Third Christmas of complete food freedom!

This Christmas is my third of complete food freedom and I am feeling fantastic! I wanted to share this post today as I know many of my readers are currently in the process of letting go of dieting and finding true health. Where ever you are in the stage change process, this is for you. If you are still on the fence about making a change, I hope to inspire you to take the leap. If you are already starting to change your mindset and lifestyle, I hope to motivate you to keep going and see that the challenging times are worth it. If you are already on the other side, I hope to celebrate with you!

For anyone who hasn’t followed my blog since the early days, you can read my three part story starting here. In a nutshell, I struggled with (undiagnosed) disordered eating for nearly a decade until I finally chose self-recovery in 2016. Most of my teenage years were spent counting, restricting and trying to burn calories or going off the rails completely and experiencing uncontrollable binge eating. The reason for finally recovering was the fact that I hadn’t had a period in 8 years. Despite doctors telling me it was fine and “normal for an active girl like you”, I discovered otherwise and I became determined to get my period back. This meant looking right at the thing that I had tried to hide and avoid for many years prior i.e. my extreme diet and exercise regime.

Letting go of dieting

What followed was a several year unravelling of all of the food fears and rules that I had lived by for so long. It wasn’t a straight forward path and I can only see it clearly in hindsight. Basically, the first stage was that I stopped restricting how much food I ate, gave up my gym obsession and chronic pursuit of weight loss and allowed my body to find balance. The problem was that I did this whilst following a vegan diet. On one hand it worked and I was able to recover my period. At the time, it was the right decision and I was motivated by environmental as well as health concerns. However there was also a part of me that enjoyed the idea of continuing to have some food rules and restrictions to live by.

So fast forward three years, during which I enjoyed many social events, festive seasons and birthdays as a vegan. I would be lying to say this was all bad. Of course, at the time I loved what I was eating and I was happy to no longer be constantly worrying about calories and whether I would get fat from the celebrations, rather than just relaxing and enjoying them. I had some vegan friends and enjoyed being part of this community. But there was always this nagging feeling that I was left out from my family and friends. I couldn’t just eat was people gave me and I had to be hyper aware of what I was eating. Food was something to be enjoyed, yes, but in a way it was still something to be controlled and calculated.

Again, to make it clear, I am not saying that everyone who follows a vegan diet has this kind of experience. Or that it is bad in any way. But for me personally, coming from the disordered eating background that I did, it wasn’t the right choice. Mainly for my mental health but also on a physical level as during this time I also experienced lots of persistent health problems. Mainly signs of nutrient deficiencies and a slowed down metabolic rate after all my years of dieting and stressing my body. I feel like I aged rapidly during this time and noticed problems with my skin, hair and teeth that had never been on my radar previously.

Finding food freedom

Eventually, I accepted defeat and decided to give up my vegan diet in 2019. Since then I have enjoyed 3 Christmas periods of complete food freedom. I have eaten the same thing as my family. I have enjoyed Christmas treats without the crazy restrict and binge cycle. I have eaten intuitively throughout the holidays and never felt starved or overly stuffed (although of course I have eaten a bit more than usual!). Every year I have felt so relaxed and content without all of this craziness going on inside of me that no one else could see. I haven’t felt the need to get wasted to shut up this voice and have just enjoyed spending a chilled out festive season.

I am so grateful every year that I made this choice. It really has been life changing. I reached my goal of getting my period back but I am so glad that I didn’t just stop there. I am grateful for my body continuing to send me signals I couldn’t ignore so that I continued this journey to food freedom. I have received so many additional positive results that I could never have imagined. And most of all I feel more grounded and happy within my self than I ever have. Before, I thought that I would accept myself if I had the perfect body or if I weighed a certain amount on the scale. Now I see that these things are not me at all.

Becoming more myself

Through consistent yoga practice and lots of inner work, I finally understand that we are multi-faceting beings. Yes we have our physical body which we need to take care of as our vehicle in life. But my physical body does not define me. Much more important is the other personality traits, positive energy and love and compassion for others. I am still working on becoming the person I want to be but I am no longer confused that it is a physical transformation that will take me there. I am just glad to be in a healthy, well-functioning body that allows me to do the things I love. And I wish the same for you!

So, enjoy the rest of the holidays and I wish you all of the best for the new year. I hope that you enjoy this winter period of reflection and rest to prepare for new challenges and growth in 2022. I will be starting a new free January challenge with regular blog posts and activities so make sure you are following along by email and join my Facebook group to be part of our community. And here are a couple of pictures of my number 1s in my community, my lovely parents who have been here for me and supported me throughout this journey. I’m very happy to be spending Christmas with them again this year after being stuck in different countries in 2020!

Over to you…

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hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

Hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

As a Nutritionist and Women’s Wellness Coach, I often work with women who want to balance their hormones. Hormone imbalances are actually very common and there are actually over 50 hormones at work in your body! But what are the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women that you should look out for?

10 hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

1. Missing or irregular periods

The most obvious of the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women is missing or irregular periods. A healthy woman will typically have a regular menstrual cycle lasting between 21 and 35 days. Anything outside of this is considered irregular (NHS). Irregular periods are normal during puberty, after pregnancy or after coming off hormonal contraception. However, irregular or missing periods can also be a sign of hormonal imbalance. Missing or irregular periods can be due to Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA), Hypothyroidism or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Irregular periods can also be a sign of early menopause in women under the age of 45. If you have not had a period for more than 3 months, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor to find out what is going on.

2. Excessive mood swings or PMS

One of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women is severe mood swings during the pre-menstrual phase. It is normal to feel slightly irritable, moody or fatigued in the days before your period. However, if you are experiencing extreme mood swings or excessively low mood during the pre-menstruum this could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance. The endocrine system is complex and your hormones have systemic effects throughout the body. Imbalances in estrogen, progesterone, serotonin, thyroid hormones and cortisol can all have a negative impact on your mood and emotional regulation. It is important to check your hormone levels to understand what might be causing your symptoms.

3. Extreme period pain

Another of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalance in women is extreme period pain. Again, it is normal to experience some level of pelvic pain during menstruation. The muscles of your uterus contract to shed the outer layers of it’s lining which is the blood you release during your period. This can cause a mild warmth and cramping sensation around the area of your womb and lower back. However, if you are experiencing intense pain, this is not normal. There are several reasons for painful periods including Endometriosis, cysts or fibroids and tension in the muscles of the pelvis. Hormonal imbalance, in particular high levels of estrogen, is associated with severe period pain.

4. Hormonal acne

Hormonal acne is something that most of us women deal with at some point in our lives. Whether is it having a face full of spots as a teenager or breakouts before your period each month, it is something you are likely familiar with. But what if your hormonal acne is excessive or chronic lasting way past your teenage years? This is one of the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women to look out for! Hormonal acne is usually found around the jaw and chin area but also on the cheeks and forehead. It can be a sign of hyper-androgenism (male hormones) as in PCOS. Hormonal acne can also arise with low progesterone. To understand the cause, you need to take a look at your symptoms holistically. You can also consider checking your hormone levels to identify any imbalances.

5. Trouble sleeping

A surprising hormonal imbalance symptom in women is insomnia. Most women wouldn’t associate their sleep troubles with their hormonal health. However, not sleeping well can also be a sign of an imbalance. Low levels of progesterone can lead to insomnia and poor sleep during the pre-menstrual phase. Imbalances in cortisol can also have a cascade effect throughout the body and cause disruption to sleep-wake cycles. In particular, sleep maintenance insomnia and early morning waking can be related to cortisol imbalances. Both progesterone and cortisol imbalance can be related to high levels of stress, whether than it physical, mental or emotional.

6. Low sex drive or sexual dysfunction

Perhaps a lesser talked about subject amongst women, or an overly normalised one depending who you ask! Low sex drive or low libido is another of the common hormonal imbalance symptoms in women. In addition, vaginal dryness and pain during sex can also be caused by hormonal imbalance. It is normal to experience fluctations in sex drive throughout your cycle with a peak during your fertile phase. Despite what we are made to believe, we are not expected to be ready to go at all times! But experiencing low libido for months on end may be a sign that something more is going on. Your reproductive hormones, especially estrogen and testosterone regulate your sex drive and your ability to be aroused. Low levels of these hormones can lead to disinterest in sex or pain during sex.

7. Changes to hair

Losing hair can be very distressing and is a sign that something is not right with your body. There are many reasons for hair loss in women including stress, anemia and dermatitis. However, hair loss is also one of the hormonal imbalance symptoms in women. Reduced levels of estrogen and progesterone, for example during menopause, can lead to hair shedding and thinning. Hypothyroidism, that is low levels of thyroid hormones, can also be an explanation for hair loss in women. When hair loss is in a male-pattern of balding this can be a sign of hyper-androgenism and PCOS. In this case, you might also experience hair growth on your face and body. Again, it is important to assess your symptoms holistically to understand the hormonal imbalance responsible for your hair loss.

8. Migraine or headaches

Many women experience headaches and migraines, especially during the pre-menstrual or menstruation phase of their cycle. This can sometimes be accompanied by nausea, dizziness and increased sensitivity to light. Rapid changes in hormones can trigger headaches, which is why they are more common around your period when your hormones levels drop suddenly. Studies show that it is likely in fluctuations estrogen which can trigger migraine headaches. This is why some women experience them more frequently during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. It may be that more women are more sensitive to headaches than others. However, adopting a healthy lifestyle to support hormonal balance may help to reduced the quantity and severity of headaches.

9. Unexplained infertility

A hormonal imbalance symptoms in women which might not be discovered until later is unexplained infertility. I recently wrote a post about infertility discussing some of the causes, risk factors and natural treatments. Infertility is not always caused by a hormonal imbalance. But having balanced hormones and regular ovulation increases fertility and chances of conception. Hormonal imbalances which can lead to infertility include high testosterone, low progesterone and low thyroid which can all affect ovulation. To check whether you are ovulating you can measure your basal body temperature and look for a sustained 0.5°C rise around the mid-point of your cycle. You can also look out for “egg white” consistency fertile mucus around the same time as a sign of healthy ovulation.

10. Weight gain and cravings

Finally, unexplained weight gain and cravings can both be hormonal imbalance symptoms in women. We all experience cravings from time to time. But if you feel like you are experiencing an insatiable hunger or desire for sweets, perhaps your hormones are to blame. Insulin and glucagon are hormones released from your pancreas which are involved in managing your blood sugar. Imbalances in these hormones can affect your appetite and cravings. Cortisol imbalances can also play a role in unexplained weight gain. When your body is stuck in fight or flight stress state, it may hang onto extra weight as a survival mechanism. If you are struggling to lose weight, despite reducing your calorie intake, you might want to focus on balancing your hormones first.

Summary of hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

hormonal imbalance symptoms in women

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Foods for healthy hormones and weight loss

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

Top 15 foods for healthy hormones and weight loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meals including foods for healthy hormones

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

Breakfast foods for healthy hormones

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

Lunch foods for healthy hormones

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

Dinner foods for healthy hormones

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

Over to you..

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is caffeine bad for you

Is caffeine bad for you? Caffeine and health

Caffeine.. one addiction I just can’t seem to shake! I know I’m not alone as this study reported that 85% of Americans drink at least one caffeinated beverage per day. Experts say that caffeine is good for your health. Certainly, there are many health benefits of caffeine that have been proven by science. But there are also negative side effects of caffeine as with any drug. But is caffeine bad for you? Should you give up your daily cup of joe? In this article I highlight some of the down sides of caffeine so that you can make your own mind up!

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant which is found is coffee, tea and chocolate. It acts on your central nervous system to reduce feelings of tiredness. The chemical blocks receptors for the neurotransmitter adenosine, which is responsible for making you feel sleepy. This means that it makes you more alert and helps you to stay awake! Caffeine acts on your brain and is known as a psychoactive drug. It’s definitely the drug of choice in modern society! Usually, drinking caffeine (in moderation) is associated with positive feelings as well as productivity and focus.

Why is caffeine bad for you?

It’s a strong statement to say that caffeine is bad for you. However, there are several ways that it affects both our hormonal and overall health in a negative way.

1. 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. Affect on 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 coffe 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. Blood sugar regulation

One of the effects of caffeine stimulating the adrenal glands is a spike in blood sugar. 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. 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. Both nutrients which are 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. This study concluded that 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. 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. Conversely, 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. It keeps us in our masculine energy rather than taking the rest and relaxation we need.

How to consume caffeine in a healthy way

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 to stick to 1 cup of coffee a day (and I don’t mean huge Starbucks size coffee, just a normal cup).

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 (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)

Conclusion, is caffeine bad for you?

My opinion is that for most people caffeine is ok in moderation. Personally, 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. However these days I am happy with drinking one cup of coffee per day. I also like to mix it up with green tea, cacao and herbal teas. 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…

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Follicular phase recipes: Berry smoothie bowl

I know it’s so stereotypical for a health blogger to share a smoothie bowl recipe. At this moment there are over 2 million posts on Instagram with the hashtag #smoothiebowl. But hey.. they taste good and they can be a great healthy breakfast so why not! This recipe is great for the follicular phase (i.e. the week or so after your period) as it is light and hydrating and supports your natural fresh and vibrant energy during this time. It’s more of a summer recipe, especially if you live in a cold climate, but here in Greece the winters aren’t too harsh so I’m still enjoying cold breakfasts when I feel like it.

Ingredients

  • 200g frozen bananas (make sure they are ripe before you freeze for the best taste and texture)
  • 100g frozen raspberries
  • 1 cup milk or non-dairy alternative
  • 10g protein powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1-2 tbsp pumpkin seeds to top

Instructions

Simply place all ingredients, except the pumpkin seeds, in a high speed blender until you get a thick creamy texture then serve in a bowl with the seeds sprinkled on top.

For any of you health nerds out there, I plugged the recipe into Chronometer so that you can see the nutritional value of the recipe. It has a good balance of carbs, protein and fat to keep your energy levels supported throughout the morning. Smoothies with only fruit can cause a blood sugar spike followed by a crash leaving you starving and irritable an hour or 2 later so it’s much better to add in some nuts or seeds and a milk which contains protein to slow down the release of the natural fruit sugars. The recipe does have 40g sugar but these are natural sugars from the fruit and milk, it’s much better to satisfy your sweet tooth in this way than over-doing it on processed sweet treats later in the day.

This recipe also provides half of your recommended daily intake of fibre, great for keeping your digestive system moving and flushing out any excess hormones such as estrogen during the follicular phase. Other highlights are the B vitamins which support a healthy metabolism and energy levels, vitamin C to support your immune system and detoxification processes. The milk and seeds also provide plenty of minerals including phosphorous and calcium to keep your bones and teeth strong and zinc and selenium to support healthy hormone production, ovulation and fertility.

The protein powder is optional but can be a good addition, especially if you are working out to help with performance and muscle recovery. I like the Sevenhills vanilla flavoured vegan protein powder but you can experiment and find one that you like. You can top your bowl with any seeds that you like. I chose pumpkin seeds for this recipe but flaxseeds or hemp seeds are also especially good for the follicular phase of your cycle. A method called “seed cycling” involves eating flax and pumpkin seeds in the first half of your cycle, from day 1 of your period until ovulation, and switching to sesame and sunflower seeds during the luteal phase. It’s not scientifically proven but it is an old remedy to help with hormone balance and if nothing else it is a fun way to mix things up and get a range of healthy fatty acids and nutrients throughout the month.

Over to you…

I hope you enjoyed this recipe, let me know in the comments below if you try it out!

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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.

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menstrual cycle awareness cycle tracking

Menstrual 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.

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  • 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.

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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Reconnecting with menstruation, rethinking menarche

Do you remember when you got your first period? How did you feel.. empowered? Afraid? Ashamed? Energised? Powerful? Disappointed? Excited?

For me it was a pretty forgettable experience. I don’t even remember the exact age although I know I was around 11-12 years old. I couldn’t tell you whether I was at home or school at the time, whether it shocked me or I was expecting it. I remember telling my Mum and her being very supportive, showing me where she kept her supply of pads and how to use them. At school I think I told my closest girl friends but we never really spoke about it and it wasn’t a big deal. My periods were fairly regular from day 1, I had typical mood swings and pain but I never suffered with heavy bleeding or intense cramps. When I did have pains I was told to use a hot water bottle or take painkillers. I never had to miss school or other activities because I was bleeding I just carried on with my normal life. All in all I’d say for the first few years my cycles were about as uneventful as you can get!

I guess you could say I had a fairly “good” experience of menarche compared to many girls. There was no embarrassing situation, I didn’t feel ashamed to tell my parents and it didn’t really affect my life in a negative way, or in any significant way at all really. But herein lies the problem. Although there was no outright issue, there was always the underlying message that I now carried a secret with me. I was supposed to hide the fact that I was bleeding and not let it affect my life or the lives of others around me. I remember times when I started my bleed in school, quietly bending down under the table to take a pad from my bag and slip it into my jacket pocket so that I could sneak off to the toilet without anyone realising why. I remember being glad when I moved into year 10 as we were allowed to wear black skirts instead of grey and I no longer worried about bleeding onto it without realising. I remember dreading having to do sports lessons when I was exhausted and crampy and just wanted to be curled up in bed.

My dad, although also supportive, did the typical male thing of blaming our female hormones whenever me or my mum were moody, snappy or irritable. He never meant any harm, he was only teasing and making fun of the situation. But I didn’t know about the different phases of my cycle back then and this reduced my experience of menstruation to only two aspects: PMS and blood. I was glad each time my period ended because it meant I could get back to “normal”. The pain went away and my mood would lift again for another month until my next bleed. I rejected this part of me and saw it as a shameful secret rather than something to be proud of. In effect, the monumental milestone of me becoming a woman just faded into the monotony of daily life. I was never taught to acknowledge the significance of my period and saw it more as an annoying inconvenience than anything.

Once I turned 16 and wanted to start exploring my sexuality for the first time, I was terrified of getting pregnant. I asked my mum if I could go onto the contraceptive pill and with her permission I was prescribed it straight away by my doctor. I’m sure you don’t even need parental permission these days and can easily get a prescription from a sexual health clinic. I’m not going to go off on a tangent here about whether this is the right thing or not but the point I want to make is that the decision for me to take medication to disrupt my cycles was so easy for me to make (aside from the embarrassment of having to admit to my mum that I was sexually active). I didn’t have any awareness of the importance of my cycle and what I might lose by pumping my body with artificial hormones on a daily basis.

Although I was made aware of the risks of taking the pill in terms of increased risk of various cancers and blood clots, no one ever told me what the pill would do to my body. As I was taking the pill with a break week each month, I thought I was still getting a period and somehow the pill just stopped me from getting pregnant. Now I know that it was only a fake period from the huge drop in hormones for the week I wasn’t taking the pill. I was so out of touch with my body that I didn’t notice the loss of my natural rhythms and only experienced the negative “side effects” of the medication such as intense mood swings and increased acne. I went back to my doctor and was prescribed a different pill which might “suit my body better”. Eventually after 12 months and 3 different pills I heeded the warning signs  that the pill was harming my body and accepted that I had to come off it.

After I came off the pill, my natural cycles didn’t restart and I struggled with what’s known as Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) for 8 years! For most of this time I didn’t care and was actually quite glad that I didn’t have my period. It relieved me of the inconvenience of having to buy tampons and worry about my periods impacting my plans. I could have sex without worrying about getting pregnant and I didn’t have to deal with annoying hormonal acne, bloating or cramps. But still something didn’t feel quite right. Somehow I felt so disconnected from myself and felt like life was happening to me rather than me living out my purpose. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I didn’t understand it at the time but now I can see that all of this was related to being totally disconnected from my body and especially my womb space.

I think this is something that many women experience through being on the pill but it often goes unacknowledged as we don’t really talk openly about these things. Because most girls are not taught to appreciate and engage with their cycles from a young age, we don’t really know what we are missing when we suppress our natural rhythm either through contraceptives or just by not paying attention to our bodies. The deep knowing of the womb still speaks to us so we have the feeling that something isn’t quite right but we don’t understand it and often feel like there is something wrong with us. I think that this disconnection is also partly responsible for why so many women suffer with conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis as we are so out of touch with our intuition that we end up doing things which disrupt our hormonal balance. I think if girls were taught to celebrate and embrace their bodies and feminine nature, these issues would be much less prevalent.

When I regained my cycle, my second experience of menarche was so so different. I had been actively trying to recover my cycles for years and had been deep in the recovery process for 4 months. In that time I had read so much about female hormones, how they fluctuated throughout the cycle and the different phases. I was aware of the mood changes and physical symptoms I could expect and was on high alert for any positive changes I saw in my body. There was an excitement as I became aware of my body temperature rising, the changes in quantity and texture of my cervical mucus, the subtle shifts in my mood and energy levels and my libido. When I was about to bleed for the first time I just knew it, I could feel the buzz in my womb and the heaviness of my breasts for a whole week before and I couldn’t wait to see if I was right. This is how all girls should be able to feel.. the anticipation and exhilaration of becoming a woman rather than fear and shame.

I was actually on holiday when I started my bleed, something that I would have dreaded when I was younger as I would have thought it would stop me from going in the sea and ruin my trip. But I was so happy I didn’t care. I called my mum to tell her the news and actually cried with joy. Ever since then I have been thankful each time that I get my period and will never take it for granted again. I am still in awe of the power and magic of the female body to create life and I am fully aware of how my hormones are affecting my experience of life from day to day. I can’t ignore the messages and signals my womb sends anymore and although my period doesn’t completely dictate my life I do consider them whether I am working with or against my hormones with every decision I make.

I wish that all girls could have a positive experience of menarche, one that affirms their magnificence as a women and gives them a boost of confidence and self-esteem. Many tribal cultures such as Native Americans have embedded the celebration of menarche in their culture with powerful rituals and coming-of-age ceremonies but it’s something that we have lost in the UK and other Western countries. I think it’s time that we reconnect with menarche and develop our own ways to celebrate this time, not just for girls entering womanhood but also for all the women reconnecting with their cycle after years of ignoring it, hating it or suppressing it with contraceptives. I know the trend of “period parties” is starting to take off with parents celebrating menarche with their daughters and women generally feeling able to speak more openly about all things period related. I hope really it continues and we move into a more period-positive time!

Exercise during HA recovery tips and advice

If you have read my last post on Why has my period stopped and how do I get it back?  you will know that I recommend to take a break from intense exercise when you are trying to get your period back. This includes any form of intense cardio such as running or HIIT as well as heavy weight lifting. In this article I want to talk more about exercise during HA recovery *. In particular, how much and which types of exercise are ok whilst healing your hormones.

*HA stands for Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. It is a functional condition where your periods stop due to an energy imbalance or excessive stress on your body. 

What types of exercise are ok during HA recovery?

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

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

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

I really think that the way to recover your period quickly is to take a total break from intense exercise, at least for a few months. Dr Nicola Rinaldi, author of No Period Now What, suggests waiting to return to exercise till you have 3 normal periods post HA recovery. If you are really keen to continue exercise, try to avoid high intensity cardio. Moderate workouts and weight lifting for up to 30 minutes may be ok a few times a week. However, every body is different and even working out a small amount could be the difference between getting your period back in 3 months or 3 years.

During HA recovery, light activity is ok on a daily basis as long as you are eating enough calories to balance it out. Getting your period back requires a surplus of energy, meaning that you need to eat more calories than you burn. So there is no need to panic about not being able to be totally sedentary. Just go about your daily life and eat plenty of food and you will be fine. Try to keep even light exercises like walking or yoga to under an hour and aways listen to how your body feels. If you are tired, rest!

In the beginning of my HA recovery, I took a break from all exercise except walking to work. I did this for for 4 months until I got my period back. I also practiced gentle yoga most days but I focused on stretching and breathing rather than anything intense. My yoga practice was more for mental health and stress relief than physical fitness. I did find it a struggle to let go of my old exercise habits and my belief that I needed to “sweat daily” to be healthy. But when I started to see fertile signs and increased energy levels, I know I was on the right track!

Can I exercise again once I get my period back?

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

Once you have recovered your period, if you decide you want to exercise again then you can. Experiment until you find the sweet spot where you get the benefits of moving your body but without over-stressing your body. If you are paying attention to your body’s reactions, you will know the signs that you are overdoing things!

For example, when I tried lifting weights after HA recovery, I got moody and irritable for no reason. Eventually I realised it was my workouts that were depleting my energy reserves and I had to stop. This whole process has definitely given me a greater awareness of my how my body reacts to different things. This year I started “cycle-syncing” my exercise routine which I am finding really beneficial and I will share about this once I have a few more months of experience with it.

Looking to the future

Now I am 3 years into recovery, I am back to a much more active lifestyle again. Although I am nowhere near the obsessive gym-rat I used to be. Now I can cycle, run or do at home circuits a few times a week and still get a regular period. I also walk a lot and go to dance classes like salsa and zumba. Recently I tried a couple of times to go back to weight lifting because I genuinely enjoy it. Unfortunately, I could feel that my body felt exhausted afterwards and my recovery was very slow.

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

Over to you…

  • Comment: How have you experienced hormonal imbalance from over-exercise? Did you manage to recover your period?
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