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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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.

Other posts you might like

exercise and hypothalamic amenorrhea

What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea? Why have my periods stopped?

What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?

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

Primary vs. Secondary Amenorrhea

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

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea symptoms

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

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

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea explained

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

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

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

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

What causes Hypothalamic Amenorrhea?

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

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

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

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

Treatment for Hypothalamic Amenorrhea

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

EAT REST RELAX REPEAT

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

Over to you…

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

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

Other posts you might like


Information sources

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

walking exercise for period recovery

Tips for exercising during HA recovery

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

What types of exercise are ok during Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery?

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

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

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

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

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

Can I exercise again once I get my period back?

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

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

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

Over to you…

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

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

Other posts you might like

diet and hypothalamic amenorrhea

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

If you have read my posts in the period recovery series on Why has my period stopped and how do I get it back? and What is Hypothalamic Amenorrhea? you will know that chronic or restrictive dieting is one of the major reasons for missing periods.  So what is the perfect Hypothalamic Amenorrhea recovery diet? What should you eat to get your period back of it has gone awry? In those posts I stated that “good food and lots of it” is the way to go. In this article I want to give a few more tips on exactly how to eat to get your period back.

How much should I eat to recover my period?

It is recommended to eat 2500 calories or more to recover from Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Yes, even for those who aren’t exercising (and I don’t recommend that you do exercise if you are trying to recover your period). Your body needs to be in an energy surplus right now which means taking in more energy than you are burning through being alive and any activities you do. If you have been dieting for a long time, your body will have a whole list of things it wants to repair, not just your hormones, and this energy will go towards building healthy bones, teeth, hair and nails just to name a few!

I will stress though that this is a minimum and if you are hungry for more than this then you should listen to your body and eat. When I first started recovery I spent a good few months eating at least 3000-4000 calories a day because that was what my body needed. Sometimes way more than that. Did I gain weight? Yes! But again, that was what what my body needed. Over time my appetite settled down but even now I never eat below 2000 calories and I have maintained a healthy period for over 3 years. I don’t recommend counting calories long term but it can be a good idea in the beginning to get an idea of how much you need to eat. Especially if you have been under-eating for a long time, you will need to recalibrate your idea of a normal meal.

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

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

Will eating more fats bring my period back? What about carbs? What is the best macro ratio for HA recovery?

The first question women often ask is do I need to eat more fats to get my period back. The answer here is maybe! Check what you are eating right now. Are you following a low-fat diet? Our bodies need  fats to function optimally and produce hormones so eating more fats could be exactly what you need. On the other hand, if you are following a high-fat low-carb paleo or keto style diet, adding more carbs may be the answer. Eating carbs produces an insulin response which helps our bodies feel safe that there is plenty of food around and come out of energy-saving mode.

I fully agree that these diets can be beneficial for overcoming certain diseases and provide benefits for otherwise healthy people, but if you have lost your period you are not a healthy person right now and something needs to change. So no, there is no specific diet or macro-nutrient ratio to follow, just make sure you are getting plenty of carbs, proteins and fats and listen to your cravings.  Trust that your body knows exactly what it needs and don’t be afraid to go with the flow.

What about liquids? How much water should I drink?

On that note, I want to talk about water consumption. Many of us fell for the myth that you need to drink lots of water to be healthy. We also listened to the same people who told us to eat less salt to be healthy. For many of us with a perfectionist, all or nothing mindset we took this too far and drank several litres of water per day and ate hardly any salt. This is a recipe for disaster! We need salt to maintain a healthy water balance in our body and drinking too much water can flush out electrolytes leaving us feeling cold, dizzy and “washed out”.

If you have been doing this, I recommend experimenting with reducing the amount of water you are drinking and increasing your salt consumption. This is something I only learned way after my period recovery journey but it has been extremely beneficial for my overall health. I learned this from reading book Eat for Heat, a book written by Matt Stone, an expert on raising metabolism. If you notice yourself feeling warmer, especially your fingers and toes, and sleeping better then you know you are on the right track to recovery. Especially at the beginning of recovery, or if you are feeling very cold, replace all zero calorie drinks including with water with things like milk, juice, smoothies or even sports drinks. Add a pinch of salt to every glass for bonus points.

Does it matter when I eat during recovery? Can I get my period back whilst intermittent fasting?

There is also is the question of when to eat? Again, there is no strict rule on this but consistency is key. You can eat 3 square meals or you can graze throughout the day. As long as you are getting in plenty of calories it doesn’t matter how you do it. What I will say is not to let yourself get too hungry as low blood sugar is perceived as a stress by the body. If you are getting cranky, anxious or panicky before your next meal you have probably left it too long and should think about adding an extra snack before you get to that point. Often 3 meals with 3 snacks is recommended as a good eating structure and if you have no clue then this can be a good place to start.

One thing I don’t recommend is intermittent fasting. Again, this has been shown to have lots of health benefits for “normal people” but it is really not a good idea in recovery. If you want to practice intermittent fasting I would suggest to do no more than 12 hours fasting e.g. 7am to 7pm eating window. This gives your digestive system a break to heal and repair but doesn’t leave you going for long periods during the day without food. Personally I got really hungry at night during my recovery and sometimes I would wake up during the night starving and need to eat. It really depends on where you are coming from, how long and how intensely you have been dieting. So, do what you need to and don’t set any rules as really anything goes!

Can I recover my period on a vegan or vegetarian diet? What about gluten-free?

Another question women ask is if it is possible to recover on specific diets such as vegan or vegetarian, gluten-free. The answer to this is yes it is possible! However, I would recommend to examine why you are following this diet and if it is a way for you to continue to restrict then maybe it is time to reconsider. I personally recovered my period on a vegan diet but later decided to incorporate animal products back into my diet when I realised that this was still a way for me to control my food intake and keep my eating disorder alive. If you are following a particular diet for ethical reasons or due to a health condition then this is fine, just make sure you are allowing yourself to eat plenty of food and find suitable alternatives for foods that are off-limits.

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

If the reason you are avoiding certain foods is due to digestive issues, it is for you to decide whether you want to add them back into your recovery diet. If you have allergies or intolerances then by all means stay clear of foods you are sensitive to. However I will say that many people on restrictive diets find that they develop food sensitivities over time and end up eliminating more and more foods from their diet. This is a sign of your digestive system shutting down and is a signal to increase the quantity and variety of foods in your diet not to continue to restrict further. I know that for me personally after following a high fruit vegan diet for over a year, I initially struggled with stomach pain, bloating and gas when adding grains and legumes back into my diet.

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

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

What I will say is that processed foods are your friend and there is no need to be afraid of them. Foods such as bread, crackers, pasta, nut butters, milk, cereals and jams are easy to digest in large quantities and will help you to get the calories you need into your body without over-stressing your digestive system. Basically you want to increase the energy density of the food you are eating i.e. more calories per volume. The reason that a whole foods diet is so successful for weight loss is because your body can feel full on fewer calories due to the higher amounts of fibre and water in foods such as fruits and vegetables. This is great for people who need to lose weight and overcome conditions such as diabetes and heart disease but you are not one of those people. You need to give your body the energy it needs to repair and feel safe again and in this case processed foods are extremely helpful.

Something that helped me with adding “fear foods” back into my diet was realising that a healthy system is a robust one that can digest and thrive on a wide range of foods, not one that can only function on a very specific, limited list of foods. The aim of the recovery process is to rebuild a healthy metabolism so that your body can function optimally again. A person with a healthy metabolism can consume a lot of food and has energy to live an active fulfilling life. Visualise what you want from your recovery journey and focus on that every day to help you get through difficult choices ♥️

Over to you…

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

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

Other posts you might like

Why have my periods stopped and how do fix it?

If you haven’t read my “Why am I so interested in hormones?” series (linked at the bottom of this post), see here for my story on how I lost my period and my journey to getting healthy again. Here I will share what  learned about why our periods can stop and how to get it back for those of you who want to know exactly what to do.

For those who don’t have PCOS or any physical or structural issue with their reproductive system, it is often a condition called Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) that leads to absent menstrual cycles and missing periods. What I have found from working with and speaking to other women is that everybody’s situation is different but it is 99% of the time a combination of the points below. If you have already recovered your period and it has gone awry again, come back to these basics and I’m sure you will find somewhere you can realign.

Can diet cause missing periods?

Food and nutrition play a major role in our hormonal (and general) health. If we are not eating enough to fuel our bodies over a period of time, our brain registers that there isn’t enough energy coming in and decides to shut down some unnecessary functions in order to preserve energy.  This includes our menstrual cycle but can also lead to other symptoms which come along with HA such as feeling tired and cold all of the time, hair thinning, digestive issues and poor muscle recovery.

If you have been trying to lose weight for many months or years and notice any of the above symptoms it is a good idea for you to reconsider your diet. You are likely in “starvation mode” which is a state of reduced metabolism and limited bodily functions. If this is you, what should you do? EAT THE FOOD! Eat as much as your body is asking for with no restrictions. Eat carbs, fats and proteins. Eat both “healthy foods” and “fun foods”. I know this is easier said than done and I will go into the mental and emotional aspects of this in another post but for now I will just say that you need to nourish your body with good food and lots of it.

diet and hypothalamic amenorrhea

 Can exercise cause missing periods?

Simply put, yes too much exercise can stop periods. It is fairly common for female athletes or very active women to lose their period. This can be due to an energy deficit if she is not eating enough to fuel the exercise she is doing. Or it can be due to stress on the body from too high frequency or intensity of exercise. The fitness industry is huge these days and it is not unusual for women to be running or doing HIIT workouts on a daily basis. Social media these days is full of images of lean women with abs and defined muscles but this is far from the ideal fertile body for many women. Exercise supports our cardiovascular and muscular systems but like anything, too much can be unhelpful. As women, we need a certain amount of body fat to maintain our reproductive systems and therefore a healthy period.

If this sounds like you, what can you do? If you are serious about recovering your hormonal health I would strongly recommend taking a break from intense exercise for a few months. Keep movement to a minimum only light walking and stretching, yoga or any other gentle activity you enjoy. Not only will this help to balance your hormones but it will give your body a chance to repair any muscle and tissue damage caused by over-exercising and help you to come back stronger than ever.

walk

Can being under weight cause missing periods? Can weight loss cause skipped periods?

This one really goes with the above two points but I will say it as a separate point just to be clear. Our bodies have a “set point weight” at which they are happy and healthy. However many women today are pursuing an unhealthy ideal due to images in the media of skinny, sexy women. The truth is, we don’t know the full story and many of these women are harming their body to look this way, despite looking healthy on the outside. The majority of women need to be at the “fertile BMI” of 22-23 to have a healthy period but of course some women will menstruate at a lower weight than this and others will need to reach a BMI of 25+. This all depends on your genetic tendencies and history of dieting and over-exercising.

So if you don’t get a regular period and you are not already in the healthy BMI range of 20-25, considering gaining weight is an absolute must. Follow the above diet and exercise recommendations and allow your body to reach what it considers to be a healthy weight. It may be that your body needs to sit slightly above this range to feel safe and you will need to learn to be ok with that. Really start to reflect on your beliefs around body image and reprogram your brain to disassociate health and weight loss. Of course, this is easier said than done and may take some time but it will be totally worth it when you have a natural, regular cycle again.

low body weight and hypothalamic amenorrhea

Can stress cause missing periods?

Finally, but no less important, is stress! Some women are not dieting or over-exercising but lose their period anyway due to an extremely stressful event in their life or to a lifestyle which leads to chronic low level stress on a daily basis. This doesn’t have to be anything extreme but can be a typical busy lifestyle of having a full time job, active social life and looking after a family. Again, the hypothalamus, detects stress as a threat which can cause it to shut down our fertility system until it feels safe again. Unfortunately, many of us live our lives in this chronically stressed fight-or-flight state which means that our bodies never truly feel safe.

yoga

Of course it’s not always possible to drop everything and walk off into the sunset to recover our cycles! So what can you do to reduce stress? Start by reflecting on your lifestyle and eliminate any unnecessary sources of stress. This could include saying yes to things when you mean no, worrying excessively over things that are not important in the grand scheme of life or being perfectionistic or over-critical of yourself. It can also include over-use of stimulants such as caffeine which fire up your nervous system and can lead to to spending all day in a state of urgency. The second thing is to allow yourself to get into a calm state every day. Mindful breathing, meditation, baths, calming music can all help to drop out of “fight or flight” and into “rest and digest” mode allowing your body to enter a state of deep relaxation.

This is a huge topic so that’s all I will say for now. Spend some time reflecting on these four areas of your life and see if you can identify what may be preventing your hormones functioning as they should. I understand you completely if you feel like your body is broken and this can’t work for you but if I managed to recover my cycles after 8 years of Hypothalamic Amenorrhea and have maintained healthy cycles for over 3 years then anyone can do it!

Over to you…

I hope you found this article interesting and you now understand some of the factors which can cause your periods to go missing. Like this post and follow my blog for more on HA recovery, healthy hormones and holistic health. Please share your experience below I’d love to hear from you!

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

Other posts you might like