As much as the holidays mean spending time with our loved ones – they also can mean…STRESS!
Pulling together gifts, cooking, indulging in treats and extra time with your family – no matter how much we love them, can lead to burning out.
And we all know that can happen, FAST.
I think a lot of us are consistently running at 100 MPH all the time, but it feels like the holidays exacerbate this even more.
I am SOO hoping to stay ahead of my stress this year, which is why I spent some serious time making a plan for the best techniques to use when I am feeling frazzled.
It can be hard to remember to take time to take care of ourselves and maintain our health during the holiday season – so check out these tips to help keep you calm, cool and collected.
#1 Magnesium Bath
Want to get in touch with your luxurious, goddess self? Fill up a hot bath with magnesium flakes. Try adding flower petals and lighting a candle to create some serious atmosphere.
#2 4-7-8 Breathing
Sit upright with your back straight and breathe in through your nose for 4 counts. Hold your breath in for 7 counts, and then exhale for 8 counts. Repeat this process 4 times. This exercise is literally retraining your brain on how to hold deeper breathes, and forces you to pay attention to your breathing patterns. This exercise has really helped me in deep bouts of anxiety.
#3 Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This popular method is based on the theory that if you can control the tenseness and relaxation in your physical body, your mental tenseness can also be controlled. Lay somewhere where you will not be bothered and tense a muscle group, for example, tightening your fist. Hold for a few seconds and release. Move through each muscle group until you have worked through your body. Pay attention to how your muscles feel after releasing the tension.
#4 Basic Emotional Regulation
Remember this Acronym : PL– Treat Physical Illness E – Eat A – Avoid Mood-Altering Drugs S – Sleep Well E – Exercise The science behind this shows that you cannot help your mind relax unless you are taking care of your physical body first or in unison.
#5 Get Outside
Biophilia is the principle that states that when you are surrounded by nature, (this can even be a picture of nature) your mood is improved, you will experience stress relief, and even increases the speed at which people heal. Get outside – Take a forest bath!
Yes, I know meditating always makes these lists, but that is because IT WORKS. I promise. There is the research to prove it. Take 3-5 minutes and sit with your eyes closed and back straight and focus on your breathing. Or complete a guided meditation, like any of these. There is no wrong way for your thoughts to travel while meditating.
#7 Drink some tea
Preferably some non-stimulating blends like chamomile, ginger or peppermint. Sometimes I let the steam wash over my face before sipping and really absorb myself in the moment. This can create some additional moisture on the face and eyes, opening up the pores and creating a warm embrace.
Even if it is a light walk, get out and exercise! We have all heard, ENDORPHINS MAKE YOU HAPPY! Even better, get outside to exercise and receive the benefits from #5 too!
#9 Get busy
Science also shows that spending time with loved ones and being intimate will help release stress and boost mood. So grab your beaux and load up the Netflix queue. Not feeling it?
#10 Pet your Pet
There is a reason cat cafes are becoming so popular in large cities. Once again, science has proven that spending time with our pets releases stress. So give your little cutie a much needed snuggle
#11 Be alone
In order to fully register and process our thoughts and feelings, we really need some solo time (even you extroverts out there!). Make some time for yourself, whether it’s time in the shower or on your morning commute and focus on your thoughts and feelings.
#12 Gratitude journal
One way to check your stress is to switch up your perspective. Jotting down a few things you are grateful for can really help center your thoughts and refresh your perspective.
#13 Work on a passion project
For me, it can be as simple as going dancing or focusing on what makes my body feel best. Spending time on the tasks that fuel our internal, creative or passionate fire can help us remain focused on long term goals and desires or just remain present.
What about you, love? Do you have any go to stress relief tips for the holiday season, or even year round? I would love to hear them and have more options in my back pocket – leave a comment with your favorite way to stay sane, below!
At the writing of this blog post I’m pondering the making of new years resolutions. Are they healthy? Are they harmful? Are they something in between?
I’ve gone back and forth, but concluded that, like them or not, new year’s resolutions are a part of our culture, exciting and important motivators that can give someone the push they need to make valuable and lasting changes.
I’m not into crash dieting (or “diets” of any kind really) and I’m not into resolutions that end up making people feel worse about themselves when they fail to live up to unreasonable standards.
But health IS important, and focusing on feeling better and doing better in the new year is something admirable, after all.
So here’s my list of 5 Paleo for Women Approved New Years Resolutions!
#1 Cook More
Cooking is something I usually despise doing and avoid if I can help it. But it gets old eating canned salmon all the time.
As the new year begins, take some time to plan a daily schedule.
If you’re a detailed list maker, you’ll love it and if you’re not, you might feel caged in, but sketching out your time might show you ways you can be more efficient and leave room for home cooked meals.
Try buying books with meal and shopping plans already inside for you. Practical Paleo (find it here) is one of my favorites, because it contains meal plans for every possible variation of paleo.
There are other great books too. Stick with ones that focus on easy recipes that can be made quickly like Well Fed Weeknights (find it here). Or try books that utilize less dishes for easier cleanup like One Pot Paleo or Paleo Slow Cooker.
Cooking more will mean eating more veggies, one of the biggest indicators of a healthy lifestyle, and will cut down on the amount of rancid oil, sugar and Omega 6 you eat, making you feel healthier, improving skin and cardiovascular health, and probably helping you lose some weight.
#2 Lose Weight
Speaking of losing weight…
I might catch some flack here. You see, I believe strongly in body positivity and the body positive movement. That means I do hold firm to a belief in health at every size.
However, I also believe that weight loss can be a valuable goal for certain people.
Excessive adipose tissue does produce inflammatory responses in the body and does contribute to a range of health issues. And whether we like it or not, it IS something that we need to consider in our modern world of convenience foods and obesity related illness.
If you’ve become out of sync with your body, feel you need to lose excessive body weight (and remember that doesn’t mean you need to be stick thin!) the only real difficulty is finding a way to do it gently, positively, and with as little guilt and shame as possible.
That’s where my weight loss program, Weight Loss Unlocked comes in.
It’s designed to help you lose weight efficiently but mindfully, learning to listen to the natural signals of your body, rather than the mean girl in your head.
It can help you follow those New Years Resolutions without the fad dieting that normally goes with it. I’d suggest pairing it with a great paleo cookbook with meal plans like the ones I mentioned above.
While most people choose to lose weight at the beginning of the new year, it’s just as important to choose to love.
We often become our worst enemies and meanest critics, beating ourselves up and tearing ourselves down.
Disordered eating, low self-confidence, so many things stem from not loving ourselves.
To give and recieve love in the new year, we’ve got to start with healing our own hearts.
There are many, many people out there happy to help you do it.
To discover the sexy, confident woman you really are, try reading my book Sexy By Nature.
If you’ve strugged with disordered eating and are ready to take control of negative thinking, try my friend Kayla’s program Starting the Path to Recovery and Discovery here. Try reading When Food is Love (find it here), a classic for any emotional eater.
If you’re shy, perhaps try pushing yourself to do something that sounds fun but makes you a bit nervous- go out dancing or join friends at a party.
And if you’re always out to avoid being alone at home, perhaps try a night in of reflective thinking and journaling (Let it Out is a great resource) and sit with some of those emotions.
You’ll gain self-awareness and balance which we all could use in the new year!
#4 Breathe More
Breathing is something we do far too often without really thinking about it.
Most of us don’t even use the full capacity of our lungs, but only a tiny portion of them.
And breathe, just like food, is so important to life itself, and quality of life.
Improper breathing can do damage to the body just as poor food choices can.
Proper breathing, taking deep, long breaths, and long, smooth exhalations, can also be a form of meditation that has been shown to reduce stress, calm the nervous system and relax the mind.
It’s an imperative especially for those with anxiety, and may help anyone with stress-flaring conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, autoimmune conditions, and more.
With the new year, I’m vowing to remember to breathe in positivity and breathe out negativity. I hope you’ll do the same.
#5 Let Go
And as I work to breathe out negativity, I’m going to be trying my best to let go of anger, expectations, and arbitrary standards I place on myself and others.
2016 was a hard year for many and it’s easy to pick out the bad things that happened and let them stew and boil within us.
We can focus on that negativity, that anger, and let it fester.
Or we can consciously make the choice to let it go.
I don’t have a 3 step program to help you do that (though I’m sure one probably exists!) but I think we should try it nonetheless.
Let’s focus our hearts and minds on the good in 2017 and work for peace, justice, and positivity in the new year.
It may not be a double-blind study, but this poll of thousands of Americans conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health has some pretty damning – and alarming – evidence in store for us Americans:
We are stressed out.
Not just a little bit.
But to a frightening degree.
I feel two very strong, antithetical emotions when I look at this data. On one hand, I feel so much sorrow for all of us stuck in vicious stress cycles. I am saddened, and hurt, and I wish desperately I could make it all better. On the other hand, it’s kind of comforting to look at this data, and to know that I am not alone.
50 % of respondents reported a major stressful event in the past year.
More than 25 % reported being significantly stressed within the past month. When we combine these two statistics, we get the very real conclusion that many people are under significant chronic stress.
There are many fascinating graphs over at the NPR website. I recommend you check them out. They’re good for learning. For example, one piece of data I find particularly interesting, and quite funny, even, is this:
By age group, it’s the 20-somethings who are the most stressed out by having too much responsibility.
I guess it takes some time to adjust to, but I’d imagine having a spouse, children, aging parents to take care of, mortgages, and empoloyees… many of the responsibilities that come later on in adulthood, is a fair bit more pressing than what most people have going on in their twenties.
Like making sure to buy groceries over the weekend and showing up for work on Monday.
Not like I can do any hating, since I am a significantly stressed 20-something. I’d like to excuse myself, on the other hand, or at least get a giant tattoo on my forehead about it, because the vast majority of my stress comes from my heart/kidney issues, which give me palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia.
And I know, I know, I can’t judge anyway. Life as an adult is hard, and it hits you like a freight train when you first try to do it.
Regardless, the source of my stress – my health – brings up the most important and relevant factor for the PfW blog. Of all the respondents surveyed, those who suffer from disabilities or health conditions are the most likely to be stressed. As we would expect, those with health conditions score the highest in reporting stress from their own health conditions (80%). But they also report the highest amount of stress from nearly all other sources, too.
The far left column is “overall.” The far right is “in poor health.” Taking a look at the above graph, then, we see that, overwhemlingly, those in poor health rank far above the average in just about every category of stress.
It’s not just our health conditions themselves that directly stress us out…
but our health conditions that make everything else stressful, too.
Now, you might ask: is there not a problem in the inference I am making between correlation and causation? Am I drawing a cause and effect relationship where there isn’t one? Perhaps it is a coincidence that people in poor health are more stressed by all stressors than other people. Perhaps people who have stressful situations also develop poor health! Perhaps people who don’t have their shit together just don’t have their shit together, in all categories.
Perhaps, I’d say. Perhaps that is possible.
One piece of data that might support the hypothesis that “just not having your shit together” is the fact that people who earn under $20,000/year also report much greater stress than those who earn more. Without much income, it’s much more likely you’ll eat an unhealthy diet, develop health conditions, and struggle to get the medical and nutritional support you need. It’s also much easier to lose your grip on everything without money. Financial stress bears on the ability to do just about everything in society today.
Nonetheless what these stats and questions all invariably demonstrate is that stress and poor health go hand in hand. If you’re stressed, you might get sick. If you’re sick, you’re almost definitely going to get stressed out by it.
And, if you’re sick, there’s a good chance other aspects of your life will become more challenging, too. Sometimes it’s harder to work. Sometimes it’s harder to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. Sometimes it’s plain old harder to deal, such that even small stressors end up feeling like monumental weights. Poor health very quickly leads to “not having your shit together” syndrome.
And boy, oh boy, do I ever know what that feels like.
The evidence is in for health and happiness, and damning.
Is there a takeaway message? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have done significant work to help people with health conditions feel better, which can help reduce stress.
My book PCOS Unlocked can help you take charge of a very stressful chronic hormonal condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome.
And my bestseller Sexy By Nature can help you put it all together, understand your body and how it functions, how to love it and treat it well.
The best I know that I can personally do with it is have forgiveness for the anxiety I feel, and to move forward working on my health issues with patience, knowing that easier times in many regards are likely ahead.
The following post is written by a lovely and powerful new voice in the body love scene. Her name is Madelyn, and she used to be a body builder.
I first came across Madelyn’s work I believe at some point in 2013. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan. I was perhaps even appalled. A bit horrified, maybe. Sad. Angry. I mean – it was okay. But what she was selling on her website, more or less, was herself as a muscle-glorified sex object.
Honestly, that’s got to be a hell of a body to let go of. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to step ‘down’ from so high a pedestal.
Now this is the kind of photo I used to look at and weep tears of envy.
If you go to her site today, you’ll see a lot of the same photos. These kinds of photos sell appearances more than health, which isn’t my favorite way to inspire people.
Yet with a keen eye, you’ll see, too, a woman on a hell of a journey of change, and a set of photos that tell a story.
Because while so many of the photos are the same, the language is different. Madelyn talks about “health” and “inner strength” and “acceptance.” Those photos are old, and she and doesn’t compete any more. Her invitation to join her mailing list reads like this:
“Ready to love your body? Sign up for the FREE eCourse “Mind Body Satisfaction, Sacrifice-Free” and learn how to fall in love with yourself exactly how you are. “
but anyway. It’s so powerful to witness someone coming through these changes and rocking them out. Madelyn now loves her body because of the way it feelsfar more than the way it looks.
Madelyn is over body building. And in love.
She recorded a hell of a youtube video about her journey –
– and if you’ve got ten minutes it’s definitely worth the watch.
Here she is, in her own words. You can find more of Madelyn (and her kickass podcast, which I was just recorded for last night) @ MaddyMoon.com.
The following story generally rings true for many people, which is why I’m such an open book in regards to my food and body issues growing up. Nobody is alone in this battle and there is most definitely a solution just waiting to be discovered. I am so glad I can now share my discovery of that solution.
I started my food obsession, body shaming, and negative self-worth at a really young age. When I was about 15 years old I watched a television show that warned against the dangers of anorexia, bulimia and the likes. Even though it warned against the tragic habit, it was the first time I had really heard about eating disorders and it stuck in my head as something to try out later and see what happened.
I wouldn’t say that I suffered from one specific eating “disorder” but I’ve had disordered eating most of my life. My relationship with food always depended on my relationship with my weight. And my relationship with weight depended on how “in control” I was of everything else. It was a terrible cycle that I seemed to never get out of.
I started the cycle as a vegetarian, mostly for animal rights, but it eventually turned into a weight control practice. I then realized I wanted the body of a fitness model and physique competitor, so I switched over to the meat eating clan and began to eat like a bodybuilder AKA six meals a day, every three hours, no salt, no fruit, everything had to be weighed and measured and eaten out of Tupperware. Soon enough, getting my body fat pinched every weekend was a typical activity, as well as my hour-long cardio sessions in the morning paired with lifting sessions in the evening. Amidst this loveless, foodless, deprived life, I was starting to become addicted to seeing my body transform. As the body fat melted off, my self-esteem skyrocketed. As my butt got rounder, my smile got larger.
After hitting the stage for my first and even second fitness competition, I gained a little weight back and returned to my average size. In fact, I was much stronger, healthier, happier, and fuller (physically and emotionally) but less toned. Womp, womp. The psychological struggles continued. I loathed my lack of leanness, I hated my distorted body image and I still measured and weighed my food in attempt to create that perfect body again.
Soon enough I discovered paleo after receiving a book to review for my blog, and then again, when a friend told me how awesome the “diet” had been for him. I became really interested and really involved in the community, where I met many people who taught me to love myself no matter what. Though this is easier said than done, after extreme commitment, positive affirmation, journaling, getting a dog, and moving states (not necessarily because of my body image struggles but it certainly didn’t hurt), I finally found something deep inside of me that was dying to come out.
Not just physical strength but emotional strength. I developed the strength to challenge social norms and to decide for myself what I think “beautiful” really means. In the end, I decided beautiful means life. It means coffee in bed on a Sunday morning. It means an extra spoonful of peanut butter just because. It means going four wheeling or boating whenever I want, because I no longer have to worry about bringing Tupperware meals. Last but not least, it means being able to tell myself “it’s okay” to not work out when I don’t feel like it. It’s okay to put family and friends FIRST before the gym and bulk cooking. It’s okay. Why? Because I’m already beautiful.
As many people say, paleo is not just a diet. It’s a lifestyle. It means to live organically, stress-free, happy and healthy. Healthy can be subjective but for most people, it means to live a life that promotes your version of optimal health. It means to live in a way that promotes mind-body satisfaction, without the sacrifices.
When I first discovered paleo, I went the strictest route. I basically did a Whole30 but for four months. I became too rigid and decided that wasn’t the healthiest for me, personally. I even discovered I have no allergies to gluten, dairy, beans or grains. While that’s kind of cool, I didn’t go crazy on eating them because as I listened to my body, I discovered those foods don’t necessarily make me feel optimal energy.
Truthfully, I rarely eat gluten or legumes by choice because they don’t make me the best version of myself. Dairy on the other hand makes me feel like a rock star.
So I make it work for me. Paleo has allowed me to find the best version of myself by helping me realize what makes me feel best, inside and out.
There are no meal plans, no food scales, no body fat pinchers, no tiny swimsuits hanging on my “inspiration wall” and certainly no sports-bra and spandex clad photo shoots in my near future.
I’m so excited to now have the “Madelyn Moon Diet” and nothing else. And more than just the diet aspect, I now live a much more minimalistic life. I try to keep my household minimalistic, as well as my face (less is more, ladies) and even my workouts!
The people I have met in the paleo community have literally changed my life in every aspect. I could name you ten people right now that have impacted me in some way or another and have brought me to tears from their support and generosity.
I am in no way exactly where I want to be in terms of body image and my relationship with food, but I am much farther in my journey than where I started. I have come incredibly far in all actuality, and as long as I remember to keep up the self-love and acceptance, I will be in the best “shape” of my life (possibly literally, but that one is more metaphorically).
Because I wanted to share how I’ve learned to retrain my brain into loving my body just the way it is, as well as block out all of the lean body fitness fluff, I created an eCourse that guides readers step by step on how to do exactly that. My goal with the course is to give you small, easily implemented changes you can make every day that will eventually lead you into non-negotiable self-love and body acceptance.
Lastly, I wanted to further share my passion for the ever-so-important mind body relationship by creating a podcast, called Mind Body Musings. The podcast features various guests that are well-known in the fitness industry who share their stories, theories, research and knowledge with us so that we can all better understand our bodies and brains. The podcast can be found on iTunes here, or you can go to my website here for the direct download links.
I also provide a free audioguide 4 Pillars of Femininity for Perfections, here.
A big thank you to Stefani for letting me share my story with you today. Stay tuned for this story to be published in The Paleo Miracle 2 as well, along with many other inspirational mind body strengthening stories.
I hope you enjoy any newfound insight you learn from these two tools and further develop your own strength, beauty and self-love.
Last week I published a post in which I went into some detail on my current struggle with my health. I was shocked (though in retrospect I am certain I should not have been) to learn how many women empathize.
Today I want to go into a little bit more detail about what (by my best guess) is wrong with me and why. Hopefully this’ll help us start a conversation about recovering from stress, as well as raise some awareness about how prevalent stress-related health complications are.
The match at the bottom of the haystack: January 2011
To be clear: my “haystack” is very dry. Very, very dry. It has been for as long as I can remember. I have always been anxious. I have always been a poor sleeper – there is not one time in my life I can look back on and say ‘ah, yes, those were the glory days.’ I have always been a basketcase — if a tightly controlled and happy one — that’s just the fabric out of which me and my life are made. My haystack has always been dry and full of friction, ready to ignite.
January of 2011 was when the match was struck and everything “Stefani’s Health” sprinted to hell in a hurry.
Why? What happened? For one, I began taking T3 for my hypothyroidism, which upregulated my metabolism and therefore my heart rate. Worse, however, I began taking spironolactone, a usually fairly harmless drug (save for the rare occasion in which it can make you drop dead of hyperkalemia) often proscribed to women with hormonal acne.
I was so desperate to overcome my acne that I took drugs.
Almost immediately, I began having panic attacks.
Almost immediately, my previous insomnia problem which had always meant trouble falling asleep at night became an insomnia nightmare in which I was up until 4, 5, 6, sometimes 7am (and having to wake at 8 for class) anxious, sobbing, terrified, and with my heart racing.
I knew that spironolactone was supposed to reduce my testosterone levels, and I also knew it was a potassium-sparing diurectic. Neither of those things are known to cause anxiety in any statistically rigorous way. But hormones are hormones, and balance is important. More importantly, being a potassium-sparing diuretic means that other electrolytes – sodium, calcium, and magnesium – the electrolyte you need in order to feel calm – are flushed out of your system.
I quit the thyroid hormone, and that helped. It took me another month or two to work past my terror of going off the acne med (which, by the way, actually made my acne worse and my skin improved when I got off it… so… suck on that, Pfizer). When I did, it got better. I was no longer extremely clammy. Panicked. Palpitating. Wired. Incapable of falling asleep.
Not as extremely, anyway.
It never went away. In fact, in fairly short order, it got a lot worse.
Having been on this drug, I think I lost a significant portion of my already weak magnesium stores, which hurled me into the most painful and terrifying season of my life. I never slept. I didn’t know why. My heart always raced. My brain was out of control. Anxiety flooded every moment of my life, such that even tiny decisions like what color shirt to wear made my palms sweat and my heart race. I sought therapists. I sought psychiatric help in the form of the brilliant Dr Emily Deans (I never took anxiety meds, however, since I had anxiety about what they would do to me. Alas, the brilliant irony of mental health prescriptions.) I sought anything that might help – even acupuncture (which did). I contemplated giving up on living for the first time.
At the end of August it dawned on me that electrolytes might be an issue. You can actually die from an extreme electrolyte imbalance, so I checked myself into the ER. They ushered me in because my heartbeat was so fast. But they found nothing wrong with me.
And so – since then. It has been a full 24 months since I began taking spironolactone, and 18 months since I stopped. 15 months since I realized electrolytes were a part of my issue. 9 months since I realized that I needed to supplement with magnesium on a daily basis (my favorite one here). 9 months still in which I struggled to sleep, struggled to be calm, and struggled to have the sense of self I had before January 2011. 2 months since the most stressful period of my life.
Of course magnesium is not the only issue.
Adrenal fatigue: Do I believe in it?
No, and yes.
No, I do not believe in adrenal fatigue in the sense that your body gets too tired of making cortisol to keep doing so. That’s a bit far-fetched to me — cortisol is the hormone responsible for wakefulness, so of course it is a natural compound present throughout every moment of our lives.
What I do believe happens is that our bodies can become cortisol resistant, just as they can be insulin and leptin resistant.
Do I have it?
You bet your bottom dollar that I do. In the wake of those drugs, on top of an already stressful life, plus the stress of poor sleep and anxiety for two years plus the extraordinary culmination of four hours of sleep for two straight months –
Yes. My heart races at the drop of a hat, let alone at any kind of moderate stressor. Fights with my partners, important interviews, hell, even the idea of waking up early in the morning, all prevent me from being able to sleep throughout the entire night and give me anxiety. I used to be able to still fall asleep at some point during the night. Now, if there’s an issue, my body won’t calm down at all, and I might squeeze in 90 minutes somewhere between 8 and 10am.
Even if there’s not an issue, my eyes snap open with my heart thumping loudly in my chest exactly four hours after falling asleep nearly every night.
We’ll see how fun March is for me – a national book release. Hooray.
So what am I doing about it?
The absolute best thing I possibly can.
The reason I wanted to write this post was to share with you, again, the depths of my struggle with my physiological response to certain stressors.
I also wanted to emphasize how important it is to do everything you can for yourself.
Coming out of my period of stress, I knew that I needed a radical change. That lifestyle could not continue. I did not want it to. It was killing me, and I wasn’t having too much fun.
So I saved as much money as I could and I moved into a safe, quiet space away from my normal, hustle-and-bustle life. I do not make appointments before 2pm unless its Abel James Bascom and he’s dragging me out of bed for a crack-of-dawn podcast (more on which in a week or so). I go to sleep whenever my body allows it. I eat when I am hungry and I stop when I am full. I do not exercise unless I really feel like it (and it took me six weeks of serious rest before I felt like doing sprint workouts again.) I am “sugar detoxing” (using this plan) – by which I mean simply that I am attempting to reduce my addiction to and craving for sweet foods. I dance as often as I want to because that makes me happier than anything in the world.
I say no to obligations that might impede my healing.
As hard as it is, I know that what I need more than anything is to be slow. To stop trying. To not be perfect. To be calm. To weigh 130 pounds. To only spend time with people who energize and love me and make me feel safe.
This isn’t to say that I am incapable of life.
To the contrary. I am eminently capable. I have a lot of willpower. But willpower is what usually gets us into these messes in the first place. We push and push and push and push until there’s no muscle left to do the pushing anymore.
So we back up, and we repair, and we begin inching forward again.
This is the story of my tipped over physiology. Today I am healing. This morning I woke after seven hours of sleep with my heart beating peacefully, like it did so many years ago I can barely remember, and I looked at the sun streaming through my window with a smile. This morning I felt like I had enough energy to get up and work right away, and to exercise, and to forego naps. This morning I did not have insatiable sugar cravings. I am certain it is a long and winding road ahead. Today is one of the better days. But at least I am walking it, and gently.
Looking for more on the relationship between stress and health? I wrote even more about it in my bestselling book, Sexy By Nature.
Far back in the very beginning weeks of this blog, I wrote a long series of articles on the sources of infertility. In terms of the kinds of infertility caused by diet and lifestyle, there are two primary categories: PCOS and Hypothalamic Amenorrhea. Long time readers of this blog know that I believe the relationship between these two disorders is much more complicated than regular doctors and medicine would have us believe. Nonetheless, while I was writing about PCOS and HA (read more about HA here and here and here), I promised to write a post on how to overcome HA.
I never did.
The reason I didn’t write it is because the answer is both way too complex and way too simple. I couldn’t come up with anything coherent to say.
Hypothalamic Amenhorrhea is the fancy way of saying “stress-induced loss of menstruation.” The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that determines if you are in a safe enough environment to bear children. If your body receives signals that you are not “safe” enough, then your hormone production will decrease and you will stop menstruating. You may also suffer symptoms of low libido, depression, anxiety, insomnia, acne, and fatigue.
“Safe” means both physiologically and psychologically. Mental stress can hurt your fertility just as much as physical stress. Unfortunately, these two stressors commonly occur in women today, and commonly in paleo dieters. Mental stress comes from pressure and ambition and work and life as well as body image issues, low-self-esteem, and disordered eating. Physical stress comes from low body fat levels, rapid fat loss, excessive fat loss, fasting, over-exercising, under-sleeping, and under-eating. It’s no wonder that so many women struggle with this.
Estrogen, progesterone, LH and FSH — all female hormones — decrease with hypothalamic stress. LH and FSH come directly from the pituitary and fall off the wagon, and then estrogen and progesterone, which take their cues largely from LH and FSH, fall off of it, too.
Can it be overcome?
Is it easy?
The thing about HA is that its severity and “cure” are different for each woman. The trick is to address all of the kinds of stress that play a role in HA, and to focus on the type of stress that caused your problem in the first place.
For example: say you recently dropped from 130 to 110 pounds. The primary problem — the thing that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck, so stop fighting the reality of your weight loss — is that you lost too much weight too fast. Your body couldn’t keep up with your changing leptin levels. And you likely underate calories and gave your body starvation signals while you were losing. So that needs to take precedence. You also, however, exercise a fair bit and have a fairly stressful life. To that end, you should also reduce your exercise, work on your priorities and your stress level, and be sure to eat as much as you need to. Address all of the ways in which you can increase your body’s detection of “safety.” Focus on perhaps gaining a little bit of weight back, however, since that was your primary “problem.” The faster you can convince your body you are no longer starving, the faster you’ll regain hormone balance and fertility.
Other women, on the other hand, might have to focus on stress, or might have to give up marathoning for a while.
HA is all about convincing your body that it’s no longer in danger. It doesn’t need to stress. It doesn’t need to shut down hormone production to prevent a poorly timed pregnancy. So you have got to nourish it as best you can. Err on the side of over versus under eating. Dial down your exercise — particularly the sprint based kind — and do only what feels comfortable. Stop pushing through being so tired. Don’t wake up in the morning to an alarm after a short night’s sleep to go for a run. Be sure to eat plenty of carbohydrates — at very minimum 100 grams of carbohydrate a day — and make sure to eat even more if you are an athlete. Learn to move more slowly, to eat more gently, to be less hard on yourself. Relax, eat, relax, eat, relax, eat, repeat. Don’t eat garbage– no way! Some women do, and find that their fertility comes back. But go wild with your diet, and eat as much as you are craving. Your body has been starved, and it’s important to respond to hunger signals when you have them. That is, if you want your fertility back.
To that end, there’s a simple answer to HA:
-Eat more. Relax more. Repeat.
On top of that, we can get more specific:
-Focus on nutrient-rich foods that support healthy hormone production. Liver, egg yolks, other organ meats, bone broth, leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables are all great.
-Make sure to eat plenty of fat. At minimum 40 grams a day. This amounts to approximately three tablespoons of your favorite paleo oil (such as coconut oil) — one for each meal. Including saturated fat is particularly helpful since it is the backbone of hormone production.
-Make sure to eat plenty of carbohydrates. Your body can think it’s starving if it doesn’t get enough for a significant period of time. Eat at least one piece of fruit or serving of starchy carbs with every meal. Make sure to do more on active days.
-Eat when you are hungry. Do not go hungry. Ever.
-Only exercise when you feel energetic and excited to do so, and refuel appropriately afterward.
-Do not sprint more than a couple of times a week.
-Consider eating a fuck ton of calories. Many women have spent ages on different forums learning about what works, and debating how many calories should be eaten at any given point in time. Some argue you need as many as 3000 calories a day to recover. Others assert 2000. I wouldn’t go crazy, but consider the fact that there’s a good chance you are undereating relative to your needs.
-Consider weight gain. Anywhere from 1 pound to 10 might be necessary, or 30, depending on where you are. How much did you weigh when you stopped menstruating? Is it much more than where you are now? How much more? What else was going on in your life? You may need to close the gap a bit between where you are now and where you stopped menstruating in order to do so again. Each woman’s body is different and requires a different level of fat to feel safe and be fertile.
-Sleep as much as possible. 9 hours a night!
-Consider supplementation. Magnesium supports hormone production. Calcium is helpful with the magneisum. Take the magnesium and calcium in a 1:1 or 1:2 (at most) ratio. Vitamin D can support functions with magnesium and calcium. Fermented cod liver oil will never hurt.
Which is all that I’ve got. I know it’s a lot and also a little at the same time. Hypothalamic amenorrhea is all about you and your body and your own particular needs. You’ve got to think deeply about the kinds of stress you might be dealing with, and then go ahead and rectify it.
And then give it time.
It takes time to recover from this sort of thing. Hormones don’t leap ahead of us, they follow behind, peaking around all of the corners, making sure it’s safe before they come out and play. I can say, however, that your recovery will be faster the more you nourish yourself, the more you eat, and the more you relax. You can go more slowly if you are fearful of the process. This is what I did. And it’s good — the body learns to adjust to new leptin levels over itme. But know that it takes longer the more slowly and cautiously you move forward with your hypothalamus.
I highly recommend checking out the Fertile Thoughts forum on hypothalamic amenorrhea. It contains 108,000 posts and counting. Women all across the world come to this forum to share their experiences with HA and infertility. Definitely worth the read if you’re interested in HA at all.