Ah hormones, I both love and hate you so. If you’re anything like me, and from my experience I think many of you are, I didn’t learn about the true power of my female hormone cycle until I wanted to have babies (around age 28). For most of my life I walked around under the impression that I could get pregnant any time during the month, that my PMS symptoms were just a normal part of being a women, and that I was destined to fight cystic acne on my chin and neck for the rest of my life.
But what I’ve learned over the past 6 years (and continue to learn) is that we’ve all been duped. For many reasons ~ that I don’t have time to get into in this blog ~ women’s health hasn’t been given the attention it deserves. Our medical system, including health education in high school, has prioritized men and downplayed or normalized women’s issues as unimportant. This means we aren’t taught about the intricacies of how our bodies work and we’re definitely not educated on how to optimize it. Instead we’re told to live with it and leave the doctors office armed with hormonal birth control (which acts as a bandaid to symptoms and can sometimes do more harm than good).
Turns out that you can’t get pregnant every day of the month, PMS symptoms are common but ARE NOT normal, and I didn’t have to live with shitty painful acne the rest of my life.
So let’s zero in on the “not living with it the rest of my life” part, but first let me give you some background. I’ve struggled with hormones my entire life starting with acne in high-school. Instead of working towards solving the root cause, I went on birth control at 17 and didn’t stop until I got married at 28. My body didn’t know what it meant to cycle naturally which means I dealt with NASTY post birth control symptoms for about 3 months.
Then I got pregnant in rapid succession at 28 and 30, during which my hormones never had the chance to get balanced (postpartum & nursing). Both of my postpartum experiences were full of some really high highs and major lows, but I was generally feeling okay.
Once Griffin was around 18-months my cycle finally started to settle. Since my husband took over birth control duties (snip snip!) for the first time in my adult life I experienced what it meant to have a natural cycle and it wasn’t what I hoped it would be. As months dragged on the fatigue began to creep in, my acne came back with a vengeance, PMS symptoms were a pain in my ass (mainly mood swings and bloating), and my cycles kept getting shorter and shorter.
Now I’m a pretty health conscious person so the fact that my hormones seemed out of whack really pissed me off. I knew I wouldn’t get what I needed from a traditional MD so I decided to take matters into my own hands. Around this time I also started my functional nutrition training, so I thought I’d give it a go myself and see what happens.
Nowadays I’m professionally educated in supporting women’s hormone health, but back then I was square in DIY’er territory, so I ordered myself some books. Here are the ones I read:
Books plus direct to consumer hormone testing told me my progesterone was low and I was likely dealing with estrogen dominance (I’m looking at you short AF cycles!). Before I get into what I did to fix it, let me dig into the why here for a moment. Like I said earlier, I’m a very health conscious person, so why the F were my hormones not optimal? In short, everything is connected in our bodies, when one system isn’t working quite right it throws off everything else. There are a lot of underlying root causes for reproductive hormone imbalance but I’m just going to share what I believe impacted me the most:
Okay, so that’s a short summary of what was happening and why, but how did I go about fixing it? I wish I could say it was easy and took no time at all, but I am well over a year into this journey and still chasing my dream of balanced hormone nirvana. That said, I have made HUGE gains by extending my cycle length, reducing my acne, completely eradicating PMS symptoms, improving my overall mood, and more.
In a nutshell, I took on every single one of the root causes above. Targeted supplements for my specific deficiencies, supplements to support liver detoxification, removal of offending foods, incorporation of nutrient dense hormone boosting foods, strategies to reduce the emotional stress in my life, prioritizing sleep, and syncing my workouts to the phases of my cycles.
The important thing to know is that I haven’t been perfect and I’ve still seen amazing outcomes from doing the work. I still eat sugar, I still have drinks on occasion, I still miss entire weeks of exercise, but progress is still happening.
My biggest win of this entire thing is how my body awareness has improved. In my job as a health and nutrition coach I teach clients how to create toolboxes to tackle issues/symptoms as they arise (and how to stay alert for when tools are needed). Working on my own hormones has been exactly that – I use my cycle as vital sign. When things seem off I know it’s time to make changes. Here’s an example:
When the holidays arrived last year, bringing with them late nights, emotional stress, extra sweet treats, lots of gluten, and so so so much booze, I saw my cycle and symptoms flare. In just a few weeks my body went from cycling healthily to ridiculous chin/neck cystic acne, troubled sleep, bloat, irritability, and a 24 day cycle that came with a vengeance (and unexpectedly while I was on vacation to boot!).
Vital sign indeed. My body was angry AF at how I had been treating it. Message received, it was time for a change.
Once January hit I went straight back to my hormone balancing habits designed to counter my symptoms and bio-individual needs (supplements, reduced sugar, increased protein & soluble fiber, reduced alcohol, liver detoxification supports, and more) and started seeing improvements right away. After 2 months of effort I was back to clear skin, no PMS issues, and a 28 day cycle. Huzzah!
And that’s it, my journey to hormone health (and one I’m still on!). Hormones are such a fascinating topic and one of my favorite things to work on with my clients. Every time I see a positive hormonal change in myself or in my clients’ lives I get giddy. This month I’m introducing the option to run functional labs on hormones to my practice (think DUTCH testing) and I cannot wait to see how the benefits play out for my clients.
If you’re interested in learning more about how I help women balance their hormones in the Mama Restore Program, book a call here.