Updated: Jan 31, 2021
Did you know that dissatisfaction with body image is so common that most doctors don't even consider that low self-image could be related to your hormones? I want to unpack this with you and talk bout why our changing hormones and body image are often linked! The beginning of puberty is a time when many girls begin to go through body image struggles, which can lead to body dysmorphia and disordered eating. Our culture says the pain we go through is just our price to pay for being female while dismissing our concerns and needs. Think about how changing hormones in young women are talked about by the general public. Girls and women are called dramatic, moody, hormonal, unpredictable, and even worse, while intense psychological symptoms are called common and normal. As we grow up and become adults, diet culture becomes a trap that many women fall into. Research about fitness and weight loss is done almost exclusively on men, but the ideas and principles from the research are neatly packaged and handed to both men and women alike. This means that something labeled and promoted as being “healthy” or a “lifestyle” is potentially unsustainable or harmful for women, and often also promotes superficial ideals of being thin or having a certain body type.
In middle and high school, I struggled with disordered eating. Then in my early 20s, I struggled with orthorexia (an unhealthy obsession with eating healthy, which is unfortunately common in the fitness and health industry), hypothyroid, and what should have been diagnosed as menorrhagia, but because I got my period and my iron was within one, single point of “normal range,” my health concerns were minimized by most doctors. I know how difficult body image struggles can be and how it can be linked to hormonal imbalances. Body dysmorphia is often a hidden symptom of PMS.
After ovulation, estrogen dips. Because estrogen stimulates the serotonin receptors, the drop is estrogen can also cause a drop in serotonin. Serotonin's purpose is to keep us happy and calm, so before your period, mood and stress related symptoms can either arise or feel worse than usual. 95% of your serotonin also made in your gut, so poor gut health, hormonal changes in digestion that follow your cycle, and nutrient deficiency can also contribute to struggles with PMS and emotional wellness. In addition to unrealistic expectations that are placed on women by society, we're not educated about the changes our hormones go through and how we can support ourselves.
Promoting Body Peace
My passion for holistic health (especially mental health & how it relates to hormones) has helped me heal from PMS and has increased my self-esteem on every level! In addition to seeking help from a therapist, here are 5 self-care strategies I used to create Body Peace for myself:
1) Emotional Honesty: Being able to admit that you’re feeling shame, disappointment, or self-judgment can be a scary thing. I used to think that even writing about my fears or feelings in my journal would make me “negative” and would prevent me from attracting my desired outcomes. Now I have total emotional honesty about what I’m struggling with and allow the feelings to come and pass.
By admitting how I feel, the emotion is able to travel from my subconscious to my conscious, where it’s not as daunting. If you continue to try to push away your feelings or fears, they can seem more daunting or come out in hurtful ways later. In Untamed, Glennon Doyle writes that “all feelings are for feeling.” Through consciously reminding myself that all humans struggle and that I don’t have anything to “fix,” my feelings have the freedom to come and pass. 2) Eat Intuitively: The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating teach you to honor your hunger, listen to your body, and break free from the diet mentality and “food police.” It teaches progress over perfection and moving to celebrate your life instead of punishing your body. One big takeaway of intuitive eating is tuning in to your biological hunger and learning to listen to the foods your body wants without judgement or without waiting until you're running on empty. When I learn to eat before I am famished, and I also don't assign labels to foods, I am free to make empowered nutrition choices without shame.
By practicing intuitive eating, you can respect your cravings without binging or belittling. Rather than adhering to food rules that make you feel “bad” if you break, you find peace with your nutrition and lifestyle. 3) Include Good Mood Foods & Supportive Nutrients: While eating intuitively, I know and understand that there are foods that contain certain ingredients that can support a good mood for me. Magnesium, Tryptophan, B6, Omega 3, and Folate all support a good, stable mood and can help lower anxiety, depression, or stress. Magnesium can be found in dark chocolate, walnuts, and bananas. Tryptophan can be found in beets, pumpkin, and eggs. B6 is in chickpeas, lentils, bananas, and oats. Omega 3 is in fish oil, and folate is found in legumes, asparagus, leafy greens, and citrus. Rather than trying to eat "only" certain foods or valuing some of those more than others, I just incorporate a few into my meals or snacks daily. I don't value some of the foods over others, but instead allow my body to be a decision maker.
4) Gratitude/ Proud List: Make a gratitude list-- but specifically about yourself! Write down all the experiences you’ve had that make you feel happy, proud, loved, and confident.
When I think about all my favorite moments, I notice that every single one happened while not having “the perfect body.” They didn’t happen while being my “ideal weight” or having a six-pack. In many of them, I still felt beautiful-- like my wedding day, which I didn’t diet for at all, and had truly the best, most special, joyful day of my life.
Remind yourself that you’re allowed to feel special and recognize how amazing you are at any size.
5) Build a Relationship with Your Cycle: Track all 4 phases of your cycle and build a relationship with the natural peaks and valleys your hormones journey through. Each of your phases has a specific purpose and your actions and self-care during that time can match the rise and fall of your energy.
Just like nature takes time to hibernate in the winter, bloom in the spring, ripen in the summer, shed old, dead weight in the fall, and begin all over again, you can rebuild a relationship with your body and honor your changes. I think that it’s a superpower and that we can use these changes to our advantage.
If you know in advance that a certain phase of your cycle is difficult for you, plan some extra self-care for yourself during that time and use that as data to support you in your journey.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or body dysmorphia, please talk to your doctor or therapist for support. You're not alone and recovery is possible! For more on Intuitive Eating, here is an amazing YouTube video by Pick Up Limes.