After years of hormonal birth control, our bodies need to re-learn how to balance and cycle on their own. If you were one of the many young women prescribed the pill as a teenager for cramps, irregular periods, acne, or other symptoms, that same hormonal imbalance likely still exists.
But why does this happen?
As you may know, hormonal birth control prevents your ovaries from releasing an egg — preventing ovulation (and potential pregnancy). This is achieved by changing the levels of the natural hormones your body makes by providing static levels of artificial ones. As you transition off of birth control, you may notice old symptoms begin to flare up (or new ones appear) as your body seeks to rediscover its natural hormone balance.
Common Symptoms Include:
- Irregular periods
- Missing periods
- Hormonal acne
- Breast tenderness
- Fertility challenges
- Hair loss
Instead of going back on the pill to “manage” (read: mask) these symptoms, there are many tools you can implement to support your hormones naturally! Today, we will discuss how food and nutrition can help you feel better and empowered so you can head into natural cycle tracking or your fertility journey with confidence.
As discussed in our last blog post (linked here), hormonal birth control can deplete the body of certain nutrients, including vitamin C, B6 & 12, Folic Acid, and Zinc. As nutrient deficiency causes most hormonal imbalance, the first thing we will address is eating nutrient-dense foods, from the following list:
- Dark leafy greens
- Colorful vegetables
- Low-glycemic fruit such as berries
- Organic animal and plant-based proteins like fish, chicken, nuts, lentils, beans, and seeds.
Another big player in the hormonal dance is balanced blood sugar. Balanced blood sugar is directly related to balanced hormones. I recommend enjoying fiber-rich carbohydrates paired with high-quality proteins and healthy fats at all meals and snacks to accomplish this. This allows for consistent energy without those dreaded crashes that can lead to exhaustion and hormonal imbalance.
The easiest way to apply this tip at all meals is:
- Fill ½ your plate with vegetables (great options: steamed or braised greens, blanched or braised brassicas, or roasted root veggies)
- Fill ¼ of your plate with high-quality protein (great options: organic legumes, mindfully sourced fish or organic, grass-fed meat)
- Fill the remaining ¼ with complex carbohydrates (great options: organic, whole grains like farro, millet, buckwheat, polenta, or rice)
The marriage of these macronutrients slows digestion and prevents any blood sugar spikes and keeps hunger at bay.
Vegetables and Optimal Liver Function
We already know we should eat our vegetables! However, I recommend increasing your intake of veggies from the Brassicas family. These include cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, bok choy, kale, and cabbage, so many of our favorites! Besides being high in fiber and nutrients, they also support our liver, which eliminates excess estrogen and environmental toxins — essential for maintaining natural hormone balance. While we are on the topic of our liver, let’s talk about alcohol. Alcohol is a toxin that is removed from our blood by our liver. Because effective liver function is so important for our hormones, limiting or removing alcohol intake altogether can help lessen the load on this detoxifying organ. Thankfully there are so many fantastic mocktail recipes out there! Our recent favorite is club soda with a splash of pomegranate juice and a lime wedge! YUM!
Although we know that full-fat dairy may help with fertility, research shows it may not help in the process of balancing hormones during this phase of the process. As delicious as dairy products are, they are often full of hormones and environmental toxins, which can be endocrine disruptors. Nothing is forever, but eliminating it for some time has proven helpful. If removing dairy during this time doesn’t work for you, I recommend reaching for organic, full-fat dairy varieties ideally from pastured, grass-fed cows, goats, or sheep to limit chemicals and added hormones, promote satiety, and balance blood sugar levels.
Finally, let’s look into our gut! Maintaining a healthy microbiome is important for eliminating excess estrogen from our bodies. Certain bacteria within our gut convert plant compounds called lignans (found in flaxseeds, sesame seeds, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and Agni’s seed cycling seasonings) into phytoestrogens. These plant hormones protect the body from the risks of excess estrogen. The key to keeping these bacteria healthy and abundant is to consume a diet rich in pre and probiotics. Prebiotics are found in fiber-rich foods like fruits, veggies, seeds, and whole grains, while probiotics are found in fermented foods, including kimchi, kombucha, and tempeh. Aiming for 25 grams of fiber and 1 - 2 servings of fermented foods daily should do the trick!
The best part about these recommendations is that they allow for a colorful, exciting, and flavorful journey back to balance. With just a little planning, you can implement these practices daily, whether at home in your kitchen or when dining, so you can enjoy a bounty of delicious foods and feel great too!