get through the day
  • Feeling zoned out or “brain fog”

What to do if you have burn out or adrenal fatigue

The most important thing to do first is to identify your stressors. Take some time to reflect on all areas of life including work, family, relationships, hobbies, diet, exercise and creative projects. Make two lists, one of the things that steal your energy and the other of things that boost your energy. Once you have your lists, you can make a plan for how you will decrease the “energy stealers” and how you will increase the “energy boosters” in your life. Some things will be harder than others but start with a few of the low-hanging fruit and notice the impact it has on your overall wellbeing. Then move onto the more challenging things on the list.

Energy stealersEnergy boosters
Working 2 hours overtime a dayTaking a full hour lunch break
Responding to email notifications immediately 5 minutes of deep breathing
Drinking coffee in the afternoonDrinking more water
Speaking on the phone with X friendGoing to a dance class

Another really important thing is planning and organizing. Being reactive and responsive is one thing that keeps us constantly on alert. Maybe you work in the emergency services where you have to be ready to respond at all times, but if you work in an office job, feeling like you have to react and respond to every phone call or email right away could be contributing to your stress and feelings of burn out. If you can, try turning off your email notifications and setting a couple of windows throughout the day to go in and check your inbox. Use your calendar to block out time windows for specific tasks and try to stay focused. Being interrupted and distracted by multi-tasking uses up a lot of brain power! Keeping a task list with both to-do today and a “later list” can be helpful for prioritizing so that you don’t spend your day fire-fighting small tasks and can actually get something done which helps you to feel accomplished.

Next up is getting true rest and downtime. You might think you are resting and relaxing when you are watching TV or Youtube videos but your brain is still being active and stimulated. If you are suffering from burn out, you want to try to get yourself into a deep relaxation state at least once a day, more if you can. You can do this by lying down and listening to relaxing music or a guided meditation, sitting outside or going for a slow, mindful walk, taking the time to stretch out your body or having a bubble bath. These things might feel difficult, especially if you are in the stressed phase of adrenal fatigue where you are stuck on high alert mode. It might feel challenging to sit and do nothing, you might feel like you are wasting time and you should be doing something productive, you might feel agitated and restless in your body or your thoughts might start to go crazy once you let go of busyness and find stillness. All of these are signs that you need to stick at it!

Let yourself feel the agitation and notice any thoughts and resistance that comes up. Stay with the feelings and wait until the dust settles. If you are feeling physically restless, yoga or moving your body to music can be a great way to release some of that trapped energy and soothe your nervous system enough that you are able to let go and allow yourself to be still and relaxed. You’ll know you are there once you start to feel your body melt and your mind drift. You want to be in that almost-sleep brain state where you aren’t actively thinking or planning and thoughts can drift in and out of your mind. This is such a healing state to be in for anyone with burn out as the parasympathetic nervous system state is engaged and the adrenals are able to rest and recharge.

Taking time to relax a few times throughout the day is like emptying your “stress cup”. Imagine your stress capacity being a glass and every stressor throughout the day adds a drop or a splash of water to the cup. Once the cup is full and starts to overflow, you are going to be experiencing a state of stress or over-whelm. Taking breaks to breath deeply, go outside or just to be with yourself is like emptying out a bit of that water to give you more space in your cup i.e. more capacity to deal with stress. The idea is to keep the level as low as possible, either by reducing the inputs (stressors) or increasing the outputs (relaxing activities). If you can reach the end of the day with your cup half empty then you are on the right path to healing your adrenals and recovering from burn out. Having a solid morning routine including yoga, breathwork and meditation can also be a way to strengthen your nervous system and increase the capacity of your stress-cup over time.

Over to you…

So those are my thoughts on adrenal fatigue and tips on how to recover. Let me know in the comments below your experiences with burn out and how it has affected your life.

  • If you want to follow along with this Real Health January series, like this post, check out the recommended posts below 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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yoga for increasing energy - runners lunge

Healing fatigue through yoga and self-awareness

I shared a couple of months ago about my experience with insomnia and fatigue and my path to healing. I can honestly say I feel like a new woman and I am grateful every day to feel “normal” again and not like a half-woman-half-zombie like I did for most of the last few years. Since we moved to Greece and I took a break from my full-time job, things have just got better and better. I am sleeping at least 8 hours most nights, waking up feeling energised and motivated to work on my blog, my health coaching and to teach my yoga classes and I finally feel like I can enjoy my hobbies again and conversations with loved ones without feeling like I am just going through the motions.

Today I taught an online yoga class with the theme of “self-awareness” and it really got me thinking about the role of self-awareness in healing from fatigue. As well as a lack of self-awareness as part of the cause of fatigue. Not paying attention to how you are feeling internally, both physically and emotionally, makes it extremely easy to cross your own boundaries. To not know when you are over-doing something or when something is lacking in your life. It’s easy to keep giving and meeting the demands of others or to keep striving towards a goal and not even realise your cup is empty until you totally crash and burn and are simply unable to do all of the things you used to. In my case, crashing and burning didn’t even stop me. I continued trying to keep up with my work and it was my social life and other fun things that suffered instead.

Self-awareness in healing fatigue

Self-awareness can mean lots of things but in the context of healing fatigue I see it as:

  • Paying attention to your energy levels throughout the day and noticing which activities boost your energy and what depletes you. Getting honest with yourself about any habits that you have which are stealing your energy, maybe excessive use of social media, drinking too much coffee or not going outside all day and seeing if you can gradually let these go. Then consciously including energy building activities such as yoga, deep breathing and meditation into your day.
  • Tuning into your physical body sensations. Listening to what your body needs whether it’s something as simple as being cold, hungry or thirsty or whether you need a break, to rest or move and stretch your body. Not sitting in front of your computer ignoring all the signs from your body because you are “too busy” or “there’s not enough time” but giving your body what it needs to feel good in the moment and working in partnership with your body rather than against it.
  • Being aware of your mood and emotions and asking what you need to bring yourself back into balance. Finding ways to express any emotions that come up and release any stuck energy, especially anger or sadness as these emotions can really drain us if we don’t acknowledge and express them. I find dancing or just shaking my body like crazy is a great way to get energy moving and to release stuck emotions stored as tension within the body.
  • Observing your thoughts and mental state. Noticing any unhelpful thought patterns that send you into a spiral of anxiety, fear or stress. Often we play out the same patterns that come from the same root wound such as a fear of not being good enough or not being liked by others. We tend to over-think things, catastrophise and think of the worst case scenario (including when it comes to any fatigue symptoms we are experiencing!). Becoming aware of our thoughts and questioning whether they are true and helpful is the first step in creating a more healing mental state.

How yoga helps to develop self-awareness

My yoga practice has helped so much with building this self-awareness and eventually being able to get on the path to healing my fatigue after years of drifting around and jumping from one thing to another. Yoga gives us that safe space to shut out the world and turn inwards, to really get quiet and pay attention to what is going on inside. Yoga encourages us to be with our breath and body, to move at our own pace and rest whenever we need to. In yoga we learn not to push and force ourselves into postures but to keep a beginners mind and know that we are gradually moving along the path and we will get there in our own time. Getting on the mat every day (or at least a few times a week) helps us to observe the changes in our body and mind over time. We can notice if we’re feeling more tired or energised, more anxious or calm, if we have any areas of tension or tightness in our body and we can listen and learn what to do to feel better.

How yoga helps with fatigue

Unlike other types of exercise, yoga can actually increase our energy reserves rather than leave us feeling more fatigued. After a class people talk about having that “yoga glow” where you feel blissed out and super chilled. Well this is also a really healing place to be! It puts our body into the parasympathetic nervous system state e.g. rest and digest rather than fight or flight. Certain yoga postures are great for improving circulation, gently stimulating the nervous system and boosting energy levels. When I’m feeling sluggish, some twisting postures, back bends and inversions really help to wake me up and get energy moving in my body again. When you are feeling run down or exhausted, it’s better to go for the more supported postures where you can really relax and let go help to calm the nervous system and build energy reserves (see my yoga for your period sequence for some examples of relaxing postures for when you are feeling fatigued).

Over to you…

I hope this article helps you whether you are struggling with fatigue or if you just want to boost your energy and feel better. Leave a comment below and share your experience or tips if yoga has been helpful on your journey to healing from fatigue.

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on dealing with fatigue and how to recover and regain your health and life. 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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Inversions and the menstrual cycle

Today I am on day 9 of my menstrual cycle. I finished bleeding on day 5 so I am now into the follicular phase or “inner spring” of my cycle. For the last few days my yoga practice has included lots of inversions which is an amazing way to rebalance the body after your period.

What exactly are inversions? Inversions are any yoga pose where your hips are lifted higher than your head. This includes bridge pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), downward facing dog (Ardo Mukha Svanasana) and more advanced asana such as plough (halasana), headstand (Sirsasana) and shoulderstand (Savangasana). There are also supported versions of these poses using yoga blocks, bolsters or a wall to make the postures more accessible for beginners or for days when you just need that extra bit of support.

Why are inversions beneficial for the body? Inverting the body boosts blood flow to the head, bringing fresh oxygen and nutrients into the brain. This promotes optimal function of the thyroid, parathyroid, pineal and pituitary glands and helps to balance and strengthen the entire hormonal system. Inversions also counter-act the effects of gravity on the body which can have anti-aging effects and prevent varicose veins forming in the legs by improving flow of blood and lymph. They improve circulation throughout the body, relieving fatigue and improving digestion and elimination. When practiced with presence and focus, inversions can super charge the brain, eliminating fatigue and nervous exhaustion and bringing a sense of stillness and peace. Including inversions as part of an evening yoga practice helps to calm the mind, reducing stress and promote restful sleep.

What are the pre-cautions for inversions?

  • You shouldn’t practice inversions during menstruation (aka the bleeding days of your cycle). This is because it disrupts the natural downwards flow of energy or “apana” in the pelvis and lower abdomen which promotes elimination of blood from the body. Practicing inversions during your period can cause backflow of blood into the uterus which can increase the risk of endometriosis. This is questioned by modern science but in my opinion it is safer to go with the natural flow of your body and not take the risk.
  • Do not practice inversions such as headstand or shoulderstand if you have neck injuries or eye/sinus issues such as a detached retina or ear infection as you are putting excess strain on these areas. You should always listen to your body and if you want to include inversions in your practice you can choose alternatives such as downward facing dog, bridge pose or legs up the wall (I always recommend this one for any severe condition) which still bring most of the benefits of the more advanced postures.
  • I do not recommend inversions if you have a headache, nausea or diarrhoea. These poses can help to balance the body and act as a preventative but if you are actively suffering from any of these issues you should wait until you feel better before practicing any strenuous yoga and particularly inverted poses.
  • Finally, you should always make sure you warm up the body properly and practice preparation poses to allow the body to open up before moving into more advanced postures. Always listen to your body, be kind and work within your limits, challenging your body to improve over time but without forcing and risking injury.

When is the best time in the cycle to practice inversions? Inversions can be practiced any time during the menstrual cycle except during your period. For maximum benefits, your yoga practice in the few days after you finish bleeding should be focused on inverted postures. This will stabilise and rebalance your bodily systems and help the nervous system recover from menstruation. It will boost circulation around your reproductive organs, support relaxation of your womb after it has been working hard, contracting to release blood during your period. Inverting the body during this time will also stimulate the pituitary gland which controls the release of FSH (the hormone responsible for maturing eggs in your ovaries) and after several consecutive cycles can help to regularise your cycle and support fertility. You can then include inversions as part of a balanced yoga practice throughout the month to improve strength and flexibility in the body and mind.

Example sequence including inversions (for intermediate students)

Opening sequence: Warming up and awakening the body

  • Extended child’s pose (30 seconds)
  • Cat cow tilts (explore for 1 minute)
  • Downward facing dog (30-60 seconds)
  • Standing forward fold (1-2 minutes)

Main sequence: Supporting menstrual rhythm

  • Supported headstand using wall (1-5 minutes)
  • Supported headstand – Wide legs variation (10-20 seconds)
  • Supported headstand – Butterfly legs variation (10-20 seconds)
  • Extended child’s pose (30 seconds)

Finishing sequence: Recover and calm the mind

  • Bridge pose with arm variations (1-2 minutes)
  • Plough pose (1-3 minutes)
  • Supported shoulderstand (1-3 minutes)
  • Legs up the wall and wide leg variation (5 minutes)
  • Reclining butterfly pose (1-5 minutes)

In the video below I summarise the information on inversions and the menstrual cycle and demonstrate the sequence above. Let me know if you try out any of these postures or if you are already including inversions in your yoga practice and noticing the benefits. If you are interested in 1-2-1 or group yoga sessions (currently online only) you can send me a message through the “Work with Me” tab at the top of this page ♥️

References
The Women’s Yoga Book by Bobby Clennell (2011)
Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Eric Schiffmann (1996)
Yoga Sequencing: Designing Transformative Yoga Classes by Mark Stephens (2012)

Riding the wave of inner spring

This week I have been feeling really good. After a couple of weeks of feeling tired, unmotivated and confused about everything going on in the world, I was able to rest deeply for a few days during my period and I emerged on the other side feeling fresh and ready for life again. I am on day 10 of my cycle now, so well into the follicular phase, and I am definitely feeling those inner spring vibes. If you aren’t familiar with the seasons of the cycle then watch this video and you will get the idea but I do plan to write a post about that soon (I can’t believe I haven’t already!).

I did hit a stumbling block around day 4 – I felt energised and ready to go out into the world, accidentally overdid it and had a min crash. This is the hardest part of the cycle for me.. I am definitely a “masculine energy” type of girl which is pretty common in your 20s as we just want to go out and do all the things and make our mark on the world. But the cross-over from menstruation into the follicular phase (inner winter to inner spring) needs to be navigated gently and slowly to protect and preserve our energy for the rest of the cycle. We don’t want to go from 0 to 100 in a day and totally fry our system.

Luckily this time I was able to catch it early and went back into my cave the next day to rest. After that things have been plain sailing, my energy levels and motivation have been climbing higher and higher, I have been feeling light and free, I have ticked a lot of things off my to-do list and spent time with friends and my boyfriend too without becoming overwhelmed. I even had the energy to go to the gym for the first time in months! We are moving to Greece in less than two weeks so I have been busy packing up the house, finishing off work tasks and trying to catch up with friends before I go. It’s been intense but right now I am enjoying the challenge.

Something else I have been working with this season is uncovering some old, deeply held emotions. I had my first somatic experiencing therapy session last week which was really interesting and I have had a lot to process since then. I feel like my journal has been my right arm which is unusual for me as usually I get reflective during my inner autumn and winter and neglect my journal the rest of the cycle. It’s been painful to go back and relive some old memories and actually feel the emotions rather than squash them down but I know it’s something I need to do. I have been listening to guided meditations from The Mindful Movement every day too on letting go of emotions, developing self-love and compassion and nurturing your inner child.

Inner spring is actually a great time for inner child work as we are at our most innocent and fragile at this time of our cycle and can more easily connect with the maiden archetype and our younger self. I feel at my most playful and childlike during this phase and can more easily let go of some of the seriousness of life and take things more lightly. But old childhood wounds can definitely come up too and I can be easily triggered into feeling guilt, shame or inadequacy. When I notice my inner critic rearing it’s head in my inner spring, I can question it and go into the feeling rather than beating my self up for not being good enough.

Since I have been working with my cycle in this way I have so much more acceptance and understanding of why these things come up and how to soothe myself. Not to say I don’t ever fall into the trap but I am strengthening that self-compassion muscle with every cycle that passes and feeling more confident in myself and my abilities. In Wild Power one of the tasks of the inner spring is to cherish and nurture yourself like a newly hatched chick. I love this image of a fresh new self being born out of the cosy cave of menstruation and us needing to care for it and protect it from the real world until it’s protective shield is fully formed and able to defend itself. This starts with the way we speak to ourselves so this is the time to use kind words and not beat yourself up or pressure yourself too much.

I feel like I am rambling a bit here, my energy is pretty high right now and I have lots to say! But I hope you get the idea and can relate in someway. Leave a comment if you want to share your experiences of your inner spring ❣

How to reduce stress and balance your hormones

We all know by now that stress plays a major role in our overall health. Stress has been linked to diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and most definitely to hormone related conditions such as PCOS and hypothalamic amenorrhea. Managing stress and calming down your nervous system is so important for healing from any physical condition. Hopefully this post will offer you some tips on how to manage stress in your life and support your healing journey.

1. Reduce the external stressors

With the world we live it today it can feel impossible to reduce stress.. how can we be calm when we have so many demands on our time, high pressure jobs, children to look after, financial worries, family emergencies. The first thing I will say is that you will never be able to reduce all stresses in your life. Even if you disappear to a remote island you will find something to stress and worry about if this is the tendency you have. However, it’s still a good idea to take a good look at your life and see if there are any areas where you can reduce the load.

Practising minimalism can be a really good way to do this. I don’t mean to sell all of your possessions and go couch surfing but by focusing on things that really bring value to your life and forgetting the rest you can really reduce financial and time pressures and in turn reduce the stresses in your life. This can be material possessions.. maybe you have a lot of clothes, products or clutter in your house that could benefit from a good clear out. But it can also relate to non-material things such as activities or habits that don’t bring you joy, obligations that you stick to to keep others happy even if you don’t have the time or the resources, time wasted on social media or other technology. Simplify your life as much as possible and make sure that you are spending time doing things you love every day.

2. Reduce the internal stressors

Much of our worries actually come from beliefs and thoughts that we are constantly running through our minds. Around 95% of our thoughts each day are the same as the day before and too many of them are negative thought loops that we get trapped in without realising. Our brains cycle through all our various worries and it seems like there is no escape. Actually there is a way out and it starts with awareness. Are you conscious of the thoughts you are thinking on a daily basis or have they become so ingrained that you don’t even notice them? This is where a meditation practice an come in really handy.

Many people think that to meditate “properly” you have to be able to empty your mind of all thoughts and give up quickly when this seems like an impossible task. But when you approach meditation from the angle of observing your thoughts and watching where your mind goes when it isn’t distracted, it becomes a tool of self-discovery and you will likely start to see the same repetitive thoughts popping up. Much of it will be mundane stuff such as what you will have for dinner tonight, work tasks or chores that need doing etc. But some will be darker.. maybe some criticism of yourself, anger towards someone in your life, feelings of failure or regrets of decisions you have made in the past.

Get yourself a journal and start to write down thoughts that come up for you. Once you are aware of them you can start to question.. “Does this serve me?”, “Would I feel better without this thought?” This will create space for you to let go of some of your worries and start to ask yourself “What can I replace this thought with?” “What would a more helpful thing to say to myself right now?”. You won’t be able to change your thoughts over night as most of them are habitual and happen without us even realising, but you can make a start and over time things will get better

3. Get yourself into the relaxation state

This is a really important one. Many of us think we are relaxing because we do chilled out activities such as watching TV, reading or writing in a journal. These things might make us feel calm in the moment but if our brains are still active and we are just distracting ourselves, we are often not truly activating the “rest and relaxation” pathways of our nervous system. I really recommend for everyone, especially those on a healing journey, to focus on getting into a deep relaxation state on a daily basis. This means allowing your body and mind to sit back from the stresses of life and melt into pure bliss.

I find guided relaxation tapes really useful for this and relaxing music or delta brainwave frequencies can also work really well Get yourself some headphones, find a comfy space to lie down and block out the world for 20-30 minutes. Focus on letting go of any tension in your body and allow yourself to be held and supported. Notice if your brain feels too “switched on” and try to create some space for you to surrender your stresses for a while. There are hundreds of these available on Youtube but I have shared 3 of my favourites from The Mindful Movement channel below.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post of how to reduce stress and balance your hormones.

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on dealing with stress and hormone balancing
  • 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.

Other posts you might like

menstrual cycle awareness cycle tracking

My number one self-care tip for women

With my health coaching clients we look at many things that can contribute to a healthy lifestyle including nutrition, movement and stress-management. But the most important self-care tip that I recommend from day one is to start to become familiar with your menstrual cycle. This can be either through a cycle tracking app or using a regular journal.. how you do it doesn’t matter but becoming aware of your own unique hormonal cycle and how it affects you can be the key to getting your health on track.

Why? Because our hormonal fluctuations affect how we feel, think and act on a daily basis. Many of the “random” changes we see in our moods, energy levels and desires are actually related to the varying levels of hormones in our body. Our hormones affect our appetite, metabolism, social needs, sexual desires, creativity and motivation to work. Simply paying attention to these things is a mindfulness practice in itself which can help you to develop a greater awareness and connection with yourself. Understanding these fluctuations helps us to understand and work with them rather than against them and allows us to get into a healthy flow in all areas of life. You can learn to tune into what your body needs as you move through your cycles which in turn can help you to make changes in other areas of your lifestyle.

For example with nutrition, you might be wondering why you do great on your new diet for a couple of weeks and then “fall off the wagon” and want to eat everything in sight.  This often occurs when we ignore our natural appetite and try to force ourselves to eat a certain amount or certain types of foods which go against our cravings. When we can learn to listen to what our body is asking for at different times of the month we can develop a more flexible approach to our diet and naturally lose weight if that is our goal. Or you might notice that some days your digestion is perfect after eating all the veg and other days you feel bloated and gassy after a few pieces of broccoli.

Trying to adopt a fixed diet plan of eating the same number of calories and types of foods day in day out just doesn’t suit our feminine nature. And if we don’t allow ourselves the freedom to “go with the flow” we can end up working against rather than with our bodies and always wonder where we are going wrong. Menstrual cycle awareness can help us to understand what we need and to be kinder to ourselves when our cravings don’t match what we think is the “perfect diet”.

It’s the same with moving our bodies. Ever wondered why some days you can’t wait to get outside to walk or run or feel exhilarated after hours of dancing and other days you want to curl up on the sofa or just need a good stretch? Obviously there are lots of things that impact your energy levels and motivation to move your body but your hormonal cycle also plays a role here too. We are naturally more energetic in the first half of our cycle and higher intensity exercise might be exactly what we need but this doesn’t mean we have to push ourselves all month long.

Using your journal to track how you feel throughout your cycle: what your energy levels are like, what activities you feel like doing and how you feel after any exercise you do is the first step in developing an exercise program that works for you and your body. Despite the adverts that show women can “do it all whilst bleeding”, you aren’t lazy if you choose to take a rest day (or 3) while you are on your period. It’s perfectly natural to want to rest and recover during this time. On the other hand, you might find that you love gentle yoga or some other type of exercise as it helps ease period pains. There is no one size fits all approach here!

So grab yourself a journal or download one of the many apps and have a go at tracking your menstrual cycle for a few months. If nothing else it will give  you a few minutes each day to check in with yourself, ask how you are feeling and what you need.. at best it could be the key to developing a personalised self care plan for yourself and taking your health and wellness to the next level!

 

 

 

journalling menstrual cycle awareness self care practice

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this post on my number one self-care tip for women. Let me know in the comments if you try it out or if you already track your cycle.

  • Like this post and follow my blog for more posts on holistic health, menstrual cycle awareness and hormone balancing
  • 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.

Other posts you might like

Work with me!

After a lot of deliberation I’ve finally decided to put myself out there and offer 1-2-1 health and nutrition coaching. I’ve been studying and practicing what I preach for years now and it’s time for the next step!

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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what to eat on your period - chocolate smoothie hemp seeds

What to eat during your period/menstrual phase

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

What is the menstrual phase?

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

What is the period diet plan?

The period diet plan is designed to:

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

Why do you eat more on your period?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What foods should you eat on your period?

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

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

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

Why do you crave chocolate on your period?

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

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

What foods should you avoid during your period?

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

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

Over to you…

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

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

Other posts you might like

Sources

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

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

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