Our resident nutritionist, Charlotte Debeugney, discusses how not to be a hostage to your hormones.
Hands up if you’ve ever woken up knowing that it’s going to be ‘one of those days’! A morning where you feel like an “anti super woman”- no energy, no motivation and an overwhelming fatigue. It’s on those kinds of days that it takes me 30 minutes to park my car, that I am far more likely to burn or cut myself while cooking and I can almost guarantee that I am going to be late for everything, with my blood pressure going off the scale while I’m stuck in traffic. The tension builds throughout the day as I try to get through everything I need to do with a maximum pressure point at the beginning of the evening where I screech like a demented hyena at my children and husband and the world in general!
Yup, we’ve all been there! Does this get worse with age and the menopause? Fluctuating hormones definitely play a role, with lower oestrogen levels as the menopause approaches contributing to tiredness, irritability and difficulty in concentrating. When you throw this into the mix of relationships, children and work, it’s not surprising that we have moments when we struggle. One of the lovely things about aging, is that you become your own best friend. Over the years, I’ve learnt to be very attuned to my moods. My younger self would have insisted on carrying on regardless, getting angrier and more frustrated as the day goes on. My older self, assesses and adapts the day to minimise the stress and the tension.
So, what are the key approaches we can follow to keep us serenely floating through our days? In a nutshell, its three words – nourish, breathe and move.
Nourish – feed your body and your brain!
Fluctuating blood sugar (glucose) levels can worsen mood swings and tiredness as well as making concentrating on a task almost impossible. The trick of the trade when it comes to avoiding swings in your blood sugar levels is to ensure that every meal or snack contains a protein rich food and fibre. This slows down the rate at which food is digested, helping to keep your energy levels and your mood more stable. For example, switching a breakfast of 2 slices of white toast with marmalade for 1 slice of whole wheat bread with either an egg or peanut butter (my favourite!) or a natural yoghurt is a better choice for a hormone balancing breakfast. It also helps to prevent you reaching for the biscuits mid-morning!
I’d also question the wisdom of doing any kind of restrictive diet such as low carb or 5/2 on the days when you are feeling ‘hormonal’. ‘Starving yourself’ can back fire horribly if you are not feeling on form. Carbohydrates do indirectly make us ‘feel good’ as they raise insulin levels (insulin is one of the hormones which helps to regulate our blood glucose levels) and this in turn helps to optimise serotonin levels. The way to manage this is to eat moderate amounts of whole grains at every meal. I’d therefore suggest aiming for 3 balanced meals a day with a small healthy afternoon or bedtime snack to avoid the need to binge and eat your frustration. Keep the low carb and intermittent fasting regimes for when you are feeling on top of the world and bursting with energy!
Breathe – and then prioritise
When we are feeling overwhelmed and anxious we often forgot to breathe and ‘tighten up’ holding all our tension in our bodies. One of the first things to do is take slow deep breaths, which helps to ease the tension and gives us a moment to pause.
Some of my most spectacular ‘hormonal moments’ have occurred when I was completely overloaded. Actually, let’s rephrase that, I completely overloaded myself and threw my toys and myself out of the pram! Sometimes we are too quick to say yes and take on too much, which leaves us feeling miserable, exhausted and taken for granted.
One of the skills we can develop is prioritisation. It’s ok to say No and if you have limited time and energy, it is essential to prioritise your workload. There will be some tasks you must do, but put everything that can wait on hold and then make time to wind down and relax. Shut down, switch off and relax. You deserve it!
My other top tip? Multi-tasking should come with a health warning. Don’t try and do it, it’s bad for us and teaches our brains bad habits! Focus on one task at a time and do it methodically and completely. Once it’s finished and if there is time, move on to the next one.
Move – gently
So many reasons to exercise! It really does ‘clear’ the brain by increasing levels of hormones such as norepinephrine which helps to improve cognitive function. And, it doesn’t have to be too energetic either, a gentle walk, some gardening, a yoga session. Trust me, you will feel so much better for doing it! If you feel you are reaching breaking point, it makes sense to stop and recuperate and fresh air is the perfect medicine.
A study also associated gardening with improved mood and the researchers found that a bacterium in the soil, Mycobacterium vaccae might help to stimulate serotonin production. So get digging (with your hands!).
Dr Travis Bradberry. Multitasking Damages Your Brain and Your Career, New Studies Suggest. Retrieved from http://www.talentsmart.com/articles/Multitasking-Damages-Your-Brain-and-Your-Career,-New-Studies-Suggest-2102500909-p-1.html
Charlotte Debeugny, a British Nutritionist and Author based in France.