Food for Hormonal Balance | Women Series
A QUICK DISCLAIMER
Before I start I want to say I’m not for or against the pill. Taking the pill is a woman’s individual choice that I respect and honour wholeheartedly. I am for women having all the information necessary to make a well-informed decision about what they are putting in their bodies and why. I am completely against doctors prescribing birth control like it's candy without first exploring what the root cause or problem is that is causing the symptoms to begin with.
Birth control is usually not a cure for hormonal issues, heavy periods or hormonal acne. It relieves the symptoms while you’re on the pill and many times when you decide to get off the pill you are left with the same symptoms you were experiencing at the beginning.
I am only sharing my experience, so do your research, ask the questions and then make your decision.
I went to the gynecologist for the first time when I was about 15 or 16 and left with a prescription to Yaz that I would take for many years after that. At the time, the pill, for me, became almost a holy savior that magically made my acne and heavy periods disappear. I fell so in love with it that I sometimes would skip having a period for three months, because why wouldn’t you?
There are many reasons why you probably shouldn't, but back then I was a misinformed teenager who didn’t have the slightest clue of how the pill that I took religiously every morning upon waking worked.
Things have changed since those days. I stopped taking birth control after doing research of my own, weighing out the pros and cons and understanding what the effects and risks of taking birth control meant for me. However once I quit the pill, I was sad to discover my symptoms I had when I was 16 were the same at 22. In fact, they were worse. I got cystic acne on my chin, I gained lots of belly and arm fat, which was proving impossible to get rid of and my periods were very irregular and many times extremely painful.
These symptoms have led me on a journey of study in which I've had to read many books, ask for advice and implement different rituals and foods to try and bring my hormones back to normal. There has been a lot of trial and error but through that I've learned a few tricks that have helped me feel more grounded, calm and connected to my body throughout my cycle.
Hormonal imbalance is such a complex topic that can be caused by a plethora of reasons that you might not even have thought of. From the skincare you use, to the food you eat, to the antibiotics you might’ve taken a couple of years ago to the late nights you spend at work. It can be a very daunting issue to try and tackle on your own, as deciphering and pinpointing one reason could drive you crazy. This is why you should always seek help if your condition is preventing you from living the life you want to live. I want to share my experience, but I also want you to not rely on only my experience and my advice, because first, I’m not a specialist and second we are all different people in need of different healing methods.
What I've Learned
I’ve learned that balancing hormones isn’t just about adding some maca powder to your morning smoothie or taking primrose oil at night (although these sure might help!). When your hormones are out of whack you need to really take time to learn how the body works. If one area of your body isn’t working optimally, or if there is a deficiency in one gland or organ, another will step in to compensate. Meaning, that poor lifestyle (stress, late nights, negativity, overworking etc.) and dietary choices (processed foods, high sugar etc.) might have a chain reaction in your body that leads to all the symptoms you are experiencing.
But its not all bad as it also means that good food and good lifestyle choices might keep your hormones in check! Which is why I’m writing this blog post. There is light at the end of the tunnel!
I have had to start right at the beginning, and bring it back to basics. I try and prioritize sleep above anything else, meaning I get a solid 8 hours of deep, nourishing sleep to keep my hormones happy. I’ve started paying more attention to my liver and all other organs of elimination, which I had never before considered so intently. I have started watching out for my blood sugar levels and taking good care of my adrenals. Most importantly, this hormonal roller-coaster has taught me to become an observant of my own body. I no longer follow strict eating habits or exercise routines that dismiss how I’m feeling that day. When I’m on my period I eat certain foods that comfort me, I exercise in a way that supports me rather than weighs me down and I usually gravitate to spending more time on my own, meaning I might say no to social events, and do so GUILT FREE.
How I've Fallen In Love
To truly love something you need to understand it, and that was the missing link between me and my menstrual cycle. Apart from the little bit I learned about it at school, I didn’t truly know why it was happening, which meant it was almost this mystery I just had to deal with.
Once I started learning more about our amazing woman bodies, the role of hormones, and your bodies efforts of always trying to communicate with you and make you feel your best, there was no other way but to fall in love with my cycle.
You can learn all the science, which I’m slowly doing, but I think I needed a bit more than science. Falling in love with my cycle meant learning about the moon cycles, it meant learning to trust my intuition, it was learning to observe how I changed throughout the month, without judgement. I learned to put myself first before any engagement or exercise challenge or fad diet, which was something I had never done before, at least not without feeling guilty.
One thing I had to remind myself was that nature is not the enemy. Nature it is not separate from us because we too are made by nature for nature in nature. Seeing our periods as a burden or a trouble means we are almost negating our most natural selves. This realisation led me to release the negativity I had towards my menstrual cycle which allowed space for embracing it as an opportunity to retreat, relax and restore. I now see it as a time to be creative, a time to learn about my body and emotions and a reminder to take care of myself.
What I Do
I started cycle syncing which means listening to your body during the different phases of your menstrual cycle and becoming more in-tune with your feminine energy.
There are different ratios of hormones at different times of your cycle that affect your mood, energy, cravings, creativity etc. Observing your body during your different phases (luteal, menstrual, follicular and ovulation) can create a form of balance that might just transform your way of living and open you up to your divine feminine self.
Continuously pushing yourself through workouts you don’t feel energized to do, or making yourself eat a certain food because that’s what you’ve committed to in your health journey even though you’re really craving something entirely different creates restriction and tension and alienates you from being in tune with your own needs, desires and intuition.
When I’m on my period I gravitate towards more restorative exercise such as yin yoga, in which I focus mainly on my breath and on soothing, deep stretches that relax and nurture me. I prefer to practice at home during this time either following my own inner guidance or using YogaGlo. I might also go for a walk, but this usually happens more towards the 3rd and 4th day on my period were I feel more energised.
When I’m on my period I gravitate towards solitude and giving myself space and time to write, read and create on my own. It is also a time I focus on self care through gentle massages, baths, scrubs and anything that might bring me peace and joy.
WHAT I EAT IN A DAY ON MY MENSTRUAL PHASE
What you need:
1 tsp of Matcha*
1 tbsp TOCOS (for creaminess and vitamin E)
1 tbsp coconut butter**
½ tsp Ashwaganda
½ tsp Mason Mushroom Blend
¼ tsp cinnamon
1 cup of hot, not boiling, water
What you do:
Mix all ingredients in a blender and blend for 1 min on high to create frothiness.
*If you’re avoiding caffeine or if you’re after a calming night tonic, leave the matcha out or replace it with dandelion root tea (great for your liver!) or turmeric (great anti-inflammatory!).
**I sometimes use coconut butter as the milky aspect instead of coconut milk or any other plant milk because it doesn’t come with the additives or binders that those milks contain. It’s also easier than having to warm up milk on the stove. But you could definitely use only ½ cup of hot water and the ½ cup of plant milk. For adaptogenic herbs and medicinal mushrooms to work efficiently you need to add fats.
Breakfast - PorridgE
What you need:
½ cup steel cut oats*
2-3 cups of water
½ tbsp. raw cacao powder
1 tbsp of linseed, ground
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds, ground
1 tbsp cacao nibs
¼ - ½ cup of frozen blueberries
What you do:
Cook steel cut oats in water for 20-25 minutes, adding more water if necessary.
Once completely cooked, remove from element and add raw cacao powder.
Serve immediately with all toppings and enjoy!
*You can definitely soak your steel cut oats overnight to cut cooking time in half.
Lunch - Chickpea Cheela
What you need:
1 cup of chickpea flour
1 tsp ground coriander
1 – 1 ½ cup of water
1 chopped onion
Salt and pepper to taste
What you do:
Mix dry ingredients together and then add water until it reaches a slightly thicker crepe like consistency.
Cook on medium heat like you would a crepe, swirling around to create a uniform circle.
Keep in the fridge or serve with your choice of toppings.
Dinner - Lentil Stew
What you need:
1 tsp coconut oil
1 chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic
1 sliced portobello mushrooms
1 sliced oyster mushrooms
1 bunch of enoki mushrooms
1 chopped carrot
2 chopped potatoes
1/3 cup of buckwheat
4 cups of vegetable stock
1 can of tinned tomatoes
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cracked pepper
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp dried basil
½ tbsp dried oregano
1 cup of cooked brown lentils
Kale & Nori
What you do:
In a large pot sauté onions, garlic and mushrooms in coconut oil until all are softened and smell like heaven.
Add chopped carrot and cook for 5 minutes. You might want to add some water so it doesn't stick.
Then add all remaining ingredients except the cooked brown lentils.
Bring to a boil then lower heat and let simmer until potatoes are softened, 20-25 minutes.
Add lentils and serve!
I like to serve on a big bed of chopped kale, letting the hot soup wilt it slightly and top it off with a bit of nori.
WHY I EAT CERTAIN FOODS ON MY PERIOD
These are not required to live a healthy, happy, hormone-balanced life. However, if you’re looking for a bit of extra help that you haven't been able to find from eating a whole food plant based diet alone, I suggest you give these a try.
Adaptogens, very simply put, are natural substances that can help your body adapt to stress and bring it back into homeostasis. This means that the way one adaptogen plays out in your body might be different to the way it plays out in someone else's.
I started adding adaptogens only just recently because the price always intimidated me. After learning about their powers, I felt compelled to get myself some and invest in my body. Since adding them to my morning tea I have definitely felt a difference in energy, mood, skin and a definite improvement with my PMS symptoms.
I use Ashwaganda which is known to be a good pick for women as it soothes the nervous system, boosts immunity and supports you through your menstrual cycle due to a being a rich source of iron.
I also use a blend of medicinal mushrooms like shiitake, reishi, cordyceps and lions mane. This blend is great for hormonal balance, immunity and overall well being.
Whole grains like steel-cut oats and buckwheat are the perfect food to focus on when you’re feeling those PMS symptoms. They balance blood sugar, are full of fiber to keep you regular and are loaded with B vitamins to energize you and prevent those low energy days. Whole grains also rid your body of all excess estrogen that is no longer needed by the body.
I grind pumpkin and linseed every morning to top off my porridge when I’m on my menstrual phase. These need to be ground to ensure bioavailability and to enhance their therapeutic purposes. Also, once these are ground, the fatty acids can get oxidized when exposed to air, light and heat. I think of it as the tiniest little act towards a big improvement towards my PMS symptoms.
Ground pumpkin seeds: these little powerhouses are high in zinc, which promotes the release of progesterone. They also have phyto-estrogenic effect, which helps regulate androgen levels.
Ground linseed: these ones contain high levels of essential fatty acids, antioxidants and lignins that can prevent estrogen excess. Linseeds also have a phyto-estrogenic effect, which can support estrogen levels in the system. Let's also not forget that these tiny seeds are also rich in omega-3’s which reduce cramps, inflammation and increase energy.
Dark leafy greens like kale are your best friend during your menstrual phase (and always!) as they are loaded with minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium which all help ease menstrual cramps. These also help replenish all the minerals you might have lost during your period and give you a good punch of fiber.
High in a wide array of minerals this is a smart food to add to at least one of your meals a day when it’s your time of the month. Minerals are incredibly important for the function of your adrenal glands which play a big role in hormonal production and balance.
WATER AND WATER-RICH FOODS
If there is any time you should really pay attention to how much water you're having it is now. Water and water rich foods like oranges and melons will help you alleviate water retention that is usually associated with being on your period. So drink up and get munching on those juicy oranges!