In honor of National Women’s Month, our Lead RD Sam 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 commonly 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’e 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)
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 actually 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 amount of calories you eat do 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’s a lot more fun to get to eat more food, not less! 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: celery juice cures all
Let’s talk about celery juice. I think celery juice great! But I also don’t think it’ll solve all your problems. If you’ve been drinking celery juice and it’s helped you, awesome! To start, celery juice is mostly water, so it’s a great hydrating beverage first thing in the morning. If you add some lemon juice (hey super fresh!) and a pinch of himalayan pink salt, you get some awesome electrolyte benefits too.
As great as celery juice is, it’s still important to be mindful about changing lifestyle & nutrition factors when dealing with health problems. For example, let’s say you’re struggling with an autoimmune condition. Implementing lifestyle changes (like stress reduction and sleep improvement) along with an anti-inflammatory diet (I love Whole30, paleo or AIP) will likely help you a lot and drinking celery juice in the morning can complement that. Want to layer celery juice onto your already healthy habits? Go for it! It won’t hurt, and you may feel even better.
You can get the same benefits from eating celery, too! Plus you’d get the healthy fiber that feeds your gut microbiome. In general, though, celery is a great option whether you eat it or drink it, since it’s filled with antioxidants and enzymes. The verdict: do what works for you!
Myth #6: your doctor or your favorite influencer knows best
Bare with me. I think that women give their power away far too often. Yes, your doctor’s input is important. Yes, some influencers are super knowledgable. But you (and only you!) know what works best for your body. 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. When it comes to today’s health care system, you have to be your own advocate. If you’ve been diagnosed with a certain health condition, research nutrition & lifestyle interventions. If your doctor recommends a certain dietary protocol (like reduced calories or “everything in moderation”), look into it for yourself. If they want to put you on a specific medication, research the side effects and the purpose of the drug before you sign on. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
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.
I hope this helped you separate fact from fiction. Did any of these resonate with you? Let me know in the comments!