7 ways to balance your hormones naturally.
Hormones have a significant impact on our health. This may sound incredibly simplistic, but consider that they control everything from our energy levels and mental health to our metabolism, mood, sex drive, appetite (note that this is not an exhaustive list—there is much, much more).
One of my clients recently told me “ I am so tired, I wake up tired, I go to bed tired, I feel bloated all the time and no matter what I eat or how much I exercise, I seem to be gaining weight” This client is like so many other women I have met in the past few months. Hormone imbalances are often associated with perimenopause, menopause, thyroid disorders, menstrual irregularities, insulin resistance/blood sugar imbalances, and adrenal insufficiency. However, in this article I focus on adrenal fatigue as I am finding an increasing number of women are experiencing this condition far earlier in life, as early as their 20s. According to James Wilson, author of “Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome”, adrenal fatigue affects around 80% of people in the world. This early-onset hormone imbalance can be due to a variety of factors, but what I have seen in many of my clients is that the primary cause seems to be unmanageable emotional stress, followed by a diet heavy in pro-inflammatory foods, excessive “emotional eating”, and lastly, over-training and lack of sufficient relaxation.
The absolute truth is that life happens: maybe you’re stuck in a bad relationship, or a job that you absolutely hate, your neighbor has parties till the early hours, or you feel compelled to run that extra 5kms so that you like the person you see in the mirror. The bottom line is that you are potentially jeopardizing your own health, knowingly or not, by eating the wrong foods, not sleeping sufficiently (or effectively), or even pushing your body past its limit. These kinds of factors put much undue stress on your body, and one of the first things to fail is your body’s ability to balance hormones. The vicious cycle then proceeds to repeat itself. You feel emotionally unstable, so you eat that extra croissant, push yourself that little bit further, and on and on it goes.
Some of the most common symptoms of hormonal imbalances are persistent weight gain, increase in the fat around the belly/hips, low sex drive, high irritability, anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, digestion issues, insomnia and uncontrollable cravings (especially sugar).
On the surface the situation seems hopeless, but of course there is a way out. The body naturally wants to find a way back into balance—you just have to give it the chance. When we’re scared, angry, or sad our bodies release cortisol into our blood stream; put simply, cortisol is a “stress” hormone. It actually stimulates our metabolism to process fat and carbohydrate stores for fast energy, which results in an increased appetite (among other things of course). The key is to reduce your cortisol levels and increase the secretion of serotonin (the “feel good” hormone) and oxytocin (the “love” hormone). What I focus on with my clients is finding holistic ways to do just that, and regain hormonal equilibrium without the use of injections or pills.
Here is a list of 7 simple things you can do to better manage your hormones:
- Say no to caffeine: Limit your intake of caffeine, especially after 5pm! If you insist on having a cup of coffee make sure it is not on an empty stomach. One of the ways caffeine perks you up is by triggering cortisol release in your body.
Your health coach tip: replace your cup of coffee with a cup of chicory; tastes and looks exactly like coffee!
- Learn how to breathe: Sign-up for a Yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates class to learn how to breathe from your diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing) is maybe the simplest of all relaxation techniques. It relaxes the muscles, massages the internal organs and allows more oxygen to flow through your body.
Your health coach tip: upon waking and before going to bed, place your right hand on your left on your belly. You should inhale into your abdomen, so the hand on your stomach rises while the other hand remains as still as possible. Try taking 10-20 breaths in through your nose for a count of 4 and out through your nose for a count of 6-8. You can do this lying down or sitting up.
- Find 10 minutes in your day to meditate: slowing-down and meditating allows us to be more mindful and attentive to whatever we are doing. Meditation, and particularly “mindfulness thinking”, can help lower stress and cortisol levels, which in turn can help you lose excess weight and avoid developing a “cortisol belly.”
Your health coach tip: Start your morning with a short 10-minute meditation. Your body and mind will thank you! My favorite online smart phone application for guided meditation is “Calm”
- Create an evening routine for better sleep: This is something I really focus on with my clients. Creating a bedtime routine will help you sleep better at night. When we don’t sleep properly at night, our bodies try to compensate for the lack of energy the following day by demanding sugary foods (and we know where that leads). Your body compensates for sleep deficiencies by increasing cortisol production.
Your health coach tip: invest in an essential oil diffuser and get yourself some pure lavender oil; place it in your bedroom and use it regularly at night (be sure to shut the door to make sure the room gets saturated). Your bedroom is going to smell like a spa! I also suggest you write down (or just focus on 3 things you were grateful for that happened to you during the day while sipping on some chamomile tea (ideally 1h before bed). You may also want to practice your diaphragmatic breathing (explained above) or even listen to a soothing guided meditation for profound, truly restful sleep.
- Stay active and practice gentle, effective exercise: By that, I do not mean go to the gym everyday. I mean keep moving as much as you can. Walk instead of driving (within reason of course), if you can escape during the weekend for a walk in nature, you would be doing yourself a favor, as it strengthens your immune system and relaxes your mind; take the stairs rather than the elevator, and don’t stay seated all day. Most importantly: don’t overdo it! The last thing you want is to put your body under excessive physical stress.
Your health coach tip: Yoga is not only a great way to exercise but also a way to stay connected to yourself. It is both a physical and mental practice that allows you to sweat and simultaneously soothe your body and mind.
- Take care of yourself: Pamper yourself! When was the last time you booked a relaxing massage? Got yourself a haircut? Mani-pedi? One thing I recommend is getting in the habit of taking an Epsom salt bath once a week; it’s a great way to replenish your body with magnesium and release excess water and toxins.
Your health coach tip: put it in your calendar! Every week or every other week, set a date and a specific time in which you will honor the commitment you have made to take care of yourself.
- Add color and fat to your plate: Feed your hormones! When filling your plate, always think: variety of colors. Dark leafy greens, orange, red, and yellow peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts, beetroot, the list goes on and on! Fat is the biggest part of our cell membranes and it is used to create hormones, keeps our blood sugar balanced and generally calms the nervous system. Forget about low-fat “fad” diets and increase your healthy fat intake with avocado, almonds, brazil nuts, walnuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, coconut oil, salmon, sardines, tuna, and olive oil. Stay away from refined sugars, high sodium foods and processed foods.
Your health coach tip: I am giving you my secret weapon. I call it the “Happy Hormones Tonic”:
1) 1 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk
2) ½ or 1 full banana (ideally frozen)
3) ½ tsp cinnamon
4) ½ tsp Maca powder
5) ½ tsp Ashwagandha powder (optional but it is an important adaptogenic herb used in Ayuverdic medicine to help the body resist physiological and psychological stress)
6) 1/8 tsp Reishi powder (optional)
7) 1 tbsp cacao powder
8) Dash of sea salt
9) 1 tbsp nut butter (my preferred choice would either be hazelnut or almond butter)
10) 1 date or ½ tbsp. maple syrup (optional but I personally find the sweetness from the banana enough for me)
11) Ice (optional)
Blend all ingredients together on a High setting.
Keep in mind ladies: the first step to getting your health in order is establishing hormonal equilibrium.