Our Lead dietitian Amy is hopping on the blog today to talk about five common myths she hears all the time when it comes to women’s health.
Myth #1: Your lifestyle or what you eat won’t impact your hormones
Hormones help your body maintain homeostasis and are particularly important for women. When hormones are out of balance, the result can be things like adrenal fatigue, PMS, high cortisol, low estrogen, or low testosterone. These issues can impact men too but are more common issues for women. While genetics, aging, toxins, and high-stress levels all contribute to hormone imbalances, food plays a direct role too. Poor gut health, vitamin D deficiency, and poor food choices can all result in less-than-balanced hormones.
Generally, hormonal problems are treated using medications like birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, thyroid medications, or insulin injections. While there is certainly a place for medication, sometimes these drugs simply mask the symptoms and don’t address the root cause. A hormone-friendly diet can go a long way in helping to improve symptoms since the nutrients you get from the foods you eat are the raw materials that your body uses to produce hormones and fuel your body. For example, cholesterol actually helps in the production of many reproductive hormones.
If your body doesn’t supply enough raw “materials” for hormone production, stress hormones will be prioritized since they’re essential for survival. That means reproductive hormones or hormones responsible for metabolic functions (like thyroid hormones!) aren’t first priority. That’s why high stress can cause hormone fluctuation. Stress can be emotional or physical, meaning things like not eating enough calories (see myth #4!) or not sleeping well can have just as much of an impact as emotional stress.
Aside from stress, gut health is vital to healthy hormones. Your framework should be a balanced diet of high-quality protein, healthy fats, and lots of veggies. Reducing inflammation is also vitally important, which means eliminating things like excess sugar, gluten, refined carbohydrates, and sometimes other foods like dairy or grains. Other helpful food fixes:
- fiber (hey veggies!)
- healthy fats (coconut oil, grass-fed butter/ghee, high-quality dairy or meat, nuts/seeds, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and wild-caught fish)
- drinking enough water (aim for at least half your body weight in ounces per day)
- limiting alcohol and caffeine.
Myth #2: All vitamins are created equal
Since supplements (and their quality/efficacy) are not regulated by the FDA, it’s unfortunately up to the consumer to be vigilant about which supplements they’re choosing. With supplements, you definitely get what you pay for, especially when it comes to something like a prenatal. The average grocery store prenatal is woefully inadequate.
When you’re looking for a prenatal or even a more basic multivitamin, here are a few things to look for:
- methylated B vitamins (for example, methylcobalamin instead of cyanocobalamin)
- folate instead of folic acid
- no nasty additives (a vitamin doesn’t need gluten, soy, artificial flavors/colors, or preservatives)
- Verification and testing by a third party
You’d think it would be easy to find supplements that meet the above criteria, but it’s actually pretty tricky. Your best bet is to obtain pharmaceutical-grade supplements from a holistically-minded dietitian or doctor, but you can also find high-quality options at your local health food store or more natural markets like Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, or Sprouts.
And remember, if you eat a varied diet filled with lots of healthy fat, high-quality protein, and veggies, you’ll get some vital nutrients through your diet as well.
Myth #3: You should eat 5-6 small meals a day
Unfortunately, the idea of eating many small meals throughout the day is one that’s been thrown around for a long time, with proponents saying it revs up your metabolism. While this way of eating may work for some people, like those who are breastfeeding, trying to gain weight, or competitive athletes, the average person should shoot for three meals a day instead.
Especially here in America, people tend to eat too frequently. When you eat every few hours, your insulin levels are continually elevated, which impedes fat loss because your body can’t tap into using stored fat for fuel. Additionally, it’s a lot of work to think through what your meals will be if you’re eating 5+ meals a day!
By giving your body time to rest & digest between meals, not only do you help improve insulin sensitivity, but you also allow your digestive system a rest. This is key for any repair or clean-up that needs to go on post-meal. If you’re curious about this process, read up on the migrating motor complex!
Myth #4: To lose weight you need to radically restrict calories
It always makes me sad when women tell me they’re on a super low-calorie diet, or that their doctor told them to eat 800 calories a day to lose weight. While the number of calories you eat does matter to some extent, they are not the only factor that is important for weight loss. Often, by over-restricting calories, you actually put your body in a stressed state. On top of that, your body enters scarcity mode, unsure of when it may get fed again. Because of this, it’ll hold onto excess fat and work to be more efficient with the calories you give it, meaning metabolism and fat burn slow down.
I’ve seen time and time again that when people stop strictly reducing calories and instead focus on the quality of the food they’re consuming (focusing on veggies, high-quality proteins, and healthy fats), they see results after having “plateaued” for months. Plus, it creates a headspace of nourishment and abundance, rather than restriction, which is absolutely essential when it comes to creating a healthy relationship with food and your body! And in the end, a sustainable solution (aka not an 800 calorie crash diet) is what will help you maintain your results in the long-term. Here at Snap, we’re fans of lifestyle changes over diet dogma.
Myth #5: Food Combining is the Key to Digestive Health
If you haven’t heard of food combining, it is the practice of pairing or avoiding pairing certain foods together for digestive health. Foods are categorized into different groups, such as fruits, vegetables, fats, and proteins. Food combining has been considered thousands of years ago, has popped back up as a health practice from time to time, and recently has become discussed on TikTok.
Food combining principles say that only one food group should be consumed at one time so your digestive system can easily digest and absorb food. You may have seen those what I eat in a day videos with women sharing they eat only fruit on an empty stomach right after waking up.
But is there any merit to food combining? The evidence says no. There has only been one study that looked at the difference between food combining vs. mixed meals for weight loss, and the results were the same for both groups. Plus, the human body is well equipped to breakdown, digest, and absorb food with a complex series of processes and bodily functions. Lastly, balanced, mixed meals are actually great for blood sugar control. Eating all carbs on an empty stomach is a surefire way to skyrocket your blood sugar, leading to a crash later.
Myth #6: TikTok is a great place for health information
Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing health experts on social media and TikTok. But unfortunately, the more radical and shocking videos tend to get the most views, especially on TikTok. It’s time we start listening to our own bodies, rather than wanting someone else to always give us the answer. This applies to advice you may receive from your doctor, well-meaning friends, celebrities, or social media influencers. This is true for everything from the medications and supplements you take to the best diet for your needs.
You can empower yourself to make the decisions that are best for your health in a few ways. To start, do your own research. Make sure you are getting information from credible sources that have been reviewed by doctors and dietitians. Also, consider who you are getting health information from. Did they get a formal education in nutrition, or did they read one book, one time, and call themselves a nutritionist? Are they pushing a product or supplement, or do they have experience and training in counseling others? Be wary of those giving one-size-fits-all nutrition advice and that fear-mongering on the internet!
As far as food is concerned, I love something like a Whole30 (plus reintroduction!) to help you figure out what works for you. Whether or not you choose to do an elimination diet like Whole30, I encourage everyone to eat mindfully. This looks like eating while sitting down & eating without distraction. It also means paying attention to how you feel after a meal and trying to lean into foods that help you feel your best, versus foods that leave you feeling tired or with an upset stomach. While food itself is never “good” or “bad”, there’s definitely food that helps us feel well and food that leaves us feeling not so great. Moral of the story here? Work to find what works for you. Don’t follow the latest trend without asking yourself how you feel & how it’s working for you.
When it comes to women’s health, whether you’re looking into diets or doctors, or just a balance of nutrients, we’re your partner in health. We use high-quality ingredients in every one of our meals with a mindful approach to food, one where ingredients & quality outweigh the nutrition facts panel. Sign up for your first box today!