- Susan Horgan
How to eat, drink and keep your hormones merry
4 tips to help navigate the silly season without sending your hormones over the edge.
Christmas seems to start earlier every year, doesn’t it? And with it comes the boxes of sweets and biscuits lying around everywhere, being offered food and drinks anytime you call to someone’s house and there’s more nights out planned than you have for the rest of the year put together. None of which are a bad thing – it’s just that they all come within the space of about 4 to 6 weeks, which can make it hard to just get the basics right – eating well, sleeping well, exercising and generally looking after yourself. Before you label me a party-pooper, hear me out.
I love Christmas and have no intention of missing out or telling you to either.
I love the nights out, the delicious food and the mulled wine that goes with it. What I do want to do in this blog, is share some tips that I find helpful for keeping a little balance so that you can enjoy the build up to the big day, but not feel like absolute sh*t by the time it gets here.
For women in particular, our hormones can be very easily disrupted by the change in routine.
Not only can we experience some of the more physical symptoms like headaches, hot flushes, bloating and weight gain, but the lack of sleep and higher intake of alcohol and sugary foods can also trigger anxiety, low mood and irritability. And let’s be honest, they just don’t make for a very fun few weeks.
So here are 4 things you can work on from now til New Year to help your hormones survive the season.
Who doesn’t love all the delicious food that goes with Christmas. There’s all those lovely seasonal things that we can only have for these 6-8 weeks of the year – mince pies, Christmas pudding and brussels sprouts. Not to mention all the other things that we ration to ourselves because we’re “being good” – cheese boards, Celebrations, puddles of custard and Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
And what if I told you that you can still have all of those things?
Not something you thought you’d hear a Nutritional Therapist say. But depriving yourself is only going to make you want these things more and make you miserable into the bargain. And Christmas is not a time to be making yourself miserable (or any time of year for that matter). It’s not about avoiding things or “being good”.
The simplest tip I can give you around food at Christmas is to control the meals you can control and don’t stress about the rest.
What do I mean by that? There’s 31 days in December and you’re not going to be eating out for all 3 meals, every single day (and if you are, fair play to you!). So at the start of each week, take a look at the week ahead and plan which meals you’ll be eating at home. Make those meals as nutritious and balanced as possible – adding lots of colourful veg, a good source of protein, healthy fat and some slow-release carbohydrates. This will support your blood sugar balance and help keep you feeling full, reduce cravings and keep your energy levels up throughout the day. On days when you are eating out, pack as much vegetables and fruit into the other meals as you can and then go and enjoy the meal with no guilt or worries about what you choose to eat. Taking the stress out of food at Christmas can only be another good thing for your hormones.
How you eat can be as important as what you’re eating. Studies indicate that people who eat slower, eat less. So no matter what you’re eating – brussels sprouts or a chunk of Toblerone - savour it – the smell, the taste, the texture. Chew it slowly and carefully. And don’t feel bad about it, whatever it is.
This one is for those among us that like to have a drink. I know not everyone does and if you don’t then this is one less thing that you need to focus on when it comes to supporting your hormones. But if, like me, you enjoy the odd tipple, then be sure to read on.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I enjoy a glass of wine or a G&T (or 2) and I love a night out with friends. So you certainly won’t hear me telling you not to have a drink. But we all know that it’s not exactly great for us and this is especially true for us women and our glorious hormones.
Both alcohol and our hormones need to be detoxified in our liver so that we can eliminate them from our body. Dr Carrie Jones, the queen of female hormones, recently spoke at a conference I was at and she describes alcohol as a “bully” in the liver. She elbows her way to the top of the detoxification queue (because it’s a toxin) and pushes your hormones to the back of the line. This means those hormones are hanging around causing havoc for way longer than they should be.
Anxiety, sleep disturbance and low mood are common side-effects of a night on the sauce.
They’re also very common symptoms of the hormone imbalances of perimenopause and PMS that can be amplified by the increase in nights out during the run up to Christmas. Booze can also contribute to digestive problems, bloating and weight gain.
So, knowing all of that, what can you do to reduce the impact of the festivities on your hormones?
My advice is to be a little bit strategic about deciding what events to attend and which ones you’ll have a drink at. This means you can have the craic and still make it to Christmas without being in a heap. What do I mean by that? Start by thinking about:
Are there any events that you can drive to?
Maybe there’s a couple happening the same week – do you need to go to both? And if you do, maybe you could stay off the sauce at one?
Maybe drinking at home could be knocked on the head when there are other things planned that week?
Can you choose something low- or non-alcoholic? There’s lots of non-alcoholic options available these days – far more than ever before – and these can be a nice alternative that still give you the feeling of having a drink. It can be good to alternate your normal drink with these on a night out to keep your overall intake low and could work well if you have to work the next day.
When you do choose to have a few drinks, enjoy them with no guilt or stress attached. Make sure you stay well hydrated – using an electrolyte drink can help with this – and do your best to eat nutrient dense meals including plenty of vegetables and fruit both before and after to give your liver the nutrients it needs to detox the alcohol and your hormones. A good quality multivitamin can also be helpful to give your liver a supportive boost if you have lots going on. Cheers!
Balance the Late Nights
Our body is like a young baby – it thrives on routine and this is especially true when it comes to sleep and our bedtime routine. Going to bed and getting up at a similar time every day helps to tell the body when to expect these things and sets our circadian rhythm.
The late nights that inevitably come with the Christmas period mess with this routine and can affect the quality of our sleep even when we do get to bed on time.
Lack of sleep affects so many aspects of health. It messes with our appetite, meaning we crave foods (usually high sugar or carb ones) and make less healthy food choices. We have less energy so we are less motivated to exercise or move much. It also lowers your libido, impacts on your insulin sensitivity, affects your memory and cognition and can impact your mood, emotions and ability to cope with stress.
If you’re a perimenopausal woman, or someone that struggles with PMS, these are symptoms that you may already be dealing with and the party season can simply make them worse.
So what can you do to help minimise the effects on your sleep without having to be Cinderella and leave every party to be home by midnight.
As much as possible, try not to have too many late nights all packed into the one week – give your body time to recover and get back into a normal sleep pattern.
Stick with your normal bedtime routine on every night when you’re not out – skip the Netflix binge when you know you have nights out coming up.
Turn off devices and try to do something that helps you to wind down in the hour before bed so you’re ready for sleep when you do turn off the light
Magnesium supplements can be really beneficial for helping to calm the nervous system and improve sleep quality
Rest and Recharge
The run in to Christmas can be hectic – not only do you have all of the usual things to be done – work, cooking, exercise, running the kids between activities etc. But you also have the added pressure of trying to get all the shopping done and make at least some of the night’s out that crop up.
And let’s not forget that Christmas isn’t necessarily a particularly happy time for some people who are maybe grieving the loss of a loved one or something else and this can make this time of year really stressful too.
The most important thing is not to lose touch with yourself in all of it. Try to stay tuned in to what your body needs – whether that’s rest, movement or good food. It’s important that we don’t neglect ourselves.
When life gets busy, things like exercise and self-care go out the window and we lose our usual routine that helps us to maintain those beneficial habits.
This can drive things like low mood, anxiety and feeling like you can’t cope as well as normal – symptoms that are characteristic of perimenopause and, in some cases, PMS.
Carving out a little bit of time, just for yourself, can really help to support your mood and mental health. This is true at any time of the year, but is important during the silly season when time seems to be a rare commodity.
The thing to remember is that it doesn’t need to be a massive endeavour – 5 or 10 minutes per day will bring noticeable benefits if you can be consistent with it.
Try things like:
Take 5 minutes in a room on your own and use the box breathing technique (check it out here)
Have your morning cuppa out in the garden in the daylight – even if it’s freezing, just stick on your jacket
Run yourself a hot Epsom salts bath or foot soak – add lavender to help sleep and reduce cortisol
Go for a walk – ideally 30 minutes, but do whatever you can. Even around the block at lunch will be good for the body and the mind
Listen to a 5-10 minute mindfulness or meditation
Go for coffee with a friend that you can talk openly with
Whatever it is, take that time and don’t feel guilty about it. When you’re happy and more relaxed, then you can be a better you – wife, mam, friend etc – so really it’s not just for you then is it?
If you can manage to give some of those a go, you’ll be well on your way to much happier, healthier hormones by the time Christmas comes along. All that’s left to do then is to enjoy the fun and spending time with the people you care about most.
And there's more...
Keep your eye out for some festive recipes between now and Christmas. If you can’t wait that long, you can download my free eBook that shows you how to prepare lunches for the week ahead in just 90 minutes. I’d love you to try it and let me know what you think.