PMS, mood-swings, fatigue, bloating, and cravings are all just part and parcel of the female experience, right? Wrong. Symptoms of estrogen dominance, pre-menstrual syndrome, and menopause are so common that we have come to believe they are natural and inevitable when, in fact, they are actually indicative of hormonal malfunction. When our hormones are properly balanced, we, as women, should not experience any of the painful side effects typically associated with the menstrual cycle and its cessation. In a day and age where it can be incredibly difficult to live a healthy lifestyle, we recommend finding easy and effective ways to regulate hormones naturally.
Below we explore the importance of protein, fat, and vegetables for hormone regulation. We also examine the seed cycling method for balancing hormones. If you are searching for ways to regulate hormones naturally, this is the post for you!
Experiment with Seed Cycling
Seed Cycling is an incredibly innovative yet remarkably simple way to regulate hormones naturally. This holistic approach to hormonal healing was cultivated for the purpose of supporting women who suffer from the many ailments associated with low progesterone and estrogen dominance, such as irregular or heavy periods, PMS, bloating, mood swings, tender breasts, hair loss, weight gain, and impaired thyroid function. It can also alleviate symptoms of menopause, including fatigue, night sweats, and hot flashes.
The objective of seed cycling is to support the body’s natural production of estrogen and progesterone, normalizing levels of the two hormones and thus alleviating symptoms of estrogen dominance and/or menopause. The protocol simply involves consuming 1-2 Tablespoons of flax and pumpkin seeds during the first two weeks of your cycle and 1-2 Tablespoons of sesame and sunflower seeks in the last two weeks of your cycle.
The first two weeks of your cycle constitute the Follicular phase. The Follicular phase begins on the first day of your menstrual period and lasts until you begin ovulating—typically a period of 14 days. During the Follicular phase, the body requires more estrogen. Seed Cycling encourages the consumption of flax and pumpkin seeds during this phase because they contain phytoestrogens that support estrogen production. Likewise, the body’s requirement for progesterone increases in the last two weeks of your cycle: the Luteal phase. Consuming sunflower and sesame seeds during this period supplies plenty of Zinc and Vitamin E, which enable progesterone production. Cycling seed consumption in this way thus supports the body’s natural hormonal rhythm, holistically restoring endocrine balance.
A Note on Estrogen Dominance
Most women experience symptoms of PMS as a result of estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance develops when a woman produces or ingests too much estrogen. Estrogen dominance reduces the availability of thyroid hormones, thereby disrupting thyroid function. So, why would one attempt to combat estrogen dominance by consuming natural phytoestrogens during the Follicular phase?
The answer? Not all estrogens are created equal. Intake of hormonally disruptive foods and toxic environmental estrogens increases the body’s production of estradiol. Estradiol, in excess, can exacerbate symptoms of PMS and, ultimately, culminate in estrogen dominance.
Flax and pumpkin seeds, on the other hand, contain clean, healthy phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens don’t simply compound estrogen production. Instead, they actually curb estradiol production and promote the production of healthier estrogenic metabolites. These phytoestrogens can also improve estrogen metabolism. Thus, if you practice seed cycling, your body will have higher levels of “good” estrogens and lower levels of the “bad” ones. And that means fewer side effects and symptoms.
In sum, seed cycling is an incredibly effective way to regulate hormones naturally.
Eat High Quality Protein
Recent scientific studies tout the essential role of protein in promoting hormonal health, building muscle, supporting a healthy metabolism, and normalizing body weight. However, many of these studies sorely neglect the blatantly clear fact that not all proteins are created equal. Consuming the right proteins is actually a commonly overlooked way to regulate hormones naturally.
Consuming grain fed beef and poultry has a completely different impact on the microbiome than consuming grain, hormone, and additive free meats or vegan protein. Grain fed beef, for example, slows digestion, thus inhibiting the excretion of harmful estrogens. In fact, studies found that vegetarians excrete three times more estrogen than meat-eaters. Further, these toxic meats disturb the balance of micro-flora in the gut, which can alter sex hormone production.
Choosing clean protein is key to maintaining healthy hormonal balance. If you are a meat eater, always choose grain-free meats free of additives and antibiotics. Specifically, when purchasing beef, choose products that are both grass fed AND grass finished. Wild-caught fish are an excellent source of omnivorous protein, as they also contain inflammation combatting omega-3 fatty acids.
The best sources of vegan protein are pea and hemp protein. Pea protein is the least allergenic form of protein. It is also a complete protein, containing all of the amino acids the body requires. Hemp protein is the most digestible form of protein, and is therefore an excellent option for those with digestive complications.
Say Goodbye to Gluten
Gluten, too, can impact hormonal health by hampering thyroid function. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. This infamous protein can cause a whole host of problems for different individuals. In some, gluten causes hypothyroidism. It can even exacerbate Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune condition in which the immune system begins attacking the thyroid. In those with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease, gluten can cause inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, increases cortisol production and suppresses the production of vital sex hormones, causing a cascade of hormonal complications and uncomfortable symptoms.
Increase Fat Consumption
Consuming healthy fats is absolutely critical to hormonal function. In order to regulate hormones naturally, you must be mindful of consuming plenty of anti-inflammatory, omega 3 fats.
Healthy fats contain anti-inflammatory compounds that curb cortisol production, preserving the necessary hormonal precursors for producing sex hormones.
Further, consuming a diet that is rich in healthy fats and low in carbs improves insulin sensitivity. Experts even say that the ketogenic diet, which requires consuming over 70% of your calories in the form of fat, improves insulin sensitivity so dramatically that it can prevent and improve hormonal conditions like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. For that reason, many doctors recommend the ketogenic diet to women who are experiencing difficulties with fertility.
Eat Your Vegetables
Eating plenty of vegetables, particularly leafy green vegetables, is critical to maintaining healthy hormones. Vegetables contain plenty of fiber, which help food move through the digestive tract efficiently. By promoting efficient excretion, fibrous vegetables help to eliminate harmful estrogens from the digestive tract, thus protecting against estrogen dominance.
Vegetables are also critical for effective detoxification. Sulfuric compounds in broccoli and other vegetables act as powerful detoxifiers. Leafy greens contain chlorophyll, which is critical to detoxification at the cellular level. Adopting a diet that includes plenty of green vegetables is conducive to regular detoxification, allowing the body to efficiently excrete harmful environmental estrogens and, by extension, further protecting against estrogen dominance.
Are you seeking ecstatic dance Big Island style? Or looking to learn more about what ecstatic dance is? Most know it as an eccentric, potentially awkward, and utterly life-changing practice of liberated, unmediated physical expression in the presence of total strangers. For some, it is therapeutic, even transformative. Others, however, denigrate the practice as a sober rave for untamed hippies. This unique form of modern dance, void of rigidity or technique, is associated with a broad array of connotations that render the concept difficult to navigate and, to many, quite intimidating.
We have observed that most people misunderstand the true nature of ecstatic dance. What many believe to be a left leaning, new-age phenomenon actually derives from centuries of cultural expression and spiritual practice. Ecstatic dance isn’t just for hippies, and it’s not about partying. It transcends the philosophy of dance, the culture of hook ups, and all of the distorted modern notions of the mind-body connection to foster authentic, unmediated communication between the intrinsic self, the extrinsic body, and the universe. It is an energizing form of therapy, an occasion for fun, a form of meditation—whatever you, as the ecstatic dancer, want it to be.
After hosting Bodhidevi’s first Full Moon Ecstatic Dance event, we decided to shed a little more light on the practice in this week’s blog! If you are looking into the new types of ecstatic dance Big Island has to offer, check out our next event.
What is Ecstatic Dance?
What exactly is ecstatic dance? Well, it’s just what it sounds like—an ecstatic form of dance. Of course, “ecstatic” and “dance” are entirely relative. That’s only to say that the definition of ecstatic dance can only be determined by the individual desires and experiences of the dancer.
For some, ecstatic dance Big Island style is a workout. For others, it is a form of therapy, or a chance to be part of a community. Still others practice ecstatic dance to commune with a high power, or to allow a greater energy or consciousness to manifest in the physical body—a “trance dance.” The significance of the practice is 100% relative to the experience of the dancer.
The most basic definition of ecstatic dance is a form of improvisational movement that is unmediated by consciousness and fear. Ecstatic dance calls us to move in accordance with the compulsions of body and soul. It asks us to be without thinking, to move without knowing; it calls us to transcend our inner voice to get in touch with our deepest feelings and desires. In sum, ecstatic dance is the conduit for physically expressing the recesses of the soul.
What Ecstatic Dance is Not
In defining ecstatic dance Big Island style, it is also important to explain what ecstatic dance is not. It is not an event where you pick up intimate partners. It does not occur in a sexual environment. Ecstatic dance is not clubbing. It is not a place for drinking or socializing or speaking. Ecstatic dance is not about numbing yourself or getting lost in the music. To the contrary, the practice is designed to ignite your consciousness, to foster intimacy with self. In so doing, ecstatic dance empowers the dancer to confident self-expression. In order to remain conducive to such improvements, dancers are reminded that the dance floor is a sacred space. Dancers are always expected to respect the physical boundaries of others.
The Origins of Ecstatic Dance
Ecstatic dance group meet ups are, of course, a new phenomenon. Ecstatic dance itself, however, is actually an ancient spiritual practice. The modern practice derives from various shamanic traditions, spanning an impressive physical and temporal geography.
In fact, there isn’t enough space in this blog to cite all the historical instances of ecstatic dance! The San Bushmen of Kalahari; the Hindu Maruts, worshippers of Rudra-Shiva; practitioners in the Afro-American Candomble tradition, in their worship of their deities, the Orishas; all practiced ecstatic dance as a means of deistic worship.
In Greek mythology, a group of female worshippers called the Maenad’s regularly practiced ecstatic dance. They did so in order to ecstatically commune with Dionysus, the god of wine. Legend holds that, mid-winter, the Maenad’s would practice oreibasia, or mountain dance, as a means of transcending personality to commune with Dionysus. Several other Greek sects practiced ecstatic dance to transcend their physical bodies in godly worship.
Ecstatic dance wasn’t a purely religious act in all cultures. In Iran, Sufis practiced ecstatic dance not only as an active form of meditation, but also as an act of political rebellion against the dominant order of Shi’a Muslims.
The Benefits of Ecstatic Dance
Like any other form of movement, ecstatic dance yields an array of benefits for physiological health. A regular practice of ecstatic dance can improve flexibility and cardiovascular health. Because dance gets your blood flowing and boosts the production of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin, it can also mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, ecstatic dance is an integral element of the emerging field of psychotherapeutic dance.
A study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience demonstrated that dancing, more than any other form of exercise, slows cognitive decline and cellular aging. The effect is likely due to both improvements in physical health and the reduction of inflammation and stress, which cause longevity-destroying oxidative damage.
Finally, through improved physical and psychological health, ecstatic dance can improve body image and composition. A healthy body image lends to less stress and greater confidence in other areas of life, and can make it easier to maintain a regular practice of physical activity.
Tips for Joining an Ecstatic Dance
Ecstatic dance can be intimidating, especially for those who don’t have experience with dance. Indeed, few of us are accustomed to getting deeply in touch with our innate self—and even fewer of us are acclimated to allowing that self to manifest in a series of random physical movements. Many hesitate to try out ecstatic dance because they wouldn’t know how to move, or they are worried about how they will look to others.
But the beauty of ecstatic dance is that it isn’t about knowing; it’s about being. Your best bet is to bite the bullet and go, and to figure it out along the way. Being with other ecstatic dancers will probably empower you to get comfortable and express yourself.
If you’re nervous, invite a trusted and fun friend to go along with you and give it a try. Practice power poses throughout the dance, which serve as a source of self-affirmation and confidence. Or, if you seek relaxation over empowerment, transform the dance into a meditative practice by focusing in on your body and breathing much the way you would during a seated meditation. You can even select a mantra that will ground and inspire you throughout the dance.
As you get more comfortable, try to pay attention to how you are moving. Better yet, pay attention to what you aren’t doing. Some people don’t move around a lot; others don’t slow down. Some people stay grounded in one place and move through the legs, whereas others twirl around the room. Being aware of what your comfort zone is will allow you transcend it. You may discover an insecurity you weren’t aware of and use dance to face it.
A lot of women feel encumbered by the dogmatic world of diet culture. Information in magazines and scientific literature effectively divides food into two opposing camps: good food and bad food. Further, the parameters of what is considered “healthy” are constantly shifting; so, too, are the most popular diets and revered experts. If you are striving to exclusively consume “good” foods while puritanically eschewing the “bad,” you are likely to set yourself up for failure; too much rigidity and conflicting health statistics can lead to stress, hunger, and bingeing. For lasting health and weight management, we suggest sticking to a balanced diet of holistic health foods.
At Bodhidevi, we have observed that strict dieting can often backfire. That’s why we recommend a balanced diet complete with a few “cheat days.” In fact, we don’t really like to label an occasional indulgence as “cheating.” The word has an inherently negative connotation. However, cheat days actually yield physiological and psychological benefits that will help you maintain your weight and your health.
This week, we explore why “cheating” on your diet can actually be a good thing. We also describe the most effective way to indulge while maintaining a diet comprised primarily of holistic health foods.
It is important to, for lack of a better word, “cheat” on a diet of holistic health foods every once in a while. That’s because dietary rigidity can actually lead to severe health complications. In the best-case scenario, cutting out an array of “bad” foods can lead to excessive weight loss and/or vitamin deficiencies. In the worst-case scenario, it can lead to obsessive behavior and disordered eating.
Stringency can also lead to yo-yo dieting. Extended periods of deprivation spike ghrelin production, stimulating intense hunger and cravings. If cravings go long enough unfulfilled, they may become so intense that they give way to binge eating. Following binges with a period of compensatory restriction will land you in an endless, exhausting cycle of bingeing and restricting.
Occasionally indulging in a treat will help you maintain health and balance more easily. “Cheating” will satisfy and eliminate cravings instead of exacerbating them, preventing overeating in the long run. Plus, knowing you have a treat awaiting you at the end of a week of healthy eating will help you stay on track.
Sure, indulging every once in a while will prevent you from becoming fed up with your diet and stuffing your face, making it easier to maintain a healthy, balanced diet of holistic health foods in the long run. But “cheat days” actually yield tangible physiological benefits, too, that can facilitate weight loss.
Consuming a carbohydrate rich meal after a period of dieting increases energy expenditure, i.e. calorie burn, by 7% for 24 hours post-meal. It also increases levels of leptin, the hormone that instructs the body to stop eating and use fat as fuel, by a whopping 30%!
The body actually adapts to calorie restriction, burning fewer and fewer calories with time. The human body’s prerogative is to reserve enough energy, i.e. fat, to provide subsistence in the event of scarcity. Thus, when you begin eating less, your body won’t just plow through its fat stores indefinitely. Instead, it will down-regulate your basal energy expenditure to prevent you from losing fat. That’s why, if you have been dieting for a long time, you may hit a weight loss plateau. Fatigue will accompany a plateau, too, as the body ceases to expend energy on more basic functions.
Regularly enjoying a high-carb, high-calorie cheat meal will prevent your body from adjusting to lower caloric intake. It does so by restoring normal hormone secretions and metabolic functions. Experts recommend 1 or 2 cheat meals a week for the best results.
The “Don’ts” of Cheat Days
Like most things, there is a right and a wrong way to cheat on your diet. The key is to seek balance and moderation.
Don’t let a cheat meal turn into a cheat day. A cheat meal is enough to boost your metabolism without undoing your progress. A cheat day, on the other hand, can do enough damage to offset a week’s worth of exercise. That’s especially true if you are consuming both extra food and alcohol.
That leads us to our next tip: don’t indulge in every area possible. Choose one special treat to indulge in. Maybe you are craving a burger with fries. Perhaps you’ve had a stressful week and want to unwind with a couple of cocktails. Or maybe you’ve been dying to try the new dessert at your favorite restaurant. Pick your preferred indulgence, but don’t go for the meal, dessert, and drinks all at once.
Whatever your selected indulgence is, don’t make your cheat meal a fatty meal. Sure, a burger and fries has plenty of fat. But it also has protein and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are what stimulate the body to produce more leptin after a large meal. Fats, on the other hand, are easy to metabolize and store. They are more likely to produce fat gain without stimulating the metabolism.
Finally, don’t starve yourself or do two hours of cardio before your cheat meal. Doing so is likely to drive you to eat way more, and it probably wont compensate fully for the excess calories. Additionally, starvation and excessive exercise spike levels of the hormone cortisol. And higher cortisol levels mean your body is more likely to store the additional calories as fat instead of using them for energy.
The “Do’s” Of Cheat Days
Instead of gorging during your cheat meal, slow down and savor the flavors. Eating mindfully will prevent your cheat meal from devolving into a binge. Further, slow, mindful eating will leave you more satisfied, curbing cravings until your next indulgence!
While you don’t want to deplete and exhaust yourself before a cheat meal, a little exercise won’t hurt. In fact, those cheat calories will be put to better use if you consume them as a post-workout recovery meal. While it’s a good idea to eat lighter meals prior to a cheat meal, don’t starve yourself. Try a light, protein-rich meal, like a salad topped with chicken, followed by a quick gym session.
A cheat meal allows you to stray from your macronutrient goals, consuming more calories, carbohydrates, and fats than you normally would. However, it is not an excuse to eat empty calories or toxic foods. Stray away from highly processed meats or refined sugars for your cheat meal. Go for a burrito over a large bowl of ice cream. Try to consume a meal that is both indulgent and balanced. Want a cheeseburger? Go for one with organic cheese and grass-fed beef. Make your own burrito with organic, well-sourced ingredients instead of going for fast foods. Choose a slice of cake made with coconut oil and almond flour instead of downing a bag of candy. Do what you can to satisfy your craving while still nourishing your body.
Finally, choose something that will truly delight and satisfy you. If there is a delicious food that reminds you of your childhood, choose that over a food that only has moderate appeal. Indulge for genuine pleasure. For maximum health benefits and enjoyment, prepare an indulgent meal at home with your partner or a close friend.
Most Ayurvedic practitioners discourage their clients from snacking between meals. Contrary to the dietary dogma of the modern age, which prescribes 5-6 small meals a day for weight loss and stable energy levels, Ayurveda holds that snacking can actually be detrimental to your health. Frequent snacking never gives your digestive system the chance to rest and repair. However, we live in a day and age where we are constantly on the go. Many people take seemingly endless commutes to work every day. The typical working mother doesn’t stop moving from the moment she awakens to the moment she returns to bed at night. It’s not practical or possible for many women to sit down to three full, healthy meals a day. For the busy women that ask me what to eat, I recommend dosha-dependent Ayurvedic snacks between or instead of meals.
Ayurvedic Snacks for Pitta Dosha
Pitta dosha is oily, hot, sharp, and liquid. Eating to compliment a pitta dosha requires avoiding foods that exacerbate these qualities. These include foods that are spicy, sour, salty, and pungent. Opt instead for foods that will balance pitta—foods that are cool, sweet, bitter, and astringent.
Pittas have the strongest metabolism of the three doshas. Though pittas should aim for three solid meals a day, pittas that frequently miss meals or are incredibly active should be sure to include healthy Ayurvedic snacks in their meal plan. Cooling vegetables like cucumbers and celery make excellent snacks for pitta, especially in hot weather. For a more filling snack, add sunflower butter, hummus, or guacamole. Make it even more cooling by adding cilantro.
Pitta also benefits from sweet fruits like mango, pineapple, figs, melon, and apples. To prevent blood sugar spikes and keep you fuller for longer, try adding coconut or sunflower butter to fresh fruit. Berries, too, are excellent for pitta types, and pair well with almond butter. Just be sure to avoid mixing your fruits with yogurt, as the sour taste can aggravate pitta dosha.
Ghee is one of the few oils that actually have a cooling effect on the body. Adding ghee and honey to warm coconut or almond milk will warm you up during the winter without aggravating pitta dosha. For additional cooling and great flavor, try steeping rose petals in your mixture as well. Blending the drink is the best way to ensure the ghee thoroughly mixes in.
Ayurvedic Snacks for Vata Dosha
Unlike pitta, the vata dosha is cold, mobile and dry. Thus, vata types should opt for warm, moist, oily, and grounding foods, avoiding snack foods like pretzels and rice cakes that are too dry. Sweet flavors, too, pacify vata dosha. Because vata is prone to undernourishment, vatas are actually encouraged to include an afternoon snack in their dietary regimen.
Like pitta, vata is encouraged to consume warm milk with ghee. However, vatas may benefit from a touch of extra sweetness and the addition of warming spices instead of rose petals. Adding ginger, black pepper, ghee, and dates to warm milk will provide plenty of energy and nourishment to sustain you until your next meal.
Avocados make one of the best grab-and-go snacks for vata, as they are oily and grounding. Roasted nuts, too, provide the oil and fiber that nourishes and promotes healthy digestion in frequently constipated vata types. If you have a little extra time, try blending nuts, nut butters, dates, sea salt, honey, and spices in a food processor to create a sweet, oily, and energizing on-the-go bar. Larabars are great for vatas as well.
A banana with nut butter is great for vata. However, generally speaking, vatas do not tolerate fruits and vegetables well unless they are cooked. If you don’t have time for a full meal, stewing apples or greens in avocado oil is a quick, nourishing option for vata. In preparation for a busy week, prepare a warm soup or stew with plenty of warming spices and cooked vegetables that you can heat up on the go.
Vatas should avoid dry grain products like crackers and pretzels. However, cooked grains are excellent for encouraging healthy digestion in vata types. Cooked oatmeal or millet with almond butter is a filling, grounding option for vata. With a little cinnamon and maple syrup, it is also makes a delicious treat.
Finally, unlike pitta, vata actually benefits from sour or fermented foods. Thus, yogurt and cheese make excellent snacks for vata. Just be sure to select full-fat, organic, unsweetened dairy.
Ayurvedic Snacks for Kapha Dosha
Advice on selecting Ayurvedic snacks is least practical for kapha types, who should ideally fast between each meal. However, Ayurvedic medicine also recommends honoring hunger and never depriving the body of necessary nutrients. Thus, even a busy kapha should eat more than one meal a day. If you are a busy kapha, incorporating light, dry, and warm snacks into your day will tide you over until your main meal.
Kapha is the only dosha that benefits from an abundance of raw vegetables. A salad with a light dressing is a great option for kaphas between or in place of full meals. Kapha benefits from light fruits, too. However, Kaphas should be wary of consuming too much sugar, and should thus steer away from fruits like bananas and melons. Apples and pears are the best options for kapha.
Unlike both pitta and vata, kapha benefits from consuming dry foods and legumes. A rice cake with chickpea hummus is therefore one of the best snacks for Ayurvedic types. Just be sure not to go overboard, as rice cakes are considered sweet.
For a particularly hungry kapha with time to plan ahead, try preparing a blend of cooked millet and beans. If you are limited in time or you aren’t that hungry, an herbal tea with a spot of honey may be enough to curb your hunger until your next meal.