I'm not one to sugar coat things and I'm a pretty open book (as you guys know), I share everything with you and am totally (and brutally) honest because that's just how I roll. Why? because in my opinion being full of shit get's you nowhere in life and most people can tell when someone isn't being genuine or honest about something. So in the spirit of never bullshitting you guys I have to fill you in on how badly I am struggling right now when it comes to my hormonal imbalances..
When I decided to come off of the pill in the beginning of December (read about why here)I had my concerns in regards to my hormones and my period but I honestly never imagined I would be sitting here almost 4 months later still with no sign of a period or a normal cycle and every symptom under the sun (no exaggeration) due to my very clearly imbalanced hormones.
Acne, dry skin, eczema flare ups, IBS flare ups, water retention, bloating, exhaustion, mood swings, brain fog, Post-Birth Control Syndrome, Amenorrhea (see below) - you name it, I have it right now and it is ROUGH. I would love to be able to say that it isn't taking a tole on me mentally but I can't lie to you, it is. I haven't shared this until now because as someone who helps women with these exact issues every single day, not being able to help myself is torture. It's extremely hard to know what needs to be done and to be doing "all the right things" and seeing zero results - I feel so defeated most days.
BUT I am not giving up, instead I have decided to actually take a mini course specializing in healing hormonal imbalances through nutrition and I will be dedicating all of my free time (which is not a lot) to learning everything and anything that I can about how to balance hormones not only to heal myself but also to heal future clients who may be going through the same thing.
POST-BIRTH CONTROL SYNDROME
Yes it is a real thing, crazy right? Post-Birth Control Syndrome (PBCS) is what commonly happens when women go off of the pill after prolonged use, the symptoms include (but aren't limited to) hormonal imbalances, menstrual irregularities, acne and mood swings. Birth control pills work by preventing the body from making sufficient levels of the hormones needed to stimulate ovulation which prevents ovulation from occurring altogether, the pill mimics a menstrual cycle by giving you something called a pseudo cycle (fake cycle). When you come off of the pill your body and hormones are used to being suppressed so it can take a while before your body can produce the necessary hormone at proper levels again, which can affect your cycle.
Amenorrhea by definition is is the absence of menstruation - one or more missed menstrual periods. It's estimated that 45% of women suffer some form of a missed period (amenorrhea) each year. There are a ton of different possible causes and almost all of them lead back to hormonal imbalances due to secondary factors.
FACTORS THAT LEAD TO HORMONAL IMBALANCE
- Birth control - As I just explained, prolonged use of synthetic hormonal contraceptive throws your body and hormones way out of whack.
- Not eating enough healthy fat - Hormones are made up of fatty membranes and thrive on fats so limiting your fat intake to low fat or no fat diet is dangerous to hormone health.
- Eating the wrong fats - Yes you want to increase your fat intake but you also want to be mindful of which fats you are increasing. For example Polyunsaturated fatsare unstable and oxidize rapidly in the body which causes inflammation and mutation which can lead to hormonal problems.
- Insufficient calorie and/or carbohydrate intake - Restrictive diets do not provide proper energy for hormone function or production. Hormones are are part of the metabolic processes and as we all know the metabolism needs both carbohydrates and food in general to function.
- Extremely low weight or body fat percentage - The body of a women is designed to carry, provide energy and protect a baby for 9 months, so if you do not have enough energy or insulation (fat) for yourself alone your body will automatically assume that you do not need to reproduce and you won't get a period.
- Not sleeping enough - Lack of sleep spikes cortisol levels which spikes stress and puts a strain on your adrenals and throws your hormones out of balance.
- Consuming lots of dairy - Dairy is full of hormones (yes even pasture raised dairy) that interfere with the female reproductive system.
- Poor digestion - Birth control actually disrupts the microbiome in the gut which leads to yeast overgrowth and leaky gut. Alternatively if your gut is not functioning properly and not eliminating waste regularly (1-2x per day) it can also lead to leaky gut which causes toxins to seep out of the GI tract and back into the body and bloodstream which disrupts hormones.
- Liver toxicity - Our liver is our body's main detoxifier, it is responsible for processing and excreting almost all waste and toxic substances. Synthetic hormones (the pill) put a serious strain on the liver and cause it to not be able to regulate the amount of hormones in the body through excretion.
- Working out too much - Overtraining increases cortisol levels which causes low levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and leutinizing hormone (LH) which results in low estrogen, testosterone and progesterone levels which results in abnormal cycles and eventually no period.
- Chronic stress - Being in a constant state of stress suppresses the function of the hypothalamus, which controls the pituitary gland which controls the pituitary gland, thyroid and ovaries so it directly affect the bodies ability to make sex hormones!
HORMONE BALANCING TIPS
- Ditch the synthetic hormonal contraceptives - instead try a FAM (fertility awareness method) or just plain old condoms.
- Up your healthy fat game - it's time to get rid of the processed fat and load up on the good stuff like avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut, all the nut butters, and salmon. Make sure you have a source of healthy fat at every meal and snack!
- Say goodbye to the diet mentality - not only is restricting your food intake doing your hormones a disservice but it is also totally messing with your brain and stressing you out.
- Up your carb intake during the first half of the day - your body needs carbs to function and to produce healthy happy hormones, keeping your carb intake in the first half of the day gives your insulin (an important hormone) levels lots of time to calm down so no extra fat will be stored.
- Get on a proper sleep schedule - start setting a time every night to unwind for about an hour before bed, leave your phone outside of your room or keep it on airplane mode if you need it for the alarm and aim for 7-8 hours per night!
- Cut out dairy - this doesn't have to be a permanent thing but a few weeks without any secondary transfer of hormones into your system will do your own hormones a world of good.
- Help heal your gut - start by upping your water and fiber intake (here's how), include fermented foods into your daily diet and take a probiotic supplement daily and digestive enzymes with every meal to improve digestion.
- Give your liver some love - in order to regulate your hormone levels your liver needs to be able to detoxify and excrete estrogen. Try giving up alcohol for a while and start incorporating dandelion root tea every day to help the detoxification process.
- Give the cardio a break - I know you love cardio (said no one ever) but intense exercise can actually worsen the problem when it comes to hormones so give up the sprints and spin for a while and try going on a nice daily walk instead.
- Shorten your weight lifting sessions - lifting weights triggers a ton of hormones reactions. Keep your lifting to 45 minutes 3-4x per week.
- Limit your caffeine intake - I know I know what a terrible thing for me to say but trust me on this. The thing with too much caffeine is it raises your cortisol levels and slows down your thyroid function which limits your body's ability to take orders from your hormones. Try going just 5 days caffeine free and see how you feel, I promise you'll be okay.
- Reduce stress - This is absolutely CRUCIAL. I want you to make a list of everything indoor life that stresses you out on a daily basis and then make a counter point of how you can try to alleviate those things from your life. Start taking time every single day for yourself - meditation, yoga, stretching, a walk without your phone, a candle lit bath, getting a massage, journalling or one of my current favourites - mindfulness based stress reduction MBSR (google it its amazing) I don't care what you do, just take time for YOU.
While everything in this post is backed by scientific research as well as my own knowledge and study of both nutrition and hormones I want you to remember that every single person is different and something that may work for most women may not work for you, I am a living example of this. I also want you to know that if you're struggling with hormonal imbalances, you're not alone, I know exactly how frustrating and confusing it can be to be dealing with something that no one seems to want to talk about or to just be prescribed synthetic hormones to mask these issues. My goal is that through sharing what I learn in this course and through my own experience and (hopefully) success in balancing my own hormones I can bring a deeper understanding to hormones and make hormonal health an actual topic of conversation for everyone, not just women.