Beat fatigue, banish mood swings and feel great with these simple lifestyle tweaks, says Angelique Panagis
For most of my twenties, I was bloated, exhausted and continuously premenstrual, although I didn’t have periods for three months at a time. I was 20kg overweight and diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome. I finally took control at the age of 27, taking small, consistent steps to change my beliefs around food, stress and gut health.
Whatever your motivation, when your hormones are in check you’ll be more excited about yourself, your life and your possibilities. Whether you are looking to feel more energised throughout the month, have a healthy pregnancy, get through the menopause relatively symptom-free, or simply optimise your hormonal health at any age, these tips will help…
This reduces toxic burden and helps with hormonal balance as exposure to xenoestrogens, antibiotics and hormones in animal products, chemicals in fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides all disrupt hormonal balance.
I know, gasp, carbs? Yes the right carbohydrates, complex ones, are extremely beneficial to us. These are brown and fibrous wholegrains and vegetables. They’re nutrient packed and contain the all-important fibre we need for healthy elimination. Avoid white carbs that are refined – that’s white bread, pasta, white rice, cakes, biscuits, pastries – and no added sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Sugar is sugar, whether it’s in refined or raw form. Read the ingredients labels and watch for sugar’s many guises (syrups and names ending in –ose, like sucrose or dextrose). Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are chemicals, not food, and can contribute to insulin resistance and perpetuate a sweet tooth.
Cinnamon can improve insulin sensitivity and help with bloodsugar balance. Plus it’s naturally sweet in taste and can help keep those pesky cravings at bay. Sprinkle a teaspoon of ground cinnamon on breakfast or make a cinnamon tea.
Tricky if you rely on coffee to get through the day and wine to unwind, but trust me, you don’t need them. Your hormones and energy levels will benefit.
We all tend to rush around from one task to the next, eating at our desks while still typing that email reply, eating in front of the TV, engrossed in the show but distracted from our food. This might seem like multitasking at its best, but at what cost to your hormonal balance? If you eat while you are stressed, blood is diverted away from the digestive track, making digestion harder and causing food to sit there for longer and ferment, leading to bloating and cramping. Being distracted and eating fast also means you eat mindlessly and a lot more than you actually need. The easiest way to practise mindful eating, even if it’s just a snack, is to really use your senses. How does the food look, how does it taste, smell, feel in your mouth? Savour whatever you’re eating. Connect with it. Mastering the art of eating intelligently is more important than counting calories.
Adjust your posture to relax your shoulders, and sit comfortably. Keep one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in for a count of four, expanding your chest and right down into your belly, feeling it expand last. Pause and then breathe out for a count of seven, contracting your belly first, and then chest, as the air leaves your body. Repeat this 10 times. Do this every morning and every evening. It’s also a handy trick to practise any time you feel anxious, for example if you are stressed at work. Try it if you have difficulty sleeping or you wake in the middle of the night or early morning with an active brain.
Easier said than done, I know, but it’s easy to make a mountain out of a molehill. Have you ever flown off the handle then a few days later thought, ‘What on earth was I bothered about?’ The body doesn’t differentiate between real threat and chronic stress, it’s all damaging to your hormone balance. If you have a lot of issues to work through, it’s well worth speaking to a therapist. The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation and you can feel the anger rising in you, I want you to stop and take a step back. Try the breathing exercise previously described. Feel better? Yes, that demanding email from your boss needs to be answered, but not at a cost to your health.
I love chatting about this with clients. When was the last time you just sat and laughed? Laughter is food for the soul and we need to do more of it. Watch a funny film, go see a stand-up comedy show, read a hilarious book that makes you really laugh out loud, spend time with your wittiest friends. Fill your life with more joy.
When our adrenals are working in overdrive we can feel exhausted, and the last thing we want to do is exercise. But adaptive exercises, like going for a brisk walk outside and filling your lungs with fresh air, can be just what you need to re-energise. Yoga or Pilates, which incorporate deep breathing work, can be extremely restorative, while working on stability and core muscles. Sweat plays a crucial role in your body’s natural detox function and helps clear out a range of toxins, from those pesky persistent organic pollutants and BPA (a chemical that disrupts hormones we are too often exposed to) to heavy metals (along with that alcohol you drank last night!). Remember to rehydrate to replace the water lost.
I love the power of positivity. Start each day by looking at yourself in a mirror and speaking aloud one of the following affirmations (or one you write yourself): I can and will make positive choices I choose to eat healthy foods I eat when I am calm and relaxed I take time for me every day My hormones are balanced and happy I am focused on giving my body all it needs I love and nurture my amazing body I love to move my body daily I can do this The better I eat, the more I rest, the better I feel I am grateful for all the blessings in my life.But I’m on the pill? Does taking the contraceptive pill automatically balance hormones anyway? When it’s used correctly and for what it was designed to do (to prevent a pregnancy) the contraceptive pill can have its advantages, not least liberation. In many cases, however, it is prescribed by GPs to reduce period pain or PMS, ‘fix’ an irregular cycle, deal with acne or symptoms of PCOS and endometriosis. It can work, but it’s important to realise it’s just a sticking plaster. If you have not dealt with the underlying causes of your hormonal imbalances, when you come off the pill the symptoms will come back and with a vengeance. Taking the pill for many years can leave us with deficiencies including B vitamins, vitamin C, selenium, magnesium and zinc. All are needed for healthy functioning of the thyroid, immune system, adrenal glands and liver. The pill can disrupt our gut microbes, which can lead to the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeast. This can leave us constipated as well as plagued by chronic yeast infections like candida, while further reducing nutrient absorption. The pill is also associated with depression. All too often doctors fail to acknowledge this, instead writing a prescription for antidepressant drugs – another sticking plaster. Studies have also linked the pill to chronic inflammation and increased insulin sensitivity.
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