Let me tell you a story:
Girl gets first period. First period causes hormone swings like girl has never experienced before. Girl thinks this will calm down post-puberty. It doesn’t. Girl spends the rest of her days trying to figure out said hormones and how to keep them in check.
According to a study completed by OnePoll with Dr Anna Cabeca, as The New York Post shares, close to half of women deal with hormone imbalances.
Wondering what that might look like? Let me explain.
Imbalances (caused when your body has too much or not enough of a hormone) can manifest in many ways, but common symptoms include trouble sleeping, mood swings, digestive issues, anxiety, acne, fatigue and irregular periods.
I’ve experienced most of the above since puberty, and always assumed the only way to combat these problems was with hormonal contraceptives – which are great but aren’t everyone’s preference. In recent months, however, I noticed the term ‘hormone-balancing diet’ floating around The Internet.
Having never heard of the trend before, I reached out to some industry experts to learn a little more.
According to accredited practising dietitian Emily Hardman, a hormone-balancing diet can help you achieve “sustained energy levels, stable blood sugar levels, improved connection with appetite, better reproductive health, a healthier weight and of course, better-balanced hormones.”
Naturopathic nutritionist Melissa Smith echos this, explaining that it works differently depending on the case, but some people will see changes quite quickly: “Most people see an improvement in their energy, weight, brain function and overall wellbeing in a matter of a few days to a few weeks.”
I should point out here that both professionals state it’s best to have your hormone levels checked with a blood test if you’re concerned your system is off-kilter.
I, however, chose a general diet designed to minimise most issues.
The rules I stuck to were:
- Eat every three to four hours.
- Include protein in every meal. About one gram per kilo of weight, or a quarter of your plate per dish.
- Increase veg intake. Both experts encouraged eating a variety of vegetables – about half a plate per meal.
- Reach for good fats from sources like avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds.
- Limit caffeine and processed foods.
- Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar.
I followed this program for three weeks, and here’s what I found:
I was overwhelmed.
I kept checking my list of ‘approved’ foods to make sure I wasn’t accidentally eating the wrong thing. It made preparing meals a lengthier process, and I found myself missing the convenience of toast.
Going cold-turkey on bread was painful. But the worst part was cutting down on coffee.
I drink the stuff like water. So, going from four cups a day to one was tough. I felt low on energy for most of the first week.
About five days in, I messed up. I went out to dinner and didn’t stick to my diet. I ate pasta, drank a couple of cocktails, and even ate a few sour lollies afterwards. Terrible, I know!
The next day I felt cloudy, anxious and drained. While some of that was due to me having a crappy day and a slight hangover, I can’t help but think that coming off the diet so rapidly had an impact, too.
I vowed not to screw up again after that.
People began commenting on how good my skin looked. I was also sleeping really well.
My stomach wasn’t feeling all that great, though. I researched the foods I was eating more regularly (kale, broccoli) and found that they tend to cause bloating. I switched cruciferous vegetables for baby spinach and lettuce and felt better rather quickly.
On this, Hardman stressed that “generalised advice can assist with balancing hormones and general health”, but a full nutritional assessment is necessary if you want to know what works for your system in particular.
I was getting the best sleep I’d had in months, leaving me feeling rested and calm.
My stomach was much flatter, my clothes were fitting better, and I wasn’t experiencing any digestive issues.
But my skin took a backwards step, unfortunately. Early in the week, my neck and jawline became inflamed and itchy.
The mild irritation stuck around for about four days. I can’t say if it was related to the diet or not, but Smith shared that: “It isn’t unheard of to get skin rashes when changing diets… Sometimes rashes can appear when detoxing so it could be that – or it could be food you’ve introduced that could be causing it.”
In any case, with some extra love, my skin began to go back to normal.
All-in-all, I found this diet to be a process. Some elements didn’t work for me, but with a few adjustments, I did see improvements in my wellbeing.
And while I’m not disciplined enough to follow this regime consistently, I have decided to continue limiting my coffee and sugar intake. If you ask me, it’s worth cutting back on a couple of vices for the boost in sleep quality and lack of bloating, alone.