Why dieting can be detrimental to your hormones – GUEST POST with Danielle Lindsay, Holistic Nutritionist.

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t tried a diet that eliminates or restricts entire food groups (carbs, fats). The thing with these types of diets is that for most people, in the long term, they just aren’t sustainable.

They mess with your hormones, leave you hungry and can create food anxiety or orthorexia because let’s face it: in our culture, going out to eat with your friends or having family dinners is common and its ENJOYABLE. These diets are even less sustainable for women because our hormones fluctuate from day to day, depending on what part of our cycle we’re in. The amount of and type of macronutrients we eat varies with each phase of the menstrual cycle. For example: during the menstrual part of the cycle (while you’re bleeding), our body benefits from an increase in healthy fats like omega fatty acids and monosaturated fats in order to help produce enough hormones for the rest of the cycle (plot twist: our hormones are actually made from fat & cholesterol!!). During our luteal phase (from ovulation to menstruation), we need lots more B vitamins than other parts of our cycle to adequately support healthy progesterone levels, energy, and so that we don’t experience crippling PMS!

How fad dieting or restrictive dieting can affect your hormones

We all know the cycle. You start the diet and you’re doing well for the first week or two because you lose some weight, your pants fit looser and you’re feeling good. Then the weekend rolls around and your body goes into starvation mode because you’ve been denying it healthy amounts of what it needs. Your stress hormone cortisol increases and your body decides you need to eat a whole bag of chips to survive – the whole diet is ruined, you say “f$&k it”, and eat the entire kitchen. This whole cycle of stress can lead to high cortisol and HPA axis dysfunction, which is detrimental to female hormone balance.

Hormonally, a few things are happening:

  1. HPA axis Dysfunction can decrease your thyroid function, due to high levels of cortisol. Poor thyroid function decreases your metabolism. Once you make it to the other side of your binge weekend, your metabolism is going to be even more messed up than to begin with.
  2. High cortisol also steals from our progesterone bank and increases estrogen, leaving you with a hormonal imbalance that can cause PMS, infertility, PCOS, heavy periods, etc, etc, etc. For you twenty and thirty some-odd gals who are thinking of becoming pregnant, remember progesterone = pro-gestation-hormone. You need this to achieve and sustain a pregnancy!
  3. When your body is stressed and starving on a cellular level, it ramps you up for the impending threat that is coming. It thinks “if we aren’t in danger then why would you be starving me out like this?”. Glucose is constantly being released from your liver stores (Which are only supposed to be used during long gaps between meals and while you sleep to provide your brain with energy to stay alive) all day long. This leads to a constant release of insulin. This can worsen conditions like PCOS or put you at risk for type 2 diabetes later in life when your pancreas is too exhausted from inappropriately counteracting the constant release of glucose its whole life.

Aside from just these few (among many) affects that dieting can have on your hormones, having these constant fluctuations in hormones, HPA Axis dysfunction, and blood sugar crashes are going to negatively affect your mental health – especially if you’re already an anxious person or are prone to depression.

So what to do if you’re feeling like (or actually really need to) shed some pounds for health reasons?  

Focus on these 10 points created by Danielle & myself to guide your eating habits, and figure out what works for YOU. There is not one diet out there that we believe should be followed to a T, however you may have noticed a common theme among many diets: paleo, keto, the Mediterranean diet, weight watchers, jenny craig, beach body, which I think we can all agree on:

  1. Increase your vegetable intake.
    Focus on getting 7-8+ servings of vegetables or low sugar fruits in your diet daily and you’ll find that it crowds out space for poor food choices because vegetables physically fill you up!
  2. Decrease your sugar intake.
    Cutting it out completely may be difficult but especially if you’re struggling hormonally, you need to really dial it back. **Points 1+2 are also very important if you’re dealing with recurrent UTI’s, Bacterial Vaginosis or Yeast infections.  
  3. Focus on high quality protein and healthy fat at each meal.
    This doesn’t have to mean animal products, but it may mean including a protein supplement or beans/legumes with each meal because I’m sorry friends, avocado toast does not provide enough protein to be a daily meal staple if you’re trying to slim down. Some sources of healthy fat can include nuts, avocado, oily fish, and pasture raised eggs.
  4. Keep your blood sugar steady eddy all day.
    Have a balance of all three macronutrients at each meal, and avoid coffee and sugary drinks.

Additionally…

  1. Address food sensitivities or gut issues to decrease bloating.
    Maybe you don’t actually need to lose weight but what you really need is to lose the bloat to get your pants to fit better! If you’re bloating after every meal, you may need to review your diet with a nutritionist or have food sensitivity testing done.
  2. Focus on getting enough of the right nutrients in, daily.
    Living with a food-restrictive mindset also restricts you from getting all the nutrients you need!
  3. Move.
    Moving your body daily for 30 minutes a day helps to increase your cells receptivity 
    to insulin and increases your metabolic function. It doesn’t have to be a high heart rate HIIT workout, hitting the gym or going for a run. Make it fun and do what your body is craving. Going for a walk, dance around your living room, or stretch for 30 minutes are all still considered exercise.
  4. Take your time to enjoy your food.
    Whether you are eating a salad or a bowl of pasta, taking the time to chew your food fully (about 20 “chomps” per bite) will not only help to increase digestion and decrease bloat BUT it also gives your body/brain time to connect and enjoy the food. It takes roughly 10-20 minutes BEFORE your brain actually registers that the stomach is full so slowing down, taking your time and enjoying gives your brain extra time to read this signal AS WELL makes it less likely that you are going to over eat.
  5. Prepare as much of your own food as possible!
    You may not know this but digestion actually starts to occur before food reaches our mouths. Those who prepare their own food have registered up to 50% increase in digestive juices! Also preparing your own food means you can skip all the added sugars in things like dressings, marinades, etc and add in extra nutrients instead.
  6. Ask yourself why it is that you are eating.
    Take the time before you pick up the bag of chips/cookies/sandwich to figure out if you’re eating for emotional reasons vs. because you are actually hungry can provide some insight into what might be going on, on a deeper level. Numbing emotional distress with food (or other substances) can trigger you to gain and keep weight on as you are not addressing the deeper issue at hand!

Have you fallen victim to the fad diet craze and experienced symptoms of HPA axis dysfunction? Are there things you do to help you maintain a certain weight? We’d love to hear below in the comments!

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Danielle Lindsay is a Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Counsellor located in Vancouver, BC, Canada. As the owner of her business Thyme to Nourish, she offers nutritional counselling that is all about bringing balance into your life through coaching, nutrition and a holistic lifestyle. She specializes in helping folks with mental health, adrenal, thyroid and blood sugar issues.

Check her out through her blog here
Or on Instagram @thyme_to_nourish

Glossary

HPA Axis Dysfunction: Also known as “adrenal fatigue”. HPA Axis stands for Hypothalamic Pituitary Adrenal Axis, which describes the complex chemical reactions that occur between our Hypothalamus, Pituitary gland, and our adrenal glands. When this isn’t in good working order, it can lead to signs of “adrenal fatigue”: Brain fog, exhaustion, anxiety, low blood pressure, insomnia (“tired but too wired” to sleep), thyroid dysfunction (and subsequently; weight gain..) and other autoimmune disorders.

Orthorexia: An eating disorder where a person will ONLY eat foods that they consider healthy, to the point where it interferes with their life and becomes a problem.

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When the holidays just aren’t really your thing.

I can hardly believe that we have 6 golden days until Christmas. Even for those who don’t participate in Christmas, the holiday season is the busiest time of the year. Businesses are busy, traffic is heavy, everywhere and everyone has limited hours due to the holiday season. Gift buying, Christmas parties, excessive sweets and alcohol tend to put new stress on our bodies, even if we don’t notice it. But most people perceive this stress as excitement, and the holidays bring them and their family a new year of memories and joy to share together.

But not everyone enjoys the holidays. In fact, some people really, really dislike them. For some people it’s a reminder of another hard milestone to get through without a loved one they’ve lost. Maybe this is their first Christmas being single in a long time and it feels particularly lonely. Maybe it’s that annual stress around buying things for their kids that they can’t afford, and feeling the pressure to keep up with the joneses. Some people are reminded, yet again, around this time of year of how f&*ked up and dysfunctional their family is during these “happy family times” due to abuse and addiction. Furthermore, maybe it’s the first year in their adult life that they have to get through the holidays without abusing substances themselves.

If this is you, I hear you. Last year, for a variety of reasons, I couldn’t WAIT to flee to Mexico around Christmas time to avoid the Christmas craze. This year I’ve been able to enjoy it again and I’ve been listening to the Christmas tunes everyday, but I can understand why some may wish to skip the entire month of December all together.

If the holiday season sucks for you this year, know that you aren’t alone. It’s okay to avoid the whole thing and its okay to feel this way. I encourage you to practice mindfulness during this time, and try to do things that make YOU feel good. Try one or two of these things if you’re strugglin’ this year:

Exercise

Good hard exercise requires all of your attention, and therefore it can’t be elsewhere. Double bonus – the gym is particularly empty at this time of year!

Connect

If you like to connect with other humans but your family are not those chosen humans, consider volunteering with an organization that you can get behind. And if you cant find something that suits you, volunteer at the SPCA because those pups are sure to put a smile on your face.

Try something new.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to try hot yoga or a pottery class – do that now. Maybe there’s an online course you’ve been wanting to do, this is a great time to allow yourself to do that!

If you can, give.

It doesn’t have to be a gift to your undeserving loser brother, but maybe to a food bank or foundation that helps the homeless out at this time of year.

Engage in humour.

Okay so maybe your husband isn’t as funny as he thinks he is, so make an effort to watch your favourite comedies or YouTube cat videos. Laughter is therapeutic!

Band together with other non-christmasers.

You can avoid the holiday season but Christmas day itself can be tough because everything is closed and everyone is busy. Maybe get together with a friend who also doesn’t celebrate Christmas and get outside for a hike or beach fire (if you’re a spoiled west coaster like I am, that is).

And if all else fails, flee to Mexico like I did. No shame in some sun and sand. Whether the holidays bring you happiness, sadness, or a mix of both, I hope that that you are able to experience some joy even if it isn’t the traditional type of joy. ❤

Menstrual cups

A few years back I decided to switch to a menstrual cup from using tampons, and I’ll never look back.

There are many pro’s to using a menstrual cup, including the fact that tampons are horrible for the environment. Not only do they get flushed down the toilet and into the sewer systems, but they come packaged in a bunch of soon-to-be landfill waste as well. Especially if you’re a heavy bleeder, this results in a lot of waste over time!

Menstrual cups also save you money, and this was originally a motivating factor for me to make the switch back when I was a broke nursing student. I think mine cost me about $30 – 5 years ago. Before that I was probably spending $60 a year on tampons, so this was a no-brainer for me!

But among the environmental and economic pro’s to using a menstrual cup, I wanted less chemicals in my body. Your vagina is a very absorbent organ with mucous membrane lining it. Lets just say if you put garlic in your vagina, you can taste it in your mouth. That’s how absorbent it is. (Don’t ask me how I know that). Most tampons are cheap cotton soaked in bleach and other chemicals that I definitely don’t want to be absorbing into my body. Not only chemicals, but I also don’t want to be re-absorbing the waste within my blood, back into my body. A tampon is literally a plug of your own blood that sits in your absorbent vagina for hours. This is why they recommend that you only leave your tampon in for a maximum of 8 hours due to the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. In addition to this, tampons can also cause vaginal dryness which is no good when you’re trying to make boom boom ;).

For me, I don’t use tampons because I want to tell my body “go ahead, shed, remove and release” the old stuff, both physically and emotionally. I realize that tampons are the most convenient way to collect and dispose of your blood, but I also think that in order to decrease the taboo of periods we need to allot a bit of time and space to tend to our periods, and to allow this hormonal event to to not only cleanse our bodies but our mind too, instead of plugging up the energy to lie stagnant within us.

 

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Do I sound like a crazy hippy lady? Have you made the switch from tampons to the cup? How has it worked for you?
Comment below!

Magnesium detox bath (sweat bath)

I’m obviously the hugest advocate for everyone to be taking a magnesium supplement everyday, but a supplement or food isn’t the ONLY way to get a good dose of magnesium in. Magnesium is absorbed by the body really well transdermally. This could be in the form of a magnesium oil rub, or in my favourite way – bath salts!

The benefits of magnesium are endless. I use magnesium transdermally to relax sore muscles, relieve menstrual cramps, relieve anxiety and to help me sleep. You could either use Epsom salts (Magnesium Sulfate) or Magnesium salts (Magnesium chloride). I prefer to use Magnesium Chloride because it is better absorbed by your skin (you get a bigger boost of magnesium), and it leaves you feeling wayyy more “zenned out”. However, Mag Chloride is more expensive, especially when using whole cups at a time, so Epsom salts will do if thats what in your budget!

In addition to the magnesium, the baking soda & apple cider vinegar have a detoxifying effect on the skin and they help with dandruff & dry skin. *side note ladies: try this mix if you feel a UTI coming on – they are both very antibacterial!

This bath is the best way for me to unravel after a long day at work. After my 12 hour shifts I like to come home and gather up my phone, a book, a dry towel, some candles, a cup of tea, and a big jug of water and sweat it out. The combination of the hot water, baking soda & ACV makes me sweat like a little piggy which feels so cleansing. Give it a try and tell me what you think!

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disregard the cupping marks…

Magnesium detox bath:

  • 1 cup of Epsom salts (magnesium salts)
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 1/2 cup Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV)
  • Couple drops of your favourite essential oils – lavender is my go-to because i’m usually bathing before bed.
  • A healthy slosh of bubble bath

Throw all the ingredients in as the tub is filling and use very warm water. Try to stay in the bathtub for at least 30 minutes to allow a good amount of magnesium to absorb through your skin transdermally ❤

How is all that Christmas spending affecting your mental health?

For the past few years, my family and I have stopped purchasing Christmas gifts for one another. I came to a point in my adult life where I started to feel quite ridiculous having to rack my brain to come up with a list of items for other people to buy me. The thing is, I don’t NEED any gifts. Anything that I truly need, I seem to buy for myself, and so do those around me. So why do we make ourselves broke every year, buying each other things just for the sake of… buying things?

I’m all for some Christmas cheer – family time, gorging myself on turkey, and making Christmas special for the little ones in our lives. But if you’re an adult in my world this year, don’t expect any gifts. I’m just not participating in this consumerism rat race that puts our country more in debt every year and leaves us at our most depressed and broke come January.

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This year, instead of buying my boyfriend some sweaters hes never going to wear, I’m devoting a chunk of my income to people who are actually in NEED. And to my splendor, there are many causes out there that align with my passions! There is an organization in my city called Bridges for Women Society, that helps women who have been impacted by violence or abuse to gain employment and get back on their feet financially. They are currently accepting donations of used iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks for the women in their programs. My partner Simon has donated his old iPhone 5s, which still works great except the screen is smashed and will cost $80 to fix. If you can, for-go your Starbucks PSL this morning and donate it to a women who needs a smartphone to become and stay employed.

Additionally, I encourage your to reconsider the connection between your mental health and what you’re materialistically consuming. This world is finely designed to be constantly advertising things to you – on the radio, on the TV, all over social media, billboards, the list goes on. Are the things you’re spending your money on serving you? Do you feel anxiety when you think about all the money you’re going to have to spend on everyone, let alone what to actually BUY these folks? I encourage you to think about what is essential at Christmas time and reconsider if gifts for the already privileged people in your life is a priority, or if giving to those in need, where ever YOU see the need, is maybe a better choice for your mental health.

If you want to donate to this cause please check out my gofundme account. $80 is not that much for us to raise collectively!

>> Click here if you want more information on this cause or if you have used apple electronics that you would like to donate! There is a criteria list as to which are acceptable so please see the list <<

 

Pumpkin Spice ESTROBOWL

I experimented with my original estrobowl to throw a little pumpkin spice spin onto things and ZAYUM. Complete with some of my favourites: cruciferous vegetables for bad-estrogen detox, pumpkin, seeds to support my current menstrual phase and then of course chewable toppings to help promote normal digestion (as opposed to drinking a smoothie through a straw). Give this a try, it tastes like piece of pumpkin pie heaven!

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PS ESTROBOWL

  • 1/2 cup steamed & frozen cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin (put in ice cube tray ahead of time & freeze, use 2-3 cubes)
  • 1 T pumpkin spice seasoning
  • 1/4 t ceylon cinnamon
  • sprinkle of stevia
  • 1 T fresh-ground flax seed
  • 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder
    • I’m currently using Vega Performance brand. I love it because I tend to digest vegan protein powder better than whey, it doesn’t have added nutrients (having fortified food is NOT always ideal according to your genetic make-up), and it has a healthy dose of L-glutamine in it. L-Glutamine is an amino acid that helps reduce muscle soreness when taken after a workout, and is also incredible for healing leaky-gut syndrome or other digestive issues. To prevent muscle soreness you need at least 5g, and this brand has 6g per serving!
  • Coconut milk to blend to desired texture

To Top it off:

  • Chopped seasonal apple
  • Pecans
  • Melty almond butter
  • Dried cranberries
  • Raw pumpkin seeds

 

Bon appetit!

Painful Periods 101.

I used to have this routine where I would get my period and within 2 hours of beginning to bleed I’d have a vaso-vagal episode (faint, essentially) due to the intense pain. I’d wake up from my little episode feeling horrible, take some advil and then the rest of my period would be a breeze. The problem with this is that I’d often be alone when it happened, resulting in me hitting my head on things. It wasn’t until I got my hormones more in balance and properly dealt with my stress that this has finally stopped occurring so often. Period pain started to rule my life and what I could do around that time of the month.

Does this sound like you? Are your periods sheer hell?

There are many things that can cause painful or heavy periods, and definitely some things that can help.

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What exactly causes the pain?

By now you know that menstruation is the shedding of your uterine lining which bleeds and falls out of your vagina. As the lining sheds, it releases hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins, which cause you to feel pain. Advil, Tylenol, Midol, etc. all work physiologically by decreasing the amount of prostaglandins circulating in your system, therefore reducing pain.

Instead of relying on drugs to band-aid the pain each month, it may be time for you to investigate why you have such a LARGE release of prostaglandins. I want to talk about a few (but not all) of the common causes for severe period pain:

Hormonal Imbalance

A number of imbalances can lead to painful periods, but a common one in our stressed out, undernourished and overworked world of women is estrogen dominance and progesterone deficiency. Simply put, our bodies overproduce estrogen based on all the chemicals in our environment and that which we put on our body (most body products are hormone bombs), the mass-produced and hormonally fed food that we eat, and our high stress lifestyle. Often when our estrogen is too high, our progesterone is too low, and this mix can cause and increase in prostaglandin release.

Endometriosis

Is a condition when the the inner lining of the uterus (the Endometrium) starts to actually grow on other parts of the uterus where it shouldn’t, like on the outside. This can cause serious pain with intercourse, pain with urination, and can cause constipation because the endometrial tissue can also grow on your bowel. It also can lead to infertility.

Adenomyosis

Is similar to Endometriosis except the Endometrial tissue actually breaks through the uterine wall to the outside and can cause many of the same symptoms as Endo, but you may also feel lots of lower abdominal bloating and pressure due to uterine enlargement.

Uterine fibroids

Are non-cancerous clumps of tissue that grow in and on the uterus, and can cause all of the above symptoms. Sometimes they grow to be as large as a baby!

“Make it go away!”

Regardless of the cause of your period pain, try addressing a potential hormonal imbalance/inflammation first. Give it an honest effort for three months and if your periods are still just as bad, investigate for a more serious causes with your doctor.

If you do what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve always gotten. The world is not set up for women to have healthy periods and cycles, and it takes awhile to learn what you need to avoid and how to eat better but unless you put in the effort to learn, you’ll be in the same cycle (pun not intended ;))

8 first steps to addressing your painful periods:

  1. Decrease/eliminate dairy intake.
    • Dairy Is often causes inflammation in humans. Some people have no issue with it – some do. One way you can find out if you have an issue with it is to try cutting it out. If you notice your acne clears up, your digestion improves, and your periods improve – you’re one of em’!
  2. Decrease/eliminate alcohol & caffine intake.
    • I know. What horrible advice. But the truth is that both of these substances increase prostaglandin production, so if you’re suffering, you may need to consider this.
  3. Avoid hormone disrupting chemicals
    • Found in household products, plastics & body/make up products. Theres a list of about a million things to avoid but check out the environmental working group for a top list of things to avoid.
  1. Address your stress and your emotional shit.
    • I’m not going to talk about how to handle your financial and traffic commute stress, what I’m talking about here are things like: How you feel like you have to constantly support a close family member because they rely on you heavily but its really draining your energy. How you actually have low-key trust and fidelity concerns with your partner based on unresolved issues from your guys’ past. How you don’t feel heard by your partner in your marriage and it keeps bringing up little arguments and spats on the day to day, and is actually over time seriously dimming your marriage. How you still struggle emotionally with abuse from your past and it eats you up inside. How you have horrible body image issues and its controlling your life and how you interact with the world.

THESE are the types of stresses that eat away at us on a low-key level. If you aren’t sure what it is that’s bothering you, start by making a journal of your thoughts for a few days in a row. Keep track of the things you think about and your thought patterns during the day. See if any recurring negative topics come up and work to address them.

  1. Get your 7-8 servings of veggies a day
    1. There are countless different diets out there right now but almost all of them support the idea of increasing your daily vegetable intake. Vegtables provide the fibre to support excess hormone elimination, and many of them contain phytonutrients that help process hormones within the body as well.
  2. Decrease your sugar intake
    1. Theres no other way to slice it: sugar is an inflammatory substance. More Inflammation = more pain. Also to note, replacing sugar with artificial sweetener is also not ideal because it can disrupt gut health, which in turn disrupts the endocrine system. (This includes chewing gum!)
  3. Cut down on eating out
    1. Especially from fast food joints, and I don’t just mean Mcdonalds… I’m also talking about subway and other “healthy” fast food joints. While they do offer healthier options like salads, they’ll often serve it with a side of soy-laiden chicken (soy being a major hormone disruptor), or a dressing that is highly processed made with oils that wreak havoc on your endocrine system (canola oil, soybean oil.) Save yourself the money and when you want to eat out, go to a nice sit-down restaurant that is reputable for using real, whole, local ingredients.

Lastly: Ya’ll know I’m all about supplements but I think when it comes to chronic, horrible periods, you need to figure out what your triggers are first, and you need to focus on making space in your diet for the essential nutrients you need first. And if that still doesn’t work, maybe you need to focus on your gut health so that you can better absorb the nutrients from your food. And if this all doesn’t help, it might be worth your money to see a naturopathic doctor who can suggest a supplement based on your needs!

 

Periods are not meant to cause you excruciating pain, and if they are, its your body trying tell you something. If you have done certain things that have helped ease your cycle, share with the rest of us below in the comments!