caffeine and health

Real health #17 Is coffee healthy? Caffeine and health

Caffeine.. one addiction I just can’t seem to shake! I go through periods of giving it up and feeling great then after a bad night or two of sleep I am tempted to go back. I know it’s not good for me, now I am aware of the effects I can feel the stress hormones coursing through my veins even after just one cup of coffee and as someone who has struggled a lot with sleep it is really not a good idea to be drinking coffee. But the love affair continues…

One of the first things I recommend to my health coaching clients is to cut down on caffeine if they are drinking a lot. Ideally, I’d suggest anyone with hormonal imbalance or fatigue to go completely caffeine-free but I totally understand this isn’t always realistic. So I generally suggest sticking to 1 cup of coffee a day (and I don’t mean huge Starbucks size coffee, just a normal cup). Why? There are many ways that caffeine affects both our hormonal and overall health:

1. Caffeine and stress

Caffeine works by stimulating the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. This can make us feel good in the moment as we feel energised, motivated and happier and it can also boost our physical and mental performance. But we’re not designed to live with our nervous system in this stressed state, even if we don’t feel stressed as such that “pumped up” feeling that we are addicted to is stressful for our bodies. Caffeine can also speed up our thoughts, making our minds race and can lead to anxiety and keep us stuck in a loop of worry and negative thoughts, especially if we are already in a stressful situation or have an over-active inner critic.

2. How caffeine affects your sleep

Whether we like it or not, caffeine does affect our quality of sleep.  For most people, stopping drinking coffee around midday is enough time for your body to process the caffeine before you go to bed. But for some people even drinking caffeine in the morning can impact their sleep many hours later. Depending on how sensitive you are, you might notice that caffeine causes you to go to bed later wake up during the night, or maybe your sleep feels less refreshing. If you have been consuming caffeine daily for many years, you might not even notice the effect it is having on your sleep. If you are struggling with insomnia or fatigue, try going caffeine free for a week or two, if this feels impossible it’s probably a sign that it could be just what you need!

3. Effects of caffeine on blood sugar

One of the effects of caffeine stimulating the adrenal glands is a spike in blood sugar as it causes stored glycogen from our muscles to be converted to glucose and pumped into the blood for us to use as energy. Coffee is known for it’s appetite suppressing effects and is often used by dieters to curb cravings. It works in the moment but often leads to increased hunger and cravings later in the day. Especially if we consume caffeine on an empty stomach first thing in the morning, this can cause a spike in blood sugar followed by a crash an hour or 2 later when we crave.. guess what.. more caffeine and/or sugar. This results in a blood sugar rollercoaster which can leave us feeling exhausted and wrecked by the end of the day.  Often when people try to quit drinking coffee they notice more cravings for sugary foods and this is why!

4. Caffeine affects digestion and absorption

As well as  affecting our cravings, coffee can also impact the way we absorb nutrients. For example, caffeine has been shown to reduce absorption of vitamin D and calcium which are both necessary for maintaining healthy bones and teeth. It is also not recommended to consume tea or coffee within an hour of taking an iron supplement as caffeine reduces absorption of this key mineral for energy and vitality. Women are more likely to develop iron-deficiency anemia because we lose blood each month during our period and those who drink coffee regularly are even more at risk. And if that wasn’t enough, as caffeine is a diuretic (it causes you to pee more), it can lead to flushing out water soluble nutrients such as vitamins B and C as well as causing dehydration.

5. Caffeine and masculine energy

The balance of masculine and feminine energy is important for all humans but especially women who are trying to balance their hormones. I will write a whole post on this topic but for now I’ll summarise by saying that masculine energy is the “doing” associated with productivity, activity, busyness and logical thinking and feminine energy is the “being” associated with creativity, softness, surrender and going with the flow. In today’s Western world we so often focused on productivity and work is at the centre of our lives. It’s very normal for us to get up, get ready, have our coffee and start work. I think of caffeine as a way to get myself to do things I don’t feel like doing such as working when I’m tired and need to rest or doing a boring task when really I want to do something fun or creative. In this sense coffee and caffeine can be used as a way for us to suppress our bodies needs and remain in our masculine energy rather than taking the rest and relaxation we need.

How to consume caffeine in a healthy way

That being said, coffee and caffeine can also be a source of pleasure and a social activity. Right now I am living in Greece and the culture revolves around coffee. And I am British so I can help but love a good cup of tea and a chat. If you can’t imagine giving up coffee and tea, try to wait least 30 minutes after a meal rather than drinking it on an empty stomach or with food as this will help to minimise the impacts on stress hormones, blood sugar and nutrient absorption. But for those healing from insomnia, fatigue or hormonal imbalance I recommend choosing decaf, at least most of the time and not becoming reliant on that boost from caffeine to get through the day. As well as decaf coffee and and black tea, lower caffeine alternatives include:

  • Green tea (has some caffeine but also lots of anti-oxidants)
  • Cacao/cocoa (still stimulating but easier on the adrenals)
  • Herbal teas (mostly caffeine free)
  • Chicory coffee (caffeine free coffee alternative)

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article on caffeine and health. Let me know your thoughts below on whether coffee is healthy and how easy you would find to cut down or give it up.

  • 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 your 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

yoga in nature warrior 1

Real Health #4 What is the best exercise for weight loss and health?

January is a time when lot’s of us decide to start a new fitness regime to lose weight and feel healthier. But what is the best exercise for weight loss and health? If you look on social media you will see endless photos of “fitness influencers” doing crazy gym workouts and high intensity circuit training. They get millions of likes when they share photos of their toned thighs and shredded abs but is it really necessary to train like an athlete to reach your goals and is intense exercise for weight loss truly healthy? The answer is, it depends! When it comes to weight loss, it always comes down energy out vs. energy in. Simply put, to lose weight, you need to burn more energy (calories) than you eat from food. In other words, your net energy must be negative to lose weight.

But the catch is that our bodies are far from simple machines which makes the picture of weight loss much more complicated. To understand this we need to realise that changing one part of the weight loss equation has an impact on the other elements. And this is why more exercise doesn’t always result in faster weight loss. Our bodies like nothing more than staying balanced or in homeostasis and they will use every power that they have to keep things as they are. Especially when we use extreme tactics such as intense exercise to lose weight, our bodies resist and fight back. I’ll give you some examples of how your body tries to compensate when you exercise intensely:

  • It will try to compensate for the energy burned by minimising your natural movements throughout the rest of the day – aka the “active couch potato” syndrome
  • It can ramp up your hunger hormones and decrease the hormones which make you feel full and satiated to make you eat more than usual after your exercise – familiar with that bottomless pit hunger after working out intensely?!
  • Over time your metabolism will become more efficient and learn to do more with less energy – this could look like a slowing of your heart rate, reducing body temperature and blood pressure
  • For women who exercise intensely, it can result in the body shutting down the “unnecessary” fertility system to save energy and disrupt her menstrual cycles

Does this mean that intense exercise is unhealthy?

No, it just means that it is not necessarily the best exercise for weight loss. Challenging your body through cardiovascular exercise is a good thing and if you want to improve your physical fitness, high intensity exercise is great a few times a week. But slogging it out in the gym for 1-2 hours every day to burn as many calories as possible is more likely to be a stress on your body and won’t help you to reach your health goals. Athletes who train at this level for their job have a whole team to support them to make sure that they get the right nutrition, rest and rehabilitation to keep their body healthy at this level of activity but nowadays it seems like everyone is training like an athlete for the sake of achieving a perfect physique.

I always say to stay aware that things you see online may not always be as they seem. People that you admire or compare yourself to might look healthy and fit on the outside but you never know what is going on inside. I recently enjoyed watching the journey of Stephanie Buttermore, a well known fitness influencer who admitted that behind the scenes she was struggling with extreme hunger, fatigue and hormonal issues and decided to go “all in” to recover her health. Her issues were more around restrictive eating but this goes hand in hand with exercise. Restrictive eating and over-exercising can have very similar impacts by creating too large an energy deficit for the body to handle without a stress response.

So what is the best exercise for weight loss and health?

To start with, I’d say any exercise that you genuinely enjoy and will stick to. It’s much better to build a sustainable habit of working out for 30 minutes three times a week that to go all out and exercise every day then give up after a week. With exercise for weight loss and health, consistency is key! Everyone is different and we all like different things. Some people really enjoy working out at the gym, others prefer running or cycling outdoors. You might like taking your dog on long walks or walking in the park with a friend. For me, dancing and yoga are the two ways of moving my body that I really love and don’t feel like exercise at all. I also love walking outside whether that’s a stroll around the area or a long hike in nature.

In my opinion, walking is one of the best exercises for weight loss. Why? Let’s go back to the weight loss equation. Walking is a low intensity exercise which gets our heart rate up into the fat burning zone but not usually to the point where we are out of breath or struggling to speak. This means it is a low stress type of exercise that won’t cause your body to freak out and try to conserve energy or send you signals to over eat to compensate. Walking is a way of moving your body that can fit into your every day life and doesn’t have to separated as a workout. You can walk to work or to the shops, or you can meet a friend for a lunch time walk. Walking doubles as time to relax and to move your body too, maybe you can listen to music that you like or a podcast or chat on the phone. Walking is suitable for all levels of fitness from absolute beginners right up to experienced athletes and it’s completely free!

If your goal is to lose weight, start by walking for 30 minutes every day and see how you feel. You can then add in other exercise that you enjoy to mix things up and have fun. Moving your body should be enjoyable and afterwards you should feel tired but not completely exhausted. If you are feeling totally depleted after your workouts then it’s probably a sign that you are over doing it for your current level of fitness and you could risk burn out or injury. If you are also trying to change your diet to eat healthier, go easy on yourself! It’s much harder to make healthier food choices when your body is starving after an intense workout and often we can fall into the trap of binge eating on energy dense foods such as sweets and processed food. We want to be gentle and work with our bodies rather than against them so always check in with how you feel.

So your challenge for today is simply to go for a mindful walk! It doesn’t matter whether it’s for 10 minutes or an hour but be sure to pay attention to your surroundings and to how you feel in your body and mind afterwards. Notice whether you feel fatigued or energised and whether your stress levels have increased or decreased.

walking in nature

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this article and the series so far. Let me know in the comments below your experience with exercise for weight loss and health and what your favourite exercise is.

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

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how to have a healthy christmas - move your body

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

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

Relax and surrender

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

Enjoy your treats

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

Keep moving

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

Enjoy seasonal fruits and veggies

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

Stay connected

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

Over to you…

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

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

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cycling exercise during period recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

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

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