hurricane hormones

Years ago I wrote a (now unpublished) post about the ridiculous rollercoaster PMS I would get. It was a rather funny tale about how completely irrational I would be, tears flowing type of irrational, and yet could not control myself – even though I knew I was being ridiculous. Fast forward a couple years and after I had our now 5 year old I wrote a post about postpartum hormones and jokingly called them pregnancy hormones ‘crazy, older sister’.

As women, and as a society, we have come to accept that being hormonal disasters is normal. That having our periods and monthly cycles dominate our existence and in many cases completely debilitate us is just a part of normal, female life.

I used to be that girl. The girl who had to call in sick to work once a month because day 1 of my period was genuinely that awful. PMS (in the pre-period week of our cycles) was something I dealt with in a serious way. I was a cranky, emotional, fetal-positioned on my bed because of cramps. My legs would ache. I would get SO tired. It was not pretty, but yet somehow ‘normal’. Combine that with the actual period phase of the cycle and there went half of my month. During that 5ish days I would continue with the cramps, felt so uncomfortable, had ridiculous cravings (usually for sugar), would be a solid 3-4 pounds heavier. Basically I was a mess. And again, this is ‘normal’.

And this, my friends, is complete, fictitious bullshit.

As I became a healthier version of myself, and started reading and educating myself I read a lot about the B-vitamins for PMS and periods. After a couple months of taking them I noticed huge improvements. As the years went on and my diet changed from a mainstream ‘healthy’ (IE: diet foods, lean animal proteins, yogurts, lots of fruits and veggies), I noticed even more changes. My PMS was minor and my periods were actually getting lighter.

Fast forward to postpartum me, and I was once again back to being a disheveled mess. This time however, I knew how to balance what I needed to. By sticking to my plant-based diet, chocked full of nutrients and vitamins my body needed to function optimally, I was back to my *pre-baby self.

*I’m not talking weight, but that mental fog so many new moms are told is ‘normal’ when the truth is just because so many women experience it doesn’t make it normal. But while we are on the subject of weight, you simply cannot shed any excess pounds if your gut health or hormones are out of whack. If your body is too focused on simply trying to keep itself alive, the last thing it has energy to do is burn off fat. Despite our desires or wants, our body has one goal: provide nutrients to key organs. And our organs need hormones to work. Balance the gut and hormones, your body can run smoothly and focus on other health goals.

I often get asked why I focus on a plant-based diet when so many other sources include things like bone broth, lean meats and some dairy. My first response is, “where’s the emphasis?” I say this because based on the high number of books, studies and articles I have read on hormones and/or gut health they all focus on increasing fruits, vegetables and healthy fats with minimal animal protein and preferably no dairy. So why include animal proteins at all?

Logic also says to me, animals have hormones in them. I’m not talking about added hormones to fatten animals up but the naturally occurring hormones. I struggle to believe that we can consume animal products without ingesting these hormones also. SO if our objective is to make ourselves feel better, get our own hormones back into shape, why the hell would we put animal hormones into our bodies??

I think the hardest part of it all is that we often don’t even realize the symptoms we are experiencing are from dysfunctional hormones. We don’t connect our moodiness, brain fog, lack of weight loss/gain, fatigue, hunger etc. as a sign of something wrong – especially during postpartum, menopause or our menstrual periods. To us we think that they’re normal parts of being busy, multi-tasking women, but we need to change that. These are symptoms of a bigger issue, and once we recognize these things as not normal, we can then get our hormones back in check and regain the time and energy lost to these life interfering symptoms.

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learn to begin again

Something having children has taught me is that everything can be a learning opportunity, and that we are born with this desire to soak up every.little.thing and learn EVERYTHING. They want to know why things are the colours that they are, what the order of the planets are, why soccer is played at night and this morning my 5-year-old wanted me to explain nut allergies to him. This is both the single most obnoxious and yet amazing thing about children.

As we get older though, for some reason asking for answers, saying “I don’t know” or seeking help from someone who is more educated than ourselves is often seen as a flaw. We tend to not want to admit when we are wrong or don’t know an answer. But the thing is that adults who seek to expand their knowledge base or learn more are, in my opinion, doing nothing but bettering their lives and those around them. Knowledge is a beautiful thing.

Many personal and professional based conversations have taken place around friends and clients lack of knowledge or know-how when it comes to food based decisions. OR more accurately, there is just so much information out there it can be overwhelming and they don’t even know where to begin to ensure they are building a foundation based on sound knowledge and information. This can be the tricky part.

As I sit here thinking about the foundations of health and the process of healing our bodies, I can’t help but reflect on my yoga practice. I was a very reluctant yogi. I went only because a new friend at the time really wanted to try a class at the gym I was working at but didn’t want to go alone. Y’all, it was truly magical and life changing for me. (But that’s a post for another day.)

You often hear the term yoga “practice” as opposed to class, lesson, session or workout. At first I was embarrassed to call it my yoga practice – it sounded so hippy dippy and new age (and that’s a lot coming from me!), but as my practice grew, my commitment grew and the years went on I realized it’s called a yoga practice because that’s exactly what it is. Any yoga instructor I have had puts such an emphasis on continuous growth, on connecting your mind and body, to focus on the form of your movements and the breath over the complexity of the pose. So 6 years in, it’s my yoga practice because every single time I take to my mat I’m practicing. Practicing calming my mind, practicing being in that moment, practicing while strengthening my body and working on my form. I am continuously striving to push myself and practicing.

What strikes me as odd is many people take this approach when it comes to sports (hell, even professionals practice daily!), activity and other areas of our life but when it comes to our health and what we are putting into our mouths… we expect perfection on the first try. We don’t want to ask for help, often because we don’t even understand or know exactly what the problem is or how our body function works.

We beat ourselves up when our choices and efforts don’t ‘succeed’ in the way we wanted them to the on the right try.

But here’s the thing: everyone has a first day where they feel lost, everyone has made choices they aren’t super pumped about. The real measure of success is what you do after those first moves and face-plants.

If what you are doing is not giving you the results you want (weight-loss, healthy relationships, strong body, more sleep.. whatever), stop and evaluate. Are your expectations out of whack? Is your approach not ideal for who you are and your lifestyle?

It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to ask for help, or trial and error on your own. Just keep moving forward and making better choices than the ones that came before.

an unbalanced life

I often get asked how I reached a point of plant-based eating and the person I am talking to is generally shocked to hear it did not begin as an ethical OR weight loss decision. It also came after I had lost 50+ pounds and had been maintaining that along with what I, and many others, considered a healthy weight and life. I am fortunate in that my weight does not yo-yo outside of my 5 or so pounds, I don’t struggle to eat well and exercise comes easy to me both mentally and physically (usually). Yet despite all these factors in alignment, I was not okay. Prior to my weight loss I had an unhealthy relationship with food, clinically would be diagnosed as having an eating disorder (despite being overweight), and the physical discomfort I felt was something that had simply become normal to me. I had went to the doctor numerous times over the years for my stomach issues, all of which were dismissed with a “you’re young, lose some weight”.

So. I did.

Unsurprising in hindsight, neither my relationship with food nor my physical issues changed. I still felt bloated constantly, was pretty moody, extremely emotional, was constipated non-stop, my skin was questionable, I had nasty PMS and periods, my joints literally throbbed (I was 25 at the time), heartburn… and this was AFTER “getting healthy”.

It was at this point that I decided to take control of the situation. I began to actually research what I was eating, how my body was working and how it could be better. Up until this point I had basically been following an “everything in moderation” mindset and focusing on calories in and calories out. This concept works well for weight loss (there’s no denying this) but is not optimum for health. My mental relationship with food was still … not okay. (You can read this post on my feelings about moderation and the mental toll it can take on a person.) While I would no longer be classified as bulimic, had mostly gotten my emotional eating into a healthy place, I was still scale obsessed, stressing constantly about simple things like having to eat in a restaurant, physically felt all the same pre-weight loss symptoms short of those directly related to the weight loss and introduction of regular exercise (more stamina, had slightly more energy..) and overall was just an unhealthy place.

Through my readings I had come across many articles, studies and books that resonated with me so hard. Everytime I would look into my symptoms past the usual weight loss, pill gimmicks that would pop up first in my searches, Most of what I read was connected back to a alternative health (or as I like to call it “original health). So I did my due dillgence and enrolled in a Holistic Nutrition Program.  As I worked my way through all.the.sciences classes I learned about the inner workings of the body, and what made it tick. I also began to connect the dots back to my own health and  a pattern emerged: gut and hormone health. I had always associated hormones with  post-partum or menopausal women, not ‘healthy’ 26-year-olds who was most defintely not going through menopause. And gut health? yeah, no. As soon as I heard the term ‘gut health’ I, for some reason, envisioned explosive diarrhea and stomach worms, neither of which I had! (Hey, it was a learning experience!)

I was fortunate enough at this point to find a new family doctor who had 2 children – one diagnosed with Celiac and another heavily gluten-sensitive.  This was a total game changer for me. Many people think Celiac disease is just a food allergy, but it’s actually an autoimmune disease. When someone has an autoimmune disease their body quite literally is attacking itself.  NO WONDER I FELT LIKE SOMEONE WAS EATING MY INSIDES.  The symptoms experienced by Celiacs and anyone else suffering from one of the many autoimmune diseases out there are so broad, often vague, seem to have no connection to each other  and vary from person to person.

As I researched Celiac Disease beyond the basic understanding of avoiding gluten, I began to take an extra interest in the inner workings of hormones and gut health. Our hormones and bacteria quite literally have the ability to make or break our health. They control our moods and mental health, our body’s ability to absorb nutrients, our digestive system and health of our organs.. again, seriously. NO WONDER I FELT LIKE CRAP. It didn’t matter what I was putting into my body, my body was attacking itself and making me sick.

When I switched to a gluten-free diet and lifestyle, I also took the opprtunity to switch to a plant-based diet. I still ate animal products, but 95% of my meals were completely plant-based (I allowed for a buffer, family events etc.). The key to healing your guts, supporting your adrenals (the hormone hub),  endocrine system (the carrier of the hormone ‘messages’), building up your immunity and supporting overall health was nutrients and a strong, healthy digestive system.  As I was reading and further educating myself I simply could not find a valid reason not to switch to plant-based diet. All I kept coming up with was reasons to do it, and questions to dispute an animal-based diet. If I’m supporting my digestive system to aid in it’s healing, why would I provide it with slow and hard to digest rotting animal? Why would I put dairy, which is even getting a bad rap from mainstream health advocates, into my body when it has shown to increase inflammation and be linked to so many health problems? Why would I not just give my body easy to break down and absorb plant-based foods instead?

This was 6 years ago, and to this day I still ask those same questions. As the years have went on, I have had a couple pregnancies, breastfed, had to adjust to the hormones of those events, plus normal life stresses and I still feel my healthiest self on a plant-based diet.

Anytime I feel myself becoming moody, grouchy, easy stressed out, sleepless, bloated, tempted to binge or craving junk food, fatigued  or any of those other symptoms sneaking up on me I immediately know why: I’m straying from a plant-based approach and my gut and hormones are becoming unbalanced. Sometimes this is because I just really wanted real cheese on my pizza or I simply became lazy and started to buy more and more premade vegan foods.  Within a matter of days once I switch back to fresh, whole plant-based meals I feel the return of my healthy,  normal self.

…whatever normal is…

the self loathing outcome of moderation

Every single time I hear someone say, “eat whatever you want, just in moderation” I have to fight back the urge to both simultaneously roll my eyes and blow a fuse. The understanding and mentality behind this common phrase I completely understand – that if we are not denying ourselves anything we consider to be ‘bad’ or not serving our bodies in a nutritious way that it will somehow convince us that eating all the ‘good’ food isn’t so bad after all. A little devil to encourage the angel type of a scenario.

I call bullshit though. Over the past decade I have never once had half a spoonful of ice cream, or tiny sliver of pizza and truly felt like ahhhh yes! I’m sooo satisfied and now back to my salads. I may have tried to convince myself of that, but I’m all about keepin’ it real around here and I’ll admit that’s a total bullshit facade. All those teasers did was make me feel truly deprived. A slap in the face reminder that I was somehow not quite deserving of a entire slice or even 3 slices of pizza. And well, that’s kind of the exact oppose of what it’s suppose to do.

So instead of creating a sense of satisfaction people tend to go one of two ways: either feel more deprived or feel like a failure because somehow this little taste test didn’t hit the spot (gasp! Shocker! …not). Either outcome usually results in a binge of garbage. And instead of just the couple slices of pizza you originally wanted, this binge, which may be hours or days later, turns into the hungry hungry caterpillar on day 6 when he eats all the pies and all the cakes and all the sausage and all the…everything. (What the hell is it with me and the friggin’ hungry caterpillar book??)

Also? Avoid the planned, once a week cheat days. I’ve also tried that, and when I did guess what happened? Yup. It lead to me eating junk when I didn’t even want because I could and I knew it was my only chance. Both of which are fairly ridiculous reasons for choosing to eat something with no true nutritional purpose.

As time went on my wants have actually shifted gears to become one with what my body needs (side note: that line just made me start singing 2 become 1 by the Spice Girls). This is awesome and has done so much for me in terms of my relationship with food and my health, but it’s also taken close to a decade to get to this place. So what’s a person suppose to do? how do you cultivate a much sought after healthy relationship with food that’s a balance between what your body needs and what you’re feeling you want?

Eat the pizza. Not in moderation.

Had you just had the pizza, and as many slices as you wanted, and moved on with your life making your next meal full of healthier choices you would have been much better off. Your craving was satisfied, you didn’t binge, you got to skip the beat up session, hit to the self esteem and the ability to truly feel in control of your choices.

This is where I will interject and gently remind you that part of the process towards a healthy relationship with food and yourself is being honest and real. Are you eating the pizza 3 nights a week? Because if that’s the case then moderation isn’t needed. Neither is the ‘eat the pizza’ mentality. A little good old fashioned sit down conversation with yourself is needed – this can be in your head or if you’re like me literally having an out loud conversation with yourself.

Why is the pizza happening 3 out of 7 nights? Lack of motivation to make something? Emotionally upset? Connect the dots to decide what’s going on, and move on from there. As a former emotional eater that was usually my reason: a good week meant junk food, a sad day meant junk food, good news meant celebrate. Once I realized this I had two choices when feeling the urge to go the junk food route. I could either follow through, or find a new outlet. Sometimes I gave in to the emotional eating and then truly processed how and why after. Sometimes I rolled my eyes and forced myself to do something else. Either way, the concept of moderation did not help the situation.

But as the months and years went on the pizza eating became less and less. As time has went on I’ve come to realize I don’t actually want that pizza (most of the time!). But had I kept my mentality of ‘everything in moderation’ I don’t think I’d have gotten here. I needed that freedom of removing the restrictions, and removing the rules from around what and when I could eat it gave me the sense of control I was missing. I often go weeks or longer without a treat because I simply don’t want it. I know I can have it whenever I want and because of this I’m good without it. I will say that I spent years with the understanding with myself that I could have a couple treats in a week, but they had to be mindful and they were limited in their number (ex: I found that either 1-2 meals or 3-4 small treats a week worked well for me!).

By being more mindful it encouraged me to stop and think about whether I really wanted to ‘spend’ one of my weekly treats on that particular thing. More often than not I didn’t. It’s like money, if you only have $20 are you going to want to spend it on the very first thing you see? Probably not.

Something else I cannot overlook: even if you do opt for the moderation route, some things are simply not healthy – physically or mentally. Many ‘foods’ should not be consumed ever, and quite frankly some people have trigger foods that will send them into the dark holes of their minds and spiral down an unhealthy path. So when considering whether moderation is right for you, the system which will work for you…please consider your thoughts, feelings and triggers in the process. One persons treat is another persons drug.

As is the theme not only on my blog and my nutritional philosophy but my life… be mindful, not in moderation.

and then there was

This was once an active healthy living, recipe-giving, full of fun active blog. Until it wasn’t. Somewhere between having kids and losing a bit of myself I lost the pizzazz. I didn’t know how to progress with my blog when everything my blog had been based on was up in the air – I mean like out of this galaxy type stuff. Transitioning from free-to-be blogger to a blogger with a new baby kicking around wasn’t something I had prepared myself for.

I went from an active blogger, making from-scratch, healthy meals everyday, making my mental, emotional and physical health THEE top priority to someone who still valued healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle but just went through the motions without the conscious decision-making process behind it. I found that during my much coveted down time, I would rather have a hot, quiet shower washing off baby food and yet to be determined mess instead of reflect on my day or write a post. Before I knew it a week without blogging turned into a month turned into a year turned into 3.

But then something happened, and over the past year or so I’ve started to connect with like-minded people again, and engage in conversations with people who I felt would be good for my person. I started sharing my meals and healthy habits with the social media world, and then the messages started flowing. The texts asking about this food or where I do yoga, the direct messages asking about plant based eating. The more I started putting myself out there the more I had to work really, really hard to ignore that little voice in the back of my mind.

The voice telling me, ‘girl, you’re not doing what you’re suppose to do’; the nag in the back of my mind that I’m wasting a head full of education and knowledge, and more so the ability I have to connect with other people and desire to help them live their happiest, healthiest and best lives.

And so. It’s back. I can’t promise it will be strictly food, because my idea of healthy living is no longer just food based. To me, in order to truly be healthy your mind and body must be connected; your emotional energy needs a positive direction; health an all encompassing. So if you’re a former reader finding their way back because you’ve suddenly got an alert or you’re a new reader, welcome. Again.