Paleo Indian Spicy Grilled Fish

Paleo Indian Spicy Grilled Fish

I’m a huge fan of Indian food.  I love the spice and bold flavors, and so much of authentic Indian food is paleo friendly making it easy to fit into my weekly routine.

We’ve already shared this post for Chicken Tikka here

And check out our other recipe for Beef Buffad here. 

You guys REALLY LOVED the recipe for Raan as well (find it here).

This week we bring you another traditional favorite: Spicy Grilled Fish.  

It’s creamy, spicy, and totally fantastic.  

There’s something so wonderful about a delicious fish taking center stage on your table.

Side note: when cooking any of these recipes, you’ll need lots of spices.

That’s what Indian food is all about, right??

So you might want to invest in a nice spice rack, like this one, if you don’t have one already. 

For now, enjoy this yummy Chicken Tandoori recipe and look forward to more awesome recipes coming soon!

Paleo Indian Spicy Grilled Fish

Ingredients

  • 2 large plaice (or other whole fish)
  • 150 g coconut yoghurt (or greek yogurt if not dairy-free)
  • 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
  • 2 x 3 finger pinches coriander (find it here)
  • 3 finger pinch chili powder (find it here)
  • 2 x 3 finger pinches garam masala (find it here)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (I like this one)
  • Salt (this is my fav)
  • Small sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley (garnish)
  • 1 lemon (quartered, garnish)

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Slash fish on both sides and place in separate baking trays.
  2. Mix all the remaining ingredients together and divide them into two equal portions. One for each fish.
  3. Spoon mixture all over fish and leave for an hour. After the hour, turn fish over and spoon the juice that has made its way to the bottom of the tray over the fish and leave for another hour.
  4. Cook on a pre-heated grill for 4 minutes. Turn and cook on other side for another 4 minutes.
  5. Garnish, serve and enjoy!

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What’s your favorite Indian dish?  What kinds of recipes would you like to see on Paleo for Women?

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Shattering the Myth of Fasting for Women: A Review of Female-Specific Responses to Fasting in the Literature

Shattering the Myth of Fasting for Women: A Review of Female-Specific Responses to Fasting in the Literature

 

One of the more esoteric but much beloved tools in the paleo dieter’s tool-kit is intermittent fasting.

What is intermittent fasting? I.F. is the practice of maintaining overall caloric intake while consuming those calories in fewer meals or in reduced time windows throughout the day. The goal is to create conditions of fasting in the body, but not for extreme lengths of time.

Some examples of intermittent fast strategies include 10, 8, or 5 hour eating windows throughout the day, or perhaps eating just two meals each day: one in the morning, and one at night. The evolutionary premise — the argument that proponents of intermittent fasting make — is that humans evolved to optimize their health under less-than-optimal conditions. Intermittent fasting, they say, is a natural and perhaps even necessary part of being human. 

The modern-day scientific correlate appears promising, too:

Most people are nowadays aware that a calorie-restricted diet has the ability not just to decrease body weight but also to lengthen a human life.  Emerging research is beginning to show, however, that intermittent fasting is just as effective as calorie restriction in ensuring these health benefits! Amazingly enough, this happens without any of the psychological crippling side effects of cravings and food obsession that practictioners of calorie-restriction often experience.

Intermittent fasting, proponents say, also may benefit the fight against cancer, diabetes, and autoimmunity. Here is an excellent, up-to-date review of the “benefits” of fasting. It is wholly understandable that fasting is all the rage these days.

Sort of.

Intermittent fasting women is a specific interest of mine because of what I have witnessed both in myself and in working with literally thousands of women in the PfW community.

Many women report to me (read more about that in this awesome book) that intermittent fasting causes sleeplessness, anxiety, and irregular periods, among many other symptoms hormone imbalance, such as cystic acne.

Intermittent fasting women

I have also personally experienced metabolic distress as a result of fasting, which is evidenced by my interest in hypocretin neurons. Hypocretin neurons have the ability to incite energetic wakefulness, and to prevent a person from falling asleep, in reaction to the body detecting a “starved” state. Hypocretin neurons are one way in which intermittent fasting may dysregulate a woman’s normal hormonal function.

After my own bad experience with IF, I decided to investigate intermittent fasting. I looked into both a) the fasting literature that paleo fasting advocates refer to, and b) the literature that exists out in the metabolic and reproductive research archives.

Intermittent Fasting Women: Problems in the Paleosphere

What I found is that the research articles cited by Mark’s Daily Apple (and others),  focus on health benefits such as cancer-fighting properties, insulin sensitivity, and immune function.

However. I was struck by what seemed like an egregious sex-based oversight in that MDA post I linked to above.  MDA cites this article as a “great overview” of the health benefits of intermittent fasting. This startled me because the article MDA cited was for me one of the strongest proponents of sex-specific differences in response to fasting.

Sex differences were relevant in two striking areas:

1) women in studies covered by the review did not experience increased insulin sensitivity with IF regimes and

2) intermittent fasting women actually experienced a decrease in glucose tolerance. 

These two phenomena mean that women’s metabolisms suffered from IF. The men’s metabolisms on the other hand improved with IF across the board.  Recall that the review was reported by MDA as “a great overview of benefits [of IF].”

Secondly, in another fasting post at MDA, of which there are many, the health benefits of fasting are listed and reviewed, but the sex-specific aspects of the hormonal response go unmentioned, and reproduction/fertility/menstrual health isn’t mentioned at all.

This is not to say that Mark is not attentive to who should and who should not be fasting.  He knows very well and cautions people against the dangers of fasting while stressed. Still, the mere fact of being more sensitive to fasting simply by being a woman is, I would assert, pretty important for a woman who is contemplating or already practicing IF.

This goes nearly unmentioned in the blogosphere.

Intermittent Fasting Women: Problems in the Literature

Beyond reporting biases in the blogosphere, there remains an even greater problem of a significant testing bias in the fasting literature. Searching “men” + “intermittent fasting” in a Harvard article database yields 71 peer-reviewed articles. Searching “intermittent fasting women” yields 13, none of which are a) solely about women b) controlled studies or c) about more than body weight or cardiovascular benefits.

The animal studies are more equitable, but also a bit less applicable to human studies.

 It is well-known in both the research and the nutritional communities that caloric restriction is horrible for female reproductive health. This is not news. There is an infertility condition – called hypothalamic amenorrhea – that millions of women suffer from due to being overly restrictive. But what of fasting?

Intermittent Fasting Women: Should we Fast?

The few studies that exist point towards no.

It is not definitive, since the literature is so sparse, and it necessarily differs for women who are overweight versus normal weight (and who have different genetic makeups), but when it comes to hormones, women of reproductive age may do well to err on the side of caution with fasting.

What follows first is a brief review of what can be gleaned in sex-specific responses to fasting in animal studies. Afterwards I talk about what has been concluded by the few relevant human studies.

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Mice & Rats

First up is a study that demonstrates the hippocampal  changes of calorie restriction and intermittent fasting for both male and female rats.  In this study, they do alternate day fasting, which entails free eating on one day and a fast day on the next.

The study found that brain states while fasting were different for male and female rats.  For male rats the change in hippocampus size, hippocampal gene expression, and ambulatory behavior was the same no matter what kind of restricted diet they were on – but for female rats, the degree of change in brain chemistry and in behavior was directly proportional to degree of calorie intake, demonstrating the unique sensitivity of female rats to the starvation response.

” The organization of the females’ response to the energy restricted diets is suggestive of some underlying mechanism that may allow for an organized, pre-programmed, response to enhance survival in times of food scarcity. Comparatively, the males’ genetic response was less specific, suggesting that the males respond to a general stressor but they seem to lack the ability to discriminate between a high energy and low energy stressor.”

Moreover, “IF down-regulated many gene pathways in males including those involved in protein degradation and apoptosis, but up-regulated many gene pathways in females including those involved in cellular energy metabolism (glycolysis, gluconeogenesis, pentose phosphate pathway, electron transport and PGC1-α), cell cycle regulation and protein deacetylation.”  In this study, both male and female rats gained small amounts of weight on IF diets.

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For female rats, even in the most innocuous form of restriction–intermittent fasting–significant physiological changes take place.  Male rats do not experience as dramatic hippocampal and general brain chemistry change as female rats do, and their behaviors, specifically their cognition and their dirunal and nocturnal activity, do not change.  

Female rats, on the other hand, “masculinize.”  They stop ovulating and menstruating.  They become hyper-alert, have better memories, and are more energetic during the periods in which they are supposed to be sleep.  Theoretically, according to these researchers, this is an adaptive response to starvation.  The more the female rats need calories– or at least the more their bodies detect a “starvation” state– the more they develop traits that will help them find food.  They get smart, they get energetic, they get active, and they stop sleeping.

In a follow-up study conducted by the same researchers who explored the masculinzation of female rats, the researchers analyzed the gonadal transcription of male and female rats subjected to IF regimes.

This study found that male reproductivity up-regulates in response to metabolic stress. Female reproductivity down-regulates.  

Completely opposite to the female rats becoming infertile while fasting, male rats become more fertile. In the researchers’ own words: “our data show that at the level of gonadal gene responses, the male rats on the IF regime adapt to their environment in a manner that is expected to increase the probability of eventual fertilization of females that the males predict are likely to be sub-fertile due to their perception of a food deficient environment.”

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In the final relevant IF rat study I could find, researchers subjected rats to the same diets– to 20 and 40 percent Calorie-Restricted (CR) diets, as well as to alternate-day fasting diets, and monitored them over the long term for hormonal responses.  The results were striking.  Below is the abstract in full because it’s so powerful:

Females and males typically play different roles in survival of the species and would be expected to respond differently to food scarcity or excess. To elucidate the physiological basis of sex differences in responses to energy intake, we maintained groups of male and female rats for 6 months on diets with usual, reduced [20% and 40% caloric restriction (CR), and intermittent fasting (IF)], or elevated (high-fat/high-glucose) energy levels and measured multiple physiological variables related to reproduction, energy metabolism, and behavior.

In response to 40% CR, females became emaciated, ceased cycling, underwent endocrine masculinization, exhibited a heightened stress response, increased their spontaneous activity, improved their learning and memory, and maintained elevated levels of circulating brain-derived neurotrophic factor. In contrast, males on 40% CR maintained a higher body weight than the 40% CR females and did not change their activity levels as significantly as the 40% CR females. Additionally, there was no significant change in the cognitive ability of the males on the 40% CR diet.

Males and females exhibited similar responses of circulating lipids (cholesterols/triglycerides) and energy-regulating hormones (insulin, leptin, adiponectin, ghrelin) to energy restriction, with the changes being quantitatively greater in males. The high-fat/high-glucose diet had no significant effects on most variables measured but adversely affected the reproductive cycle in females. Heightened cognition and motor activity, combined with reproductive shutdown, in females may maximize the probability of their survival during periods of energy scarcity and may be an evolutionary basis for the vulnerability of women to anorexia nervosa.

They also found this:

The weight of the adrenal gland was similar in rats on all diets; however, when normalized to body weight CR and IF diets caused a relative increase in adrenal size, the magnitude of which was greater in females, compared with males. 

And this:

The testicular weight was unaffected by any of the diets. In contrast, both CR diets and the IF diet caused a decrease in the size of the ovaries.

And this, bearing in mind that “daytime” for nocturnal rats is “nighttime” for humans:

The daytime activity of females was doubled in response to IF, whereas the IF diet did not affect the activity level of males. Nighttime activity levels of males and females were unaffected by dietary energy restriction.

And this:

 Uterine activity was monitored daily with vaginal smear tests; cyclicity was scored as regular, irregular, or absent. The mild energy-restriction diets (20% CR and IF) significantly increased the proportion of animals displaying irregular cycling patterns, whereas the 40% CR animals displayed an almost complete loss of estrous cyclicity.

And this:

 In males, corticosterone levels were elevated only in response to the 40% CR diet, whereas in females corticosterone levels were significantly elevated in response to all three energy-restriction diets, suggesting a relative hyperactivation in females of the adrenal stress response to reduced energy availability.

For lipids, all the rats did well: “Collectively, these data suggest that atherogenic profiles of both males and females are improved by dietary energy restriction.”  Interestingly, too, as they pointed out in the abstract, human females also perform cognitively much “better” (memory and alertness) on CR and IF diets than on normal feeding schedules.

There are of course some caveats to this study: A) They are rats.  B) They are somewhat “metabolically morbid” rats, which may make them more susceptible to disease.  C) The rats were allowed to eat ad libitum on the IF days, but they simply did not meet their caloric requirements this way.  So while it is a somewhat natural form of IF, it is still calorically reduced, such that that must be taken into account when gasping in horror at the hormonal responses of IF-ing female rats.

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The Few Human Studies

I mentioned above that through the same review that MDA used as a “great overview” of IF benefits for all sexes, I found harmful metabolic effects for women subjected to alternate-day fasting regimes.

This is the study:

Heilbronn et al found that with IF, insulin sensitivity improved in men (21 participants) but not in women (20 participants): after three weeks of alternate day fasting, insulin response to a test meal was reduced in men. Women experienced no significant change. “It is interesting that this effect on insulin sensitivity occurred only in male subjects,” they report.

With respect to other health markers female health actually declined, specifically with respect to glucose tolerance:

“Another diabetes risk factor that has shown a sex-specific effect is glucose tolerance. After 3 weeks of ADF, women but not men had an increase in the area under the glucose curve. This unfavorable effect on glucose tolerance in women, accompanied by an apparent lack of an effect on insulin sensitivity, suggests that short-term ADF may be more beneficial in men than in women in reducing type 2 diabetes risk. ”  The opening line of their discussion reads: “Alternate day fasting may adversely affect glucose tolerance in nonobese women but not in nonobese men.”

In a follow up study,  Heibron et. al studied the effects of alternate-day fasting on cardiovascular risk.  When human subjects fasted on alternate days for another three week period, circulating concentrations of HDL cholesterol increased, whereas triacylglycerol concentrations decreased.  This is a good thing.  However, the shifts in lipid concentrations were shown to be sex specific: ie, only the women had an increase in HDL-cholesterol concentrations, and only the men had a decrease in triacylglycerol concentrations.

The most recent review of IF agrees with my conclusion: sex-specific differences in metabolism exist and need to be studied further.

This study of alternate day fasting included 12 women and 4 men.   In eight weeks, body weight decreased by about 10 pounds, and body fat percentage decreased from 45 to 42.  Blood pressure decreased, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and traicylglycerol decreased.  These people were significantly obese, which limits the results of this study to an obese population.  However, “perimenopausal women were excluded from the study, and postmenopausal women (absence of menses for >2 y) were required to maintain their current hormone replacement therapy regimen for the duration of the study.”  (Their words, my emphasis)

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The one, big study of intermittent fasting conducted on men and women looked at differences between isocaloric feeding schedules: 3 meals/day feeding versus 1 meal/day.

The study focused on body weight composition, blood pressure, and body temperature in subjects.  Subjects were fed isocalorically either one meal each day or three meals each day.  All subjects were between 40 and 50 years old (excluding women of reproductive age), and between BMIs of 18 and 25.  They ate, so far as I can tell, a healthy diet with 35 percent fat, PUFA < MUFA < SFA.   Only 15 of the original 69 completed the study (which goes to show just how fun everyone thought fasting was).  As for the results,

“Systolic and diastolic blood pressures were significantly lowered by ≈6% during the period when subjects were consuming 3 meals/d than when they were consuming 1 meal/d.  No significant differences in heart rate and body temperature were observed between the 2 diet regimens.    Hunger was enormously larger in the one meal/day than in the three meals/day group.  “The 1 meal/d diet was significantly higher for hunger (P = 0.003), desire to eat (P = 0.004), and prospective consumption (P = 0.006) than was the 3 meals/d diet. Feelings of fullness were significantly (P = 0.001) lower in the 1 meal/d than in the 3 meals/diet.”   Body weight dropped only four pounds after several months.  Cortisol dropped, but  Total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol were 11.7%, 16.8%, and 8.4% higher, respectively, in subjects consuming 1 meal/d than in those consuming 3 meals/d.

In sum: patients on the one meal/day regiment were unhappy, hungry, lost a little bit of weight, increased cholesterol.  This was a small sample, included somewhat menopausal women, and all people of normal body weight.

Intermittent Fasting Women: In Conclusion

All that being said, that’s it. That’s all that exists! Women don’t have much to go on.

There are a few rodent studies. They found that when alternate-day fasting,female rats and found significant negative hormonal changes occurring in the females.

There are even fewer human studies. Human studies on alternate day fasting have not been conducted on women of reproductive age at all, nor have any studies analyzed reproductive responses to fasting.  

Moreover, the few studies that have been conducted on non-obese women have demonstrated that their metabolic responses are not nearly as robust as those of men, and may in fact be antagonistic to their health.

This post has focused on sex-specific responses to fasting, specifically intermittent fasting women. Another important distinction to make is between different body weights. Overweight and obese patients appear to experience significant improvements with IF regimes, but normal weight patients do not show the same across-the-board benefits. For women this may be a particularly sensitive issue. Overweight women may experience metabolic benefits, whereas normal weight women do not. I suspect that that may roughly be the case, but who knows. Honestly, no one at this point.

The practical solution, then, I believe, is to look at options, to be honest about priorities, and to listen to one’s body with awareness and love.

Is fasting worth trying if a woman is overweight and trying to improve her metabolic markers, and so far hasn’t had much success?  Perhaps.  Should it be undertaken if a woman is of normal weight?   What if she is a light sleeper?  What if her periods begin to dysregulate?  Or stop?  What if she starts getting acne, getting a stronger appetite, or losing her appetite altogether?  These things happen, and I see them in women who fast and contact me time and time again.

We women (people!) should be honest with ourselves about our priorities, and act constantly with our mental and physical health foremost in our minds.  All women are different. But the literature is so sparse in this area that we cannot make any real statements or predictions about the effects of fasting, other than that we just don’t know, and that we should continue to emphasize the centrality of awareness, caution, and loving nourishment in moving forward.

intermittent fasting women

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IF is one realm in which the female body has unique characteristics and needs that demand attention. There are boatloads of others. If you’re interested in reading about the collective set of them and learning how to optimize female skin, weight loss, and hormone balance, for a few examples, you could do worse than my best-selling book, Sexy by Nature, here.

 

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And that’s a wrap! What do you think?

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Tarragon Pork Blade Steak with Red Peppers and Fennel

Tarragon Pork Blade Steak with Red Peppers and Fennel

Today ButcherBox is sharing a super yummy recipe with us!

They’re also offering us an AMAZING deal this week, so scroll down below to find out more or click here

I’m super familiar with steak.  It’s awesome, of course.  But sometimes its good to branch out and try a different cut.

And these are pork!

Butcher Box is always coming up with great recipes to share with us.  And i love how their boxes will give you favorite cuts but also get you trying new things!

You really have to try this recipe!

Tarragon Pork Blade Steak with Red Peppers and Fennel

This recipe is made using pork blade steak, or pork steak, which comes from the pork shoulder of the pig and contains the blade bone. Similar to roasts, they are rich in marbling, which keeps the cut tender.  These are sometimes included in your Butcher Box!

Servings: 2-4 Prep: 10 min Cook: 35 min

The subtle flavor of tarragon is a great way to add a sweet taste to your savory steak.

This herb, native to Asia, is also a member of the lettuce family, and can be added fresh

to any salad mix as well as to vegetables and sauces as a dry spice.

Ingredients:

– 2 12-oz ButcherBox Pork Blade Steaks

– 1 Tbsp butter

– 4 Tbsp olive oil, split

– 2 cloves garlic, minced

– 2 Tbsp fresh tarragon, finely chopped

– 1 c heavy cream

– 1 red pepper, chopped

– 1 fennel bulb, chopped

– Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Heat 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sliced fennel bulb and

red bell pepper and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan heat 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium

heat. Add minced garlic and tarragon and cook for 1 minute.

3. Add 1 Tbsp flour and stir. Then add heavy cream, whisking constantly to remove any

clumps. Stir until thick and then set aside. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

4. Once the pepper and fennel are tender, remove from skillet and set aside.

5. Using the same large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat. Season

pork blade steaks generously with salt and pepper and cook on medium-high heat until

the internal temperature is 150ºF (about 5-7 minutes per side). Let the steak rest for 5-

10 minutes before serving

6. Bring tarragon sauce back to a light simmer and serve warm over steak and sauteed

vegetables.

You all know I’m a huge fan of ButcherBox and their grass fed beef, pork and chicken.

This week only we are running a great deal for our PFW readers who want to try ButcherBox.

Just click here and you’ll automatically get FREE ribeye steaks and $10 off added to your first order!

Awesome!

The offer is only valid until Tuesday the 9th of June.  Find out more here .

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Why You Should Take Digestive Enzymes

Why You Should Take Digestive Enzymes

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of our guts were so healthy and perfect that we never needed to worry about what we ate?

Ah, dreams.

That’s not the world we live in folks, and I find that many people come to a paleo diet out of concern for their health and because of some issues, often of the gastrointestinal nature.

Probiotics are awesome and work wonders for many people (this is the one I recommend) but they can’t do it all.  

If you’ve had chronic issues with diarrhea or constipation, you may not be absorbing or digesting all the nutrients from your food.

I know many people who have tried elimination diets and can’t figure out what it is they are intolerant to.  I also know many people who just can’t do that, but don’t want to battle terrible gas, bloating, and other distresses all the time.

For these people, i think a good digestive enzyme supplement is helpful.  Healing the gut takes time and is a multi-pronged approach.  

If you’ve had a “weak stomach” for as long as you can remember, chances are you’ve flushed out quite a few of those important enzymes that help you digest food.  Lactase is a big one that gets flushed and it’s what helps us digest dairy.

Diarrhea can build on itself.  It can start from a food trigger like dairy and get worse and worse if the body can’t make enough enzymes to accommodate these foods.

Low stomach acid also makes it hard on the body, especially when it comes to digesting protein and fat.  A good enzyme supplement can help here, but it is important to get real help from a qualified practitioner if you do have low stomach acid, and also to encorporate HCL (like this) into your diet as well.

The proper digestion and absorption of nutrients is no casual issue.  Nutritionists often say  that you aren’t what you eat, you are what you absorb.  That’s an important distinction.

A number of gastrointestinal concerns – damaged gut lining, poor microbiome health, chronic diarrhea for myriad reasons, can all contribute to the flushing of vitally important enzymes that help us break down these foods for absorption.  Without them, food can increasingly irritate the gut lining causing more flushing.

There’s no point in eating a healthy diet if food is not being absorbed.

That’s why, for people with these kinds of gut issues, I recommend a digestive enzyme supplement.  This is the one I like.  It contains enzymes to help break down protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, and lactose so it’s a big all-around help with every meal!  Find it here. 

Take it with every meal and I bet you’ll notice a decrease in gas, bloating, and other issues that sometimes occur even when eating a healthy diet!

Let me know how you like them!

 

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Paleo and Sex: How to Have a Ravenous and Kickass Female Libido

Paleo and Sex: How to Have a Ravenous and Kickass Female Libido

Sex is one of the most important things we do.

Desiring sex, therefore, is one of the most important things we can feel.

According to a Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study reported on in February 1999, about 43 percent of women (compared to 31 percent of men) suffer sexual inadequacy for one reason or another.  Interestingly, this is thought to actually underestimate the real level of sexual dysfunction in the U.S.  Yikes.

What follows is a description of the physiological components of female libido, how to maximize those components, and then a discussion of the psychosocial components.  The psychosocial components are the trickiest to get a handle on, but they are also treatable with proper therapy (if necessary), love, empowered embodiment, and raging, well-deserved confidence.

Need more information to find you raging, well-deserved confidence? Check out my bestselling book on women’s health.

What factors play a role in female libido?

Specific foods are not in reality relevant for female libido, except for how they may temporarily increase testosterone levels (a la oysters).  Instead, all of the physiological factors that influence female libido boil down to long-term sex hormone levels and balance.

First, absolute levels of hormones are important: for example, the greater amount of sex hormones in the blood, the sexier a woman will feel.

Secondly, balance is also crucial.  For example, estrogen is not typically considered important in arousing a woman’s sex drive.  But having clinically low estrogen levels–that is, estrogen levels below the baseline for proper sexual function–prohibits absolutely any kind of sensation a woman might have in her clitoris. That’s scary.

This is the effect that all hormones have on sex drive, generally:

1.Testosterone: Increases female libido.  Testosterone is the hormone primarily responsible for sex drive in both men and women.  When women with hypoactive sexual dysfunction disorder are treated with testosterone, for example, they often experienced increased sex drive.

Higher testosterone levels also enlarge the clitoris (good to know if yours is shy!), but unfortunately if other hormone levels do not rise along with testosterone, symptoms of hyperandrogenism such as facial hair           and acne may manifest themselves.  For this reason, testosterone supplementation is not an advisable method of increasing female libido.

2. Estrogen: Crucial at baseline for sexual function.  It is also the primary hormone responsible for vaginal lubrication.  However, estrogen is a testosterone antagonist, so the more estrogen a woman has in her               system, the less testosterone she has available to pump up her libido.  Estrogen dominance therefore is one of the greatest culprits in contemporary Western sexual dysfunction.

3. Progesterone: Another testosterone antagonist.  Having elevated progesterone levels relative to the rest of the sex hormones prevents a woman from achieving orgasm.

4. Prolactin: Not talked about very often, since it’s primary role is in lactation, but it is also involved in pituitary-ovary signalling.  Increasing prolactin levels increase vaginal lubrication and sex drive.

5. Luteinizing Hormone: Highly correlated with sex drive.  LH is a pituitary hormone that triggers ovulation in a woman.  Many researchers believe LH is one of the primary game-makers in sexual arousal.

Because of the role each of these hormones play in female libido, the menstrual cycle demonstrates a clear pattern in fluctuating libido for most women.

So how does the menstrual cycle affect female libido?

Testosterone levels rise gradually from about the 24th day of a woman’s menstrual cycle until ovulation on about the 14th day of the next cycle, and during this period women’s desire for sex has been shown, in general, to increase consistently. The 13th day (the cusp of ovulation) day is generally the day with the highest testosterone levels.  It is also the day on which LH spikes.   Ovulation, therefore, and no surprise here, is typically the randiest time of the month for a woman.  In the week following ovulation, the testosterone level is the lowest and as a result women experience less interest in sex.

During the week following ovulation, progesterone levels increase, and this often results in a woman experiencing difficulty achieving orgasm. Although the last days of the menstrual cycle are marked by a constant testosterone level, women’s libido may boost as a result of the thickening of the uterine lining which stimulates nerve endings and makes a woman feel aroused. 

Also, estrogen levels are at their lowest throughout menstruation and into the follicular phase (the first two weeks of the cycle) so women experience the least vaginal lubrication at this time.  Because testosterone and estrogen are both increasing, however, sexual desire is ramping up again in time for ovulation.

What factors influence these hormone levels, and how do we make the best of them?

Estrogen Dominance:   As I mentioned above, estrogen is a testosterone antagonist.  When estrogen levels are too high relative to testosterone levels, female libido plummets.  Women can become estrogen dominant by consuming too much soy (since soy acts as an estrogen in the body), by being overweight (since estrogen is produced in fat cells; see my book on healthy weight loss here), and by being stressed out (since estrogen can act as part of the inflammatory response).  Women with estrogen dominance often experience symptoms of PMS, too, which does nothing to help libido.

Birth Control Pills: Birth control pills are another way that women can become estrogen dominant.  But that is not the only way they negatively effect female libido.  Progesterone levels are often elevated out of the normal range on birth control pills, and testosterone sometimes plummets.

Yet the effects of birth control pills on women is wholly unpredictable.  Increasing levels of one hormone might decrease another, or might increase them exponentially, depending on how the woman’s HPA axis and ovarian feedback mechanisms work.  Women also experience a whole range of side effects on birth control pills ranging from acne to suicidal depression.  Birth control pills are no laughing matter, and their effect on female libido is wide ranging.

All that said, since birth control really is so unpredictable, birth control can play a stimulatory role on female libido, especially if she has chronically low levels of sex hormones in her blood.  Some women feel like a million bucks on estrogen pills.  If that is the case, however, birth control pills are only putting a band-aid on the problem, rather than solving it at its core.  That often requires looking at physiological problems that deplete sex hormone levels such as low body fat, stress, and energy deficits.

See Birth Control Unlocked for more information on birth control options outside of the pill.

Testosterone blockers:  Some women get on testosterone blockers to help them with symptoms of hyperandrogenism or problems in their menstrual cycles that come from high testosterone production.  However, blocking testosterone is as good as eliminating it entirely.  Spironolactone and flutamide are the two most commonly used testosterone blockers.

Hypothyroidism:   Up to ten percent of women have clinical or sublicinical low thyroid issues.   Hypothyroidism is significantly linked to low libido. T3, the active form of thyroid hormone, is crucial for the proper functioning of cells and organs.  Without T3, the reproductive system barely manages to inch forward.  Sex hormones suffer greatly, both at the ovarian level as well as in production at the hypothalamic and pituitary levels.

Hypothyroidism is caused by a wide variety of problems.  Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is a an autoimmune condition that accounts for the vast majority of Western hypothyroidism.  This can be mitigated by eliminating modern toxins, specifically wheat, dairy, and omega 6 vegetable oils, from the diet, and also by paying attention to gut health with gut-healing diets such as the GAPS diet or the one I recommend in Sexy By Nature.

Iodine-deficient diets can cause hypothyroidism.  This used to be uncommon in western countries, since western countries iodize their salt, but sea salt often does not contain much iodine in it.  Moreover, many Americans are now eschewing salt for “health benefits” (this is misguided), so their iodine levels are suffering.  The solution to this is to consume iodized salt, or to perhaps supplement with kelp for a while.  Iodine supplementation is tricky, however, and should build up slowly a la the recommendations of Paul Jaminet.

High intake of raw cruciferous vegetables can hurt an already suffering thyroid gland.   Yet more importantly, low-carbohydrate diets contribute to hypothyroidism. Glucose is required for the conversion of T4 to T3 in the liver, so without adequate glucose supplies the body’s thyroid functioning suffers.  This is a problem that many paleo women wrestle with.  Adding just 50 or 100 grams of starchy carbohydrate to a daily diet, however, can increase energy, improve sleep quality, improve quality of skin and hair, and also boost reproductive function.

Repairing sub-clinical hypothyroidism has also been shown to remove ovarian cysts and help anovulatory women both ovulate and menstruate.  For more on hypothyroidism, see Chris Kresser‘s work.

Stress:  Stress is a psychological libido-killer, but it also has a physiological analog.   When stressed, the body produces cortisol.  Cortisol has a negative feedback effect on the hypothalamus, and it can inhibit all of the hormonal signalling that comes out of the hypothalamus.  The hypothalamus is responsible for inciting pituitary function, so stress plays a very real role in inhibiting reproductive function.  As many as five percent of women suffer reproductive symptoms of chronic stress.

Low Dopamine:  Dopamine is the most important neurotransmitter for sexual prowess and reproductive function.  Fortunately, dopamine deficiencies are very often corrected with the introduction of exercise into someone’s daily life.  Almost nothing increases dopamine levels as well as exercise does.  (Although sex also has potent dopamine-releasing effects: skin-to-skin contact shoots dopamine levels through the roof.  But then dopamine levels plummet post-orgasm, creating withdrawal-type symptoms.  This is how the body reinforces sexual behavior.)

Some women have reported to me personally the return of menstruation from amenorrhea after resuming regular sexual activity. They were as surprised as I was.  Yet perhaps we should not have been so surprised. Dopamine is a potent neurotransmitter and, coupled with serotonin, can significantly up-regulate sex hormone production.

Low serotonin: Though excess serotonin has been linked to decreased arousal, serotonin also increases prolactin levels.  Prolactin is important for vaginal lubrication and for sexual arousal.  Ways to increase serotonin levels include adequate protein ingestion (.5 g/lb of lean body weight each day), adequate sun exposure, and perhaps most important of all, adequate sleep.

Low Body Fat/Excess Exercise/Energy Deficits:  These three phenomenon almost always manifest in tandem.   Yet the end result is the same: with low body fat, with excess exercise, and with caloric deficits, the body detects starvation.  Leptin levels plummet, and the hypothalamus stops thinking that the body is sufficiently fed.  Without leptin, the entire pituitary sex hormone cascade is not enacted.  No LH, no testosterone, no estrogen, no prolactin, no progesterone.  Body fat is unquestionably crucial for all reproductive function.  Female libido just happens to be the one that’s the most fun to explore once proper body fat levels are restored.

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Psychological factors effecting female libido:

There remain the psychological aspects to increasing female libido.  And of them there are many.  Perhaps a woman’s libido has been killed by a negative sexual experience.  Or perhaps the woman is too stressed out by other factors to care about sex…or perhaps sexual relations between two people are strained because they can’t stand each other outside of the bedroom even more than they can’t stand each other inside the bedroom.  Perhaps a woman’s lover is an ugly lump.

Many of those factors are outside my realm of expertise.

Some of them are inside of it, however, and fiercely.


FEMALE LIBIDO

Women need first to think they are sexy.  I am so tired of women comparing themselves to others, and always thinking that beauty is relative.  Beauty is not relative.  It is everywhere.  And in everyone.   If she is beautiful it does not mean that you are less so. Period.  I don’t care if you have a chubby stomach.  I don’t care if you think your hair is boring.  I don’t care if your right boob is larger than your left.   Not a single other person cares either.  At all.  The only person who cares is you.   No one wants to make you “perfect” but you.

You don’t have a single thing in the world to apologize for.  No one is looking for apologies.

Instead, people are looking for statements.  They are looking for fun.  They are looking for inspiration, for character, and for life. 

In that way, what other people want from each other is not necessarily for them to meet some ridiculous standard but instead to make them feel good.   Whether that’s through sharing of your self-love, through your wicked personality, or through your liberated and unapologetically wild fantasies is totally up to you.  The point being that confidence and self-love are the most important factors for actually being attractive.  Sure, classic “looks” may follow, but only after a woman has convinced others that she is worth looking at.

Not a single person in the world wants to sleep with an apologizer.  “Sorry, I don’t like who I am,” does not necessarily read like a 5-star resume. People won’t be throwing themselves at that.  What they will instead throw themselves at is: “I am different from what you expect.  But that’s an asset.  I am worthy like you wouldn’t believe, and I am going to rock your world.”

Confidence is key.  Beauty is key.  And the thing is– damnit–it’s not faked confidence.   It’s not faked beauty.  You really are beautiful.  You really are unique.  You really are a natural, sexual, alive, vibrant woman.   You do not have a thing in the world to apologize for.  You are who you are, and you love being yourself, and you can share yourself powerfully and joyfully with others through sex.

This kind of self-love is why people get laid.  It’s not because they have perfect torsos and racks as big as wombats.   It’s because they have hot souls.

So confidence is important. So important, I wrote a book on how to find it through food and lifestyle.  There’s one other crucial aspect I can speak to.   It’s this:

SEX IS AWESOME.

IT IS NOT DIRTY.

Look.  Sex is natural.  Sex is so natural, in fact, that it’s the very reason we all exist.  And sexual desire is natural.  It is, by extension, the very reason we all exist.  For that reason, along with many others, there is not a single immoral aspect to having sexual desire or having sex.  Period.

And sex is not gross. 

And a woman’s desire is not gross.

And a woman’s vagina is not gross.

And a woman having sex is not gross and not a slut.  

Or maybe she is a slut, but that’s cool because that’s natural, too.

Men who don’t understand any of that are not real men.

The whole point being that American culture is a culture in which sexuality, and female sexuality in particular, is a dirty thing.

That is not okay.

It’s so not okay.

It is, in fact, plain old wrong.  Sex is natural.  If a woman (or man!) wants to be delighting in it, and more power to her.    She is embracing her natural body.  She is embracing her natural desires.  She is owning her own confidence.  And she is exalting in the vibrancy of her very existence.

If that’s not hot, I don’t know what is.

 

High fives for sex!

 

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.

Are you a Restrained Eater?

Are you a Restrained Eater?

Did you know that there are actually three different major types of eating issues?

There are eating disorders, disordered eating, and then something similar to disordered eating called ‘problematic eating behavior’.

One of the interesting types of problematic eating behavior seems to describe MANY of the people that I talk with in the nutrition world and many of my readers- they are called restrained eaters.

Restrained eaters are eaters who struggle with chronic restrictiveness- either eliminating foods or chronically dieting. 

If you are a yo-yo dieter or find yourself continually in the cycle of losing or gaining weight, you may be a restrained eater.

When restrained eaters are confronted with weight gain, they feel negative emotions which can then cause them to overeat.  They also feel guilt when they eat a food they’ve deemed “bad”.  Restrained eaters also have an obsession with body shape and weight and may use self-judgement as a tool to spur their weight loss goals.

Sound a little familiar?

In the paleo community, we eliminate certain foods for health reasons.  In other forms of dieting we restrict processed foods or calories to help lose weight.

Research shows that these things DO help people lose weight.  But research also shows that restrained eating can actually promote eating disorders.

Approaching weight loss from a perspective of restraint and negativity- the “i’m getting so fat I’ve got to lose weight” mentality, is a moving target.  Nothing will ever be good enough.  And when/if it is, it won’t last, because the way we get there is unsustainable.

Now, I know some people who do make restrained eating a lifelong change and feel great.

But there’s a difference.

These people restrict certain foods not because they are afraid of them (i.e. GRAINS and CARBS), but because they are making other choices that are healthier for them.

They are thinking about what foods they can eat to be as healthy, happy, and energetic as possible. They are approaching restraint from a POSITIVE perspective.

With these people, it’s not about eating as few carbs as humanly possible, it’s about eating how many feel right.

Of course there’s always the disclaimer that our modern world of processed, hyperpalatable foods makes knowing how many carbs are right difficult. And some people struggle with conditions like insulin resistance that make unhealthy carb cravings REAL.

But for most eating all whole, unprocessed food, there’s no reason to be afraid!

Research shows that these positive eaters have higher self-esteem and better long term weight management success.

My friends will tell you that they have an emotional freedom they never had before as well.

It just worries me in this day and age of “keto”, which is basically paleo circa 2011, being masqueraded as the all-powerful life changing, freedom giving lifestyle, that so many of these people are just restrained eaters on another diet.

25 grams of carbs is not right for many women.  It’s just not.  And obsessively tracking and counting them is just the kind of behavior that leads to chronic dieting.

How do we break that cycle?

It’s both easy and hard.

It requires turning to a type of eating called intuitive or mindful that focuses on listening to the body, to what it needs and what it wants, listening to the emotions that so often control us and taking everything in without judgement.

From there, we make food choices.  We don’t count macros.  We just listen and lovingly try to make each meal and food choice about HEALTH and NOT about weight.

That sounds too easy for most restrained eaters.  They want to track, count, weigh, obsess and ruminate.  I’ve been there too.

But the truth is, it sounds too easy because it actually is really, really hard.

A restrained eater is often not as self-aware or in touch with themselves as they think they are.  They don’t know how to navigate health without a map of good and bad foods to guide them.  The vast world of food choices is scary and they are afraid, above all, of gaining weight or staying in one place.

But it does represent a way out.  Still restrained?  Sure.  No one’s recommending you binge on twinkies.  That’s not the point.  A mindful body will rarely ask for twinkies.

But if it does ask for chocolate sometimes or an apple?  Or even *gasp*, a potato?  A mindful eater will eat, without self-judgement.  They will also probably choose more fruits and vegetables and crave less fast food.

Want to give it a try?  I made a program to help you do just this.  It’s called Weight Loss Unlocked and you can find it here.

Either way, I want you to know that I’ve fought this battle and I know how it feels.

I know the pain of those self-judgments and I can tell you I’d rather be the weight I am now, whatever it is, and be this happy and free, than be constantly angry and mean to myself for not being a weight that isn’t right for me.

True diet freedom is never having to be on a diet, even one cleverly disguised as a lifestyle, again.

Do you struggle with restrained eating?  How do you overcome these issues?

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So, just as a heads up - some links above may be my affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you click on it and make a purchase. Doing so is no additional cost to you, but helps me tremendously. Your support is SO greatly appreciated, so thank you in advance if you choose to do so. Check out my entire disclosure to know exactly how things work.